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McLaughlin: County commission seat would be ‘a natural fit’

The game of musical chairs that may take place in the coming months at the Spokane County Courthouse may end with a familiar face on the Board of County Commissioners.

Former Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin has long been rumored as a favorite of the Republican Party and government leaders to fill a GOP vacancy on the board. McLaughlin said Tuesday the thought crept back up last week after reading current Commissioner Todd Mielke is mulling a play at the county's chief executive seat, with the announced retirement of longtime county official Marshall Farnell.

"I would love to be at the table," McLaughlin said, adding that she already has served two terms as a Spokane City Councilmember and on the Spokane International Airport board.

The chatter is early in the process, as the Board of County Commissioners hasn't yet finalized the panel that will select Farnell's replacement. But the timetable shrinks considerably if Mielke is picked by the two sitting county commissioners, fellow Republicans Al French and Shelly O'Quinn, to take Farnell's place. State law requires county commissioners to fill a vacancy within five days of the incumbent's departure, or Governor Jay Inslee - a Democrat - would be authorized to select a new commissioner to round out the board.

"I guess if all the stars line up, and Todd is the No. 1 choice, I think I'd be interested," McLaughlin said.

The co-owner of a construction firm with her husband, David, McLaughlin was first elected to the Spokane City Council in 2005. While there, she said she built a strong relationship with sitting county commissioner Al French, who was a councilman at the time.

"Al was the one that really helped me out," McLaughlin said. "It was like walking in a foreign country."

McLaughlin was re-elected to a second term in 2009, then made an unsuccessful bid for the Washington state Senate against Democrat Andy Billig in 2012. McLaughlin said she'd bring a different perspective to the three-member Board of County Commissioners, should she be selected.

"Al has experience on big projects, and Shelly has nonprofit experience," she said. "I have a small business background."

County commissioners voted last week to approve a timetable for naming Farnell's replacement. The review committee should be selected and meet at the end of this month or early in February. Four members of the county's executive team (Farnell, Chief Financial Officer Bob Wrigley, Human Resources Director Cathy Malzahn, and Chief Operations Officer John Dickson) will pick 10 applicants to forward to the review committee, who will interview the candidates in March and April. The Board of County Commissioners (presumably French and O'Quinn, with Mielke abstaining) would interview the top applicants chosen by the review committee shortly thereafter, with a two-person vote for the next chief executive officer of the county to follow.

Farnell has promised to remain with the county for what he called a "transition period" last week. Spokane County has advertised the CEO position in The Spokesman-Review and other regional newspapers.

Lemons to lemonade?

An interesting story now posted on spokesman.com relates that bleak budgetary times have county officials like Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard and budget officer Marshall Farnell talking aloud about local government consolidation.

Between Spokane County and the city of Spokane, just to be clear. Richard is quoted as speaking specifically about law enforcement activities. 

We missed a bet (in my opinion) a decade ago by not approving a unified local government. How odd if a recession puts that option back on the table.

Check out the story, then share your reactions.