The 2017 City Council election in Spokane Valley has turned into a barnstorm of new faces challenging incumbents.
The five open seats have attracted 13 candidates resulting in two contested primary races, one of which is the race for Position 1, held by Mayor Rod Higgins.
His challengers are political newcomers Albert Merkel and Christopher Jackson, both of whom are young enough to be Higgins’ grandchildren.
Merkel, who has been campaigning on a platform of fiscal responsibility and continuing to create a business-friendly environment, said he decided to run because he thinks the current council has spent “too much time on political issues and not enough time on common-sense city management.”
He also was upset about how former City Manager Mike Jackson was fired and the nearly $500,000 it cost Spokane Valley.
“I believe that’s city funds that could have been spent better elsewhere,” Merkel said.
It’s Jackson’s first venture into politics, but his grandmother, Sally Jackson, has been active in Spokane Valley politics for decades.
“Yes, I’m a Valley Jackson so naturally I have many center-left leanings,” Jackson said, “but you cannot grow up in the Valley without somewhat conservative values.”
Jackson’s platform is one of community building and outreach.
“I decided to run because I’m sick and tired of sitting on the sidelines and passively complaining when something goes wrong,” Jackson said.
Higgins steered the City Council through tumultuous times last year when Dean Grafos and Chuck Hafner resigned after Mike Jackson was let go, followed by the appointment of three new council members to fill the open seats.
Since his appointment as mayor in January 2016, he has run City Council meetings in a no-nonsense manner.
“That’s just how I do things,” Higgins said. “I don’t say much.”
Higgins counts the construction of a new City Hall among the biggest accomplishments of his term.
“We will save millions of dollars over the next years by having our own City Hall,” Higgins said. The city has been renting until now. “And we know rent continues to go up. This will be our building.”
Higgins said the passage of a flexible shoreline management plan that respects private property rights, followed by a growth management plan designed around the same principles, is another big achievement.
“I’m very proud of that,” Higgins said.
How to finance a shrinking road construction and maintenance fund is one of the biggest issues facing Spokane Valley.
Higgins said he’s not in favor of a license tab fee or a port district that could potentially tax Spokane Valley residents.
Merkel on the other hand is not completely opposed to a tax.
“I’m not sure there is any way to avoid looking at taxes,” Merkel said. “A license plate tax fee is something we could look at, but it would have to be for a limited time period.”
Christopher Jackson said he’d like to get more input from Spokane Valley residents before recommending a solution.
“Road funding obviously has to be on the short-term goal list,” Jackson said. “I’m hoping to reach out to people via some kind of survey tool, to get their input.”
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