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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Higgins wins Spokane Valley appointment

Long, winding path leads to council seat

Rod Higgins is the newest Spokane Valley council member. He was awarded the seat when he won a coin toss. (Dan Pelle)
Rod Higgins is the newest Spokane Valley council member. He was awarded the seat when he won a coin toss. (Dan Pelle)

Newest Spokane Valley City Council member Rod Higgins followed an unusual path to city leadership. He grew up near Wallace, in the North Idaho canyon known as Two Mile Creek. Higgins spent a long career in the mining industry, a future that might have seemed preordained given that his father and his grandfather were both miners.

His maternal grandfather, Cassius Patterson, was a miner and a dairy farmer.

“Back in his day, he was a champion hand driller,” Higgins said.

He worked part-time as a meat cutter at the local grocery store during high school. When he started taking classes at the University of Idaho, he took advantage of a Hecla Mining program that guaranteed jobs to children of employees during school breaks. He started out digging ditches at the Star Mine, then worked as a “nipper” – a miner’s assistant.

He got his bachelor’s degree in finance, then worked in the Bunker Hill Mine and the Star Mine for a few months before joining the Army.

“I was always intrigued by the Army,” Higgins said. “I thought it was a very attractive lifestyle.”

But he quickly realized that there was too much “drudgery,” Higgins said. He got out when his two-year enlistment expired. A visit with a friend in Moscow led to a meeting with one of his former college professors, who told him that Day Mines was looking for an accountant.

“I was broke and I needed a job,” Higgins said.

His work as a metallurgical accountant put him in charge of making sure that the lead and zinc mined by Day Mines got a fair price at the smelter.

“It was a very interesting time,” he said.

That started a career working in the mining industry off and on. He worked for five years as a broker at Merrill Lynch in Spokane, where he met his wife, Gloria, to whom he has been married for 42 years. The couple have two children.

Higgins worked at Safeco as a mutual fund manager for a few years, then became a pension specialist. A job as a trust officer with Pacific National Bank took a detour into three years as a seed farmer in Sequim, Wash.

After that venture failed, it was back to the mining industry for a job with Sunshine Mine. He was sent to Boise to be the company’s lobbyist for a few years before working as the executive director of the Nevada Mining Association.

“I was then the chief lobbyist for the mining industry, which was interesting,” Higgins said.

A few more jobs, including four years working at a U.S. Postal Service processing plant in Spokane, led to his final job as the director of the International Association of Mine Professionals. He retired in 2005 when the company moved its headquarters from Spokane Valley.

Higgins didn’t find as much free time as he expected in retirement.

“It seemed like there were more and more things to do that I didn’t have time to do before,” he said. “I always felt like I was giving things a lick and a promise.”

Higgins first got involved in politics in 2011, when then councilwoman Brenda Grassel encouraged him to run for a vacant council seat. He lost a four-way race to current councilman Ben Wick.

“I learned a lot,” he said.

Higgins was appointed to the city’s planning commission at the beginning of 2012. His time spent serving on the commission was valuable, Higgins said. “Because of that, I’ve visited places I would have otherwise never seen in the Valley,” he said. “It gave me a feeling of something between belonging and ownership. This is my home.”

He still wanted to serve on the city council because it is the council that makes policy decisions while the planning commission can only make recommendations, Higgins said.

He applied for an open seat created by Grassel’s resignation when she moved outside the city limits. The council members couldn’t decide between Higgins and Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council executive director Linda Thompson. After three tie votes, a coin was flipped. Higgins won the coin toss.

Higgins said he doesn’t have any specific goals as a new council member except to make sure the council spends the city’s money wisely “as if it were their own money they were spending.”

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