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Spokane County voters turn down proposal to expand commission

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 3, 2015

The Spokane County Commission will remain a three-member board.

In the first count of ballots, just over 54 percent of voters said “no” to Spokane County Proposition 1, with 46 percent backing the expansion to five members.

Opponents, including Spokane County Commissioner Al French and several allied with the county’s Democratic Party, had criticized the proposal as too costly and the wrong way to fix a perceived problem of representation on the all-Republican commission.

“I think the voters said this wasn’t a priority for us, at least in this format,” French said.

Commissioners Todd Mielke and Shelly O’Quinn, who had pushed for expansion, said they were not surprised by the outcome of the vote, after the Democratic Party and others came out against the expansion.

“I feel like this was a productive conversation,” O’Quinn said. “I don’t feel like this was a waste.”

Mielke said the results showed continued support in Spokane County for smaller government. Without the vote, he said, the commission wouldn’t have been able to gauge public opinion of a bigger legislative body representing them.

French had cited an analysis by the Spokane County Budget Office that placed the cost of adding two commissioners at roughly $500,000 for the first year, based on salary totals and construction at the Spokane County Courthouse.

If passed, the proposition would have provided for the election of two more commissioners on a countywide ballot in the general election.

Prominent Democrats, including former County Commissioner Bonnie Mager and Spokane County Democratic Party Chairman Jim CastroLang, said that system would not increase political diversity on the commission. They called for a renewed attempt at adopting a county charter, the method used by five Washington counties to increase the size of their commissions.

Mielke and O’Quinn said they were wary of another charter process. O’Quinn said such a process had the potential to divide the community.

Mielke and O’Quinn cited their heavy workloads, the need for greater communication between commissioners and a stale form of government as reasons the commission should expand via Proposition 1.

Public meeting laws also require notice when a quorum of the commission discusses county business. With three commissioners, that means two members speaking to each other constitutes a public meeting, which inhibits communication, Mielke and O’Quinn argued.

“We’ll continue to do the best we can, to fulfill our obligations,” Mielke said after the results came in.

The push for an expanded commission came during a period of hostility between the incumbents this year. Mielke, O’Quinn and French have clashed on a sales tax to fund public transportation, the selection of a county chief executive and rumors of collusion between Mielke and O’Quinn outside of the courthouse campus, a claim the pair denies.

All three commissioners said they’d be able to put the issues of the campaign aside and work together on important issues.

“Let’s get on with doing the business of the county,” French said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

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