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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.