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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.

Shelly O’Quinn says she now supports 5-member county commission

Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said Tuesday she supports the proposal to swell the ranks of the commission by two members.

“I’ve been on the fence about it in the past,” O’Quinn said at an afternoon meeting of the commission. “I’m not on the fence anymore.”

O’Quinn said after the meeting she was swayed by “multiple factors,” including the number of boards and commissions she and her colleagues are required to sit on and the size of the county’s population.

She did not specifically mention the complaint about personal cellphone use to conduct county business leveled against her and Todd Mielke by Al French. But she did say it’s difficult for commissioners to communicate in a three-member system.

“All three of us are very sensitive” to the Open Public Meetings Act, O’Quinn said. That law requires public notice if county business is being discussed by a quorum of a public agency, which in the case of the Spokane County Commission is two members.

In February, O’Quinn said she wanted to see signatures from enough residents of the county before supporting a ballot measure to increase the size of the currently all-Republican commission. She said Tuesday she didn’t know if Karen Kearney, the community activist who brought the proposal to commissioners earlier this year, was collecting those signatures. But she said now is the time to have the discussion about the size of the county’s legislative and executive governing body.

O’Quinn asked that commissioners take up the issue in June. That would allow a November vote on the issue by the public. The deadline to propose a ballot measure for the Nov. 3 general election is Aug. 4.

Transit tax creates rift on Spokane County Commission

The usually monolithic Spokane County Commission showed signs of cracking Tuesday, as Shelly O'Quinn and Todd Mielke took colleague Al French to task for using a monthly TV program to highlight an April ballot measure on an increased sales tax for transit.

French said the program was meant to be informational, not an endorsement or condemnation of the proposed three-tenths sales tax increase that would fund several proposed Spokane Transit Authority projects through 2025.

"I didn't know it was open until that week," French said, referring to his taped appearance on KSPS's 'Spokane County Spotlight' that will air next month. "Staff came to me and said we have an opening, do you think you could do anything here?"

"That is not true," retorted Mielke. "You had your staff calling for a week saying, who's going to use the spot, because if you don't use the slot, Commissioner French wants the slot."

Mielke said he felt sidelined in the debate about whether to support the proposed STA sales tax increase. While French has spoken out in favor of the sales tax increase, O'Quinn voted against putting the measure before voters because she disagrees with STA's plans on how to use the money. She said Tuesday that she didn't think French should even tape an informational program about the ballot measure, because she also disagrees with the information STA is disseminating to voters. 

"They say it's three pennies on $10, they never say it's $300 million," she said. "I have a problem with the messaging behind it, and I don't want to be associated with the messaging. I don't think we're being open and transparent with the community."

O'Quinn also said she was concerned that, in the lengthy discussions about the STA ballot measure, the county's proposed extension of a one-tenth sales tax to fund juvenile justice programs could get lost in the shuffle. Spokane County voters have approved the sales tax four times since 1995, and O'Quinn said the extension is a vital part of the county's budget - totaling about $8 million - that staff count on to run certain programs.

French listened to O'Quinn and Mielke, leaning back in his chair away from the pair and stroking his chin as they spoke. He denied claims that he was using his position as county commissioner to give the impression his colleagues were in favor of the tax increase.

O'Quinn and Mielke asked that a disclaimer run beneath French's program on KSPS saying the county has not taken an official position on the ballot measure, which French agreed to. Ballots will be mailed early next month, and STA has already been circulating an informational mailing that makes their case for a sales tax increase.

According to KSPS's programming schedule, French's program will debut April 11

Valley Council favors Sunshine Disposal offer

Spokane Valley likely will be taking a pass on joining the county's regional solid waste system.

The city council unanimously decided tonight to advance a proposed contract with Sunshine Disposal & Recycling for final consideration next week, despite warnings from county officials who contend that comparisons suggesting Valley residents would save at least $250,000 a year are flawed. Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke said the difference between the Sunshine rate and the county's estimate is almost indistinguishable when all variables are taken into account, while Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn added that the county plan provides greater overall cost benefits and better customer service.

City officials stood by their comparisons, however, and council members said it would be irresponsible to move forward with a county plan that lacks any rate guarantees. Sunshine's offer included a guaranteed rate with future increases kept below inflation.

The proposed Sunshine contract will be brought to a final vote next Tuesday.

Several other cities across Spokane County were meeting tonight to consider private-sector options as well.

Look for a roundup later this week in The Spokesman-Review.

Waldref cruises to Bloomsday win

Congratulations to Councilwoman Amber Waldref, this year's top Bloomsday finisher among elected leaders (at least among those whose time we checked).

She easily beat out the rest of her City Council cohorts, though in defense of the others, she is the youngest elected official we located who ran the race.

Spin Control also offers the following trophy-less awards:

Participation Award: The Spokane County Commission. All three members finished the race. They are a shining example to the legislators serving the Third Legislative District. None of them completed the race even though the race is in their district.

Doomsday Hill Award: Jon Snyder, barely beat out Michael Baumgartner for the fastest time up Pettet Drive.

Here are the finishers we found. They are a bit slower than last year when former county commissioner and mountain climber John Roskelley ran the race.

In parenthesis are the official's age, followed by his or her final time, per-mile pace and his or her time on Doomsday Hill.

Mapping the Vote: O’Quinn leads Romeyn

Republican Shelly O'Quinn is comfortably ahead of Democrat Daryl Romeyn in the race to fill the open seat on the Spokane County Board of Commissioners.

For a closer look at the results, click on the PDF file below.


Debates will feature county commission candidates, Biviano

Candidates for Spokane County Commission will face off Wednesday evening in student-led debates hosted by the Central Valley High School’s Government Club.

The club also has invited the candidates in the hotly-contest Spokane Valley race for state House between incumbent Republican Matt Shea and Democrat Amy Biviano. Biviano is scheduled to attend. Shea has not responded to phone calls and emails inviting him to participate, said Central Valley teacher Bill Gilchrist.

Two Democrats consider bids for county commission

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Mark Richard announces he won’t seek 3rd term

Former City Councilman Bob Apple and former KREM-TV weatherman Daryl Romeyn are contemplating bids for Spokane County Commission.

Both would run for the seat held by Republican Commissioner Mark Richard. He announced last weekthat he would not seek a third term. Republican Shelly O'Quinn, who works for Greater Spokane Inc., immediately announced her candidacy and earned the endorsements of all three county commissioners.

Apple said on Monday that he is talking to Democrats about running. He ran as a Democrat for state House in 2010 but the party declined to endorse him. He said he would consider running as an independent if the party is not open to his candidacy.

Apple said his bid is dependent on the amount of support he gets before the May 18 filing deadline.

Romeyn appears more certain about running.

"I do plan to run, but it's not in stone," he said Tuesday.

Romeyn, a former weatherman who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010, owns a farm in Greenacres. He also owns Green Acres Grown, which sells dried fruits to area grocery stores in the bulk section.

He said he would run as a Democrat, and his top two issues are cutting property taxes and preserving open space.

"That's our biggest problem — getting our property taxes down," Romeyn said. 

O’Quinn calls for GOP unity, says job prevents her from endorsing Ahern

Shelly O’Quinn, a Republican who lost her bid in the highly contested battle for state House representing the 6th Legislative District, said Wednesday that she is not allowed to endorse any candidates in the general election because of her job.
Incumbent Democratic state Rep. John Driscoll and former state Rep. John Ahern, a Republican, won the primary and will face off in November.
O’Quinn is the workforce development manager for Greater Spokane Inc., the region’s Chamber of Commerce. She said after the election she restarted her full-time work schedule.
“Due to the nonpartisan nature of our organization, I’m prohibited from making any political endorsements,” O’Quinn said. “I definitely hope that the Republican Party can unify. It’s important for the Republican Party and it’s important for the community.”
O’Quinn said because of her job, she did not endorse any candidates during the primary – though she was listed, as of Wednesday morning, on the endorsement list of state Senate candidate Republican Michael Baumgartner.
Baumgartner said Wednesday O’Quinn was listed as an endorser because she was one of more than 20 Republicans who were filmed saying, “We like Mike” or “I like Mike” for this youtube campaign ad.
Baumgartner said he understands O’Quinn’s job obligations and that her name will be pulled from his list of endorsements.

Ahern makes lunch plans with O’Quinn

Former Republican state Rep. John Ahern said today that his former Republican opponent, Shelly O’Quinn, called him on Monday to congratulate him on his second-place finish.

Ahern said he’s grateful O’Quinn, who finished third, ran for the seat and that she made him a better candidate.

O’Quinn told Ahern that she will not be able to make a formal endorsement in the race for the November election because of her job with Greater Spokane Inc., the region’s Chamber of Commerce, Ahern said.

Ahern said he plans to take O’Quinn to lunch next week at the Chalet Restaurant, near 29th and Grand Boulevard.

“I’m going to encourage her to run for another office,” Ahern said.

Ahern faces the top finisher in last week’s primary, incumbent Democrat John Driscoll, in the general election race for state House representing the 6th Legislative District.

Here’s more on attempts to unify the parties after last week’s primary.

Shenanigans in the 6th? Numbers suggest no

Shelly O’Quinn’s legislative race, like nearly every political race worth a darn, may be leaving some supporters with hard feelings, nagging questions and what ifs.

Wednesday’s ballot count showed O’Quinn has no real hope of moving out of third place, which is no doubt vexing to supporters who believed she was a candidate with great potential to be a rising GOP star. While they try to figure out why she lost, some apparently  have come up with a theory that it was Democratic perfidity that helped do her in.

The theory, recounted by one supporter, is that Democrats were afraid that freshman incumbent John Driscoll would  have a much harder time in the general against O’Quinn than John Ahern. There’s some logic to that speculation:

Driscoll beat Ahern, a well-entrenched encumbent, two years ago, so history is on their side.

Ahern outpolled O’Quinn, but she outspent him.

The Gallatin Group, a regional public affairs organization that has people who follow politics the way others follow Gonzaga basketball, opined as such in an election eve epistle titled “Pondering Politics in the Inland Northwest”: Here’s our prediction. In an Ahern vs. Driscoll match-up, Driscoll wins. However, the Gallatin office is split in our prediction that if O’Quinn manages a win tomorrow the seat will return back to its Republican roots with an O’Quinn victory in November against Driscoll.

So wily Democrats could try to sway the outcome of the primary by voting for Ahern now, then switching to Driscoll in November. Or so the speculation goes.

Speculation is one thing. Facts are something else.

One, it assumes Democrats are organized enough to hatch the plan, and execute it by having willing Driscoll voters cast ballots for Ahern. Democrats have shown themselves to be anything but organized this year. Were they that organized, they’d have fielded candidates in the 4th, and recruited a congressional hopeful who could win at least one county in the 5th District.

B, it ignores the fact that Washington voters love to split tickets on their own.

Lastly, if there was some kind of plot that could overcome the ticket-splitting tendencies of the electorate, it would show up in the vote totals when comparing the votes for the House race with those in the 6th District Senate race. Democrat Sen. Chris Marr pulled down about 2,000 more votes than fellow Democrat Driscoll, while Ahern and Quinn combined for about 4,000 more votes than Republican Senate hopeful Mike Baumgartner. Considering that Marr and Driscoll  have similar voting histories that would attract the same partisan support, if something fishy is going on, a pattern would likely emerge. Ahern would consistently do much better in precincts that Marr won handily as Democrats crossed over to vote for him to help Driscoll down the road; O’Quinn would consistenty run stronger in precincts where Baumgartner ran far ahead of Marr.

As the maps below show, that ain’t what happened. At least not consistently.



Setting aside the fact that there were much bigger swings in the Marr-Baumgartner race, which is common in a two-person contest, what happened was this: Ahern did very well in some of the precincts where Baumgartner did very well, but O’Quinn also ran strong in some strong Baumgartner precincts. And both had successes and failures in precincts that Marr won handily.

What the maps show more conclusively is that Ahern won because he won more of those same Republican-leaning precincts that Baumgartner won, and by bigger margins. It’s a pretty simple equation. Win more votes in more places, and you win the election.

O’Quinn not saying if she will back Ahern

After last night, it looks like it will be round two for John Driscoll and John Ahern as they appear likely to advance to the November election.

At the Democratic Party celebration last night, Driscoll said he would start today reaching out to supporters of the third place finisher, Republican Shelly O’Quinn. Driscoll took the seat from Ahern two years ago in a vote so close it had to be recounted.

Driscoll, who won 41 percent of the vote, told the crowd that he’ll need to gain 9 percentage points to win in November.

“We’ve got to take those from Shelly O’Quinn followers, and we’re going to start tomorrow,” Driscoll said as he addressed the crowd at the Democratic celebration at Hamilton Studios.

At an election party last night for O’Quinn and candidates for county office, Chris Bugbee and Steve Salvatori, O’Quinn wasn’t conceding.

“Obviously, I was disappointed. It still can go either way,” she said.

O’Quinn was reluctant to say who she will back for November if her third-place finish doesn’t change.

“I’m willing to support the candidate who will put Washington on the right track,” O’Quinn said.

Reporter Tom Clouse contributed to this report.

Last minute election details and tidbits

Spokane County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said he expects to post election results around 8:15 p.m. and doesn’t expect further counting until Wednesday.

Check spokesman.com for election updates. We’ll get them posted as soon as we get them.

One-third of ballots have been returned

The county received more than 14,000 ballots in the mail today. That takes the ballot return rate to 33 percent. Elections officials have guessed that turnout would be around 40 percent.

Election workers being watched

About 125 people this year volunteered to be election observers. About 80 are Republicans, and about half that many are Democrats, McLaughlin said.. One is independent. One represents the Louise Chadez campaign. A couple represent the Shelly O’Quinn campaign.

McLaughlin said observers bring “a second pair of eyes,” and are appreciated.

“The more poeple we have who know the process, the better off we are,” McLaughlin said.

More election parties

At the elections office casting his ballot Tuesday afternoon was Daryl Romeyn, former weatherman and current Democratic candidate for Congress. He said he plans to attend Chadez’s election night party at Working Class Heroes and the official Democratic gathering at Toad Hall.

City Councilman Bob Apple, who is hoping to capture the state House seat of retiring Rep. Alex Wood, said his celebration will be held tonight at Churcill’s Steakhouse.

Ahern, Driscoll give their views on police oversight, global warming, abortion

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A fourth in a series of videos of Rep. John Driscoll and former Rep. John Ahern giving their thoughts on election issues is now available at spokesman.com.

The two are campaigning for a House seat in the highly competitive 6th Legislative District. Driscoll, a Democrat, won the seat against Ahern, a Republican, two years ago in a close battle.

A third candidate, Republican Shelly O’Quinn, declined to be filmed when she was interviewed by The Spokesman-Review.

O’Quinn video on YouTube causes stir in GOP

It’s the case of the unknown videographer, and it highlights the tension between the campaigns of John Ahern and Shelly O’Quinn.

A low-tech video of O’Quinn speaking to the Friday Morning Republican Breakfast Club was posted on YouTube on May 4. O’Quinn said she was unaware she was being filmed.

O’Quinn and Ahern are competing against incumbent Democrat John Driscoll in next month’s primary for a state House seat representing the 6th Legislative District.

“It’s not the content that bothers me,” O’Quinn said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s the fact that it was taken under the table.”

The clip shows O’Quinn standing before the group and giving some of her opinions on the environment and abortion.

But when the video was first posted, it included a picture of O’Quinn’s campaign logo with a President Obama logo superimposed on it, O’Quinn said. She called Ahern and told him that the video violated election rules.

“The whole point of the video was to say I was not Republican enough,” she said. “I have chosen to run a positive campaign in spite of the way they chose to run their campaign.”

Ahern said the video was not from his campaign.

“She threatened me with (Public Disclosure Commission) violations,” Ahern said. “I don’t respond very well to threats.”

Ahern said he agreed, however, to make some inquiries and he asked some people he knew to take down the video if they were responsible. The video was taken off of YouTube soon after. But it soon was reposted without O’Quinn’s or Obama’s logos.

Ahern said he suspects he knows who posted it, but he declined to name him or her and said people have a free speech right to post candidate comments. He also questioned why O’Quinn remains concerned that the video remains on YouTube.

“She shouldn’t be concerned about it. It’s her own voice,” he said. “She could pick up some votes from that I would think. Then again, she could lose some, too.”

Candidates for 6th District House seat appear to be camera shy

There have been no debates for one of the most contested primaries in Eastern Washington, the race for a state House seat representing the 6th District.

The one debate that was scheduled for incumbent Democrat John Driscoll and Republicans Shelly O’Quinn and John Ahern was cancelled after Driscoll and Ahern decided not to participate.

O’Quinn sent a news release criticizing both her opponents for not appearing at The League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area forum on July 13.

“While their reluctance is a testament to the momentum that this campaign has developed, it is unfortunate that the voters will not have the opportunity to see the candidates next to one another talking about the issues,” she said in her news release.


Ahern said he decided not to show up after he got word that Driscoll wasn’t going to be there. He said he questioned if O’Quinn would participate because O’Quinn earlier declined to participate in video interviews with The Spokesman-Review.

“She might just get scared and not even show up for the forum,” Ahern said. ”That definitely went through my head.”

He said he attended a campaign event in Spokane Valley instead.

“There was uncertainty whether she would show up or not,” Ahern said. ”I decided I got better things to do.”