Two candidates for empty planning commission seats, including the half-brother of Mayor Tom Towey, were approved by a majority of the Spokane Valley City Council Tuesday during a contentious meeting.
The recommendation for new planning commission members is usually made by the mayor, but he asked Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels to do it. “I asked each council person to give me two names,” said Schimmels. “The people who got the majority of votes in that group got the nomination.”
Bill Bates, like the mayor, retired from a long career at Rosauers. He was vice-president of retail operations when he retired in 1987. He also volunteered with SCOPE. Joseph Stoy is a design manager with Baker Construction and coaches youth baseball.
Towey announced he was recusing himself from the vote and left the room during the discussions on both planning commission candidates.
Council members Rose Dempsey and Bill Gothmann both said they were concerned that having the mayor’s close relative on the planning commission would create the appearance of a conflict of interest. “I know Mr. Bates,” Dempsey said. “I have a good deal of respect for him. He is also related to the mayor. The positions are too close together and there is too much a suggestion of impropriety.”
Gothmann said that state law is quite clear that it is the duty of the mayor to appoint planning commission members and also to remove commissioners in cases of incompetence or wrongdoing. That gives the mayor a supervisory role over his brother, which would not be allowed in any city department. “We would not allow one relative to work for another one,” he said. Gothmann said he thought it spoke “volumes” that the mayor felt he had to recuse himself and leave the room during the discussion.
“I know them both,” said Councilman Bob McCaslin. “They’re different personalities. They’re different human beings.”
McCaslin asked acting City Attorney Cary Driskell if the mayor had been required to recuse himself. “I don’t believe legally he was required to recuse himself,” Driskell said.
“You have clouded the both of them, you two on the end there,” McCaslin said, indicating Gothmann and Dempsey.
Dempsey called for a point of order and said that council members were not supposed to address each other on the dais. “I feel that Mr. Gothmann and I have been maligned,” she said.
“You have not,” McCaslin said. “You are out of order. Your statements are incorrect and you maligned the both of them.”
Dempsey said she simply pointed out that the mayor and Bates are related. “I don’t know if they’re related,” McCaslin said. “I don’t know their history.”
During the exchange between McCaslin and Dempsey, murmurs and exclamations could be heard from the fairly large audience. After McCaslin’s last statement, one man got up, told those sitting near him that he’d heard enough, and walked out of the room.
Councilman Dean Grafos defended Bates. “He’s very, very well qualified for this position,” he said. Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said the planning commission work is not paid. “I don’t think it rises to the level of impropriety,” she said. “I don’t really consider that an issue.”
Gothmann said the rules about avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest are clear. “That’s the key word, appearances,” he said. “The question has never been one of qualifications.”
Schimmels said the council’s only duty is to pick the planning commission members. “We do not dictate to them,” he said. “We look to them for advice.”
Schimmels joined Grafos, Grassel and McCaslin in voting to approve Bates. In contrast, there was little discussion about the second candidate. Stoy was approved unanimously.
Other applicants for the positions included Frederick Mark, owner of Westmark Consulting Services, Jaimelyn McLeod, owner of Fine Tuned Piano Service; William Miller, a retired Boeing program administrator; Steven Neill, a shipping and warehouse clerk with Olsten Staffing; and Randall Vanhoff, an associate architect with Zeck Butler Architects.
In other business, Towey made his annual appointments of council members to serve on various community boards and committees. He did not make any changes from council members’ current assignments. Councilman Bob McCaslin is the only council member not assigned to serve on any boards or committees. Towey’s suggestions were approved unanimously by the council.
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