The usually monolithic Spokane County Commission showed signs of cracking Tuesday as Shelly O’Quinn and Todd Mielke took colleague Al French to task for using a monthly TV program to highlight a ballot measure that would increase taxes for bus service.
French said the program was meant to be informational, not an endorsement or condemnation of the proposed 0.3 percent sales tax increase that would fund several proposed Spokane Transit Authority projects through 2025.
“I didn’t know it was open until that week,” French said, referring to his taped appearance on KSPS’ “Spokane County Spotlight” that will air this month. “Staff came to me and said, ‘We have an opening, do you think you could do anything here?’ ”
“That is not true,” retorted Mielke. “You had your staff calling for a week saying, ‘Who’s going to use the spot, because if you don’t use the slot, Commissioner French wants the slot.’ ”
Mielke, the only of the three commissioners who doesn’t also serve on the STA governing board, said he felt sidelined in the debate about whether to support the proposed STA sales tax increase. Mielke opposes the measure.
While French has spoken in favor of the sales tax increase, O’Quinn voted against putting the measure before voters because she disagrees with STA’s plans on how to use the money. She said Tuesday that she didn’t think French should even tape an informational program about the ballot measure because she also disagrees with the information STA is disseminating to voters.
“They say it’s three pennies on $10; they never say it’s $300 million,” she said. “I have a problem with the messaging behind it, and I don’t want to be associated with the messaging. I don’t think we’re being open and transparent with the community.”
O’Quinn also said she was concerned that in the lengthy discussions about the STA ballot measure, the county’s proposed extension of a 0.1 percent sales tax to fund juvenile justice programs could get lost in the shuffle. Spokane County voters have approved the sales tax four times since 1995, and O’Quinn said the extension is a vital part of the county’s budget – totaling about $8 million.
French listened to O’Quinn and Mielke, leaning back in his chair and stroking his chin as they spoke. He denied claims that he was using his position as county commissioner to give the impression his colleagues were in favor of the tax increase.
O’Quinn and Mielke asked that a disclaimer be included in French’s program on KSPS, saying the county has not taken an official position on the ballot measure, which French agreed to. Ballots will be mailed early next month, and STA has mailed a brochure to voters about the proposed sales tax increase.
According to KSPS’ programming schedule, French’s program will debut April 11.
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