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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New Spokane Valley leaders hope to take on public comment, inclusion in 2020

Spokane Valley's $14.2 million City Hall building, which is the subject of a lawsuit over allegedly faulty construction, is shown in April 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Valley's $14.2 million City Hall building, which is the subject of a lawsuit over allegedly faulty construction, is shown in April 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Valley can expect at least two hotly debated City Council issues from this year to come up again in 2020 as a new council member is sworn in and the body chooses a new mayor.

Voters elected a new majority in the 2019 election, picking long-time library board member Tim Hattenburg, who ran as a fiscal conservative but has run as a Democrat in the past, and re-electing moderate Councilwoman Brandi Peetz over more conservative opponent Michelle Rasmussen.

On Jan. 7, new council members will be sworn in and the body will select a new mayor and deputy mayor.

Hattenburg, Peetz, Councilman Ben Wick and Councilwoman Linda Thompson declined to say who they would support for mayor.

Peetz said there are several people who are qualified to be mayor and she would support whoever the City Council chooses.

“I’m going to go with what feels right in my heart and the city,” she said. “I don’t want to make a decision now if things change before then.”

Wick said he would make a decision on who he would support as mayor when the council comes back together in January, but he’s hoping for leaders that value collaboration.

“I’m hoping for positive leadership that brings us together as a team,” he said.

Councilman Arne Woodard, who was re-elected this year, said he anticipated Wick would be chosen as mayor, because he has the best understanding of how the city works. He said he thought either Thompson or Peetz could become deputy mayor.

Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins said he thought Wick was likely to become mayor.

Thompson said she hoped to bring back a few issues the council addressed in 2019, such as public comment and whether Spokane Valley is inclusive.

The City Council has twice changed public comment rules over the last year. The council limited public comment last December, voting to reduce it to one 45-minute period during the middle of meetings, instead of two 30-minute sessions. It also updated the rules for public comment, allowing the clerk to turn off the microphone if a person goes over their 3-minute time limit and allowing a speaker to be banned from public comment for 90 days.

At the time, the only council member to oppose shortening public comment was Peetz. But Thompson said she has since heard some people have trouble attending the shorter comment period in the middle of the meeting.

“I think we need to expand our accessibility to our citizens,” she said. “It might be small little changes, but it’s something we need to look at.”

Wick said he was also open to changes.

“There’s been a lot of times that people sign up and have not been able to stay, so I’m not sure it’s working out as we hoped,” Wick said.

Peetz said the City Council should always give the public an opportunity to weigh in on city issues, as long as council members are still able to do business.

Woodard said he was open to changes, but warned that extending the time could lead to long meetings.

“I want to hear from the public, but I don’t want to spend two, three, four hours listening to activists saying the same thing,” he said. “I want to hear from activists, but not the same thing (repeatedly).”

Higgins said he would be open to changing when public comment occurred within a meeting, but since the council changed the rules, they have not had issues with people going over the time limit.

Thompson said she also hopes to discuss equality, saying it’s important to make sure everyone feels welcome in Spokane Valley and at City Hall. She said discussions about equity and inclusion could offer a way to do that. This summer, she proposed looking at the city’s equity policy, but received little support from fellow council members.

“I’m not saying I’m going to launch a big campaign, but it’s something that we need to address or promote,” she said.

Hattenburg said he agreed with Thompson, and the perception that the city may not be welcoming to some could be hurting the community. Peetz and Wick said they would also be open to discussing equity.

Higgins said the city has already passed a resolution saying it will not tolerate discrimination and said he did not see how passing a “feel good” resolution would solve any problems.

Woodard said inclusion implies the city is racist and that the issue is outside of the City Council’s purview.

“Some want to try to make our job something it isn’t,” he said. “We’re not Spokane. We’re Spokane Valley, and we run on contracts and limited government.”

Wick said the biggest issue he hopes to focus on in 2020 is potential fallout from Initiative 976, which is set to limit car tabs to $30 a year and eliminate a host of programs that fund local transportation projects. After the initiative’s passage, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the Washington state Department of Transportation to postpone projects that hadn’t yet begun construction.

State freezes on transportation funding could stall or jeopardize several transportation projects.

Wick said he planned to continue discussing projects with state legislators.

Wick said he also hopes committee assignments will be more equal across the council. Higgins and Woodard have the most committees.

“I hope everybody gets an opportunity to serve,” he said.

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