With the council majority at his back, City Council President Ben Stuckart is proposing to reinstate rules giving him more authority over which council members serve on what boards.
But his recent apparent threat to use that power to remove Councilman Mike Allen from the Spokane Park Board in retribution for opposing a plan to expand council assistant positions into full-time jobs has left some council members uncomfortable with giving Stuckart more power.
The Spokane City Council will meet for the first time this year on Monday with a new, more liberal majority. Councilwoman Candace Mumm takes over for Nancy McLaughlin, who was prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election.
Late last week, Stuckart backed off on statements that he would replace Allen on the Park Board with Councilman Mike Fagan, who supported the plan to make council assistants full time.
Councilman Steve Salvatori said Stuckart told him removing Allen from the Park Board in favor of Fagan would be “transactional politics.” Salvatori said he responded: “That’s extortion.” Salvatori said he was considering filing a complaint against Stuckart with the Ethics Committee until Stuckart changed his mind.
A copy of the email Stuckart sent to Salvatori and Allen before the assistants vote wasn’t available Friday, but Stuckart described it as saying: “There’s lots of important decisions I make at the start of the year and I don’t want to be grumpy when I’m making them.” Salvatori agreed that Stuckart accurately summed up the email.
The plan to make council assistants full time was approved last month in a 4-3 vote. Allen, Salvatori and McLaughlin opposed the decision.
In an interview, Stuckart said “grumpiness” may have played a role in intending to pick Fagan over Allen for the Park Board. His other reasons include Fagan’s excellent attendance while serving on the Plan Commission and that Allen’s schedule is limited in the mornings, when some Park Board meetings are held.
Stuckart said he changed his mind because Park Board members and staff objected to Allen’s removal, and he has since decided that Allen has done good work for parks.
Allen said he hoped to stay on the Park Board because he hoped to finish work on a Riverfront Park rehabilitation plan that may be considered by voters in November.
Park Board members expressed appreciation that Stuckart changed his mind. Park Board President Randy Cameron said in a statement, “We’re excited having Councilmember Allen continue to be part of the Park Board and appreciate the council president giving the Park Board the support we need during such an important time in our history.”
The council president used to assign council members to boards and commissions with the consent of the council. The council stripped that power from former Council President Joe Shogan. Later, soon after Stuckart took over for Shogan, Stuckart was stripped of the right to serve on the Spokane Airport Board.
Another proposed change in council rules would require that changing council rules could only be done with a supermajority vote, which would make it more difficult for the new 4-3 majority to restore the committee-selection power to Stuckart.
Stuckart said he supports the supermajority standard to prevent sudden changes in the rules like the one that stripped him of the airport board seat.
“I want to make sure that doesn’t happen either way,” he said. “Council rules are how we function as a body and it shouldn’t be swayed by a simple majority.”
Allen said he doesn’t have a strong opinion on the proposal but noted that Stuckart led a campaign against the creation of a supermajority rule for increasing taxes last year. That campaign claimed that supermajority requirements stifle democracy.
Mumm and Salvatori said they are open to the supermajority idea, but Snyder said he opposes it.
“Supermajorities should be used for very rare occurrences,” Snyder said.