The debate over who should be the next Spokane County commissioner has focused largely on two nominees: Mary Kuney, the county’s chief deputy auditor, and Rob Chase, the county’s elected treasurer, who have been identified as the respective favorites of the two sitting commissioners, Al French and Josh Kerns.
But now that French and Kerns have deadlocked and punted the decision to Gov. Jay Inslee, the third nominee, John Guarisco, may have a better chance of joining the commission this year. Inslee is expected to make his pick within three weeks.
Guarisco is a marketing consultant who has never held or campaigned for elected office, and his political leanings aren’t as well known as those of Kuney and Chase, both of whom ran for the county treasurer job in 2014.
While those two have come to represent competing factions of the Spokane County Republican Party, Guarisco considers himself a “neutral” third option with business experience that might serve him well in local government. He’s also the only one of the three nominees who has filed to run for the open commission seat – which belonged to Shelly O’Quinn until she resigned in June – in next year’s special election.
In an interview last week, Guarisco answered questions about public safety, criminal justice and the county’s troubling financial situation, but he was often reluctant to talk specifics, saying he couldn’t know exactly how to tackle a problem unless he were sitting on the commission.
The county is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $10 million, and each county department has been asked to show how it would survive with a 7.1 percent funding reduction next year.
In July, in an effort to secure additional revenue for the county, French, Kerns and O’Quinn approved a measure that would have given voters the option to raise property taxes. A month later, French and Kerns voted to pull the measure from the November ballot, saying landowners already were too burdened by tax hikes imposed by the Legislature.
Guarisco said that, in general, he’s “not for taxes,” although he said he could not support or oppose a tax increase until he had a clearer view of the county’s financial situation and had considered all options.
Asked whether the property tax measure should have stayed on the ballot, Guarisco responded, “I’d be doing a disservice to anybody in the county to make a blanket statement like that without getting in there and looking at the budget in detail.”
Guarisco said he likely would focus on staffing because he’s concerned about how much overtime pay county employees have been racking up, particularly in detention services. Citing his experience as a consultant for local businesses and municipalities, he called himself a financial “problem solver.”
Guarisco has an associate degree in telecommunications from Spokane Falls Community College. In 1991, he became a co-owner of Luigi’s Italian Restaurant. In 1997, he split from his partners and changed the name of the Spokane Valley location to Giovanni’s.
“Restaurants are a really tough business to run,” Guarisco said. “You have to keep track of every dollar, every pickle, every olive that walks out the door.”
Guarisco left the restaurant the following year, and until 2003 he was a marketing manager for a chain of mobile phone stores. In 2004, he founded Marjoni Marketing in Spokane Valley, and in 2010 he joined MDI Marketing in Spokane.
He’s also been a president of the local Rotary Club chapter, a trustee of Greater Spokane Incorporated and the chairman of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Due to budget cuts next year, the county prosecutor’s office may eliminate or pare down the community re-licensing and early case resolution programs – “smart justice” initiatives that aim to save money, deliver fairer treatment to offenders and alleviate pressure on the courts and jail.
Asked if the county should work to preserve those programs, Guarisco said he would support “any program that can help people rehabilitate and teach them the difference between right and wrong.”
But he stressed that those programs need to have built-in “transparency” measures that demonstrate their effectiveness.
According to the state constitution, the governor has 30 days to appoint a commissioner from the time the sitting commissioners deadlock or run out of time themselves. Inslee’s deadline is Oct. 14.
During a news conference Monday, Inslee said he hadn’t set a date for announcing his decision, but a spokesman said the governor’s office “has been in touch with the final three candidates and should make the appointment well before the 14th.”
Asked what a Democratic governor would use as criteria for picking a Republican commissioner, Inslee said the decision would not hinge on a litmus test or black-and-white issue.
“We’ll look at their record of achievement,” he said. “We’ll look at their willingness to work with other leaders in the state.”
Reporter Jim Camden contributed from Olympia.
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