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Saturday, August 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Can city leaders trust the voters?

Funny thing about elected officials and candidates who must, by nature, rely on the wisdom of voters for their jobs: Sometimes they don’t trust voters to make the right decision when it comes to something other than voting for them.

That seems to be what’s going on with the political hand-wringing over a Spokane City Charter change that’s being billed by the sponsoring group Envision Spokane as a “Community Bill of Rights.”

Whether it is, in fact, a bill of rights or a bill in waiting for future litigation is something remains to be seen. Envision Spokane turned in more than enough signatures to qualify it for the November election, the Spokane County Elections Office said, and that is usually enough to earn a proposed charter amendment a spot on a ballot.

Before the Spokane City Council voted 5-2 to send the charter change to the elections office for the signature check, an array of speakers argued it was too vague, too likely to generate litigation or too toxic for local business. Some of the 60 or so foes gathered outside City Hall before the meeting and likened the proposal to socialism, communism or Marxism.

(Note to self: Check Das Kapital to see what Marx and Engels had to say about neighborhood councils. Must’ve slept through that lecture in Poly Sci class.)

Expect to hear similar arguments when the council holds a hearing later this month to officially put it on the ballot.

Steve Eugster, a once and perhaps future councilman, produced a passionate and well-referenced memo explaining why the council should toss the proposal in the trash at that future meeting, under the theory that ballot measures are supposed to be about one topic, and this one is about many, many topics. It might make the basis for a solid court brief.

But the courts usually reject lawsuits over an initiative before an election. Maybe they trust the voters, maybe they just don’t want to waste time listening to folks fight if it doesn’t pass.

Mike Fagan, a council candidate in this fall’s election whose political career to date has centered around getting initiatives on the ballot – including some that had more than one topic – helped lead the demonstration against putting this particular measure before voters in Spokane.

The Spokane Home Builders filed a complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commisson over Envision Spokane’s political record keeping. Or more accurately, it’s lack of such record keeping before this spring, even though it was holding meetings and gathering input for the eventual charter proposal.

The Home Builders may have a point, because a PDC spokeswoman said later in the week Envision Spokane may have been required to start filing papers within two weeks of organizing with the intent to change the charter. But this is a fairly large cannon to bring out at this stage of the war.

There was one voice of reason in all of the shouting last week. Kate McCaslin, former Spokane County commissioner and director of several successful campaigns for other candidates and causes, joked that the charter proposal was really just a way for the communitty’s lawyers to get fat off of new lawsuits. But put it on the ballot, she told the council, because once the voters study it, they’ll reject it.

Members of Envision Spokane, on the other hand, are confident that once such study takes place, voters will pass it.

There’s a word for the way to determine who’s right about something like that. It’s called a campaign.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.