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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

ON THE ISSUES: David Condon, candidate for Spokane mayor

Spokane Mayor David Condon, left, and his opponent, Shar Lichty, right, at the candidate debates held by the Chase Youth Commission Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015 at North Central High School. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Mayor David Condon, left, and his opponent, Shar Lichty, right, at the candidate debates held by the Chase Youth Commission Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015 at North Central High School. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Unlike City Council candidates, who were allowed to reply to issue questions via email, mayoral candidates answered these question during an interview. The replies have been lightly edited for readability. Answers from Shar Lichty, Condon's challenger, will appear on Spin Control soon.

Explain your political philosophy. Who is your political hero?

The philosophy that I’ve brought to the mayor’s office has definitely been one of passion for the city of Spokane. It’s the guiding principle I take when folks want to serve in city government. But on top of that, affordability is a huge issue that we have taken into almost all aspects in city government. When I ran for mayor, it was the year that we had increased water rates, so that kind of started the discussion but definitely has permeated as we looked into others.

The other is an alignment with city priorities and citizens’ priorities for their cities. And so that’s kept the agenda pretty straightforward and simple, of police and fire and utilities. But also, the only area where I ventured outside of the direct control of the city is education, because it’s the number one issue. I wanted to and have had a great relationship with the school district here.

What have you done with education as mayor?

I think there’s a couple. There’ some fundamental, logistical issues. We now coordinate all of our construction, we look seriously as they redo certain schools that we kind of relook the area, even into mundane things of change the way parking happens so the flow for parents is easier. You see this up at Hutton where they have angled parking now. You see it out at Finch where we actually closed the street from the front door of the parking lot, or greatly limited the access with all these bump-outs.

The other, though, is our programming in the police department. We have the youth police initiative, which is in close collaboration. We have co-funded a position for the achievement gap, James Colburn holds that position. In next year’s budget, we’ve partnered with them and co-funded a position for the promise zone, which is all for the northeast. At least in recent memory, we have not done that out of the city government. Those are predominantly out of the mayor’s office, using our budget. We have less staff than my predecessors have had and so it gives us the flexibility in what we call our contract services. And these are, in essence, contracts.

What about political heroes?

There’s two. When I was raised, just to go back to your formative years, the mayor I always remember is Mayor Chase. That was the mayor in my head as a young person. I was in fifth to eighth grade. I saw him bring this community together, reach out to young people. His initiatives still live on today in a real way.

During those years on the national stage, you have Ronald Reagan and what he did for this country. I believe he was pragmatic in his approach in a time that was difficult for our country and our world. But he gave that guidance.


Describe the current relationship between you and your administration, and the City Council.

You and I have discussed in the past. I think there is some great collaboration that has happened. When we go through the deliberative process, we’ve had some big successes. Those take months, if not a year. So you’ve seen the street levy, you see the parks bond, you see a complete remodeling of our utilities, a complete almost nearly 180 on the way we fund city government. Those have been long deliberations.

We also had Steve Salvatori, who was at the time was the chair of the public safety committee, put together a task force that included labor and business and the city administration on the fire task team. And we’ve been deliberate to fill those out. In police, we put together the use of force commission and then subsequently working with (the council) there. So there’s been a lot of collaboration. I would say there’s been waning interest on the fire task team, which is unfortunate, but you’ll see that the collaboration has happened when we’ve had a long, deliberative process of research and study and coming together.

Where you’ll see some instances where we have not agreed, where legislative agendas were very compressed in the deliberative process, whether that be the apprenticeship program, whether that be sick and safe leave, whether that be a handful of other initiatives that you’ve seen. The (Fire Department’s Alternative Response Unit) program, where the relationship has been strained. I think you wrote a good article about the political nature of the City Council. You won’t see in my office people who have worked on my campaign. Many of them I didn’t even know them when they applied for the jobs. There is a place for politics, don’t get me wrong. But I think at the end, it shouldn’t be a win-loss column. It should be what was right for Spokane and what is best for our citizens.

You’ve waded into City Council races. You’ve endorsed LaVerne Biel and Evan Verduin.

Absolutley. Like I did last time, with Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori.

Right now the council has we what call a vetoproof supermajority. It looks unlikely that the majority will change, but it could be slimmed down or enhanced. Could you work with a council that votes 6-1 with Council President Ben Stuckart?

Look at the voting on critical pieces of legislation. Namely, the budget. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority on that. I did not agree with some of the items that were put into the budget, but we have eight elected officials. I don’t agree with the increase in their personal budgets, going up 26 percent, in some cases higher than that depending how you look at it. It doesn’t align with what I see as affordable and effective. But at the end of the day, in the large picture of a multimillion, $170 million budget, it would not be the direction I’d go in. I also see as we’ve waded into issues of late, it concerns me that job creators are not on the (council).

You talk about me and Shar Lichty, you talk about the Envision proposal, from my understanding she is the only candidate or elected official that supports it. Between Ms. Lichty and I, it’s pretty obvious where her philosophy comes from.

Have you endorsed Councilman Mike Fagan, or John Ahern, candidate for council president?

I have not endorsed John Ahern. I don’t know whether I have or haven’t Fagan. We work together a lot. What does endorsement mean? I think he serves northeast Spokane very well. I don’t think anybody could take away from him the passion he has for northeast, and I think he represents his constituents very well. He and I haven’t always agreed on everything. I believe he’s the only one in the last two years that’s voted against the budget. Now, I believe his is because of concerns in the increase  in budget of the city council itself, but you’d have to ask him. At this point I don’t remember why he voted no.

And why no endorsement or support or fundraising for Ahern? He’s a stalwart within the local Republican party, a longtime state legislator.

I don’t believe the Republican Party endorsed me this time or last time. I come as a Republican in the sense of me personally. But you’ll see, and the public sees, this a completely nonpartisan office. The issues that I’ve brought forward and the people I’ve hired, it has not been an issue of their affiliation. It goes back to if you have a real passion for the city, and secondly an affordability alignment.

Does this have more to do with Ahern or Stuckart?

I think many of the philosophies Ahern brings to the table, he and agree quite a bit. That being said, I think there’s a time for elected officials to serve, and I think he’s served our community very well at the state level. I think with Ben, we have on major issues come to a lot of agreement for this community.

What’s the most underutilized revenue source at the city?

This gets back to the affordability, and the reliance on past administrations on utility revenue. It was crippling our families. They had raised utility rates 100 percent in the four years before I came into office. Their plan was to raise them considerably over these four years.

It was an initiative in my first 100 days to look at the property we own. How do we repurpose that property? I guess it ultimately turns out to be revenue, but they are underutilized properties. We’ve done a significant review of that. For the first time in well over a decade, the city has built its first new building in the Nelson Service Center, which will consolidate many of our operations to really reap the benefits of efficiency of our fleet services, not to mention the working conditions of our employees, not to mention we’ll be moving to natural gas.

So I guess underutilized resources would the properties the city owns. We’ve put them ot much better use, and the community will see a lot more of that, of better utilization of properties the city owns. And in some cases that means surplusing underutilized pieces of property.

Another great example is for years administrations have tried to figure out what to do with Joe Albi. It was within the first 15 months that we really came to a great agreement with the school district. This is another example of sitting down with what their needs were and what our inventory of property was. I believe that deal was at least five different transactions that made up the totality of Joe Albi. All with the school district, but five different parcels that were funded different ways and will have different purposes for the school district.

What finally made you give the green light to sue Monsanto over PCBs in the Spokane River?

I direct all legal actions for the city. What you see here is a continuation of the same philosophy that we’ve had with our cleaner river faster initiative, which is to look at the health of our river. Unfortunately, and I’m working very closely with our state and federal legislators, in all intents and purposes the current regulations do not look at the health of the river. It looks at, in essence, occurrences of overflows into the river. Not looking at the underlying health.

As we went to a health model, it quite quickly draws you to certain contaminants in the river. It became clear, and I believe and the courts will decide, that Monsanto that although operating within the purview of the law at the time, it is through discovery, we believe they knew that that existed.

The citizens of Spokane are stepping up to the plate. Half a billion dollars are going into this initiative. I think those that also contributed to it have a responsibility to do that. The Spokane River is at least a statewide asset. It flows ultimately into the Pacific Ocean. At the end of the day, it’s a major asset. It maybe doesn’t get the notoriety of a Mississippi River, but between the Columbia River system and the Spokane River system, it’s a regional asset.

To me it made sense. We’re working with other partners, whether it be the Toxics Task Force or other dischargers into the river. Those are seemingly more collaborative, and perhaps the Monsanto one will be more collaborative as we move into the discovery and mediation process.

Related question, do you like Neil Young?

I was surprised, but some of these things get more notoriety than others. But again it is a disciplined approach to looking at priorities in my administration, and not looking at it in the sense of political philosophy or otherwise. You let the chips fall where they may. This is one of those cases.

What do you think of the use of speed cameras in school zones?

The policy set on those is a City Council issue. I guess the critical issue that I have with it is the effectiveness of it. You have to be very disciplined to look at the effectiveness. What do I mean? We track police citations, and the interaction with officers and the public. We ultimately want safe school zones. Do you get with the camera, after the fact of giving somebody a ticket? Or do you get it with the presence of officers? So I think we should, in a controlled way, look at it very closely. I think the other worry I have is the funding mechanism for our officers. If we do utilize the cameras as a tool, and I can agree to that, we need to realize the revenue that’s generated should go back to the Police Division. It currently does not.

It goes toward traffic calming.

Yes. I think there needs to be a better balance to that. You talk about traffic safety schools. You talk about neighborhood conditions officers. There was an attempt to do that. I believe at the time it was championed by Steve Salvatori. There is a real impact. As we see those revenues that used to come to the police division now are redirected. We put the cameras in based on good data. Should we not allocate some of the funds to those very intersections that the cameras are on to presumably make that intersection safer? Right now that is not a requirement of the statue.

We need to be very disciplined in how we use that revenue. The purpose of them is for a safer community. Not as a revenue generator. We need to have the discussion of what would enhance the safety.

Should the police ombudsman have more or less powers to independently investigate alleged police misconduct?

Two pieces. One is I supported the charter amendment to allow this type of oversight. I also, secondly, believe that I negotiated the most independent oversight in the state of Washington. The decision of whether they should have more independent to me is one that we need to take to the state level and change state law. If we did that, I think it would put the parameters on there that would be necessary for that.

I’m frustrated that we don’t have an ombudsman. I’m frustrated with the progress there, or the lack of progress there. But I think we should allow it to be implemented and look at how we enhance it after we put it in place. As you look across the state, the only other one that would be similar is Seattle. The reality is that it is an internal affairs division with a civilian appointed director, Pierce Murphy. That’s who their ombudsman is, and he answers to the mayor, not to a separate citizen advisory board.

I’m frustrated with the progress of the ombudsman, but I think we have to appreciate the sheer independence of our ombudsman commission. The efficiency you may get with the mayor’s office running it, you would lose the effectiveness of independence.

You’re saying the framework is there. You’ve just had trouble putting people in place.


Once the positions are filled, we’ll have robust oversight?

I think we should implement it and if we find that it’s not getting the independence the citizens want - I believe that legally we’re not going to be able to change it at the local level. We’re going to have to change it at state law. This would have to be at the top of the city’s legislative agenda, and look at the nuances of how you can compel somebody not in a court system to testify. That’s in essence what you’re asking them to do. This is a quasi-judicial hearing. Because it’s not fully judicial, the review of the legal analysis I’ve seen would lead us to not being allowed to compel somebody because you’re not in front of Superior Court judge. That’s the trigger, as I see it in common man’s language, not maybe legal. Let’s also remember that labor law trumps city law, and that’s the precedent we have set in this state.

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.

How many public relations professionals – spokespeople – do you think the city should have?

This is an initiative from very early on in my administration about how we communicate in critical areas where we interact with the public. This started with a major review that our previous city communications director, Marlene Feist, did. And our biggest line of business did not have a communications director, which is our utilities (department). Not only that, but we were about to commence on one of the largest public works projects. The idea was to put out public information and also engage the public, otherwise you just have a bunch of engineers that are designing the project but the engagement piece (is missing).

We’ve been going through the process, and you’ll see it was part of the discussion, when we looked at positions that should be protected by civil service or not. This is three years in the making of our public safety, on both police and fire, in parks. We had no new media presence. We didn’t even have a Facebook site when I came on board.

All of them are unique communications positions. Streets is much more an engagement process. We put out the obstructions, but we haven’t fully cracked the egg on notifying people on construction. We’ve been re-doing that policy. It’s more of a business advocate versus a press conference. So each one of them is unique. That’s why when Brian (Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman) came in, we’ve been diligently looking at all the position descriptions. Some of them require marketing. We actually sell stuff. We look at marketing backgrounds.

Most of them, not all of them, we’ve put in exempt-confidential positions because they’re very unique positions and it’s difficult to utilize the civil service positions for those.

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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