Shelly O’Quinn was expected to resign from the Spokane County Commission this month to lead a major nonprofit organization, but the Legislature’s inability to craft a bipartisan budget has thrown a wrench in her plans.
O’Quinn announced in April that she would resign to serve as chief executive officer of the Inland Northwest Community Foundation. State lawmakers were expected to pass a budget to fund the government that month, but Senate Republicans and House Democrats have deadlocked and appear likely to declare a third special overtime session.
O’Quinn technically started her new job on June 1, but has continued working in her elected position to advocate for key pieces of legislation of interest to the county, particularly a provision that would exempt the county’s behaviorial health organization from millions of dollars in penalties when it sends too many patients to Eastern State Hospital.
While learning the ropes of the CEO job, O’Quinn has been making phone calls, signing onto letters and meeting with state lawmakers in her role as commissioner. Barring another setback, her last day as commissioner will be July 16.
“When the Community Foundation asked when my start date would be, I said the end of the legislative session,” O’Quinn said, adding that she committed to finishing county business before devoting her full attention to the nonprofit. The foundation’s governing board, she said, “has been very understanding.”
For about a year starting in 2007, O’Quinn served as a senior program manager for the foundation, which manages a $110 million endowment and funds charitable causes across Eastern Washington and North Idaho. She was first elected to the three-member, exclusively Republican commission in 2012 and announced her resignation four months after starting her second term.
Stephanie Cates, chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, said precinct committee officers plan to meet on Aug. 5 to vote on a shortlist of three potential replacements for O’Quinn. Under state law, the other two commissioners, Al French and Josh Kerns, will have 60 days to select a new colleague from that list, or the responsibility of naming a successor will fall to Gov. Jay Inslee.
Cates said the party could nominate replacements as soon as O’Quinn formally resigns, but doesn’t want to take time away from the precinct officers, who are busy volunteering on campaigns ahead of Aug. 1 primary elections for seats on the Spokane and Spokane Valley city councils.
Five people are vying to replace O’Quinn: Spokane Valley Councilman Arne Woodard; Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase; Mary Kuney, the county’s chief deputy auditor; John Guarisco, an account manager at a Spokane Valley marketing firm; and Devin Samuelson, who owns an aerospace engineering firm in Spokane.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.