The city has been without a planning director since Scott Chesney was ousted last November. We asked Spokane city candidates about the lack of planning director at City Hall.
Specifically, we asked:
The city has been without a planning director since Scott Chesney was ousted last November, a move that led, in part, to Jan Quintrall's sudden resignation earlier this year. Do you believe the city has suffered due to the unfilled planning director position? And, if asked for advice by the mayor, what qualities would you recommend in a planning director?
Ben Stuckart, incumbent candidate for Spokane City Council president: Scott Chesney’s firing was a horrible decision. He was respected by both the business community and neighborhoods. That is a hard task. I would hire someone with a similar demeanor and skill set as Scott Chesney.
John Ahern, candidate for council president: Did not provide an answer.
Mike Fagan, incumbent candidate for City Council District 1: I am sure that the lack of a director has had some impact on the city but minor at that. Qualities of a new director would include specific knowledge of the applicable statutes governing business and developer services requirements, flexibility and discretion using out of the box thinking for moving projects forward while adhering to those legal requirements, and the where with all to bring forward inconsistencies and conflict in those legal requirements which may require review and change to keep projects moving forward in a moral and ethical way.
Randy Ramos, candidate for council district 1: In order for our city to be at its best, it’s important to have strong leadership. When those roles are vacant, it’s hard to see how we can function properly. I look forward to offering my help in finding someone who has a proven track record, and whose primary goal is a successful Spokane.
LaVerne Biel, candidate for council district 2: Yes, I believe Spokane has suffered due to the unfilled Planning Director Position. The Planning Department needs a leader who leads, evaluates, and instructs personnel. The Planning Director sets the tone and vision for the Department. I would recommend someone with an urban planning degree and a minimum of 8 years of responsible planning experience. The position would require an AICP Certification or obtain certification within one year. They must have strong communication and implementation skills. I would also recommend seeking out planning directors with experience in other mid-size cities around the country.
Lori Kinnear, candidate for council district 2: In my current role as legislative aide to council I work frequently with the city planning staff. They do an amazing job of collaboration with council while serving the interests of the citizens. The staff and citizens would benefit greatly by having the certainty of a permanent planning director who could move that department forward with the vision of developing our downtown core and Centers and Corridors in a responsible way. A planning director should be a certified planner and have the latest and best information on urban planning for a city our size.
Karen Stratton, candidate for council district 3: Yes, the City and City planning staff have suffered. Any department suffers when it lacks stable, experienced leadership. I have yet to hear a good explanation as to why this position has not been filled. In looking for a candidate, they should find someone who recognizes that the Council sets local policies on the regulation and placement of development in the City, and the Planning Department implements that policy. A good director will understand the respective roles of the council and administration, and, with the assistance of the planning commission, will make recommendations to the Council on changes based on the City’s experience in implementing adopted policies.
Evan Verduin, candidate for council district 3: As an architect and Vice-President of the Plan Commission, I have worked closely with the interim director on many levels and believe he has been doing a great job during a period of increased work load and absence of long term leadership. With that being said, I believe the work load on our current planning department is straining and it would be a priority of mine to assist in the selection of a competent director that has similar “get to work” kind of qualities of the previous director, Mr. Chesney. Those in our community that worked closely with Mr. Chesney (including myself) know him for bringing common sense and an anti-red tape attitude toward seeing projects through from start to finish. That was a great quality and one necessary for the future director. Unfortunately, that trait also comes with its pitfalls. Mr. Chesney was championed by the current council after his forced resignation, yet when advantageous those council members have unfairly cried foul on several projects he helped weave through the layers of bureaucracy within the city.
Unlike council candidates, who answered their questions by email, the mayoral candidates had an in-person interview.
David Condon, incumbent candidate for Spokane mayor:
The city’s been without a planning director since Scott Chesney’s departure, a move that led in part to Jan Quintrall’s resignation. Has the city suffered having that position unfilled?
We went through a search. As we look at the work of planning, I don’t think so at all. You look at the through-put of the city. You look at what has been developed, well over $800 million in the last couple of years. You look at the position when it was filled, we are dealing with some of the aftermath of miscommunications and otherwise. So just the sheer fact of having…
Are you talking about Larry Miller?
Larry Miller. The Worthy project. The whole process around Hamilton (and changes to the areas zoning rules). Target in South Gate. You could look at a multitude of projects that were under the direction of Mr. Chesney, and there definitely was a communication breakdown with the City Council, which I entrust my senior managers to do, to keep folks informed and otherwise.
So we went out. We didn’t find the person that best fit that position. Now we pivot to using a professional to assist in the recruitment of those positions. We’ve actually had a couple cabinet members present at the National Planners Conference, and we’ve gotten a lot of interest in what we do here in particular. Rick Romero gave a plenary session in Seattle (to the National Planners Conference attendees). We’ve gotten a lot of interest in what we’re doing here.
What are you looking for in a planning director? Are there certain attributes?
One is a huge commitment and demonstrated performance in community engagement, and I don’t just mean that superfluously. I mean that as we develop a city and have a great opportunity for the urbanization that we’re seeing, our community is going to have to go through some critical decisions about what we do. It’s necessary to have a planning director that not only talks the talk, but walks the walk, and has some past performance that shows the engagement of the community. As we build out Garland and Perry and Hillyard and East Sprague, these are areas that are in different progressions of their rejuvenation and we need to make sure that it’s done well and that it engages the public.
The second one is an ability to lead other professionals. There are, I believe, nine other planners. (The planning director must have) the ability to bring folks together more of a management ability because there’s so much going on you have to be a very dynamic personality.
And the final one is, I appreciate people’s background that may not be completely government. You’ll see that with my appointments. That being said, you have to have an appreciation that our community and our city are led by community representatives, the elected officials. They’re engaged in their communities. They’re elected by their neighborhoods, in essence. (The planning director must have) an appreciation of how to bring that together. In the next four years, it’s more critical than ever as we build what really is the fabric of our community.
So I think we’re doing well. I think our interim is doing a fantastic job of integrating all that. I think we have a robust plan commission like we haven’t seen in years. It has a great cross-section of community leaders, legal, those that invest in our community.
Shar Lichty, candidate for mayor:
The city has been without a planning director since Scott Chesney was ousted last November, a move that led, in part, to Jan Quintrall's sudden resignation earlier this year. Do you believe the city has suffered due to the unfilled planning director position?
I’m not working in the city yet, so I don’t know specifics, but I can’t imagine the city has not suffered by not having someone in that role. It’s a significant role.
What would you look for in a planning director?
First, I would look for someone who is qualified to lead that department, someone who is willing to work with the public, the neighborhoods and the developers, cooperatively, and bring all of those voices to the table. Someone who can work with all sides.
Would you hire somebody who has a certain planning philosophy?
I want an open mind. I support infill, versus sprawl, and that would be my priority and they would work directly underneath me. But I’d like them to work with all sides and bring their concerns to me so I can make an educated decision.
What part of town can you point to as a success in regards to planning?
I love South Perry. They’ve got that one stretch where traffic slows to 20 mph. There’s businesses. People walk a lot.
Kendall Yards is nice. My only complaint with Kendall Yards is there’s not enough low-income housing.
But where we need some serious infill is downtown. We need a good, dense urban core. Where can we bring businesses into some of these vacant buildings? Some of these old buildings have space above them that can be turned into quality, low-income housing. Can we look at tax incentives for that kind of development?
Spokane is interesting. It’s different than most big cities. We’re the second biggest city in the state, but to some degree we have all these little silos in Spokane. In one way, that’s wonderful, because we have really good, strong neighborhoods. But we need to bring them all together. We need a strong downtown. Downtown feels so much like it’s just there to serve tourism, and not the people who live there. Those are important revenue dollars to bring in, but we cannot ignore the people who live downtown and work downtown.