They’ve spent a couple of months in the occasionally hot seats of the Spokane Valley City Council and they are beginning to get a feel for how city government works.
Michael Munch, Caleb Collier and Pamela Haley were appointed to fill three vacant spots on the council this summer. They are all inexperienced in local government but passionate about an opportunity to try their hand at it.
“I was a political nerd growing up,” Collier said. “This really is what I want to do.” He balances a full-time job and a family with five children with his City Council job, and he was a little surprised at how much time it takes.
“They told us it would be about 10 hours a week,” Munch said. “It’s probably more like 20 – or more.”
Haley said the new appointment does feel a little overwhelming, but she likes hearing from people.
“The board work takes a long time, too,” Haley said. She’s on the STA board, the Spokane Regional Board of Health and on the board of Visit Spokane. “It’s been a whirlwind but I really enjoy it.”
She went on a ride with the Spokane Valley Police Department recently and praised the department and the officers.
Munch said when a hot button issue like the proposed 6 percent utility tax comes up, his email inbox runs over. The proposed tax has been put on hold for now.
“I’d say I got about 200 emails on that one alone,” Munch said.
Collier said he got at least the same number.
Haley’s inbox topped out at 400 utility tax-related emails. She was opposed to the proposed tax from the beginning, calling it regressive and saying it would hurt people on a fixed income.
“I was surprised to find the utility tax on the agenda,” Haley said. “It wasn’t anything we had debated.”
Munch said he feels the city has a communication problem and that residents are confused about where City Hall is and what’s on the council agenda.
“We could do a better job of communicating with citizens,” she said.
Sometimes the lack of communication and understanding of the process leads to an impression that the council is not being transparent.
“That’s not the case. We are not hiding anything,” Munch said.
At the public hearing on the utility tax last week, many showed up to speak because they’d been notified by their utility company – not by the city.
City Council agendas are available online, and the city does have an email notification system residents may sign up for, but both Munch and Collier said something is missing.
“We have to fix how information gets out there,” Munch said. “People don’t know where to look for things or how the process works.”
A Facebook page for the council has been discussed, but Munch said the city doesn’t have staff to manage a page.
The council drew a full house and some angry comments on election night – where both the comprehensive plan and the proposed utility tax were on the agenda – but Collier said he prefers that.
“I will take opposing views over apathy any time,” he said. “I like it when there’s a full house.”
He’d like to see the council pass a resolution on the Trans Pacific Partnership, because it will have an impact on businesses in Spokane Valley.
Munch’s top issue is the passage of the draft comprehensive plan, and he wants to find a solution for traffic on Barker Road, perhaps including an overpass.
“We have to make the Barker overpass a priority because there is so much traffic there,” Munch said.
Munch would also like to see a better regional disaster preparedness plan in case of a West Side earthquake or an oil train accident in Spokane Valley.
Haley said her biggest goal is to keep taxes down. She said she was a little surprised when Collier said Tuesday that some people want to change the name of Spokane Valley.
“I am also surprised that we are searching for identity when I already thought we had one,” Haley said.
“We are Valleyfest and good schools and a family-friendly community.”
All three work to keep up on emails.
“I just hope people are patient with us,” Collier said. “We will get back to them.”
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