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Incumbents advance in Spokane Valley City Council races; Woodard’s opponent uncertain

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 7, 2019

Offices and council chambers at Spokane Valley's new $14.2 million City Hall building is photographed on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. The building is starting to have structural damage. Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Offices and council chambers at Spokane Valley's new $14.2 million City Hall building is photographed on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. The building is starting to have structural damage. Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Voters whittled down their choices for three seats on the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday night, but with some votes still to be tallied, the slates for the general election were not entirely clear.

With 78,638 ballots tallied and an estimated 18,000 left to be counted, two incumbents had clearly moved on. In the third race, two newcomers – an author and chiropractor – advanced to the general election.

Position 3

In the race for position 3, incumbent Arne Woodard, a retired Realtor, took more than 43% percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary, ensuring he will move on to the general election. But it’s not clear who his opponent will be, as accountant Lance Gurel won about 24% of the vote and contract negotiator Al Merkel came in third with 22.5% of votes.

Adam “Smash” Smith, the owner of a Jiu-Jitsu school in Spokane Valley and a mixed martial arts fighter, is out of the running, with 8.8% of votes.

Woodard said he appreciated that voters turned out to support him.

“I feel fine, and I’m not going to gloat,” he said. “Primaries only mean so much. I’m happy where I’m at, but it’s a long road ahead.”

Gurel didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but Merkel said he was only about 200 votes behind him and that the race was still too close to call.

He said all of Woodard’s challengers put together received more votes than Woodard, which was a sign people in Spokane Valley are interested in new candidates.

“Even though (Woodard) did receive more, there’s a speech in the Valley: ‘We want somebody new.’ They just disagree on who that is,” Merkel said.

Woodard is the longest-serving current council member on the council and has faced criticism for his comments on race on the dais.

Gurel, the candidate who took 24% percent of the vote Tuesday, said he often agreed with more moderate members of City Council and hopes his vote will change the majority on council.

Gurel has also spoken out against his opponent Woodard’s comments about minorities and racism. During a council meeting last month, Woodard said a man was “as black as an audience member’s hat” and said racism was not an issue in Spokane Valley. Gurel, whose family member was killed by a white supremacist, said he was running to combat a “resurgence of these ugly ideas in our community.”

Merkel has said he also believes Spokane Valley should renegotiate its contract with the Sheriff’s Office in Spokane Valley, so the city offers financial incentives for reducing crime.

Merkel is also facing legal issues after police say he crashed his vehicle into a group of boulders with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. Merkel has pleaded not guilty and his charges are pending.

Position 2

The race between incumbent Brandi Peetz, Rocky Samson and Michelle Rasmussen for Position 2 has been the most bitter in Spokane Valley so far, with false claims, name-calling and accusations of bullying being thrown around.

Incumbent Peetz appeared to be in first with 46.7% of votes, but Rasmussen was close behind with 40.4% of votes. Samson came in third and was out of the running with 12.1% of votes.

Peetz said Tuesday night that she “plans to stay positive and stay focused on the issues and put Spokane Valley first” in the general election.

“I’m excited that the voters feel that I could be a good representative for their city,” she added.

Rasmussen said she was pleased with the results, as well as grateful for her fellow citizens’ support.

“I’m extremely excited as a first-time candidate doing this,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Peetz has said she hopes to focus on public safety and has suggested using some of Spokane Valley’s surplus money to pay for road repairs, before Spokane Valley’s streets deteriorate further.

Rasmussen was previously the chair of the county planning commission and is also the former administrative assistant to Spokane Valley’s deputy city manager. She said she’s supportive of lean government.

Position 6

Four men filed to replace Councilman Sam Wood, who did not file for another term.

Tim Hattenburg, an author, retired teacher and former county library trustee who has run for the state legislature, took in the most votes with 45.3%.

Bo Tucker, a chiropractor in Spokane Valley, came in second with 27.2% and will face Hattenburg in the general election.

Pat Stretch, a housing and community development specialist who spent 21 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, got 17.5% of the vote. Shaun Stanfield, an assistant manager at Walmart and former insurance salesman, came in last with less than 9% of the vote.

Hattenburg didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but Tucker said he was happy with the results and that he looked forward to trying to win in the general election.

“I think it’s great and I appreciate peoples’ vote,” he said.

Tucker said he would like to focus on fiscal responsibility and believes Spokane Valley should continue to support existing Spokane homelessness projects, instead of starting something new in Spokane Valley.

This story was changed on August 7, 2018 to reflect that Peetz would like to use surplus money to pay for streets.

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