Spokane’s newest city councilwoman on Thursday swore to “boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Standing among a smiling contingent of family, friends and lawmakers, Kate Burke gave the standard oath of office a “Star Trek” tinge as she carried out her vow before Spokane City Clerk Terri Pfister.
“To me, the values and morals of ‘Star Trek’ are just what I love,” said Burke, who had one of the starfleet’s communicator badges pinned to her shirt. “I like how they don’t go in to disrupt anything. They just go in to observe and to learn.”
Inside the council chambers of City Hall, Burke’s partner, Devon Wilson, introduced the 28-year-old to a gathering of campaign volunteers and local legislators that included her former boss, state Sen. Andy Billig, state Rep. Timm Ormsby and City Councilman Breean Beggs.
“I just couldn’t have gotten here without you today,” Burke told them in brief remarks before taking the oath on a bound copy of the U.S. Constitution. “I just can’t begin to say how impressed I am with this community.”
Burke, 28, joins the council after stints as a legislative aide to Billig and work with several area nonprofits, including the Lands Council and Project Hope. In 2013, she formed the Spokane Edible Tree Project, which collects excess produce from fruit trees around town to donate to local food banks.
Burke defeated Tim Benn with 58 percent of the vote in the contest to replace outgoing Councilwoman Amber Waldref in northeast Spokane. Waldref had served on the council since 2009.
During the campaign, Burke stressed the need to direct City Hall’s attention to the northeast district of Spokane, which she said had been overlooked for sidewalk installation and repair, traffic safety measures and economic development.
The newest councilwoman said Thursday she’s been focusing on meeting with different city officials and researching the City Council’s legislative priorities for this year’s session of the Washington Legislature. They include statewide adoption of “ban the box,” an initiative to remove questions about criminal history from job applications, and campaign finance reform policies similar to the ones the council passed earlier this fall.
The council is also asking for an additional $2 million from the state to begin work with Spokane County to retrofit a building near the Spokane County Jail to house nonviolent offenders suffering from mental illness.
“I don’t think it’s logical this year,” Burke said, noting the Legislature plans a shortened session in 2018. “But I think we’ll start the conversation that’s really important.”
Yakima has a similar program, Beggs said, and it’s driven down costs because Medicaid funds can be used for operations. The idea would need approval from law enforcement and prosecutors, he said.
“This could potentially save millions of dollars for us,” Beggs added. “It could preserve scarce resources for the people who really do need jail.”
Burke has been named to the city’s legislative team and will visit Olympia with Beggs and Councilwoman Candace Mumm in the coming weeks to push those priorities, she said.
Beggs and Mumm were re-elected to the council last month. They performed their oaths of office at Monday night’s council meeting, the final session of the year.
State law requires a local elected official to take their oath of office either at the final scheduled meeting of the City Council or up to 10 days prior to assuming office. Burke’s first day is scheduled for Jan. 1, which makes Thursday night’s oath ceremonial. She’ll take the oath again Friday morning in the city clerk’s office before holiday travel, she said.
Burke’s first meeting as a councilwoman will be Jan. 8, when the panel reconvenes after a holiday break.
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