The sacking of Spokane Valley City Manager Mike Jackson is a stunner.
He was unceremoniously dumped on Tuesday night, after a 45-minute executive session of the City Council. The announcement was the first hint many residents had of any acrimony between Jackson and the four council members who voted to oust him.
When asked details of their dissatisfaction, Arne Woodard, Rod Higgins, Ed Pace and Sam Wood weren’t forthcoming. None of them spoke during 45 minutes of public comments, almost all supportive of Jackson. Afterward, they only offered generalities. “Diverging opinions on which direction to take the city,” Councilman Rod Higgins said unhelpfully.
No malfeasance. No wrongdoing. No incompetence. And now, no job.
Jackson had been city manager since August 2010, and through multiple election cycles, we heard nothing but praise from Valley council candidates for the performance of the city’s administration. During a rough recession, budgets were balanced and spending was kept under control. The city maintained enviable reserves.
Nonetheless, it would appear Jackson’s fate was sealed when newcomer Sam Wood edged incumbent Ben Wick by 99 votes, forming a hard-right majority. Council members Dean Grafos, Chuck Hafner and Bill Gothmann are also conservative, but they’ve steered clear of divisive causes and focused on practical governing.
The majority’s sudden removal of the city manager is the latest example of how collaborative decision-making has been replaced with political agendas.
As reported in Thursday’s Valley Voice, Councilman Ed Pace urged his colleagues at a Feb. 16 meeting to sign a letter in support of legislation that changes the ability of water districts to sell or transfer water rights. Councilman Wood is the chairman of a small water district that could potentially benefit. Grafos asked that the issue be postponed until he had time to read the bill. Pace insisted the vote was urgent, and five members ultimately signed.
Raising issues without warning is a poor way to govern, but a sure-fire way to wreck relationships.
Grafos believes Jackson was fired because he stood in the way of the majority’s desire for the city to start its own police department. If true, this is another under-the-radar development. During recent election seasons, we heard universal support from candidates for keeping law enforcement with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Time and again, we were told the city was getting good service and that it didn’t need to incur the expense of starting a department from scratch.
For instance, Woodard said in an Oct. 8 article, “I’m not against the sheriff. Now is not the time for us to have our own police force.”
For years, the Valley council successfully avoided the ideological jousting that has bedeviled other governments. But just this year, the majority has sparked debates on issues such as “sanctuary city” status and the state’s rules regarding transgender citizens and bathroom use.
Mike Jackson symbolized practical leadership that left politics on the sidelines. And, apparently, that was his undoing. Valley voters should take note.
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