The only incumbent to safely hold her seat on the Spokane Valley City Council this past week said it’s clear why three of her co-council members were ousted from their posts.
“I think it was a really strong message from the public,” said Pamela Haley, of the referendum by voters on council members Ed Pace, J. Caleb Collier and Mike Munch. “They don’t want City Council wasting time on things that are state- and federally mandated.”
The Spokane Valley City Council typically leans conservative, so the addition of Brandi Peetz, Linda Hatcher Thompson and Ben Wick may shift the council’s dynamic, she said.
“The election results will change the face of the council, but I don’t know in what way,” she said. “I think we can work together. I’m not worried about that common goal.”
On Tuesday, Pace told The Spokesman-Review that the election results surprised him, and that he thought they indicated a trend towards more liberal and Democratic values in the Valley. Neither of the other two unseated members returned requests for comment Wednesday.
Haley ran strong throughout the Valley, winning several precincts by more than 50 votes over challenger Angie Beem. The three incumbents, Munch, Collier and Pace, lacked voter support throughout the Valley – particularly in Opportunity, according to voter race maps generated by The Spokesman-Review.
However, Munch and Collier had a slight edge with voters in Trentwood. Mayor Rod Higgins, ahead as of Wednesday night, gained several votes in precincts farther west around Orchard Park but lost Opportunity and Dishman to challenger Chris Jackson.
Spokane Valley Councilman Arne Woodard said the election results weren’t surprising, and citizens voiced their opinion by vote.
“I think anybody that wants to read from (the election results) that this was a group that took out three people are wrong,” he said. “They did it to themselves. It’s not a huge change in the Valley; however, there will be a different dynamic.”
Former City Council member Bill Gothmann said there are two factions within the Spokane Valley’s conservative party.
One faction is pushing an ultraconservative agenda, he said, based on issues like splitting Washington state in two and declaring Spokane Valley as a Second Amendment sanctuary city. The other sector is interested in fundamental issues that reflect both the power and scope of what City Council should be doing, which includes maintaining city streets and taking care of law enforcement, Gothmann said.
“I think people want City Council to focus on basic issues,” he said. “But I also think there were concerns that current City Council doesn’t have the transparency it should, and that was illustrated with the firing of Mike Jackson, and I think people weren’t too happy with that.”
Former Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos, who resigned last year amid the termination of City Manager Mike Jackson, said there were a couple of factors at play in the public’s decision to elect Peetz, Thompson and Wick.
“The Mike Jackson incident was a factor in the election and I think the present council moving to the fringes on issues was probably a factor,” Grafos said. “(Spokane Valley) is conservative, but it’s a commonsense community. I don’t think they like what happened with this council.”
Grafos said he was elated with the election results and hopes challenger Chris Jackson prevails against Higgins in a race that is still too close to call.
“I hope citizens understand we need to get back to the business of government taking care of the nuts and bolts of running a city and not getting into fringe issues and turning this into a political arena,” he said.
Mike DeVleming, Spokane Valley’s first mayor since incorporation in 2003, said it’s difficult to predict how previous City Council issues will rank in priority with new council members.
“I expect a little bit of discussion,” he said. “The Valley is primarily a conservative group, but I think there’s some bigger fish to fry.”
Former Sen. Jeff Baxter, R-Spokane Valley, said he doesn’t think the shift in City Council constitutes a shift toward more liberal voters.
“I don’t believe that’s the case, personally. They just wanted a different City Council,” Baxter said. “The 4th District in the Valley still has a good conservative Republican base that is well over 60 percent.”
The candidates who were elected by and large are more conservative in their social and financial outlook, and several have business experience, Baxter said.
“I think (the election results) had to do with marketing, and the people that won earned it,” Baxter said. “They did market well. Though evidently, some people thought a few fresh faces would be good for the Valley.”
Gothmann said it’s a pleasant surprise to have three women on the council.
“I’m happy to see that kind of diversity on the council,” he said. “It’s a positive for our city also. These are great ladies that have been leaders of our community.”
DeVleming said he’s pleased with the election results.
“I like the fact that we are getting a little bit more youth on City Council,” he said. “I think that’s important.”
Woodard said City Council is prepared to do what’s right for the public while focusing on public safety, infrastructure and economic development, rather than concerning itself with issues the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over.
Woodard said the public rewards those who stay stable, consistent and open to comment.
“They reward you for that because they know you are open-minded and trying to find the best information possible,” he said.