It’s a demanding time to be on the Spokane City Council. The economic challenges, both immediate and long-term, are staggering. Environmental, planning and social issues cry for attention, too.
But voters in the city’s 2nd Council District are lucky to have three competent candidates running for the seat in Tuesday’s primary election.
Mary Verner is the incumbent, although this will be her first time to face the voters. She stepped into the vacancy created when then-Councilman Dennis Hession was elected council president a year and a half ago. The other council members selected Verner for the post from a list of citizen applicants that also included both of Verner’s rivals in the primary — Jeffrey D. Bierman and Dallas Hawkins.
It’s a healthy sign when people who have been active and effective in their community are interested enough in public service to seek such opportunities — and persistent enough to keep trying.
Verner has a clear advantage over her challengers. She’s been in office and had a chance to demonstrate her abilities. She’s done well. She’s been thoughtful, inquisitive and independent, displaying a calm temperament and a lawyer’s analytical mind when confronted with complex issues.
She supported the controversial extension of employee benefits to some city workers’ domestic partners, but is working on a cafeteria-style benefits plan that would overcome the most substantive objections to that policy. Even Bierman has said the cafeteria approach would be a good idea.
Verner’s background also includes work in environmental issues, leaving her well prepared to engage in the questions now under study about pollutants in the Spokane River.
Bierman, a physics professor at Gonzaga University, has served on the Spokane Plan Commission for the past three years and has a crisp understanding of the problems and opportunities involving land use in the city. He is an articulate and energetic voice for economic development strategies that stress increased commercial activity inside the city limits. He is probably the most insistent voice on behalf of annexation of adjacent properties that are best suited to inclusion within urban boundaries.
His experience and insights would be valuable next year when the city has to update its comprehensive plan.
Hawkins, who owns an insurance business, has been active at the neighborhood level and as chairman of the citizens’ street commission that is guiding expenditure of street-construction bonds approved by Spokane voters.
It’s a solid resume, augmented by a financial and accounting background that Hawkins says qualifies him to eyeball proposals for potential waste. Curiously, however, he describes the city’s priorities of government budgeting process as well-suited to times when the treasury is healthy but less so when times are tough. In fact, it’s when funds are limited that the POG process’s discipline is most valuable.
Hawkins, Bierman and Verner all have valuable qualities to offer. But in a position calling for policy-making and political leadership, Bierman and Verner stand apart and deserve voters’ consideration as they decide who should advance to the general election.
Verner has shown herself an able, well-rounded councilmember. Bierman’s breadth is unclear, but a general election race between the two of them would give both a chance to put all their dimensions on display.
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