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Tuesday, May 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Races lack candidates

Town issues draw few for City Council election

Spokane Valley Mayor Rich Munson is disappointed by the lack of candidates for three positions on the City Council despite state Sen. Bob McCaslin’s last-minute decision to give Munson a race.

“That’s one thing Bob McCaslin and I agree on,” Munson said. “We need to get more people to run for these offices.”

McCaslin, 83, said he filed against Munson, 66, at the end of a weeklong filing period only because he was unable to persuade any other critic of the city government to run. He said he talked to about two dozen people who are unhappy with the city, and “all of them turned me down.”

“I think it’s terrible, the lack of interest,” McCaslin said.

Critics, many of whom oppose the proposed Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, seem to be focusing their energy and resources on a disincorporation drive that virtually requires that they win an election to get an election.

To force a disincorporation vote, critics must collect signatures equaling half the turnout in the last general election. Then they must hope the state Boundary Review Board for Spokane County doesn’t exercise its veto power.

Similarly, business people who support the revitalization plan have shown little desire to protect the plan by running for the council.

No one filed against Councilman Gary Schimmels, who wants to shrink the revitalization plan, or for the position Councilman Dick Denenny is vacating. Instead, Denenny’s seat will go by default to Planning Commissioner Tom Towey, who agrees with Schimmels and Councilwoman Rose Dempsey that the plan should be reduced to the area west of University Road.

Aside from the Munson-McCaslin matchup, the only contest is between incumbent Diana Wilhite, 60, and challenger Brenda Grassel, 43. Based on the positions Grassel and McCaslin have staked out, it would be difficult to interpret either candidacy as a pure referendum on the city’s incorporation or on the Sprague-Appleway plan.

McCaslin is having second thoughts about his support for creating the city, but still prefers to work within the municipal framework.

He would try to overturn and overhaul the Sprague-Appleway plan, scheduled for final action Tuesday, if he’s elected. However, he has his feet in opposing camps.

McCaslin objects to rezoning commercial land to mixed residential and office uses, but would reopen the question of whether two-way traffic should be restored everywhere on Sprague Avenue. Many small-business operators oppose the zone changes, but the plan has been endorsed by the Greater Spokane Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Valley Business Association.

Business organizations, especially the Spokane Valley Business Association, favor restoration of two-way traffic on Sprague Avenue, from the Sprague exit of Interstate 90 to University Road. But that idea proved highly unpopular with commuters as well as many of the small-business operators who oppose “down-zoning.”

The City Council seemed to have defused the issue with a decision to maintain one-way traffic in the portion of the Sprague-Appleway couplet between I-90 and Dishman-Mica Road, where most commuter traffic occurs.

“If it’s settled, that’s fine with me, but we have to involve the business community,” McCaslin said. “Taxes flow from businesses.”

McCaslin also questions the need for a new city hall, which is a key element of the Sprague-Appleway plan’s city center district.

“I’m not a waster of taxpayer money,” McCaslin said. “What’s wrong with the building they’re in?”

McCaslin wants to rescind the city’s new 6 percent tax on telephone service, which Munson supported to pay for street maintenance.

Munson touts his vision for the future, which depends heavily on the Sprague-Appleway plan. He cited deteriorating Sprague Avenue businesses as evidence that reliance on market forces – as McCaslin advocates – hasn’t worked.

“We have a choice now to decide whether we want to continue to be a bedroom community,” Munson said. “We’re providing a framework for growth.”

He said other examples include creation of the CenterPlace Regional Event Center, newly completed upgrades of three swimming pools and plans to build a new park in Greenacres and a playground to accommodate people with handicaps.

Munson hammered at McCaslin’s intention to retain his Senate seat if elected to the council. State law allows McCaslin to hold both offices, but would force him off the council if he accumulates three unexcused absences in a row.

Munson said he has a record “showing I am here all the time.”

He said he represents the city on eight organizations, including the Spokane Transit Authority, two chambers of commerce, a growth management committee and as 2007-’08 president of the Association of Washington Cities.

McCaslin is a former Kaiser-Trentwood rolling mill supervisor and retired real estate agent who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and economics. A career Air Force officer, Munson retired as a lieutenant colonel and later retired from a career as a stock broker.

He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in business management.

Opponents Wilhite and Grassel seemingly have much in common. Both hold bachelor’s degrees and are former teachers who now own businesses with their husbands.

Also, both are conservatives who want to make sure city officials treat business people well.

Wilhite has supported the Sprague-Appleway plan while seeking changes to help small businesses. Grassel has reservations about parts of the plan but likes other portions, including its call for a city center.

Grassel said one thing that separates her from Wilhite is that her business, Precision Cutting Technologies, is in Spokane Valley while Wilhite’s business, Safeguard Business Systems, is in Spokane.

“We have different issues here,” Grassel said.

She said she is “very concerned about how much money we’re spending, getting consultants for this and consultants for that.” Wilhite said city officials have gotten “extreme value for every penny that we pay.”

Wilhite sees her government experience and her stage in life as key differences. Wilhite said she has time for numerous meetings of other agencies, in which council members represent the city’s interests.

“I know that, when my daughter was in school and growing up, it was very important for me to be involved in her activities,” Wilhite said. “I would never have had the time to commit to the City Council.”

Grassel, who has three children ranging from 3 to 9 years old, served on a Central Valley School District curriculum committee last year but has no other government experience.

Wilhite – like Munson and Schimmels – has been on the City Council since Spokane Valley was incorporated in 2003. Previously, she was an aide to two congressmen and managed McCaslin’s first state Senate campaign.

On the other hand, Grassel claims the support of McCaslin, businessman Jack Pring, retired Central Valley School District administrator Chuck Hafner, city Planning Commission Chairman Ian Robertson, attorney Howard Herman, state Rep. Larry Crouse and state Rep. Matt Shea, who won his seat last year after Wilhite was eliminated in the Republican primary.

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