Spokane County’s building director won’t be helping Spokane City Hall.
Randy Vissia told county commissioners Tuesday he was approached last month by officials at the city’s Business and Development Services Division to serve as a consultant on an “as-needed” basis over the next two years. The overture came after the contentious departure of city Planning Director Scott Chesney, whose ouster drew the ire of many of Spokane’s most prominent developers.
The decision also left the city without a building director. Chesney, who was hired in 2011, had been serving as interim building director since Joe Wizner was fired from that job in 2012.
Kris Becker, manager of the city’s Development Services Center, asked the county about the possibility of Vissia taking some “building official duties” at the city. City spokeswoman Julie Happy said the plan is still in the “early stages of the conversation.”
Mayor David Condon and his staff, including Chesney’s supervisor, Jan Quintrall, have not publicly addressed the reasons for Chesney’s departure. During Condon’s first 100 days in office, Quintrall also called for the firing of Wizner, who had served the city as building director for nearly 20 years.
Vissia called the offer to assist the city “flattering,” but asked the board of county commissioners what they thought of the idea of him splitting duties.
Commissioner Al French, who spent two terms on Spokane’s City Council before seeking county office, did not mince words.
“I’m worried about you being a pawn within a jurisdiction that, clearly, doesn’t have their act together yet,” French said.
Vissia said, based on his discussions with the city, that he believed he’d be brought in to mediate when city staff and big-name developers reach an impasse over planning.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said Vissia should make his own decision about whether to take the job with this caveat: “If they’re just looking for somebody to come in and say, ‘No,’ and you’re the designated ‘No’ person, that’s kind of like the corporate hatchet guy.”
Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn expressed reservations about the timetable of the proposed agreement. Vissia said he was approached to serve as a consultant for the city for up to two years.
“I’m not excited about it,” O’Quinn said of the possible duty-sharing.
While the flap over Chesney’s departure continues to resonate at City Hall, Vissia is not without controversy on land development issues. The building director invoked his Fifth Amendment rights earlier this year when questioned about possible back-dating on planning documents related to the construction of a convenience store at Argonne and Bigelow Gulch roads. Neighborhood groups accused Vissia’s office of altering the date on certain plans so that the store would be approved, in spite of a zoning decision that would prohibit the development.
Vissia called the dating issue a “clerical error” and later said he’d wished he’d answered the questions posed by the neighborhood groups’ attorney, Rick Eichstaedt.
The convenience store case has been appealed to the courts, and a hearing is scheduled on the matter for later this month.
Vissia said he’d turn down the city’s offer, citing his responsibilities to the county.
The city has set no timetable to name Chesney’s permanent replacement. Louis Meuler, a city planner, is serving as Spokane’s interim planning director.
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