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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

ON THE ISSUES: Shar Lichty, candidate for Spokane mayor

pokane Mayor David Condon, left, debates 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)
pokane Mayor David Condon, left, debates 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. Read Mayor David Condon's answers here.

Explain your political philosophy. Who is your political hero?

People have the power. That those in elected office only have as much power as people let them have. As a community organizer, that’s always been my political philosophy. Of course, now I’m moving from being just one of the people to being an elected official, but I’ll be an elected official who represents the people and recognizes the power that they have, and should have, on influencing policy on all levels of the government.

Who are your heroes?

I have three political heroes: Shirley Chisholm, Harvey Milk, Bernie Sanders. Well, Bernie Sanders may not be a hero but he certainly influenced my decision to run. He’s been in politics for 40 and has never wavered on his values, which shows me that it’s possible to do.

The others were revolutionary. Shirley Chisholm, a strong African-American woman who threw her hat in the presidential race. She had courage and stood by her convictions.

Harvey Milk. I just watched Milk again a few weeks ago to get re-inspired. He’s out there with a bullhorn. I don’t know if folks would get it if I went out with a bullhorn and said, “I’m Shar Lichty and I’m here to recruit you.” But yes. He’s somebody who saw a lack of people being represented in elected office and stood up and took a stance. He was the first openly gay person to be elected to office. That took a huge amount of courage.

Describe the current relationship between the City Council and the mayor.

There have been incidences of a lack of cooperation, the City Council being blindsided by things coming from the mayor’s office, such as when the council had a certain understanding of when the (Fire Department’s) Alternative Response Units would be put back in place, and that they would be given certain information before hand. That’s one recent example.

I think there’s more cooperation now, but the mayor’s running for reelection.

Has it been productive, that tension between the two branches? Or has it stifled things?

I think it’s a little bit of both. It certainly hasn’t stifled production like it has in national politics. We’re nowhere near there. But, the mayor’s office and the City Council should work collaboratively on things, on policy issues or the budget. Council has to approve the budget, so ultimately they hold the purse strings.

As mayor, how would you increase cooperation and include council members in the conversation? How would you do that if the council had a majority that didn’t share your views?

Transparency. I would still work collaboratively with them. The council is the one that creates legislation. But the mayor can and should keep the council apprised of changes she’d like to see. I would do that regardless of political leaning. I’ve worked with Republicans, conservatives on the death penalty, one of the most controversial issues. I have no problem working across the aisle.

What's the most underutilized revenue source for the city of Spokane?

One thing I have in mind is putting a levy to the voters for the fire department. Our firefighters and our fire department have taken drastic cuts. We were at a Level 2 rating, we’re now at a Level 3 but we’re far overdue for an inspection, which would probably drop us to a four. In fact, there has not been an inspection done during this entire administration.

Homeowners and their property tax are paying for fire, while those services are being cut. When our ratings drop, their homeowner’s insurance goes up. So homeowners are getting hit twice.

What would this levy do? Hire more firefighters? Build more fire stations?

That’s what I’d have to look into, the exact needs. We certainly need more firefighters. We need updated equipment. Our firefighters also need better training opportunities.

The fire union is very powerful, both locally and nationally, and some argue against their influence on elected officials. Members of the fire department are among the best paid at City hall. Wouldn’t your levy just shuffle more money their way?

The firefighters have not endorsed me. They’re neutral on the mayor’s race. Secondly, I’m not for sale. I supported the firefighters before I decided to run for office. They saved my pregnant daughter from an apartment fire in 2012. It’s personal. I recognize the hard work they do and I recognize the service they provide to our community. Just look at this last summer across the state. That’s not just Spokane firefighters, that’s firefighters in general, but it’s a very important thing. I plan to work closely, and well, with the firefighters.

Should the Spokane Police Ombudsman have more or less powers to independently investigate alleged police misconduct?

The ombudsman needs more power if we want to bring the city into compliance with the charter. We don’t have truly independent investigative authority. I was in the interviews for the three ombudsman finalists, just as a citizen. When the ombudsman commissioners did their interview, all three of the finalists were very strong in their statements about the ordinance not being in compliance with the city charter. If those three finalists get it, I don’t understand why the office of the mayor doesn’t get it. And City Council for that matter. They approved the ordinance. We do not have independent investigative authority, as mandated by the city charter. That’s what the voters approved.

Do you support the city's decision to sue Monsanto over PCBs in the Spokane River?

Yes, I do support that. Monsanto is one of the chief contributors to PCBs in the Spokane River, and they should pay for part of the cleanup cost. Absolutely. The timing of the lawsuit is interesting.

What do you mean?

It’s not so much interesting, but I question the motives. My motives would be, they should be held accountable for polluting our river.

Are you saying it was a political decision by the mayor?

Yes, political, and bringing in some revenue so he doesn’t have to pay it out of the city budget, which is smart. It’s not bad, it’s just interesting. It’s interesting that our current mayor would be suing Monsanto. That’s what I’m saying.

For his re-election? Is that what you mean?

Maybe. To appeal to progressives. I don’t see him as a typical person to do this. I don’t see him out there protesting GMOs.

Should speed cameras be in school zones?

I’m not a big fan of the red light cameras. The timing of them is not accurate. They need to be working properly. There’s too much of a delay. It’s happened to me. They’re catching some people at the wrong time. They need to be synced properly and work properly. Of course, with the red light cameras, there’s the issue of somebody out of the state issuing the citations. But I think that’s been corrected.

I would rather look at other ways to slow traffic in front of schools, which is important. We need to keep our kids safe. When they put up signs, with flashing lights that show a driver’s speed, those seem to have really good success rates at slowing people down. People see they’re speeding. They see the signs. I think they assume there’s a police officer around who is monitoring traffic. It tends to slow people down. Can we achieve the same results at a lesser cost by putting those signs in front of the schools?

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.

How many public relations professionals, otherwise known as spokesmen and spokeswomen, should the city employ? Explain.

There should be one for the city, and one for the police department.

That’s it?

We don’t need two communications people at the parks department. The voters overwhelmingly supported the park bond. We don’t need to sell it. We don’t need to sell renovations at the park. We don’t need two spokespeople there.

But what about streets? There’s a lot of road construction going on, and it will only pick up in coming years…

There is a lot going on. Is Brian Coddington too busy to address that?

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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