July 16, 2014 in City

Q&A: County commission candidates French, Mager and Johnson

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County commissioner questions

All three candidates for county commissioner were asked the same questions on key issues. Here are their answers.

Candidates are listed in the order they will appear on the ballot.

What issue will you emphasize as a county commissioner and why?

Al French: One of the reasons I am so appreciative that the voters have allowed me to serve them in this position for the last three and a half years is that this job demands a full range of skills to meet a large variety of issues. During the next four years I want to continue to use my relationships and expertise to recruit new businesses and jobs to the area as well as work with our existing companies to expand. I am the only candidate in this race that has experience successfully recruiting new businesses and jobs to this community.

Bonnie Mager: Land use, criminal justice and economic development. Good government needs three things: integrity, common sense and experience. Government is important and LAWS need to be followed, not broken for the benefit of friends or former partners. Backdating of building permits for a friend and former business associate is illegal and violates the principles of good government, as does spending on a new jail before implementing recommended programs to cut recidivism and reduce crime. The Spokane STEP (Spokane Indian casino and resort) can provide 5,000 jobs. My opponent spending $380,000 tax dollars on lawyers and lobbyists to oppose it is wasteful.

Mary Lou Johnson: We deserve smarter county government. I will make sure we spend tax dollars more wisely and make decisions that benefit everyone. I will follow the law so we stop wasting money defending improper urban growth expansions which pad the pockets of a few developers. I will ensure that we stop wasting money on outdated criminal justice policies by implementing reforms that will make us safer. I will listen to neighborhoods and work better with towns and cities to bring more middle class jobs and re-establish our model regional solid waste system that is falling apart under the county’s failed leadership.

Which is better – garbage incineration or long-haul disposal, and why?

French: The best solution for disposal of municipal solid waste is recycling first and then disposal. When the region had to close its landfill sites in the 1980s, there were few alternatives to incineration. While incineration has worked well for the last 25 years, there are other options available now. At some point there will have to be an infusion of capital to keep the Waste-to-Energy Plant current. When that capital infusion is made long hauling will clearly be cheaper. The best solution is to have a regional trans-loading facility located on the Geiger Spur rail line on the West Plains.

Mager: As executive director of Citizens for Clean Air, I gained years of experience with this issue. Incineration is bad for health and pocketbooks; that’s why so few incinerators are built today. State-of-the-art landfills are less costly and can be mined for important resources as technology improves. Ash that is landfilled has toxics and heavy metals we need kept out of the public domain.  Expensive to operate and maintain, Spokane’s incinerator is 20 years old and in need of constant repairs and costly upgrades as regulations tighten. It produces 298,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas plus mercury, lead and cadmium.

Johnson: Twenty years ago we built a Waste-to-Energy Plant because our landfills were contaminating our water. It is paid for and we had a model award-winning regional solid waste system. I want to work to maintain that system and be a fair partner with the cities, which is not happening under county leadership. I will continue to monitor the research and technology that gives us new answers to the financial and environmental cost-benefit analysis of incinerators versus landfills. Neither technology is perfect. However, I am concerned about reverting to long-haul and landfills because of the many environmental costs.

What is your view of expanding the urban growth boundary?

French: The Growth Management Act requires communities to plan for future needs in 20-year windows. The GMA requires that communities update their plans and boundaries every 10 years and adjust so their plans are current with trends and needs. Spokane County just completed its first update, 12 years after the original boundary was adopted in 2001. Since 2001, we have seen two new cities incorporated and Spokane expand through annexations. New residents are coming to the county but are not choosing to locate in the city of Spokane as anticipated so the boundary needs to reflect that.

Mager: Expanding the UGB was done as a strategy to enable developers to get vested during the time period that the illegal expansion was appealed to the Growth Management Hearings Board. This never would have happened under my watch. Government is not a game to be played for the benefit of friends and business associates. The rules are for everyone and when subverted we all lose and public confidence is destroyed. All the research our county planning department did showed enough capacity to grow for the next 20 years already exists within the current boundary. Integrity, experience and common sense matter.

Johnson: I will work to expand the urban growth boundary, in coordination with neighborhoods and cities and towns, when there is a demonstrated need and the law supports it. The recent expansions have not satisfied either criteria. The county’s own assessment indicated that we have more than enough residential and commercial properties to accommodate the expected growth in the county for the next 20 years. The continual sprawl costs taxpayers money by requiring new schools, parks and fire and police officers. It also sucks jobs and development out of our downtown and other areas that need redevelopment.

What is the key to criminal justice reform?

French: As a community we need to acknowledge that incarcerated individuals will eventually be released back into the community. We have the opportunity to assist willing individuals to reenter the community as contributors as opposed to re-offenders. This means we need to shift our focus from the “offense” to the “offender” and create a criminal justice system that will do early “risk-based assessments” and channel offenders into programs that are fact-based. The risk assessment is critical to early identification of those who are good candidates for programs versus those that should or need to be incarcerated to protect the public.

Mager: It is time to implement the programs that work to stop repeat offenders and keep our community safe. With the recommendations from the Bennett and Thompson reports, and the findings from the Criminal Justice Commission, we have a blueprint to go forward with less costly and more effective alternatives to incarceration. Spending $200 million on a new jail will only obligate us to fill it in order to pay debt service. We need to implement what works – that’s common sense. My experience and commitment to this issue both in and out of office will best serve our community’s needs.

Johnson: A strong, expert county commissioner is needed to reform criminal justice. Jail overcrowding has existed for years. Too little has been done so now we are spending $104 million each year (74 percent of our budget) on criminal justice. I am the only candidate with a legal background that has worked diligently on reform measures and received acknowledgement for my work in the “Blueprint for Reform.” Implementing these proven reforms is my area of expertise. For example, for every dollar we will spend on drug treatment or on work release, we will save about $11 in other costs.

What specifically needs to be done to protect the environment?

French: Continue our efforts to remove pollutants from our drinking water, which includes elimination of septic systems over the aquifer and the presence of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Continue the efforts of the Spokane Clean Air Agency, which I have chaired for the last two years to protect the quality of our air. Continue to support Spokane Transit Authority and encourage use of public transportation. Continue to use smart growth strategies and build livable, walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. Continue to support the Conservation Futures program to ensure we have healthy wilderness areas for community use and enjoyment.

Mager: Spokane’s national tagline is “Near nature. Near perfect.” To protect our quality of life and national brand we should: Discontinue incineration of garbage. When the air we breathe is filled with toxic chemicals that contribute to asthma, cancer and heart problems it takes a huge human and economic toll on our community. Focus on water quality and quantity through ongoing monitoring and long-term watershed planning. Continue public education and incentives to conserve water. Support clean-up efforts for toxics and phosphorus to restore a healthy river capable of producing fish that can be eaten without concern.

Johnson: Every family has a right to clean air, good drinking water and a safe environment. I will work with the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force to implement achievable toxic reduction strategies, including reducing sources of PCBs. The Spokane city action to restrict purchase of products known to have PCBs is a common-sense and cost-effective measure that I want to implement at the county. I will work together as a fair partner to reestablish a regional solid waste system because it is not efficient to deal with garbage and recycling on a city-by-city basis.

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