Breean Beggs, an attorney and criminal justice reform advocate, is the newest member of the Spokane City Council.
The council selected Beggs in a 5-1 vote Monday to take the seat that was left open when Councilman Jon Snyder resigned last month to take a job in state government.
Beggs, 53, gained prominence when he served as the director of the Center for Justice from 2004 though 2010, and has been one of the most influential voices in Spokane on police reform issues. He represented the family of Otto Zehm in a lawsuit against the city, which was settled out of court.
He said in an interview after his selection that he hopes he can help criminal justice reform move faster.
“At the end of the day, if you’re at the table you have a much better chance to get a better outcome,” he said.
Among the criminal justice reforms he supports is sending fewer people convicted of less serious crimes to jail and imposing electronic home monitoring requirements instead. Savings could be spent improving on mental health or substance abuse programs, he said.
Beggs said he is committed to running for the seat, which represents south Spokane, when his term expires in 2017.
Councilman Mike Fagan cast the lone vote against Beggs. Fagan noted that Beggs supported Envision Spokane’s Worker Bill of Rights, which failed at the ballot last year.
“Of all the council candidates that we interviewed, Mr. Beggs was the only one that I am aware who was an active supporter and endorser of Envision Spokane,” Fagan said, before laying blame on Beggs for last year’s troubles on the city’s police ombudsman commission, which led to a majority of the commission’s members being purged amid hostile workplace allegations. Beggs has served as the commission’s attorney.
“I felt that Mr. Beggs could have done something or said something in his capacity while he was serving as the commission’s counsel, which could have resulted in a different outcome than the one that we saw,” Fagan said.
Beggs said he did the best he could to heal divisions on the commission, but that the commission was his client and had to abide by the majority’s wishes.
Other council members heaped praise on Beggs.
Councilwoman Amber Waldref said Beggs’ “knowledge and experience” in criminal justice reform and police oversight made him especially suited for the council.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton echoed Waldref.
“He has the experience. He knows the players. He knows where the bones are buried,” Stratton said. “That was a priority for me.”
Beggs said he supported the council’s decision last month to require most employers in the city to provide workers paid sick leave. He also supports the current joint effort between the council and mayor’s office to investigate Mayor David Condon’s handling of a claim of sexual harassment against former police Chief Frank Straub.
“The administration should be given a chance to police and investigate themselves,” Beggs said. “If it turns out that’s not effective then the council should step in.”
He said he respects former U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt and is hopeful he can move the Police Department forward. Condon announced last week that McDevitt would be the city’s temporary police leader. Beggs said he wouldn’t rule out backing an insider being the next permanent police chief.
“My position is just get the best person,” Beggs said.
Though Beggs lost his bid in 2014 for county prosecutor when he ran as a Democrat, Council President Ben Stuckart said he won the South Hill district he was appointed to represent.
“The majority of voters in the South Hill – the district he will represent – have already voted for him,” Stuckart said. “That means he has the support of the people in the district.”
Staff editor Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on February 9, 2016 to correct an error about Beggs’ work with the Ombudsman Commission.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter