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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Shogan leaves council with accomplishments and a sense of relief

Outgoing council president hopes to help fellow vets

Joe Shogan, Spokane City Council president, looks out at the Spokane River view from his seventh floor office. Shogan was busy packing up his belongings and saying goodbye to city staff Thursday. Ben Stuckart is taking his place. (Jesse Tinsley)
Joe Shogan, Spokane City Council president, looks out at the Spokane River view from his seventh floor office. Shogan was busy packing up his belongings and saying goodbye to city staff Thursday. Ben Stuckart is taking his place. (Jesse Tinsley)

Joe Shogan, 63, served eight years on Spokane’s City Council, six as council president.

He spent Thursday saying goodbye to City Hall staffers and cleaning out his office.

In his last interview as council president, Shogan talked about his legacy, his temper, his struggles with depression and his hopes for the city he grew up in – and will now retire in.

Q. What do you hope your legacy will be?

A. I was co-founder of the warming center system, and I played a major role in the council’s financial backing for the relocation of over 100 special-needs tenants when the Otis, Commercial and New Madison hotels closed.

I’m also pleased that I played a role in the Spokane Tribe getting a presence on the riverbank again. I was actively involved in the city having a new property evidence building. I was here when we first established the office of the (police) ombudsmen. And even though it’s not perfect, there was nothing before that was established. And I’m proud of the removal of the YMCA building.

Q. What do you regret?

A. I wish the council could have had more of a feeling of a team. In dealing with six intelligent, ambitious people, it was hard to cobble together a majority. It was difficult to achieve some sense of everyone going the same direction. But about 90 percent of the time, I think the council voted for the best interest of the city.

Q. What are your plans now?

A. I’ve been talking to Gonzaga University about being a volunteer who would participate in outreach to veterans in a program I’m calling “Veterans Empowering Themselves.” I’m a combat veteran and a lot of times, veterans will turn inward because they don’t feel people understand what they’ve gone through.

I volunteered to go to Vietnam in July 1971. Arrived the end of October, 1971. I was a platoon leader with the 2nd Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment – the Blackhorse Regiment.

I had a couple of times I could have died and couldn’t do anything about it. You’d like to think it gives you the sense that life is valuable, and so you’ll never do harm again, and everything will be perfect. There’s still a sense for me that I’m lucky to be here, but I had a hard time adjusting when I came back. So I can walk the walk with veterans.

Q. Did your Vietnam experience have anything to do with your flashes of anger on the council?

A. I’ve always had a temper. I had a temper in grade school. I had a temper before I went to Vietnam, but I didn’t have to display it on a public stage.

The things that angered me were people who came to council and attacked other people. And when I told them not to do that and they still (did), it angered me. I never went into a meeting looking to have an argument. And usually after a meeting was over, I put it aside and moved on.

We have some really interesting people who show up at council meetings. Some of them have chips on their shoulder. Some have mental issues. You tell somebody, “OK, thank you, but be quiet.” And they don’t. And early on, we didn’t have any police security. And then I had people like David Elton who wanted to see me beheaded. It’s hard to deal with people like that.

Q. You told me once that you didn’t like the person you were becoming on the council. Can you elaborate?

A. People who know me find me a good conversationalist, a good friend. I have a great sense of humor. But at the council meetings, I put a game mask on. I’m glad my time is up. It’s like eighth grade and you are graduating to high school. You miss some of the good times, but you don’t want to do it again.

Q. You’ve been open with friends about your struggles with depression. Is there anything you feel comfortable sharing with our readers?

A. Knowing that I deal with depression, if that helps someone else seek professional care, it’s worth it. I don’t use it as a crutch. I had some very difficult times. With the support of my family and friends, I got through it. I know people who suffer from depression and haven’t sought help, and it’s a very miserable life.

Q. What is the biggest misconception about depression?

A. That it’s an emotional problem. You have the blues, and you can get over it without any professional help. I think that came out of our parents’ generation. Mental illness was treated as a weakness or something you needed to be committed to a mental hospital for. There wasn’t any middle ground to say it’s an illness like any other illness.

Q. What’s your hope for the city now?

A. At one time, the council passed a resolution to fund human services at the rate of 1 percent of the general fund budget. The general fund budget right now is around $165 million. That would mean you’d be funding human services at $1.65 million. Well, that’s never happened. I think we’re at $900,000. That’s not bad. But with the cutbacks at the state, we are going to get hit with all these folks without a support system.

I’ll give you an example. The last ride-along I went with the fire department, we responded to a fellow who was threatening suicide. We had a ladder truck, four firemen. Then AMR (ambulance service) showed up to take him to the hospital for 24-hour observation. So we had a firetruck with four firemen, and an ambulance with two paramedics, for one individual who needed help with a mental health issue.

Q. Who was your favorite person you worked with?

A. Mary (Verner). I’d come in and say this is not a good idea, this is stupid. I could give her my unvarnished opinion. She might not agree with it, but I could do that. With some mayors, you just couldn’t.

Q. Least favorite?

A. They know who they are.

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