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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Misinformation muted civic voice

The Spokesman-Review

If outcomes are what matters, Monday’s Spokane City Council meeting produced what appears to be a popular decision. The council voted 6-1 not to put Joe Albi Stadium up for sale.

Judging by various measures of public opinion — letters to the editor, public comments at council meetings, various communications to council members from their constituents — that was what most Spokane residents wanted them to decide.

But if the process leading to that decision is important, there’s cause for dissatisfaction, thanks to a notice that Councilman Brad Stark sent to news organizations on Sunday evening. Because of it, some community members stayed home rather than carrying through with their plans to attend the meeting and possibly present their opinions in person.

Enthusiasm for the political process is evidence of the kind of public trust that should be encouraged. Yet in this case it was undermined as a result of misinformation.

Mayor Jim West first proposed selling Albi Stadium, but Stark got the idea on Monday’s Council agenda. At the end of last Thursday’s agenda planning session, however, West surprised at least some Council members by suggesting the Albi resolution be pulled.

Later, Stark talked to Council President Dennis Hession about introducing a motion to defer the matter indefinitely. Hession agreed to support the motion if Stark could round up the remaining votes needed to pass it. After calling other Council members and thinking he had sufficient backing, Stark took it upon himself to tell the media the measure would be taken off Monday’s agenda. He didn’t say he planned to ask for such an action, but that it would happen. That’s the word that went out over several television broadcasts, confusing and misleading many interested people.

Indeed, Stark and Hession discussed the merits of letting the public know of the deferral intent, so people could decide whether to attend.

There is a difference, though, between asking for a deferral — and letting the council debate and vote on it — and actually removing an item from the agenda in advance.

As it turned out, the agreement Stark thought he had brokered in a series of phone calls fell apart. Hession changed his mind, the deferral was rejected and the Albi sale was put to a vote after all — in the presence of a much smaller audience than had been expected.

Having the result they wanted, many citizens will forgive the procedural awkwardness. But they shouldn’t. Authentic participation by citizens gives representative government its legitimacy. Those who fulfill their civic duty to be engaged citizens deserve a sign from entities like the Spokane City Council that their input is valued and effective. Monday’s events left them looking irrelevant.

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