Challengers taking on incumbent Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs in the August primary say he’s too liberal.
But Beggs, who is seeking his first full term to the council after being appointed to the seat last year, says in his 17 months on the council he’s focused on meat-and-potatoes issues that affect nearly all residents while also working to protect the vulnerable.
His three challengers – Tony Kiepe, Andy Dunau and Bruce Vonada – are running on platforms critical of the council’s progressive majority.
“I think anyone that’s actually sat down and talked with me knows that I’m everybody’s council member,” Beggs said.
Beggs, a 54-year-old private practice attorney and former director of Spokane’s Center for Justice, said the relationship between the City Council and Mayor David Condon’s office has improved since he joined the panel and that his work has focused mostly on street repair and improving the city’s response to crime, both of which he called bipartisan issues.
Dunau, Keipe and Vonada all agreed city streets were a major priority for voters in Council District 2, which encompasses all of the South Hill and portions of the West Plains.
“I have a real desire to get back to basic services, to focus our priorities and our attention on basic needs,” said Dunau, who’s vying to replace Beggs after a five-year stint on the Spokane Park Board, including three years as that panel’s head of finances. Dunau, 57, runs a communications consulting firm bearing his name and is executive director of the Spokane River Forum, a nonprofit advocating health of the city’s river system.
Kiepe, 54, a former member of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and a Southgate Neighborhood resident, said Spokane needs to move away from lane-reducing road diets like the one that will begin next year on North Monroe Street, in order to aid the flow of traffic on the upper South Hill.
“I’m out doorbelling every weekend, and people say what are you going to do about the streets. That’s the No. 1 issue,” Kiepe said. He has become a fixture at City Council meetings in recent weeks often opposing the panel’s progressive majority and has the backing of several prominent local conservatives, including City Councilman Mike Fagan, former state Rep. John Ahern and Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins.
Vonada, a 70-year-old retired pilot, civil servant and college professor, kept his comments on streets defined to his neighborhood of Browne’s Addition, specifically the stretch of road just outside the window, where he’s also seen the city’s homeless population grow in the past several years. He said Spokane could better fund homeless and housing services and public safety by improving efficiency and better enforcing existing traffic and parking rules.
“Once the government starts a program, it never goes away,” said Vonada, who put in his paperwork to run for the seat on the final day of filing at the urging of his wife. “Throwing more money at it is never the solution. We need to look at how to redo it.”
Dunau, a resident of the city’s Rockwood Neighborhood on the South Hill, cast himself as a moderate, saying he didn’t agree with what he perceived as Kiepe’s position to eliminate all government regulations. He also opposes a fine for coal and oil trains running through downtown Spokane and a tax on sugary drinks to pay for more police officers, ideas that have both been explored by Beggs.
“I think it’s a very regressive policy that affects fixed-income people like grandma the most. Because it’s restricted to sugary drinks, we have a small slice of the population supporting hiring of police officers who are supposed to be protecting all of us,” Dunau said.
Beggs said he brought up the proposal after conferring with constituents on the South Hill and telling them paying for more officers – up to 44, at a potential cost of more than $5 million according to a consultant’s report – would require a narrowly targeted tax on sugary drinks, bumping up the overall sales tax or raising property taxes. He said that decision should be left to the voters, not the City Council, which has recently backed away from the sugary drinks tax.
“Taxes aren’t a bad thing if they’re spent on things people want,” Beggs said. “People are frustrated when they pay taxes for things they don’t want, or feel like there’s waste.”
Vonada said he believed the city needed to perform a thorough analysis of where taxpayer money was being spent to ensure the intended projects were being funded.
Kiepe said the city should be spending its money in smarter ways, buying more durable material to pave the roads to avoid problems like this winter’s outbreak of potholes. He also said he was running to ensure more people in the city have a say in government, especially those frustrated by a council that appears to have a strong ideological slant.
“I think we have to talk about our needs versus our wants. Mike Fagan is talking about needs, the council is talking about wants,” Kiepe said. He gave the example of the pedestrian bridge linking the East Sprague neighborhood with the University District, a $9.5 million project supporters say will provide a new gateway into a bustling health and education center of town, but opponents criticize as too costly. The project is being funded largely by a state grant.
Dunau, who served on the Park Board from 2011 until last year, said he had fiscal concerns about how the city was handling construction in Riverfront Park. Planners say they are on track and on budget, but Dunau sees a shrinking pot of money to complete improvements that were included in the pitch to voters to approve a $64 million bond in 2014.
“What I’m hoping for is for the Park Board and staff to show us their homework. Go district by district, explaining how much money is left and letting people weigh in on what choices they want to make,” he said.
Beggs said he anticipated opponents casting his policies as leaning left ideologically, but didn’t completely skirt the label. A provision protecting refugees in the latest revisions to Spokane’s human rights code was added at his direction, he said.
“I think I’m known for looking out for the vulnerable people in our community,” Beggs said. “If that makes me left, because I care, then I will own that.”
Ballots are being mailed this week for the primary election in Spokane’s three City Council districts. The top two vote-getters in each district will advance to the November general election. Ballots are due Aug. 1.
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