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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.
The proposed City Charter changes that will appear on the August ballot were supposed to be noncontroversial. But they already have high-profile opposition.
The Spokane Park Board publicly opposed the plan to strip its power to condemn property for park acquisition when the items were placed on the ballot last month.
Now the man who led the effort to create Spokane's current system of government — the strong mayor system — says he doesn't like many of the ideas either.
Former City Councilman Steve Eugster said the proposal on the Park Board endangers the park system's independence.
"The independent park board is a bright, historical phenomenon," Eugster said. "How are you going to have an independent park board if it can't acquire land?"
Among other proposals on the ballot that Eugster said he likely will vote against is the plan to change the recall process. Currently, City Council members are elected by district, but if a member is recalled, the recall vote would be held city-wide. Voters in August will be given a chance to restrict the recall process to the districts.