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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Q&A with council finalist Karen Stratton

Today, Spin Control is releasing throughout the day the answers to a Q&A we received from the five finalists to fill the Spokane City Council vacancy created by the resignation of Steve Salvatori. The council is scheduled to pick one of the finalists on Monday.

Here are the answers from Karen Stratton, who works in the City Clerk's office and is the former executive assistant to former Mayor Mary Verner:

1. What is your top priority and how specifically would you achieve your top priority?

I want to ensure that the residential character of Northwest Spokane is preserved and properly balanced with business development.  I have lived in the Audubon Park neighborhood for over 20 years. Our home is close to the downtown core; Riverside State Park and Downriver Golf Course. Audubon Park and the Dwight Merkel Complex are within walking distance from my house. Small businesses have established themselves along Northwest Boulevard and the neighborhood has become a place where one can enjoy a long walk in the park, a bike ride along the river or a cup of coffee or lunch at the neighborhood café. However, as development continues on the Five Mile Prairie and to the west toward Suncrest, there has been a corresponding increase in traffic on the arterials within District 3 which threatens the pedestrian and bicycle-friendly activity in the area. I hope to preserve the residential character with careful attention to traffic planning and support for traffic calming endeavors.

Read on to find out her positions on police reform, taxes, parking meters and more.

2. What is the first ordinance you will bring forward on council?

The most pressing issues – parks, streets, issues relating to growth management, transportation, and budget priorities – are already before the council in some form or another, and my focus in the short term will be to ensure the best possible legislative result on those issues. As time goes by, I will reach out to constituents to determine other issues that are important to the District 3, and work with Council and City staff for an overview of issues that could be resolved via City ordinance.

3. Explain your political philosophy.

While I have a fairly liberal outlook, there is seldom a legitimate reason for partisan politics in municipal government. In my view it is all about ensuring that citizens get the best possible service from City Hall. As we make tough decisions and develop priorities – particularly in the budget process – we should ensure that every citizen has fair access to information and services, and that on every issue before the Council each had a full opportunity to be heard.

4. What is the role of City Council? Of council members?

The obvious answer that the Council is the legislative body that governs the City. In practical terms this means its members interact with neighborhoods, businesses, educational institutions, citizens and others to create ordinances that provide order and enhance the quality of life of our city. The role of a City Council member is to represent the needs of his/her district when considering legislation and, often, to lead by example, energy and outreach.

5. What are your thoughts on the Spokane Police Department and its efforts at reform? Do you think they go far enough, or too far?

My answer depends on what one means by “reform.”  If it means accountability, then my response is that we have more accountability then we did ten years ago -- with the expanded role of the Police Ombudsman and the establishment of the Ombudsman Commission.   If by “reform” one means a police force capable of preventing and investigating crimes, then I believe we have a ways to go. Our police department has spent a very long time and some serious money reorganizing the department -- most notably, creating additional positions with higher salaries and titles. In my opinion, this has been at the expense of getting more officers on the street.

6. Do you think the mayor's Integrated Clean Water Plan does enough to prevent toxins and pollutants from entering the river?

Yes. The integrated plan was unanimously approved by Council in May, 2014. We just have to make it happen.

7. Do you agree with Jon Snyder's action to dissolve the Transportation Benefit District and its annual $2.5 million in funding unless the city finishes its Pedestrian Master Plan?

Yes, so long as it does not disrupt projects already underway. When the TBD was adopted, 10 percent of the TBD revenues were to be allocated to pedestrian improvements. That 10 percent promise was important to securing approval from the Council and it remains unfulfilled. Council Member Snyder is simply insisting that the original conditions behind the TBD be implemented.

8. Each year the Spokane City Council approves a legislative agenda, which   is essentially a wish list of legislative changes for the City of Spokane to actively lobby for in Olympia. What are two to three items you would like to see included on the list for 2015?

  • Transportation Dollars. We need to finish the North-South Freeway.
  • Marijuana Excise Tax: Currently, none of the funding from marijuana sales is set to come back to local jurisdictions. Whether or not people agree that moratoriums adopted by local governments to prevent marijuana businesses are legal, these local governments have a legitimate claim to marijuana revenues. These are funds that could be utilized to support public safety and other local priorities. We need to explore options in this area.
  • Revision of the Public Records Act:  After more than two years in the City Clerk’s Office, I have learned the City Clerk and staff work extremely hard to complete requests while following state law.  Most requests are legitimate but far too many are frivolous and take up excessive time and resources. This means that legitimate requests can take far longer to fulfill.  We need to press for revisions to the Public Records Act so that the City Clerk has better tools to respond, or even deny, frivolous requests.

9. Do you think the mayor has done enough outside lobbying to bring funding to Spokane projects, such as the North-South Freeway?

It would not be fair to blame the Mayor for the lack of funding for the North-South Freeway. Funding for that project has been slow and inadequate for so many years. I do know his office has lobbied hard for funding for the integrated stormwater plan.  Beyond that, I am not familiar with his efforts in Olympia or Washington, DC.

10.  Are parking meters a good way for the city raise revenue?

Parking meters are one way to raise revenue, and like any form of revenue, they are best when used in conjunction with other taxes and assessments that fairly allocate the cost of city government among our citizens and visitors.

11.  What's the most underutilized revenue source in Spokane?

Our problem is not underutilized revenue sources but rather underappreciated existing resources. For example, we have dedicated city staff that often have too few resources, and to little reason to innovate and perform well on the job. If we focus on giving our employees the tools they need to provide services, and we ensure fairness and accountability in hiring and firing, we can create efficiencies that ultimately will reduce the pressure for more revenues.

12.  Do you support David Condon's re-election?

I served under Mayor West and Mayor Verner and appreciate the hard work and dedication that is necessary to lead the City. While I do not know Mayor Condon well, I believe he has done some good things while in office. Beyond that, I will wait to see who runs for mayor before deciding whether he is the best choice.

13. Did you support the legalization of marijuana, and do you think the state’s   marijuana regulatory scheme is appropriate?

I support the legalization of marijuana as written in Initiative 502. The criminalization of marijuana many decades ago was based on hysteria, not fact, and its time we relieved our law enforcement from enforcing ridiculous marijuana laws. Like alcohol, any potential abuse of marijuana is better managed without harsh criminal penalties for recreational or medical use.  I know many are frustrated at the pace of licensing under our new state law. To them I would say it is hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to transform an illegal market into a legitimate one. While it is still very much a work join progress, I think the state is doing an admirable job under very challenging circumstances to implement I-502.

14. Council President Ben Stuckart has made clear that he wants the appointed council member to be re-elected. How would you ensure that you could run and win in District 3, which twice elected conservative former Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin by very high margins?

I am no stranger to local and state campaigns and elections, and I am no stranger to the 3rd District, having lived in this district since I was in high school. I think the key to winning in District 3 is not a certain political stripe but approachability. After all, Council District 3 comprises a large portion of the District 3 legislative district, which is represented in Olympia entirely by Democrats. Even Nancy McLaughlin, justifying her bid for election, indicated that the individual was more important than the party. I firmly believe the residents of District 3 place more value on a willingness to listen and to take care of their concerns then on any party affiliation.

Nicholas Deshais
Joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He is the urban issues reporter, covering transportation, housing, development and other issues affecting the city. He also writes the Getting There transportation column and The Dirt, a roundup of construction projects, new businesses and expansions. He previously covered Spokane City Hall.

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