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Harpman Hatter renders Dr. Evil

Rick Bocook, a perennial figure at Spokane City Council meetings, has just a few issues he rails on at City Hall. Freedom for street musicians. The tyranny of the city's sit-lie ordinance. Sidewalk chalk drawings.

Bocook, AKA Harpman Hatter, was in fine form on this last front last night, as he rendered a perfect Dr. Evil - pinky and all - on an issue stemming from an article I wrote last month.

Now, I won't comment on his spelling, or delve into any similarities between Mayor David Condon and the characters from the Austin Powers film series. But I will note that any time anyone says, “One million dollars,” I can definitively say that the phrase rings in my head with the sound of one voice. And I usually have the desire to raise my pinky and an eyebrow.

The four most interesting things I learned in 2014 Spokane County elections

4. Voters at Fairchild Air Force Base support expanded background checks for gun sales – resoundingly.

Initiative 594 won the precinct at Fairchild 72 votes to 38. On the other hand, maybe they don't. Voters there also supported Initiative 591, though not by as much (59 votes to 51)

3. The days of calling the 6th Legislative District a swing district are gone.

When working on an election story recently, I was about to refer to the 6th as a swing district when my colleague, Jim Camden, reminded me that it only really swung for two elections. I might argue that the closeness of some other races besides the 2006 and 2008 cycles when Democrats won seats in the district made it a legitimate swing district longer than that, but his point is accurate; the 6th Legislative District, especially since redistricting, is Republican territory even when Democrats attract a well-known candidate and spend big.

2. Spokane loves its parks and loves its smooth streets even more.

Recent controversies about salaries of Mayor David Condon and other administrators at City Hall made many city leaders worried that voters would turn against the street levy and, especially, the park bond.

But whatever griping you might hear about City Hall, city leaders apparently have earned the trust of voters when it comes to streets and parks. Considering that voters under Mayor John Powers rejected a street tax at a time when streets clearly were in much worse condition, passing the street levy with nearly 78 percent support is a major turnaround. I’m guessing that the voters’ mood reflects that the city kept its promises after voters approved a street tax in 2004 under Mayor Jim West.

Spokane mayor not taking sides in WSU, UW battle over medical education

Spokane City Hall may be on the verge of having two separate and potentially competing legislative agendas for the first time in memory.

The priorities unveiled last week, which included backing for Washington State University's bid for its own medical school, represent only the City Council's agenda, said mayoral spokesman Brian Coddington.

Mayor David Condon hasn't taken sides in the battle between WSU and the University of Washington, which wants to expand a five-state physician training program in Spokane. Coddington said the mayor simply is backing state support for expanded medical education here regardless of which university takes the lead.

The distinction could put Spokane's lobbying corps in a bind when the 2015 session opens in January since the city may end up with two competing sets of priorities. Condon is expected to issue the official city legislative agenda later this year.

Mayor Condon invited to talk Thursday on IP and business growth in Spokane

Spokane Mayor David Condon is the guest speaker tomorrow — Thursday — at a business lunch hosted by K&L Gates law firm.

The lunch runs from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lincoln Center, at 1316 N. Lincoln St.

Condon will speak on the recent and historical successes of IP-centric businesses in the Spokane community.  Plated lunch and dessert will be served.  Condon is also likely to discuss his view of Spokane's business climate and growth prospects over the next year.

Reservations should be made by the end of today, by emailing john.nelson@klgates.com.

Tickets are $20.

Condon's remarks are related to the 2014 Inland Empire Intellectual Property Institute full-day CLE session.  For attorneys and law students wishing to register for the CLE, go to this link to register.

 

 

 

 

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.

Use of Force and Snowmageddon: A tale of Spokane’s savings account

Snowmageddon 2008 and Spokane's Use of Force Commission don't have much in common.

One was the harshest winter in a generation that paralyzed Spokane, and the other aims to reform the Spokane Police Department. 

But both are tied together by one of the city's savings accounts.

Earlier this month, we wrote about Mayor David Condon's 2014 budget proposal, in which he proposed adding 25 new officers to the force by paying off an old street bond with funds primarily from the contigency reserve. At that time, we said the fund was “intended to be saved for emergencies, such as 'Snowmageddon' in 2008, Ice Storm '96 and the eruption of Mount St. Helens.”

Which is true. That's the intent of the fund. But at last week's Finance Committee meeting, city Finance Director Gavin Cooley detailed how the fund has been used in the last ten years. Only one of the five times it's been dipped into could be described as an emergency, as most people would define it. (Of course, city leaders could make a case for the other four.)

In 2003, they dipped into the fund for a $1 million withdrawal, which went towards paying for early retirements for some of the city's workers. 

In 2008, $500,000 was taken out for the apocalyptic Snowmageddon, which dumped 100 inches of snow on us, snarling traffic, shutting the city down and cursing the lives of every person to lift a snow shovel that dreaded winter. 

In 2009, another $400,000 was taken out for more early retirements.

In 2011, the city used $336,000 to purchase JustWare, a fancy new computer program used to integrate our region's criminal justice system.

And earlier this year, $1.112 million of contingency reserve funding was used to implement some recommendations from the Use of Force Commission, which we wrote about today.

So, obviously, the fund isn't used simply to combat the excesses of Mother Nature. She just isn't that punishing in the Inland Northwest. And that's why the city is reviewing how it uses this fund. 

But for the time being, the city is using it for one time purposes, which go toward budget reduction, police accountability or snow plows. We can all agree on that last one.

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.

Breaking Ground at Huntington Park

Flanked by earthmovers and pickups, with the Riverfront Park gondolas gliding overhead, Scott Morris talked fondly Tuesday of the year 1889, city parks, Spokane and the company he runs, Avista.

“We, in a sense, grew up together,” Morris said to a gathering of about 50 people from the city and Avista. The energy company was founded almost 125 years ago, and Manito and Riverfront parks were created, in part, by cooperation between his company and the city.

And now there’s another partnership between the city and energy company, and it will end with more outdoor public space.

As Morris and Spokane Mayor David Condon climbed into two bulldozers and moved some dirt around, a new Huntington Park moved that much closer to realization. The four-acre park runs along the lower Spokane Falls on the south side of the river. Huntington and Riverfront parks will be connected by a plaza running between City Hall and the old Washington Water Power building.

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.

Book ‘em Davo

Spokane Mayor David Condon fired the first shots today on the Spokane Police Academy's new rifle range.

The new range, described as a first-class facility, was built primarily with free student labor as part of a carpentry apprenticeship program, the police department said. The police academy serves as a regional training site for more than 40 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as U.S. military active duty, reservists and ROTC cadets.

Condon, a U.S. Army veteran, was on hand as part of an official dedication ceremony.

Two forms of ID, please

WASHINGTON — A change in Pentagon security procedures almost derailed Spokane's most recent formal pitch for new refueling tankers to land at Fairchild Air Force Base.

A group of city business and political leaders were in Washington, D.C. last week to meet with lawmakers and bureaucratic bigwigs to lobby for several pet projects. Chief among those was ensuring the new KC-46A tanker aircraft, rolling off Boeing production lines in Everett, would wind up in Fairchild's hangars.

But several members of the group, including Mayor David Condon and Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Rich Hadley, found themselves on the curb looking in when Pentagon security required two forms of identification to enter the building…  

To read the rest of this item or to comment, continue inside the blog.

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.

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.

Condon weighs in on Fagan letter

Spokane Mayor David Condon has issued statement criticizing a letter signed by City Councilman Mike Fagan that calls Gov. Jay Inslee “a lying whore.”

“Words like this have no place in public discourse,” Condon said in a prepared statement released this afternoon by the city. “This language doesn’t represent the community we all live in.”

When asked about the letter on Thursday, Condon said he wanted to talk to Fagan about it beforre making a comment.

Five Spokane City Council members, Mike Allen, Steve Salvatori, Jon Snyder, Ben Stuckart and Amber Waldref, also have condemned the letter. City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin is on vacation and attempts to reach her have been unsuccessful.

Watch the mayor, police chief in TV forum tonight

Mayor David Condon and Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub will take viewer questions tonight in a live program on KSPS, Channel 7.

Talk to City Hall starts at 7 p.m.

I'll join Kristi Gorenson of KXLY on the program. Viewers can email questions to cityhall@ksps.org. We'll focus on police department policies and other city business.

Flags to half-staff for Connecticut victims

OLYMPIA — As state leaders weigh in with shock, sadness and support for the families of the Connecticut shooting victims, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered state flags lowered to half-staff through Tuesday.

Gregoire called the shootings in Newtown, Conn., “incomprehensible” adding “all Washingtonians stand with me in expressing our profound sorrow and grief.”

Governor-elect Jay Inslee called it “an incredibly dark day for our nation” and a day of mourning. “But in the days to come I will be listening to all in our community with ideas for how we can prevent such violence.”

Spokane Mayor David Condon described the community as “heartbroken” but said the city and school district have a commitment to student safety. “The City of Spokane and Spokane Public Schools work closely together in many ways to help ensure that our kids are safe at school and within our community.”

Sen. Ed Murray of Seattle, the Senate Democratic leader, called it a “horrendous, senseless shooting” but the kind of violent action that is becoming too frequent. “I believe we are long overdue to have the politically difficult discussion of how we prevent them.”

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.

Condon relents on ombudsman

Spokane’s first police ombudsman will keep his job for another year.

Mayor David Condon decided in August not to renew Ombudsman Tim Burns’ three-year contract. The move angered some City Council members, who questioned why Condon was willing to let the city go without an ombudsman even as the city works through recent scandals involving police misconduct.

Condon argued that it didn’t make sense to rehire Burns for three more years until the city’s Use of Force Commission makes its final recommendation about a new oversight model. The city’s ombudsman law only allowed for three-year terms.

After outcry from the City Council, however, Condon soon reversed course, offering to let Burns stay until the end of the year, and the council changed the law to allow flexibility in the length of ombudsman’s tenure.

On Monday, the City Council approved unanimously a deal between Condon and Burns that allows Burns to continue leading the city’s police oversight program until Aug. 2.

Condon approves repeal of West Central alcohol zone

Spokane Mayor David Condon has agreed to dissolve the zone that could have led to restrictions of high-octane beer sales in the West Central Neighborhood.

The Spokane City Council voted 4-3 earlier this month to remove the neighborhood’s designation as an Alcohol Impact Area. The close vote meant that Condon had the power to veto the decision.

Condon pays to fly four to Spokane to back Straub

Tired of hearing negative things about the man he selected to be police chief, Mayor David Condon and his top administrator personally paid to fly four Indiana residents to Spokane to vouch for him.

The four, including the former editor of the Indianapolis Star and the leader of the Indianapolis fire union, told the Spokane City Council on Monday night that Condon’s pick, Frank Straub, is a hard-working, caring reformer who listens to the community. Straub last month left his job as Indianapolis’ public safety director after a controversial two-year tenure.

After the four Hoosiers and 10 others testified, the council appointed Straub as Spokane’s new director of law enforcement in a 6-0 vote. (Councilman Steve Salvatori was absent.)

Straub promises innovation for SPD

Spokane Mayor David Condon made it official Wednesday, naming former Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Straub as his choice to take over leadership of the city's scandal-scarred police force. The appointment requires City Council confirmation, which could take up to a month to bring to a vote, but a majority already have indicated their support for the pick.

Straub brings an interesting background to Spokane. He's served in a various law enforcement capacities at the federal, state and local levels. His experience includes spearheading corruption investigations as a special agent with the U.S. Justice Department to helping craft strategies for improving community trust in law enforcement while overseeing public safety services in the upscale New York City suburb of White Plains. And while he held a key role in developing anti-terrorism training for the New York Police Department in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and has led dignitary protection teams for the U.S. foreign service, Straub has never worked as a patrol officer in a local law enforcement agency.

The lack of street cop experience is a common criticism among Straub's detractors, of which he has many. An article on the Indianapolis Star newspaper's online site about Condon's announcement Wednesday quickly filled up with comments from readers happy to see him go.

In case you missed The SR's coverage of Straub's selection, you can find Wednesday's print edition version of the story here.

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.

Spokane losing first police ombudsman

Spokane’s first police ombudsman will soon be out of a job, and the city may be without a permanent replacement for several months.

Mayor David Condon has decided not to renew Ombudsman Tim Burns’ three-year contract that expires Aug. 24, said City Administrator Theresa Sanders. He will keep his job, however, until Oct. 31.

Sanders said Condon was uncomfortable extending Burns’ stay for the long term because the position is likely to change. The city’s Use of Force Commission is due to release its final recommendations for a reformed police oversight model next month. Condon also has said he will select a new police chief by the end of this month.

Read the rest of SR reporter Jonathan Brunt's article here.

Police chief candidates down to two

Mayor David Condon said Wednesday that he is “very confident” one of two remaining finalists will be the next Spokane police chief, despite a law enforcement panel’s recommendation that he restart the search.

Either Daniel Mahoney, the commanding officer of the Ingleside Police Station within the San Francisco Police Department, or Frank Straub, director of public safety in Indianapolis, will be the city’s next top cop.

Read the rest of my story here.

July 26: Read a summary of the candidates' interviews last week here.

Mayor plans to take full $169k salary next year

Spokane Mayor David Condon is proposing to eliminate 100 City Hall jobs to avoid raising taxes next year.

But he wants to boost spending in at least one area: his own paycheck.

Condon, who agreed to hold his annual salary to $100,000 in his first year, intends to begin taking the full mayoral salary of about $169,000 beginning in 2013.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Condon was advised by the city's legal staff to take the full amount rather than continue former Mayor Mary Verner's pledge to hold the mayor's annual salary at $100,000, which has created accounting and other problems for the potential problems for the city.

The city charter specifies that the mayor should be paid equal to the highest-paid city employee, which currently is Fire Chief Bobby Williams at $169,000. Condon agreed to accept the lower amount for 2012, saying that he would abide by the amount included in the budget that was in place when he took office but he made no promises for the remainder of his four-year term.

Meanwhile, the job cuts are necessary to avoid raising property taxes, he said.

Most of the 100 positions on the chopping block, including 19 in the police department, already are vacant but as many as 35 employees could be looking at layoff notices next year to close an estimated $10 million shortfall. Condon said none of the layoffs would come from the police or firefighting forces.

“This is a flat budget,” he said during a noon rollout of the proposed $164.5 million general fund budget, which essentially is the city's discretionary spending plan. Condon expects to unveil a separate capital budget later.

Condon boosts City Hall outreach

Early in his term, Mayor David Condon appeared frustrated with the city’s ability to stay in touch with its citizens.

“It should be easier to contact the mayor and to get back to you,” Condon said in a televised call-in show with the mayor and City Council President Ben Stuckart that aired live on KSPS in February.

Condon noted that he previously worked on the staff of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and was used to helping answer and track large volumes of constituent questions and concerns.

This month, Condon is unveiling two new communication strategies already commonly used by other government officials. On Tuesday, Condon and a few other city administrators responded to questions on Facebook during the city’s first official Facebook chat. Both events are focused on getting citizen input on the 2013 budget.

“This is another way we can communicate,” Condon said, while taking a break from answering questions. “Were doing it during the lunch hour so people if they wanted to can break away from work and see what their city is up to.”

Former Spokane mayor offers early praise for Condon

Former Spokane Mayor Sheri Barnard voted for Mary Verner.

But she’s impressed with the first several months of Mayor David Condon's administration.

“So far, I think the moves he’s made are excellent,” Barnard said.

City and county transfer WorkForce Council to Spokane CCS

UPDATED:  At 1 p.m., we learned that the city and county don't provide money to the Workforce Development Council. Which means this was a politically necessary system that involved some overview by city and county officials, but without any skin in the game.

City Communications Manager Marlene Feist said: “For the first time, SAWDC did get a County grant this year—an outside agency grant for $20,000.

“The SAWDC funding primarily comes from federal and state grants,” Feist noted.

The Spokane Area Workforce Development Council, a joint effort between the City of Spokane and Spokane County, will be relocated as an operation of Community Colleges of Spokane.

The transferl is part of efforts top align workforce services more efficiently and to let Workforce work more closely with the community colleges. 

The SAWDC will continue as a nonprofit agency. Its goals are: closing the skills gap, helping workers gain new skills, helping workers and companies improve productivity and reduce poverty in the region.

A press release said the new plan should make it easier for the agency to find money  from a more sources and streamline management.

An interlocal agreement between the city and county allowed the SAWDC to operate as a city department for nearly four decades.

The release said:  “But as the city and county have looked for ways to improve services for citizens, moving the SAWDC to a non-profit made sense.  Workforce development agencies across the state and nation have thrived using a similar approach.

“This change reflects another model of collaboration between the city and county,” says Mayor David Condon.  “At the city, we are making changes to focus our efforts on what we do best and allow others to operate services that are outside our area of expertise.”