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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Senate passes 5 county commissioners bill with ‘tweak’

Feb. 28, 2018 Updated Wed., Feb. 28, 2018 at 9:43 p.m.

FILE – The Super Blue Blood Moon falls in the sky over the Spokane County Courthouse, Jan. 31, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE – The Super Blue Blood Moon falls in the sky over the Spokane County Courthouse, Jan. 31, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Spokane County moved a step closer to the prospect of having five county commissioners as the Senate approved the latest version of a proposal to change the size of the board and the way it is elected.

The Senate made a minor change and sent back to the House a bill that would require Spokane County to elect a five-member board from districts set up by a special panel. The change wouldn’t happen until after the districts are drawn in 2021, based on the results of the 2020 Census.

The county currently has a three-member board of commissioners who run in a district for their primary but countywide in the general. Having only three members is a problem under the state open meetings law, Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said, because any time two of the commissioners are together, it can be considered an open public meeting.

Having five commissioners elected in separate districts would provide some balance to the commission, he added.

The panel that would draw district boundaries is patterned after the state’s redistricting commission. Spokane-area legislators would appoint the four members, with the members of each party in each chamber getting one selection.

The latest bill includes what Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, called a “small tweak.” As originally written, only legislators whose districts were wholly in the county – the 3rd, 4th and 6th districts – would be involved in the selection. The amendment approved by the Senate Tuesday evening added legislators from the 7th and 9th districts, which are partially in the county.

The proposal represents “several years of hard work,” Billig said.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he supports expanding the commission to five members but said voters should be asked to approve it. Voters have rejected the change in the past, but Padden said he thought that was because many opposed a different way the districts were to be drawn.

An amendment that would have required a public vote on the change was defeated.

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