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Online petition targets Spokane County CEO hiring process

After lodging a formal complaint last month alleging the process to select the next Spokane County chief executive violated open meeting laws, former Commissioner Bonnie Mager has launched a petition to start the recruitment all over.

Bonnie Mager's online petition
Mager wants the county to hire a recruiting firm.

The petition, launched on the website Change.org, asks residents to support hiring a national recruitment firm to select the next chief executive of the county. The position, which pays about $162,000 annually, was advertised in the January pages of The Spokesman-Review, Seattle Times, The Oregonian and The Salt Lake Tribune, as well as several online publications targeting public sector employees.

However, the county did not elect to hire a recruitment firm, as was done by the Spokane County Health District and Spokane Public Schools when they were seeking replacements for top officials. Mager says that was a mistake.

"By their actions, they not only tried to deceive the public, they also put upper management and Spokane business leaders in the position of serving as a smoke screen for a decision that was made years ago - when Marshall Farnell received his $33,000 raise to postpone his retirement," Mager alleges. 

Farnell was given a raise in June 2012, following a consultant's study that showed his compensation was in the bottom 25 percent of chief executives in similarly sized counties. Mielke was absent for the vote on Farnell's raise, with commissioners Al French and Mark Richard approving the pay bump.

A panel of community business leaders, picked by French and Shelly O'Quinn, forwarded Mielke's name as their top choice to replace Farnell, who officially announced his retirement earlier this year after working for Spokane County since the early 1970s. Richard L. Davis, of West Jordan, Utah, was the other finalist interviewed by French and O'Quinn last month. 

County staff anticipate naming Farnell's replacement by June 15. But French and O'Quinn, who will decide the next CEO, have not publicly commented when the decision is to be made. Mager's request for an investigation into the hiring process was forwarded to the Attorney General several weeks ago.

Mager asks for probe into County CEO search

Former Commissioner Bonnie Mager wants the state Attorney General's Office to look into the process used to pick Todd Mielke as the front-runner for the Spokane County CEO job.

Mager delivered a letter to Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell on Monday requesting the probe and alleging possible violations of the state's Ethics Code and Open Public Meetings Act. Mielke was named the top choice by a panel of business luminaries to replace outgoing Chief Executive Officer Marshall Farnell, who announced his retirement earlier this year. Public interviews are scheduled to take place Wednesday with Mielke's colleagues, Al French and Shelly O'Quinn. Candidate Richard L. Davis is also expected to be interviewed Wednesday morning.

Mager, who was defeated by French in the November 2010 election, calls Mielke's application for the CEO job while a sitting county commission "an inherent conflict of interest" that violates the state's ethics code precluding officials from using their positions to gain special privileges or beneficial, insider knowledge. 

Mielke has said his tenure as county commissioner, dating to 2004, gives him an advantage over others applying for the position. In a cover letter submitted to the county CEO selection committee in April, Mielke wrote, "For the past 11 years, I have served as an elected county commissioner, have been entrenched in the operations of Spokane County, and have had as deep of involvement than anyone in the workings of counties throughout Washington State since 2004."

Farnell's salary was increased in June 2012, with the approval of French and former Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard. Mielke was listed absent from that meeting in public records.

Calls placed to Mager and Mielke were not immediately returned Monday afternoon. Haskell said through Spokane County spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter he would be meeting with his senior deputies to determine what course of action to take.

This story is developing and will be updated as more information is available.

Mager endorses Johnson in County Commission race

In an unsurprising move, former County Commissioner Bonnie Mager endorsed Democrat Mary Lou Johnson on Tuesday in her bid to unseat GOP incumbent Al French in the November election.

Mager, who finished third in the August primary as an independent, served as a Democrat on the commission from 2006 to 2010. She was unseated by French, a former Spokane City Council member, in the 2010 general election.

Johnson's campaign announced the endorsement in an email Tuesday morning. The campaign said Mager had encouraged her supporters to back Johnson in the November general election.

The incumbent defeated his Democratic challenger by just 222 votes in the primary, but Mager carried an additional 8,000 ballots and the general election is open to voters countywide while the primary included only ballots cast in the county's third district. In the primary, fewer than 30,000 votes were cast; that number will likely quintuple in the general election.

To read the rest of this item, go inside the blog.

Tim Connor’s “The French Connection”

Tim Connor's recent post  "The French Connection" is a compelling piece of political intrigue, alledging Al French used the Spokane County Assessor's office against Bonnie Mager in the nasty race for County Commissioner's last fall.

If you recall, Mager said French broke the state's electioneering law by sponsoring email distributions that contained falses statements about property tax delinquency on grazing land that she and her husband own adjacent to their home near Cheney. The County Assessor's office provided these records to French without delay - and didn't they didn't exist before he filed his request.

In 2005, when Mager was campaigning against made a public records request about the hiring of Stephen Harris, the third son of then-County Commissioner Phil Harris to have been given a job by Spokane County during Harris's terms on the board.  She wanted to know if the decision to  hire the commissioner's son had been made before the job was even advertised. The county didn't offer the records.

But what’s more important is the contrast between how her request was treated with how French’s request was treated. Mager had to wait more than a month to receive a copy of the record. French got it right away, within a few hours after he requested it. Indeed, it appears the document would not even have been created had he not asked for it.

Mapping the 2010 Vote: County Commissioner

Data from Spokane County Elections Office/Computer analysis by Spin Control

County Commissioner Bonnie Mager concedes

The nail biter is over. Last night County Commissioner Bonnie Mager conceded to former Spokane City Councilman Al French. In yesterday’s ballot counting, French opened ahead with 2, 752 votes, making one of the most contested local races a done deal. Below is a statement from Mager:

Dear Friends,

As there are only 750 votes left to count, it’s time to bring our campaign to a close so that we can move forward from here.

I am so very grateful for the opportunity to serve as your Spokane County Commissioner.  I’ve been honored to meet and help members of our community and make a difference where I could.

Though I will not be returning for the upcoming term, I am proud of the things I accomplished while in office - with your feedback and support - and in particular the nearly 3 million dollars saved as a direct result of my leadership and efforts.

Salvatori concedes, says Holy could top French

In an e-mail to supporters on Friday, Spokane County commissioner candidate Steve Salvatori said a recount is likely in the primary battle for commissioner.

But he added that he doesn’t expect to be in the running.

“We made a valiant comeback effort on the Thursday ballot count, reducing our gap from 4 percent to 2 percent. But our hat is off to Jeff Holy, who did even better, and is now within 150 votes of Al French (we are 500 votes back). If the final ballots which will be counted Monday, hold true to their ratios from Thursday, Jeff will catch Al, and we will end up 300 – 400 votes behind. It looks like Jeff and Al may end up so close, that it may trigger a recount,” said Salvatori’s message to supporters.

The county election’s office will count almost all of the remaining estimated 10,000 ballots today. About 3,600 of those are in the county’s 3rd County Commissioner District where French, Holy and Salvatori were on the ballot along with Democratic incumbent Bonnie Mager, who easily won the primary and a spot on the November ballot.

French’s lead for second place over Holy fell from 434 to 158 from the first count on Tuesday to the most recent tally on Thursday.

To trigger a recount, French’s and Holy’s tallies must be within .5 percent of each other without considering the tallies of other candidates, said Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton. As of Friday, 9,172 people had voted for either French of Holy. French had 4,665 of those votes, giving him 50.9 percent of the ballot that voted for him or Holy. Since Holy has only 49.1 percent of those votes, the gap currently is well above the .5 percent required for a recount.

If the gap falls below .25 percent, the ballots must be counted by hand.

Here’s a map showing the areas won by the GOP candidates in the primary.

To read Salvatori’s full message keep reading this entry.