Latest from The Spokesman-Review
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.
After years of discussions and negotiations over regional garbage disposal, Spokane Valley is going its own way.
City Council members decided unanimously tonight to contract with Sunshine Disposal & Recycling to handle disposal of the Valley’s estimated 45,000 tons of garbage each year. The decision follows years of discussions with Spokane and county officials as the region’s existing solid waste system is set to expire this fall.
“We’re acting in the best longterm interests of our citizens,” said Mayor Dean Grafos.
Spokane County had struck a deal with Spokane, which has controlled the regional system for two decades, to take over the existing transfer stations and had hoped to create a countywide system it would control.
Commissioner Todd Mielke made a last-minute push tonight to persuade council members to postpone a final decision and give the county a chance to beat Sunshine’s rate. Mielke said the city of Spokane was trying to work out a reduced disposal rate at its energy-producing trash incinerators on the West Plains, which would enable the county to offer a tonnage rate nearly $4 lower and could amount to millions of dollars in savings over the next decade.
But Valley leaders rejected the delay request, with some noting that the Valley had openly sought a partnership role in a regional system but was repeatedly offered only an advisory role. They also noted that Sunshine stepped up with a guaranteed rate while the county provided only estimates and contingencies.
Additionally, Sunshine officials said it needs to get started immediately with planned expansion and improvements it is promising in order to be ready by mid-November when the new arrangement takes effect.
For residents, little will change. Waste Management still will handle curbside pick up, but instead of dumping the garbage at county transfer stations they’ll drop their loads at Sunshine’s facility on University Road north of Interstate 90. The garbage then will be loaded for long-haul to regional landfills in Central Washington.
Valley officials estimate the cost of solid waste disposal will be cheaper with Sunshine than under the county system. County officials contend the savings, if any, would be minimal.
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.
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.
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.
A Friday regional story noted that Spokane County Commissioners will unwind a 2010 agreement that would have kept them from taking a stance on a proposed Spokane Tribe casino and resort. It won't surprise me if comments posted online suggest the newspaper is working against the Tribe.
For the record, the only opposition to this proposal voiced by The Spokesman Review has been on the editorial page. Which is the page that reflects only the opinion of the publisher, Stacey Cowles.
The reporters/editors/photographers by common agreement don't try to influence the opinions expressed on the editiorial page. We expect readers to know the difference between news stories and editorials.
Here's the update on what's next in the process facing this casino proposal. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected to release a final environmental impact statement within the next 45 days.
Once that's finished, 30 days must pass before the BIA can issue its final decision. That decision is the ultimate yes or no that can move the casino plan forward.
According to BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling, parties are able to make comments before the final decision is made.Those will have to be made to the BIA website in writing or submitted by mail.
Incumbent County Commissioner Todd Mielke has a comfortable lead over former Commissioner John Roskelley in the race for Commissioner District 1. Roskelley had strong support in some parts of the City of Spokane, but Mielke is running ahead in most other precincts.
For a closer look at the results, click on the PDF document below.
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.
UPDATED, with comments from Ben Stuckart.
Though much has been said about the proposed Spokane Tribe's casino and development project in Airway Heights, most of it has been heated opposition.
We caught notice of a strong vote of support by Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, who published an op-ed piece in support of the development in yesterday's Seattle Times.
One of his key points is the value of the project for the community and the tribe:
This $400 million investment in private dollars will result in much-needed new employment for the Spokane region — 3,000 permanent and 2,000 construction jobs, according to an independent environmental and economic analysis conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It will help temper a serious unemployment rate the tribe and overall region are both dealing with.
We asked Stuckart why he offered this piece to the Times. His answer was that he wanted to counter an earlier Times op-ed piece written by former Gov. Mike Lowry. That piece argued that the Spokanes' proposal would set a risky precedent of allowing tribes to establish casinos off their reservation land.
Stuckart said he'll consider offering a Spokane commentary for The Spokesman-Review on the topic.
The question worth asking: Why did Stuckart take this piece to the paper in Seattle? Did he offer it to the SR first? Stay tuned.
Today's regional story about a vote at the Airway Heights City Council had a legalistic issue tucked away and not easily elaborated on. The story noted that two Spokane County commissioners — Al French and Todd Mielke — argue that a 2010 county agreement with Airway Heights should not be allowed to stop them from commenting or taking sides on a proposed Spokane Tribe casino on the West Plains.
French is using a distinction that we were not clear about before. He said, based on a Washington attorney general's office review, that one elected body cannot preclude or prevent a later elected body from exercising its legislative duties.
In this case, the county board in 2010 seems to have tied the legislative hands of the current board, according to French.
He draws a distinction between administrative and legislative duties of elected officials. If for instance the 2010 board signed a contract with some other body to pay money for hauling off refuse, that's an administrative action. And such acts can continue for as long as the terms allow.
But legislative options are not subject to that pre-emptive control, French said, citing the AG's opinion.
We've linked a PDF of the letter sent by the AG's office to Spokane County. It's at the bottom of this post.
Spokane County Raceway has an oval track, on which people drive very fast in circles, record mileage and wind up where they started.
Which seems a pretty apt metaphor for the raceway since the county bought the property in 2008. The original operator, Bucky Austin, got into trouble with renovations and contractor payments in 2009. The county had to find a new operator and settled with contractors in 2010 for $850,000.
The new operator, Raceway Investments, went through two iterations in ownership/management, and this year's new managing partner said they were going to give the facility a new image. Raceway Investments leases the oval to Full Blown Promotions and this week, as colleague Mike Prager reports in today's Spokesman-Review, Raceway Investments said Full Blown is behind on its rent and said the rest of its season was cancelled. The county announced the change in management for the oval at a press conference Monday.
Most notable line from the press conference goes to Commissioner Todd Mielke: "I stuck my neck out to save racing."
A visiting county auditor dismissed the challenge to John Roskelley's voter registration, and the Democratic challenger will appear on the ballot for the Spokane County commissioner in District 1.
That will likely bring to an end the separate challenge in Spokane County Superior Court, which tried to block Roskelley from the ballot on a different tack.
The challenge to his voter registration was filed first, by Spokane County Republican Chairman Matthew Pederson, who argued that Roskelley wasn't properly registered because he used an address where he doesn't currently have a house, or any other building.
Roskelley had moved out of his long-time home in the district witih plans to build a new home on East Heron View Lane, and used that location on his voter registration. But he was living with his son, whose house is outside the district, while completing a building permit for the property.
A commissioner candidate must live and run in that particular district in the primary. Pederson argued that Roskelley didn't; Roskelley said he was acting on information from Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton about where a legal residence is for registering to vote, and said Pederson's complaint was just politics.
In previous court cases, the intention to move to a particular location has been ruled enough to allow a candidate to claim that as a residence for voter registration.
Dalton recused herself from the complaint and asked Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore to hear the case. This afternoon Moore said Roskelley presented enough evidence to prove that his residence is the one on his voter registration.
Roskelley faces Republican County Commissioner Todd Mielke in the primary. Because they are the only two candidates for that office, they'll run countywide in the November general election.
Dalton said she'd begin printing primary ballots, which must be mailed to overseas and military voters by June 22.
Spokane County's three Republican county commissioners are asking Mayor-elect David Condon to strongly consider Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich's offer to be the city's interim police chief.
The three signed a letter to Condon's transition team saying that with Chief Anne Kirkpatrick retiring, it makes sense to consider consolidating the Spokane Police Department with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. If Knezovich is selected as interim chief, it would allow the concept to be studied, they said.
The process to fill an empty Senate seat in the Spokane Valley’s 4th Legislative District has resulted in “vicious personal attacks” aimed at himself, his family and “our constitutional foundations and Christian principles,” state Rep. Matt Shea, one of the candidates for the opening, said.
In a written statement to supporters over the weekend, Shea and his wife Viktoriya attempted to answer a claim that he’d gone back on an agreement to allow former legislator Mike Padden to be among the nominees sent to Spokane County commissioners. Former state Sen. Bob McCaslin, who resigned from the seat he’d held for 30 years because of health problems, said Shea couldn’t be trusted because he’d broken that agreement.
Padden and state Rep. Larry Crouse, Shea’s seatmate in the 4th, said they believed after a conversation with him that there was such an agreement, although they couldn’t say for sure that Shea believed that as well.
Shea said in the statement he “steadfastly refused to acquiesce to a backroom deal” to appoint someone to the seat.
“In our Republic, a self-appointed aristocracy who ‘know better than the voters’ has always been shunned,” he wrote in the statement obtained by The Spokesman-Review.
Shea’s office confirmed that he had sent the statement to supporters, but he did not return a request for further comment. (To read the full statement, click here to go inside the blog.)
County Commissioner Todd Mielke said he also received a copy of the statement, and the board is trying to determine how to handle it. The deadline for submitting comments ended Friday, so some people could say it’s unfair to the other candidates to add something to the record but others could argue it’s unfair to Shea to leave it out.
Mielke denied the board was being, in Shea’s words “anti-Christian and anti-veteran” in questioning his qualifications. The board has tried since last week to schedule an interview with Shea for Friday. “He still has not returned our phone calls,” Mielke said.
Republican precinct committee officers in the 4th District nominated Shea, Jeff Baxter and Roy Murry for the open seat on Jan. 15. County commissioners, who under the state Constitution must pick from those three, asked for resumes and statements from the nominees by Feb. 5 and began examining their qualifications before interviews and a possible decision scheduled for this Friday.
As part of that process, documents from Shea’s divorce from his first wife became part of the record, including a restraining order and sworn statements from his first wife that he has problems controlling his temper. At one point, she said, he was relieved of his weapon during a deployment with the National Guard in Iraq.
Shea contended in the statement the allegations were made in an attempt to gain leverage in the divorce negotiations and “I will not dignify those untrue allegations with a response, as I believe they dishonor Viktoriya” his current wife.
They surfaced in his first legislative campaign in 2008, and voters found them to be “without merit and a non-issue,” he added in the statement to supporters. “With regards to my military service, my numerous medals, decorations, commendations, and citations speak for themselves,” he wrote. “This includes a Bronze Star for service that I was awarded on the final day of my tour of duty in Iraq by my Battalion Commander.”
Mielke said that still doesn’t answer whether what his first wife said did happen, and commissioners are merely trying to determine the truth of a sworn statement filed in court. Murry and Baxter are scheduled for interviews on Friday morning and the board is scheduled to begin deliberations at 3 p.m.
Commissioners have until March 5 to fill the seat, or the appointment to replace a Republican senator in the strongly Republican district would go to Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat.
“I don’t see any scenario where that will happen,” Mielke said. “We want to finish this process up and move on.”
In adopting a budget last week that cuts positions or hours for almost every agency and department, the commissioners fired a broadside at their union workers for refusing to forego raises in the face of a bad economy. Judging from letters, phone calls and comments on this newspaper’s Web site, the public is more likely to agree with the commish, that in the midst of a recession, the unions should not be receiving cost-of-living adjustments.
“Give up a small percentage of your salary if you want to save positions,” Commissioner Mark Richard told the county prosecutor’s union who asked if there was any way to avoid cutting eight deputy prosecutors. “It requires people to give things up.”
Non-union folks already gave up raises, county officials said.
True enough. But before one applauds the board for a brave stand against big, bad unions, it might be important to remember one of the basic, four-word tenets of American business: A deal’s a deal.