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Salvatori replacement will be able to hire a full-time assistant

Although soon-to-be former Spokane City Councilman Steve Salvatori famously gave up a full-time council assistant and made arrangements to send the $50,000 allocated for the position to worthwhile community causes instead, his replacement would still be able to hire one.

Turns out that $20,000 of the allocation earmarked for the University District Development Association has yet to be distributed, and now is being held back.

Council President Ben Stuckart said he and Salvatori already have discussed the need to suspend the distribution in case his replacement chooses to hire an assistant. Salvatori's last council meeting will be July 8 and the council is hoping to have a replacement selected by the end of August, which means it should be enough to cover the salary and benefits of an assistant for the remainder of the year.

Salvatori was a vocal critic of what he called “mission creep,” and pointed to growth in how much the council was spending on itself. The move to provide a full-time assistant for each council member beginning this year was one of his prime examples, and he noted that just six years ago the seven-member council all shared one assistant, then provided part-timers for each council member, adding healthcare benefits shortly after that, and expanding them to full-time this year.

He arranged with Stuckart to have the money allocated for his assistant be spent on homeless and youth services and economic development efforts. It landed both in front of the city's Ethics Committee earlier this month on allegations they failed to properly disclose Salvatori's connections to one of the groups. The ethics panel split 3-3 and dumped the complaints.

Stuckart to seek re-election next year

Spokane City Council Chairman Ben Stuckart is already making plans for next year's election, saying today he will seek another term in his current position.

Stuckart, currently part of a liberal/progressive/Democratic majority on the council, had been rumored as a potential candidate for mayor against incumbent David Condon, who might best be described as a conservative/business/Republican.

Technically, city elective positions are non-partisan. Mayor and council president are the only positions elected city wide. Council members are elected by district.

In a press release this morning, however, Stuckart said he wanted “to remove any doubt to  his commitment to lead an agressive legislative agenda as council president.”

To read the entire press release, or to comment, go inside the blog.

The new Goat Standard

By spending nearly a year meeting with neighborhood groups and others to develop an urban farming plan that addressed various concerns before bringing it to a final vote, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart has created an unexpected new problem.

Any plan on almost any topic that the City Council considers from now on is likely to be criticized by opponents as “rushed” and inadequately “vetted,” with critics pointing to the sweeping community efforts taken by Stuckart to win support for allowing Spokane residents to raise small livestock in their backyards if they want.

Call it the new Goat Standard for community and stakeholder involvement.

Mayor David Condon used it to drive home his concerns that the City Council rushed its anti-sprawl measure to a final vote without adequately involving the community to identify and address any legitimate concerns. Condon, who vetoed the measure, noted that the anti-sprawl didn't get the laudably expansive efforts Stuckart took to craft the urban farming plan.

Developers also picked up on it.
 
Stuckart, for his part, already is growing weary of the tactic.
 
“Just because I set a high benchmark with urban farming, doesn't mean every ordinance is going to go through a yearlong process,” he said. “We're not going to be doing that on everything.”
 
Regardless, expect to hear various renditions of the Goat Standard in the months ahead, particularly on issues that tend to divide the officially nonpartisan council along its partisan 4-3 split.

Condon asks Police Guild for contract changes

Spokane Mayor David Condon is heeding the advice of Spokane City Council members who have pushed him to reopen contract negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild.

The mayor and guild agreed to a tentative four-year labor contract last fall, but that deal was rejected by the City Council in November. It was nearly rejected a second time in December before the council opted to delay a vote until Feb. 3.

City officials confirmed this week that administrators have sent proposed changes to the proposed contract to the mediator working with the city and guild. Condon met in a private session with the City Council on Monday to talk about negotiations with the guild. City spokesman Brian Coddington said he could not provide details on the city’s most recent proposal.

Early this year, City Council President Ben Stuckart sent a letter to Condon urging him to reopen negotiations to spare the council from rejecting the deal again.

New Spokane City Council casts first 4-3 votes

The new majority of the Spokane City Council flexed its muscles twice on Monday in the first 4-3 votes of the year.

Both votes rejected nonbinding efforts to back a state Senate bill designating energy produced at the city’s Waste-to-Energy Plant as renewable.

But council members who cast no votes say they generally support the legislation and were reacting to what they say was a rushed vote with no public notice.

The city has been pushing state officials for years to designate the energy produced at the incinerator as renewable. Energy labeled renewable can garner higher prices, and energy produced at the Waste-to-Energy Plant used to have the renewable classification. The proposal has been in the city’s official lobbying agenda the last few years, including the one that was unanimously approved by the council late last year.

The new 4-3 majority – council members Ben Stuckart, Candace Mumm, Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref – rejected a plea from Councilman Steve Salvatori to rush a vote on a nonbinding resolution supporting the Senate bill. The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, will get a hearing in Olympia on Thursday.

Because the City Council nonbinding resolution wasn’t introduced until today, it didn’t appear on the council’s agenda and needed five votes to be considered.

Stuckart relents on supermajority rule

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart will soon be handing out duties to the city’s six other council members.

The Spokane City Council on Monday unanimously agreed to give Stuckart the power to chose which members serve on what boards.

But Stuckart abandoned his proposal to require a supermajority vote to make future changes in the rules for how the council governed.

Each January, council members are assigned to sit on a variety of boards, including those that govern the city park system, the Spokane Transit Authority and the Spokane International Airport.

The change returns the rules to how they worked until the council revoked that right from former council President Joe Shogan.

Even though Stuckart will select a slate of council members to fill positions, the council still must vote on his picks. He said the process won’t change much.

14 Spokane City Council votes that would have been different under new majority

So the Spokane City Council will soon have a new, more liberal majority. And while some big issues haven't been decided along easily identified party lines, there likely will be a noticeable change.

To get a sense of the kind of policies that could be affected, here's a review of many of the 4-3 tallies cast since the council shifted to a more conservative bent after the 2011 election. The following votes ended with Republican-leaning Mike Allen, Mike Fagan, Nancy McLaughlin and Steve Salvatori beating out Democratic-leaning Jon Snyder, Ben Stuckart and Amber Waldref.

May 2013

  • Supporting the filing of lawsuits to stop two citizen initiatives from appearing on the ballot, including Envision Spokane’s proposed Community Bill of Rights.

April 2013

  • Rejection of proposal to pull money from reserves to hire 10 police officers.
  • Creation of 13 new public safety departments to allow Mayor David Condon to hire and fire more managers without using civil service rules.

Park department reorganization vote delayed

The Spokane City Council won't vote on proposed changes to the city's park department tonight.

Park Director Leroy Eadie pulled the proposal at the last minute after discussions with City Council President Ben Stuckart, who is opposed to the changes. 

Under Eadie's proposal, more senior department employees would be placed outside of Civil Service protections, and therefore be appointed by a mayor. Currently, just Eadie falls under such rules since he runs the department without an assistant.

Stuckart approached Eadie about delaying the vote after learning that Eadie wanted to come back with a similar proposal to further change the department. Now Eadie says he nwill wrap all his changes in a later ordinance.

Read our Sunday story on the proposed changes here.

Stuckart 1, Condon 0

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Candace Mumm topped all the candidates for Spokane’s Northwest City Council seat. Her two main opponents lean Republican and were bound to split the vote.

Topping 50 percent in a four-way race, however, is a win of sorts for her and clearly puts her as the front-runner for November.

On the other hand, Mumm was actively involved in this campaign:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we assume Mumm knows that she can’t take Tuesday’s win for granted.

That's because for one, summer turnout is low and few are paying attention. For another, the votes for third-place finisher Curtis Fackler are likely to go to Mumm’s November opponent, Mike Cannon. Perhaps most importantly, the race is likely to have an unprecedented amount of attention for a single City Council election, making it hard to know where the race goes from here.

Condon and Stuckart no Simon and Garfunkel

WARNING: This video is painful to watch and hear. Its only saving grace is that this exercise helped raise money for the Second Harvest Food Bank. Let's hope this duo does not reunite. The political pro of Street Music Week remains — sorry, mayor and council president — Mary Verner.

Spokane County loss on land deal finalized

Spokane County’s loss of more than $1 million in a land deal with the Spokane International Airport was completed Monday by the Spokane City Council.

In 2008, the county paid $3.2 million for nearly 400 acres between the airport and Fairchild Air Force Base to relocate a rail line that crossed the base and protect the base from encroaching development. County commissioners agreed to sell the land to the airport late last month for $1.75 million.

The Spokane City Council, which along with the Spokane County Commission must approve major airport financial decisions, unanimously approved the deal on Monday. The airport’s ownership is shared by the city and county.

Did the City Council violate City Charter?

Last night’s City Council meeting boiled down a debate on the definition of shall.

The Spokane City Council’s creation of 13 new public safety departments appears to violate the City Charter. But city attorneys insisted that “shall” does not always mean shall, at least not in the way the three City Council members on the losing side of the issue or perhaps a standard dictionary would define it.

Section 25 of the Spokane City Charter, at least on its face, appears to say that the City Council can’t create a new department except when it approves the annual budget – usually in December.

Here’s the exact language: “Administrative departments shall be created or discontinued by the city council at the time of the adoption of the annual budget, as the public business may demand. The rights, powers, and duties of the departments shall be prescribed, distributed, assigned, established, or discontinued by ordinance.”

Council President Ben Stuckart asked the council to defer the vote. He argued that shall means, well, shall.

Mobley won’t lead revamped arts agency

The woman who led the city’s arts department for 15 years before it was dismantled last year won’t be the permanent leader of the new agency promoting the arts in Spokane.

Karen Mobley said Thursday that she decided to step down as the interim director of the Spokane Arts Fund on March 31. The fund was revamped last year after Mayor David Condon followed through on former Mayor Mary Verner’s proposal to remove the arts department from city government.

Until late last year, the Spokane Arts Fund was the small nonprofit arm of the city’s Arts Commission. The fund now performs the functions of the city’s former department and has a $160,000 budget provided by the city and several agencies and businesses. The fund’s headquarters are located within the offices of Visit Spokane, the organization formerly known the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Ethics Commission drops complaints against Stuckart, Waldref

The Spokane Ethics Commission on Wednesday dismissed complaints against two City Council members who were accused of improperly using city resources to promote their positions on propositions on the ballot in last month’s special election.

Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilwoman Amber Waldref acknowledged that they sent an email newsletter advocating their positions on election issues that appeared to have been sent from their city email accounts. But both said that their newsletters were actually sent from a different address through an online newsletter service.

Stuckart, Waldref apologize for violations

Two Spokane City Council members have apologized for using their city email accounts to send campaign messages.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and Amber Waldref sent electronic newsletters to supporters recently that included their opinions on the three proposed measures that will be decided by voters in the city’s Feb. 12 special election.

The messages were sent via their city email accounts.

Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission, said government officials should not use government email accounts to promote or oppose items on a ballot.

Stuckart’s home burglarized a second time

Spokane City Councilman Ben Stuckart used first-hand experience when arguing at Monday's council meeting that the city should hire more cops.

Two weeks ago, when he and his wife were in Seattle, someone knocked in the back door of their home. It was the second time within 15 months that their South Hill residence was burglarized.

In an interview after the meeting, Stuckart said the burglar or burglars took his wife's and grandmother's jewelry, cash and an electronic food scale (which he surmised won't be used to weigh food anymore).

 

 

Council adopts Condon’s budget in predictable split

Spokane’s city government is shedding 92 jobs.

The Spokane City Council on Monday voted 4-3 to freeze the city general fund budget, largely accepting the recommendations of Mayor David Condon.

Condon proposed a $161 million general fund, which pays for police, fire, parks, libraries and other services paid with taxes. The total budget, including utilities like trash and water, will be $615 million.

The mayor’s budget eliminates the arts, and weights and measures departments. It will fund the equivalent of 2,033 full time jobs. It removes 19 police officer positions that already were vacant. It shrinks the on-duty firefighting force from 61 to 58 and removes the first-response firefighting capabilities of Fire Station 9 on the South Hill.

The council split was predictable. Republican-leaning council members, Mike Allen, Mike Fagan, Nancy McLaughlin and Steve Salvatori, voted for the budget. Democratic-leaning members Jon Snyder, Ben Stuckart and Amber Waldref opposed it. The same 4-3 split rejected Stuckart’s plans to shift money to pay for public safety positions or items that the city’s Use of Force Commission is expected to recommend to improve police services. They also reject for the second time in less than a month a 1 percent increase in property taxes.

Council may fight Condon on Burns’ dismissal

The Spokane City Council appears ready to challenge Mayor David Condon’s decision to release the city’s police ombudsman.

Condon has decided not to renew Ombudsman Tim Burns’ three-year contract. His last day is Oct. 31, though he’ll be using up vacation for the last month.

Council President Ben Stuckart said Friday that he is sponsoring a resolution requesting that Condon keep Burns on as ombudsman at least until a new police oversight system is in place. He hopes to win at least five votes for the proposal so a vote can take place on Monday.

Stuckart: I support Billig

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said Thursday that he didn't give City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin permission to use a picture of him on a campaign mailer for state Senate.

McLaughlin, a Repbulican, is running for state Senate seat that represents central Spokane against Democratic state Rep. Andy Billig.

The mailer, which began arriving in mailboxes this week, includes a picture of McLaughlin with Stuckart, Mayor David Condon and council members Mike Allen, Mike Fagan and Steve Salvatori.

Stuckart said in an interview that the picture was taken at a bill signing earlier this year.

“I endorsed Andy Billig the day he declared for the state Senate,” Stuckart said in a written statement. “For Nancy's campaign to use my photo implies endorsement of her candidacy. I denounce this action. It is misleading and inappropriate for her to use a photo of me in a campaign mailer.”

Council addresses downtown assaults

An ordinance that bans sitting or lying on downtown Spokane sidewalks during a 14-hour period of the day could be expanded to include more hours after a surge of assaults in the area.

“If we can make the environment uncomfortable for people who are committing crimes or are contemplating committing crimes, I think that’s a good thing,” Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said Monday at the city’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

Read the rest of my story here.

Marijuana initiative lists Spokane boosters

The campaign for Initiative 502, which would legalize some marijuana use, announced three “name” supporters Tuesday.

State Sen. Lisa Brown. Spokane Council President Ben Stuckart. The Rev. Happy Watkins.

Brown and Stuckart aren't big surprises, considering they've supported medical marijuana measures in the past. I-502 is a step beyond that, to decriminalizing small amounts of mairjuana for personal use, but it's not a big step. Brown said the taxes from legalized marijuana would help health care and drug prevention programs, and Stuckart said the city's policing resources could be better spent on more serious problems.

Watkins, however, is the campaign's “get.” In the announcement, he said he was looking at it from a community perspective. “When young adults are arrested and charged for marijuana possession, they are shamed, turned into second-class citizens and face long-term economic hardship,” he said in the press release announcing the endorsement.

A spokeswoman for the campaign said I-502 is lining up support in what she called “the faith community”, particularly among African-American ministers because the minority community may feel a bigger impact of the war on drugs. They announced support from three Seattle-area ministers last month.

Uptick in crime downtown a concern

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart is offering $10,000 from a City Council reserve fund for police overtime to help squash an uptick in crime downtown.

“After meeting with the business owners about their employees’ cars being broken into and a chef getting attacked, how can you not take action?” Stuckart said.

Read the rest of Jody Lawrence-Turner's story here.

Stuckart will wait to propose new gay marriage resolution

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said Tuesday that he's unlikely to propose a new resolution in support of gay marriage until opponents earn enough signatures to force the issue on the ballot.

At Monday's council meeting, Stuckart warned that he might repeatedly bring a resolution forward until the council takes a stance on the resolution, but he moderated that position today.

Stuckart said that since the City Council has previously taken positions on state ballot items, there is precedent for reconsidering the resolution if repeal of gay marriage makes it to a public vote.

If forced to take a vote on the resolution, council members agree it would be approved in a 5-2 vote. But two supporters of gay marriage, Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori, say the council shouldn't vote on it. They argue that it's not a local issue.

When he requested to table the resolution, Councilman Mike Fagan pointed to a council rule that says, “The Council shall not consider or pass any ordinance or resolution the subject matter of which is not directly related to local affairs or municipal business.”

Stuckart said the overflow turnout at the meeting, which attracted about 300 people — 93 of whom testified — is proof that the issue is local and affects the citizenry.

“I can't see why that's outside the city's business,” he said.


Documents:

Council considers rushing votes

The Spokane City Council on Monday will consider rushing its normal voting procedure to condemn the proposed Spokane Tribe of Indians casino on the West Plains.

Councilman Mike Fagan is sponsoring the resolution to put the city on record as opposing the casino and has asked that the council to suspend its rules so it can vote on the matter on Monday instead of giving the public more than a week’s notice before a vote.

“I feel that there’s a sense of urgency,” Fagan said.

The public usually gets well over a week’s notice about any issue on which the City Council conducts a vote. Notice for the resolution, however, wasn’t released until Thursday when Monday’s agenda was distributed.

Fagan said that the council’s schedule wouldn’t allow a vote on the matter until April 9 unless a vote is taken on Monday because the March 26 meeting is focused on neighborhoods and the April 2 meeting has been cancelled.

In order to suspend the rules, five of the seven council members would have to approve voting on the matter on Monday.

City Council President Ben Stuckart, who supports the tribe’s casino project, said there’s no reason to rush the resolution.

“If it’s an important enough issue, you should give the public time to know about it, be knowledgeable and prepare testimony,” he said.

Council rejects recommendation to limit corporate political spending

Most Spokane City Council members said Monday that they don’t like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that prevents lawmakers from limiting some forms of political spending by corporations.

But there wasn’t a majority who supported asking lawmakers to do anything about it.

The council rejected a nonbinding resolution asking Congress and state legislatures to amend the Constitution to reverse the decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment barred Congress from creating spending limits on corporations in political campaigns, though the court left intact the ability to limit direct donations to candidates.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who sponsored the resolution, Councilman Jon Snyder and Council President Ben Stuckart supported the resolution. Council members Mike Allen, Mike Fagan and Steve Salvatori rejected it. Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin was absent.

More than a dozen testified in support of the resolution. Only a couple of people, including a representative from Greater Spokane Inc., spoke against it.

City Council hits the road

The Spokane City Council will hit the road Thursday in a new monthly event meant to spark dialogue on city issues.

City Council President Ben Stuckart promised in his campaign for the office last year to hold regular forums outside Monday City Council meetings so council members could answer constituents’ questions more fully.

The forum, called “Talk About Town” will start at 7 p.m. at Browne Elementary School, 5102 N. Driscoll Blvd.

Stuckart said the new forums will allow for “two-way dialogue” that will be more conducive to topics that aren’t on the regular City Council agenda. For example, he noted that several childcare providers came to Monday’s meeting to discuss concern about state regulations, but council members didn’t have time to provide much feedback.

“We can have more of dialogue rather than just me giving a few statements after seven of them speak,” Stuckart said.

The forum will be held just before the start of the Northwest Neighborhood Council meeting.

Send your questions for Condon and Stuckart to KSPS

Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart will appear on a live call-in show on KSPS on Wednesday.

KSPS is accepting questions for the duo at cityhall@ksps.org. The show starts at 8 p.m.

I'll be on the panel for the show, Talk to City Hall, so feel free to post suggested topics here, as well. 

GSI sponsoring a morning question-answer session with new city officials

Greater Spokane Incorporated is hosting an event it calls Connect with the Elect. It's a morning questio-answer session with new folks on the Spokane City Council, including Mike Allen, Steve Salvatori and Council President Ben Stuckart.

It's Feb. 29 from 8 to 9:15 a.m. at the GSI building, 810 W. Riverside Ave.

To reserve a spot click RSVP.

Stuckart rearranges chairs, agendas

New Spokane City Council President may have lost an automatic seat on the Spokane Airport Board on Monday, but he still has the power to create a seating chart.

And he exercised that right by shuffling the seats on the dais that already were reshuffled by term limits and by voters last year.

Stuckart's predecessor, Joe Shogan, sat in the middle seat. Stuckart has chosen to sit at the council seat farthest to left to viewers (farthest to his right) and will sit next to City Administrator Theresa Sanders during afternoon council briefings. He shifted Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo to the seat next to him for the evening meeting.

Stuckart said he chose to sit to the side so he could have “a clearer view” that doesn't require looking both ways.

“I can actually see everybody's facial features and non-verbals, as well,” he said.

Next to him is Amber Waldref. He said he placed her there because he wanted to be seated next to someone with experience and that he was consulted her frequently on council business.

Hats on, hats off

Former Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan was well-known for his vigilance enforcing a ban on people wearing hats when testifying to City Council.

So any long-time observers of the City Council may have wondered if newly elected City Council President Ben Stuckart would be as strict, especially since Stuckart was extremely critical of Shogan's dealing with the public during his campaign.

The first test case was provided, not surprisingly, by Henry Valder, a frequent council attendee who often was ordered to remove a hat by Shogan. He approached the dias tonight with a hat on to speak about rules baring bottles and cans at Spokane Public Facilities District venues.

Stuckart didn't ask him to remove his hat.

But when Valder spoke a second time, on the council's appointment to the Spokane Airport Board, Stuckart ordered the hat removed.

After the meeting Stuckart said Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo leaned over and advised him to ask Valder to take off the hat.

He said he will clarify with Piccolo about the rules because it was not his intension to enforce a hat ban.

“I actually don’t have a problem with people wearing hats,” Stuckart said.