Jon Snyder, a bicycle and pedestrian advocate in the middle of his second term on the Spokane City Council, announced his resignation Monday to accept a state job.
Snyder will be the state’s first director of outdoor initiative, a position created by Gov. Jay Inslee.
“I don’t want to leave right now. I think Spokane is in a great moment. I think it’s starting to realize a lot of ambitions,” Snyder said. “But I applied for it and was surprised when I was selected.”
Snyder said he will focus on two questions: “How can we make more jobs in our state out of outdoor recreation? And how can we get more people to participate in outdoor recreation?”
Snyder’s last day on the council is Jan. 12, and he will move to Olympia. His wife and two children will join him in the summer. His new job pays $95,000 a year.
“Jon brings a passion for the outdoors and almost a decade of professional experience with outdoor recreation in the Inland Northwest,” Inslee said in a statement.
Though Snyder has faced many topics at City Hall, including police and fire issues as the most recent chairman of the Public Safety Committee, he first came to the public’s attention in 2004 as the founder and publisher of Out There Monthly, an outdoor magazine.
During his time on the council, the city grappled with the local effects of a recession, a federal mandate to stop pollutants from entering the Spokane River and police oversight in the wake of Otto Zehm’s death. Also in that time he has seen his allies in city government lose elections and influence. But most recently he’s been part of a large, veto-proof majority of like-minded liberal council members.
Snyder said his experience running an outdoor magazine for nine years and his time on the council made the state job a perfect fit.
“At Out There, I wasn’t running an outdoor organization, I was just covering it. But I had to be generalist. It was great training,” Snyder said. “I really saw how public policy affected outdoor policy. That’s one of the things that got me to run for council.”
On the council, Snyder has taken the lead on many issues, but his prime focus was on transportation, arguing that the city needs to improve its system for pedestrians, bicyclists and bus riders, as well as drivers. He pushed for the completion of the Pedestrian Master Plan and the Master Bike Plan, as well as the construction of key portions of the Centennial Trail.
“Transportation is a big part of what I’m really happy about,” Snyder said.
He added that he also is proud of his efforts surrounding the “importance of planning, like the water plan, bike plan, pedestrian plan, which I really fought to get completed. If we don’t plan, we just can’t be the city we really want to be.”
Council President Ben Stuckart praised Snyder’s hard work and knowledge on the council.
“I love Jon. Jon’s great,” Stuckart said. “He wasn’t coming at issues and making decisions without understanding why he was making them. And he was in the council offices more than any other member that I served with.”
In a statement, Mayor David Condon also had kind words for Snyder.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Councilmember Snyder to combine his passions for recreation and policy in Olympia,” Condon said.
Beginning in January, the City Council will accept applications for Snyder’s replacement and hold a hiring process similar to what led to the appointment of Councilwoman Karen Stratton last year after Steve Salvatori left the council for work in Texas. Salvatori’s empty seat drew 22 applications in 2014, and Snyder’s seat has already drawn contenders.
Applications won’t be accepted until Snyder is gone, but several already have expressed interest. They include Breean Beggs, a lawyer and former candidate for Spokane County prosecutor; John Waite, a downtown business owner and former City Council candidate; Blaine Stum, Snyder’s assistant and chair of the Spokane Human Rights Commission; and Derrick Skaug, a former Pullman councilman.
Beggs is the lawyer for the police ombudsman commission, and he represented the family of Zehm, who died after he was beaten, hogtied and shocked by police in 2006. Beggs helped secure a $1.67 million settlement for the family, ending a lawsuit against the city and nine police officers.
“I was considering running for that seat when it came open in 2017,” said Beggs, mentioning the year Snyder would have faced term limits.
Beggs said he sees the council seat “as a way to continue my work on civilian oversight of law enforcement and criminal justice reform.”
“Next year is the year the Police Guild contract is renegotiated. That means any changes to the ombudsman ordinance will also be renegotiated,” Beggs said. “I think I will have the potential for a very large impact.”
Waite, who has run unsuccessfully for City Council four times in the last decade, said he was “definitely” going to apply for the position.
“I was planning on running anyway,” Waite said about 2017.
Whoever replaces Snyder will remain on the council until the results of the next municipal elections are certified in 2017.
Snyder has been on the council since 2009, when he ran against Councilman Mike Allen. In that race, Snyder got the early endorsement of the county’s Democratic Party, backing that brought him donations, supporters and an easy win that November.
Four years later, he faced former state Rep. John Ahern and won by a 2-to-1 margin.
Snyder joined the council as the city began to deal with the fallout from the Great Recession, which roiled City Hall with layoffs and led to years of tough budget negotiations.
The creation of police oversight was perhaps the most tumultuous issue at the city during Snyder’s tenure.
The city’s current version of police oversight stems from Zehm’s 2006 death, but officials continue to struggle with its implementation. The ombudsman position has been vacant for nearly all of 2015, and the ombudsman commission was purged of most of its members following accusations of inappropriate behavior and the national scandal surrounding Rachel Dolezal, who was the commission’s chairwoman.
Snyder was on the council when officials were debating ways to fund the expensive infrastructure projects to stop pollutants from entering the Spokane River. The plan to raise utility rates dramatically, which was supported by Snyder, helped unseat Verner and has been reversed by Condon.
Snyder also supported the creation of a vehicle license fee to help fund transportation projects, the red-light camera program and the recent passage of a 20-year street levy and Riverfront Park bond.
Snyder opposed the sale of the former YMCA within Riverfront Park for the city park system, arguing in favor of private development and questioning the use of county Conservation Futures money to secure the property. He was on the losing side, however, and the building was torn down to create better public views of Spokane Falls.
He helped lead the city’s effort to ease the transition to legal use and sale of recreational marijuana by chairing a committee focused on the issue.
Snyder’s main achievements, however, have to do with transportation. He ushered in the city’s Complete Streets ordinance, which requires all new street projects to consider uses by all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, disabled people, mass transit and drivers.
Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this report.
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