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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Spokane candidates talk about the city’s spokesmen and spokeswomen

Do you still have your ballot? Fill it out already.

In the meantime, we asked candidates running in Spokane how many public relations officials - otherwise known as spokesman and spokeswomen - the city should employ. Here are their answers:

Ben Stuckart, incumbent candidate for Spokane City Council president: Marlene Feist used to be the Spokesperson for the City as a whole.  It seems now that each department has their own PR person and that Brian Coddington is now the Mayor’s spokesperson.  I would like to see things move back to being less partisan and more like it used to be.

John Ahern, candidate for council president: Did not provide an answer.

Mike Fagan, incumbent candidate for City Council District 1: The city and the parks department should be equipped with spokespersons. While I would tend to agree that the police dept had a need when we came into office due to the huge amount of changes and reforms, that were being made, once the brunt of the reforms were implemented, the need could have gone away. I believe that if a city dept has a need for a spokes person, this responsibility could be handled as an additional duty assignment like the police dept is currently using without creating the need for a standalone position costing tax payers more. 

Randy Ramos, candidate for district 1: It is a good idea for Spokane to have a person who can speak to the media on behalf of the city, and I believe the city is in a good position with its current staffing levels.

LaVerne Biel, candidate for district 2: I believe there should be two public relations professionals:  A City Spokesperson and a Public Safety Spokesperson. 

Lori Kinnear, candidate for district 2: The actual number isn’t the question as much as the efficiency of having a department dedicated to public information. The redundancy of that function now is costly and doesn’t serve the community as well as it could or should.

Karen Stratton, incumbent candidate for district 3: The City should have one Director of Communications.  For larger departments (SPD, Utilities, Parks, Library), Public Information Coordinators should be retained to support the one Director of Communications and their respective City departments.  These are Civil Service jobs with reasonable salaries.

Evan Verduin, candidate for district 3: As a council member in the Strong Mayor form of government I do not believe it would be my role to tell the administration how to handle personnel related issues. We do get to approve the final budget, but how those funds are utilized regarding personnel becomes an issue of micromanaging best not left to legislators and instead should rightfully be left to the mayor and his administration. I would however encourage those on the current council with concerns regarding personnel issues to run for mayor and not the legislative branch of our government.

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Unlike council candidates, who answered the question by email, mayoral candidates were interviewed in person. Here are their answers.

David Condon, incumbent candidate for Spokane mayor

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.

Shar Lichty, candidate for Spokane mayor:

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

Lichty: 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?

Be sure to read all of our fabulous election coverage while checking those boxes on your ballot.




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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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