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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Valley council owes public an explanation

“As the Spokane Valley Council Turns” has turned into quite a soap opera, as the four members in the majority search for tomorrow without a city manager or any public notice as to what direction they’re headed.

“Different direction” is about as glib any of them will get when asked why City Manager Mike Jackson had to go. Three of their colleagues couldn’t even find out, so two of them left. They were also shut out of day-to-day decisions and often didn’t get notice of what would be on the council agenda.

That makes for some bad meetings and bad feelings.

Dean Grafos and Chuck Hafner said they’d had enough, and said goodbye. Bill Gothmann, who is filling in on a temporary basis, will depart in June.

The biggest blowup has been over the sudden and secretive move to oust Jackson, who, before control of the council flipped, had gotten glowing reviews as an administrator. But Sam Wood, who narrowly defeated incumbent Ben Wick last fall, has joined with Arne Woodard, Ed Pace and Mayor Rod Higgins to control the agenda – whatever that may be.

Some critics say the goal is a libertarian-run city that would seek, among other changes, a “constitutionalist sheriff” – that is, one who would stand up to the feds and other jurisdictions if he or she believed the U.S. Constitution were facing grievous harm. Other observers say the four are merely flexing power to flex power and they don’t really have a vision.

As always, secrecy begets speculation, which leads to mistrust.

The council cut a deal with Jackson in which he is getting about three times more money than the severance clause of his contract called for. Jackson signed an agreement not to talk about it or criticize the council, and collected $411,000. He also wrote a letter saying what a pleasure it’s been. You can view that on today’s Roundtable Page.

So, it seems this worked out for him and the elected officials who no longer valued his service, but the people who pay the bills have been kept in the dark. Public servants say the information is on a need-to-know basis, and the public doesn’t need to know.

Actually it does. Why did the council spend more than it seemingly had to? What did the public get in exchange? What did the council get, other than an assurance of secrecy? What do they want from a new city manager that the old one wouldn’t deliver?

When the editorial board interviewed council candidates in the past two elections, we never heard criticism of Jackson. In fact, there was very little disagreement on any issue we raised. Some candidates mocked the city of Spokane and pointed with pride at how smoothly Spokane Valley was being run.

But, suddenly, the city manager had to go, and a huge chasm emerged between four members and the rest. That’s a major plot shift, and the public has right to know what caused it.

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