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Friday, October 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Rewrite council job descriptions

Pay raises captured the spotlight in the debate over the role of Spokane City Council members. As we’ve said, the current salary is a better reflection of the time spent and the tasks performed. The average wage at City Hall still exceeds the amount being paid those who make far-reaching decisions.

However, the parameters of the job are unclear. The charter is unhelpful. In the changeover to a strong mayor system, the role of council members evolved, but the process was unofficial.

This is an invitation to controversy.

The murkiness explains why people are talking past each other as they debate the job. One side says it’s part time. The other says it’s full time. Naturally, they won’t agree on pay. Given the recent raises, the Salary Review Commission seems to have accepted it’s a full-time job.

Pay aside, other parameters and expectations for the job need to be made clear. For instance, the mayor is expected to work full time as the mayor. He or she cannot hold another job. This helps ward off conflicts of interest.

Should this be the case for council members if their jobs are indeed full time? Should this be the case for council assistants, who have gone from part time to full time in recent years? What about volunteer work? What about the nature of the work?

Currently, they can do other work, but sometimes those jobs have a political component. Council positions are nonpartisan (or are supposed to be).

Councilman Mike Fagan works with initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman on anti-tax issues, some of which, if successful, drain money from municipal budgets. Is that a conflict?

Adam McDaniel, an aide to City Council President Ben Stuckart, has a political consulting business and has worked on the campaigns of council members Amber Waldref and Lori Kinnear. Is that too cozy?

Michael Cannon, who lost a City Council race to Candace Mumm, thinks so, and has filed an ethics complaint. On the other hand, Cannon does not believe Fagan is in an ethical quandary.

“Fagan’s work doesn’t overlap with the council,” he said. “Adam’s work absolutely overlaps with the council. That’s the issue.”

That is the issue, but his interpretation is debatable. Fagan is promoting a statewide initiative that would torpedo the city’s Transportation Benefit District. That wouldn’t be mere overlap. It would be a direct hit.

But that doesn’t mean Cannon is wrong about McDaniel’s consulting work. In other areas of government, one must resign their position before working on a campaign.

The gray area surrounding council positions encourages political attacks and counterattacks, as we’ve seen. It would be far more productive if the city rewrote the job descriptions and attached visible sideboards. It would end the part time/full time debate and establish clear expectations.

That’s better than taking each complaint to the Ethics Committee. Plus, it would provide that panel with clear rules to enforce.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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