July 20, 2014 in City

Open seat on Spokane City Council concerns conservatives

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Application cutoff

Applications for an open seat representing northwest Spokane are being accepted until Thursday. They’re available at Spokane City Hall and on the city’s website. The council will conduct public interviews with the finalists by Aug. 22 and then choose a replacement Aug. 25.

Republicans are worried that the liberal-leaning Spokane City Council soon could have a veto-proof supermajority and are pushing for a conservative appointment to the nonpartisan panel’s open seat.

They argue it would be keeping with the intent of northwest Spokane voters, who chose free-market conservative Steve Salvatori in 2011 to represent them. Salvatori resigned his seat earlier this month because he’s relocating to Dallas, leaving just two conservatives on the seven-member council.

“The voters elected a fiscal conservative, business moderate and we would like to see the voters’ wishes upheld,” said Michael Cathcart, a lobbyist for the Spokane Home Builders Association who also serves as an officer within the Spokane County Republican Party. “From our perspective, I think a veto-proof majority is a concern, but there’s also the tax issue because it also would be enough to increase taxes … under the supermajority requirement.”

Liberal-leaning members of the council took control in 2013, giving Council President Ben Stuckart a 4-3 advantage. The council needs a minimum of five votes to override mayoral vetoes and to approve tax increases under a ballot measure approved last year.

Stuckart dismisses the tax worries, saying he’s been a vocal opponent of local-option business and occupation taxes and has no intention of increasing utility taxes. But he’s open about wanting to appoint someone who shares his values such as protecting the environment and the city’s civil service system, which has been weakened under Mayor David Condon’s push to revamp what many consider an entrenched City Hall bureaucracy.

“B&O and utility taxes are, really, the only taxes in play at the local level right now and I won’t vote for either,” Stuckart said. “Really, what I’m looking for is someone who will work really hard for the city and who shares my value system.”

He and others mostly steer clear of the political ideology question, though, insisting they’re simply looking for the best person to help lead the state’s second-largest city.

But they note that conservatives ignored a similar request from Democrats in 2007 to appoint a progressive to the open council seat left vacant by Mary Verner’s mayoral victory and instead chose Mike Allen, a conservative who lost his re-election bid to Jon Snyder two years later, then ran for the other District 2 seat in 2011 and won.

Under the city charter, the replacement is chosen by majority vote of the remaining council members.

Applications are being accepted until Thursday. Each council member will choose up to five applicants they’d like to see advance to public interviews. Stuckart, Allen and Councilwoman Candace Mumm will then sort through the choices to decide who will be interviewed.

City Council positions are considered nonpartisan in Washington state, but political parties have become increasingly involved in municipal politics. Several members of the local GOP earlier this month showed up at a council meeting and urged the remaining members to replace Salvatori with another conservative, though none mentioned that Republicans in 2007 ignored a similar request from Democrats.

Allen, who won the 2007 appointment, openly acknowledged the touchy dynamic.

“Ultimately, for me, it’s trying to find the best person,” he said, noting he’s been contacted by several potential applicants from both sides of the political spectrum. “I tell them that I think the council will go through a very thoughtful process … and that I actually think serving on the council is a fantastic part-time job.”

Snyder said he believes it’s important to find a replacement who’s ready to work hard for the city right away and can win an election to the seat in 2015.

“I want to find somebody who can get in and work, hit the ground running and wants to run for re-election,” he said, noting that neither of the council’s last two appointments to open seats were able to hold them through the next election. “What I’m worried about are people who are interested in a council position only if it’s an appointment and they don’t have to run for it. My feeling is people who are committed to campaigning, getting out and talking to people, also are good at governing.”


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