Political changes started by the recall of former Spokane Mayor Jim West will continue today when Council President Dennis Hession is expected to be appointed to the remaining two years of West’s term.
In an interview last week, Hession said he is already taking steps to reorganize the mayor’s office, and he may reduce the number of staff meetings.
Hession, as council president, became Spokane’s acting mayor on Friday when the Spokane County election canvassing board certified the recall of West by 65 percent of city voters.
Hession said he plans to show up at the mayor’s office this morning and share some of his expectations with city staffers.
He has said he does not want to be a “caretaker” mayor and has outlined a series of new initiatives, including stepped-up annexations and better land-use planning along the city’s boundaries.
At 3:30 p.m. today, the City Council convenes in a public briefing session in Council Chambers for what is destined to be a historic day in Spokane.
Hession said he plans to pass the council gavel to Council President Pro Tem Joe Shogan, who will take over the job of managing the council’s agenda and running the meetings – at least for the time being.
The council can appoint a replacement for the council president, and Shogan and Councilman Al French have offered themselves as candidates.
Shogan has said he expects that the council will vote on appointing Hession to the mayor’s job during its meetings today.
The vote could be held off until the council’s regular 6 p.m. legislative session.
Both the 3:30 p.m. briefing session and the 6 p.m. legislative session will be televised on Cable Channel 5.
Even if Hession gets the mayoral appointment today, he probably will wait until early January to take the mayoral oath of office. The delay will preserve Hession’s potential for election to two consecutive terms as mayor in 2007 and 2011.
The city’s term limits law restricts elected office holders to two consecutive terms. The law defines a full term as any period in excess of two years.
If Hession is sworn in after Jan. 1, he would serve what’s called a “short term,” which is defined as less than two years of an unexpired four-year term.
West was sworn in at the end of December 2003.
After the 3:30 p.m. briefing session, the council will hold a farewell reception in the adjacent Chase Gallery for Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers, who is finishing two-plus terms on the council and is stepping down because of the term limit law.
At 5:30 p.m., three newly elected members of the council will be sworn in to four-year terms.
They include: Nancy McLaughlin, who was elected to replace Rodgers from the Northwest council district; French, who won a second term from the Northeast district; and Mary Verner, who was elected to her South Side district seat after winning an appointment to the council early in 2004.
The council reconvenes at 6 p.m., and will take up a proposal from French to establish an ethics commission to oversee elected officials, appointees to commissions and boards, and top staffers at City Hall.
French said he hopes to win voter approval of an amendment to the City Charter that would allow the council to place a recall measure on the ballot, avoiding the protracted court and signature-gathering process that led to West’s ouster. The recall came seven months after a newspaper investigation showed West had used his office for personal benefit.
Hession said he still wishes that West had resigned months ago and saved the city the divisiveness of a recall election.
“I think he could have taken the higher road and walked away,” said Hession, who was joined by a unanimous City Council in voting for West’s resignation last spring.
Hession said he has already asked Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch to assess the duties of the four staffers who had been working under West, including Lynch.
Hession said he may reorganize the office, but has not decided whether to replace any staffers. Hession has authority to hire and fire his office staff at will, along with about 30 other top city officials.
The new mayor also will have a chance to name a new police chief and city attorney, after the departures this year of Police Chief Roger Bragdon and City Attorney Mike Connelly. Both jobs have been filled on an interim basis.
Hession is expected to meet Tuesday morning with some of those top city officials, whom West had dubbed his “Cabinet.” Hession said he thinks city staff holds “way too many meetings with too many people at them.”
However, he wants to discuss reducing the number of so-called Cabinet meetings with top staffers before cutting the schedule.
He said West’s staff had been very loyal to the ousted mayor.
“I admire loyalty. These people were loyal,” Hession said.
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