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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Another Spokane Valley councilman resigns as political change grips city

Spokane Valley Councilman Chuck Hafner, center, delivers a sharp rebuke to the other council members who had just fired city manager Mike Jackson before the regular meeting started Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A second Spokane Valley city councilman has quit amid acrimony between previous political leaders and the council’s new libertarian-leaning majority.

Chuck Hafner resigned Monday morning, following Councilman Dean Grafos, who quit on Wednesday.

Hafner has been on the council since he was appointed in 2011, and his term was up in 2017.

He said there has been a dramatic change on the council after the new majority took control following the November election.

“We went from a nonpartisan council, which we are supposed to be, to a far-right, extremist, ultraconservative council,” Hafner said. “And the new majority will not tell us what their agenda is.”

Hafner and Grafos both said they’ve been constantly surprised by last-minute agenda items and frequently excluded from council business.

“The firing of City Manager Mike Jackson is a perfect example of that,” Hafner said.

Both Hafner and Grafos refused to participate in council executive sessions where Jackson’s firing has been discussed, because they said Jackson was told he would be let go before the City Council met about it.

Jackson has been on paid leave since February. A termination agreement between Jackson and Spokane Valley has not been reached. Another executive session where personnel matters may be discussed privately is scheduled at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Hafner said he spent the weekend contemplating whether to stay.

“I kept asking myself if I can do anything good for the city by staying. The answer is no,” Hafner said, adding that since the election he’s been flooded by questions about what’s going on in Spokane Valley. “We were envied across the state for being so well-managed, and now this. It’s embarrassing.”

Hafner said he supports Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and the policing contract the department has with Spokane Valley.

“Now they are talking about us having our own police oversight committee,” Hafner said. “That’s completely unnecessary and it’s just going to make the city liable. There’s nothing wrong with how things are now.”

Mayor Rod Higgins said he wasn’t surprised by Hafner’s resignation. It had been rumored since last week.

Higgins said he doesn’t feel like the council is hamstrung by the turmoil.

“As long as we have a quorum we can continue going,” Higgins said.

If Councilman Bill Bates, who is on extended sick leave, does not return to the council in June, there will be three open seats on the seven-member council.

Councilman Ed Pace, who most often votes with Higgins as a member of the four-member majority, said he was surprised to hear of Hafner’s resignation.

He encouraged Spokane Valley residents to participate in finding replacements for the two councilmen.

Pace said choosing a replacement will be politically significant, though it’s unclear how long replacement council members would serve.

Carolbelle Branch, Spokane Valley spokeswoman, said the city is working on answering that question. She also said information on how to apply for the open council seats will be available soon.

Pace said he will seek candidates who will make a more cohesive council.

“We may be able to do two at once,” Pace said of naming replacements. “But I’m not going to pick a dud just because I think they will get along with me.”

Hafner said he’s convinced the council majority will pick candidates that believe the way they do.

“Soon we will have a City Council that’s all tea party, extreme-right people,” Hafner said.