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Debate over city land among issues in Millwood City Council race

Ed Mack faces incumbent Kate McLachlin in the race for Millwood City Council position 3 in the election on Nov. 5, 2019. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)
Ed Mack faces incumbent Kate McLachlin in the race for Millwood City Council position 3 in the election on Nov. 5, 2019. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)

Longtime area resident Kate McLachlan is facing off against newcomer Ed Mack in the race for a Millwood City Council seat in November.

McLachlan, who works as an administrative law judge, has lived in Millwood for the past three years but grew up in Spokane. She was appointed to the Millwood City Council to fill a vacant seat in early 2018.

“I’ve enjoyed my time on the City Council,” she said. “I still feel like a bit of a beginner.”

McLachlan first worked as a teacher, spending three years teaching third grade in the Northport School District before being a middle school teacher in the Riverside School District for 12 years. That’s when she decided she wanted to go to law school.

“I was getting burnt out on teaching middle school,” she said. “I didn’t really think about being a lawyer, I just thought I would like law school.”

She interned at the attorney general’s office during law school and later worked there. She’s been an administrative law judge for eight years and currently works out of the Office of Administrative Hearings in Spokane Valley.

Mack’s wife is from Millwood, but Mack was born and raised in the Seattle area. The couple moved to Millwood last year to be closer to her family. Mack has worked as a systems software engineer for 30 years, the last nine of those at Tableau Software.

He doesn’t have any prior experience as an elected official but said Mayor Kevin Freeman inspired him to run. Mack said he and his wife were at a council meeting last year where Freeman proposed a term limits ordinance, saying he wanted to get more people involved in city government.

“I was inspired by those words, honestly,” Mack said. “So I’m taking this opportunity.”

McLachlan said the 2016 election convinced her she needed to be more involved politically. She attended a weekend training offered by Emerge Washington, an organization devoted to encouraging Democratic women to run for office.

When a Millwood City Council position opened up, McLachlan applied for it. “At that time I just wanted to be involved,” she said. “It seemed like a good step for me.”

The race between McLachlan and Mack is similar to the one between council incumbent Andy Van Hees and challenger Jay Molitor in that the debate has centered on an ongoing discussion about whether the city should build a park on two parcels of land it owns along the Spokane River.

The city purchased the two vacant residential lots, located next to 8319 E. South Riverway Ave., in 2016. The City Council recently voted to approve changing the Comprehensive Plan designation on the land from residential to public reserve.

Dozens of people testified before the planning commission and sent in written comments to protest the proposal based on the belief that the city wants to build a park there. Many residents pointed to a series of emails sent by then-city clerk Tom Richardson to the Spokane Conservation District in 2016 asking for funding to buy the lots for a park. He included a two-page proposal for a South Riverway Park.

The city has said repeatedly there are currently no plans for what to do with the property. McLachlan said the issue has people “stirred up.”

“It’s kind of premature,” she said. “No plan has been brought forth.”

She said she agrees with some of the concerns people raised during public comments.

“They don’t want it to be another Boulder Beach, and I agree with that,” she said, in reference to a beach along the Spokane River that is a site of many complaints. “But there is no beach. There will never be a beach.”

McLachlan said whatever happens to the land, she wants to do what is best for the city.

“I think we have a responsible City Council right now,” she said. “My No. 1 concern is that nothing bad is done to the river.”

Mack said he’s done research about the land issue and the initial park proposal, which happened before he moved to Millwood.

“I was surprised to learn how this whole deal went down and was managed,” he said. “Now they appear to disavow themselves of any connection to a park.”

He said he’s not buying city arguments that the land can be used for another purpose other than a park.

“Parking trucks there is one example they gave,” he said. “I feel they’re being disingenuous. You don’t buy property and then find a use for it.”

He thinks the city should sell the land and move on, arguing that it would be too expensive to build a park there.

“I don’t think the council is holding up its fiduciary responsibility to the citizens,” he said.

Mack said he’d also like to see more policing in town and that property crime rates are too high. The city has a contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.

“I’ve seen and heard concerns,” he said. “People are frightened and fed up. I think many people think that’s not enough.”

Mack said he’s discussed the issue with Molitor, who wants the city to create its own police department. But Mack said he’d be in favor of expanding the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office first. “If the county can’t do that, maybe we need our own police force,” he said.

He’s seen how too much growth has affected the Seattle area and Mack said he doesn’t want that to happen to Millwood.

Mack said he’s a good listener and would be a good council member.

“I value honesty and fairness,” he said. “It’s important for a community this size and I want to do my part to help.”

McLachlan said she wants to leave Millwood a better place.

“I do make balanced, impartial decisions,” she said. “It’s what I do in my job every day. I listen to the evidence and evaluate it. I don’t have an agenda. The decisions aren’t short term. They have a lasting impact.”

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