|From left to right, Snyder, Ahern.
There’s more than an “h” separating Jon and John.
Jon Snyder, 44, is an incumbent Spokane city councilman known for his focus on transportation issues, recently sold outdoor magazine and unsuccessful fight to protect the South Hill’s Fire Station No. 9 from budget cuts.
John Ahern, 78, spent a decade in the state House of Representatives, where he championed tougher drinking-and-driving penalties, and established a permanent care facility in Spokane for veterans.
Fundamentally, the two men couldn’t be more different, as both say.
“I know up from down,” said Ahern, a conservative, when asked why he’d be a better councilman than Snyder.
Snyder said unlike Ahern, he drills down into specifics.
“I want to say, ‘This is exactly what we need to do,’ ” said Snyder, a progressive. “My opponent doesn’t do that.”
Two issues the City Council has grappled with lately deal directly with police accountability: body cameras for officers and strengthening the police ombudsman, as voters overwhelmingly approved earlier this year.
Snyder said he’s fully behind one and torn on the other.
He’s “really glad we’re at this point” to purchase cameras for officers, which was approved last month by the council.
But when it comes to the ombudsman ordinance – brought forward by Councilman Steve Salvatori to amend the city charter and strengthen civilian oversight of the police department – Snyder said he worried it “would gum up (contract) negotiations” between the city and the Police Guild, which are currently underway.
If Salvatori’s ordinance is passed, “it will let the mayor and guild off the hook because I imagine the guild will file an unfair labor practice and the whole negotiation would stop for nine months while we go through this,” Snyder said.
Snyder suggested Salvatori, who has argued this is a principled stand to which the Guild should respond, doesn’t understand the issues.
“I think Steve feels his outrage should make this come into being, but there’s actual state law that comes into play,” he said. “We have done so many actions on the ombudsman that the guild has not responded to. Why would this be any different?”
Finally, Snyder said the city has a long way to go before he’s comfortable that police are being held fully to account.
“We’re not there yet,” he said.
Ahern said one thing would enhance police accountability: more officers.
“They’re a little bit understaffed,” he said. “If we don’t have enough cops and they’re strung out, it’s hard for them to adhere to what they should be doing.”
Asked about Salvatori’s ordinance, Ahern said he believed “very definitely we need to have an ombudsman on board for accountability.”
He said the purchase of body cameras was “money well spent,” but kept coming back to the city needing more officers.
“People time and again say they don’t want to go downtown because they’re getting hassled,” he said. “But officers need to understand that a lot of the people they’re confronting are mentally ill.” He added that officers should not be trained to “shoot first and ask questions later.”
Snyder said this year’s budget proposal from the mayor is better than last year’s, but worried over its lack of detail.
“It’s a nice 5-pound document that says what’s in, but not what’s out,” he said. “There are a couple dozen positions being cut, but we don’t know what they are.”
He pointed to the firing last year of Joe Wizner, the city’s building official. Wizner’s duties have been given to John Halsey, who is the acting building official, but Snyder said the mayor’s push to cut costs at the city is slicing into the city’s institutional expertise and knowledge.
Snyder also lamented the mayor’s push to create more positions at the city outside of civil service protections, specifically the increase from five to 40 “exempt” positions in the police, fire and parks departments.“They’re creating more middle management positions, and they’re chipping at civil service protections that protect against nepotism,” he said. “It’s always a danger of a mayor hiring his friends for upper-level positions. That’s not a direct reflection on this mayor, but it’s a good policy (to protect against abuse by) future mayors.”
When it comes to the city’s bank account, Ahern wouldn’t offer many specifics other than to say the city shouldn’t “spend more than what it’s taking in.”
Beyond that, he said he hadn’t had a chance to go through the budget.
“I haven’t heard anything from the public” on the budget, he said. “The budget is the last thing that ever comes up. They want three things. They want roads, they want potholes (fixed) and they want public safety.”
As an example of his priorities and leadership, Ahern pointed to his sponsorship of a bill approved by the state Legislature in 2006 that increased the penalties for repeat drunken drivers.
Ahern also noted his work on establishing Spokane’s Veterans Home, which was passed in 2001 in the Legislature without one dissenting vote.
“It’s a place for any veteran to go, no matter what war they served in,” he said. “I had 10 years in the Legislature. To get a bill passed you have to get everybody on board. In the House, that’s 88 people. … Here, I’d only have to convince six other people.”
Snyder, who said he co-sponsored and worked on legislation with every member of the council, said being a good council member is not about being a member of a team or political party.
“My opponent has really tried to make this race be about ideology. You’re either one thing or another and everybody has to choose and we all have to take sides and only one view can win,” Snyder said. “I say to people, this is not about ideology. This is about who’s going to work hard. Who has the time and energy, research and listening skills to represent the second district as best as possible?”