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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County Commission appeals to state Supreme Court seeking to overturn decision allowing switch to 5 commissioners

Sept. 26, 2019 Updated Fri., Sept. 27, 2019 at 7:31 a.m.

This aerial view of the Spokane County Courthouse taken on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
This aerial view of the Spokane County Courthouse taken on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The Spokane County Commission has appealed directly to the state Supreme Court in the hopes of overturning a recent court decision that would require the county to increase its number of commissioners.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno ruled last month that a 2018 law that would increase the number of commissioners from three to five was constitutional.

The law had bipartisan support, with Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Spokane Democrat, and Rep. Jeff Holy, a Cheney Republican, sponsoring it. The sponsors argued that the new law would help get ahead of legal challenges under the Voting Rights Act and get government closer to the people.

Currently, commissioners run in the primary in their own district where they live but are elected countywide in the general election. Under the new law, commissioners would only be elected in their district.

County Commissioner Mary Kuney, who opposes the switch to five districts, said it was important to take legal action as soon as possible, before the county is redistricted in 2021 and candidates start coming together to run for individual districts. Kuney also said the current system helps commissioners to think about problems countywide.

“One commissioner could be looking out for the greater good and others could just be for their 20%,” she said. “You don’t know.”

Commissioner Al French, one of the two plaintiffs in the suit, said voters already made their thoughts known when they rejected a ballot measure increasing the number of commissioners in 2015. He also said the law creates a different set of rules just for Spokane County and is unconstitutional.

“You’ve got a different standard,” he said. “It’s ludicrous.”

The law is written to require counties with at least 400,000 people to have five commissioners if they haven’t adopted a charter with a different form of government. The county argued that was unconstitutional because it would make Spokane the only county with five commissioners, as all other counties that have more people have adopted charter governments.

Moreno ruled that doesn’t make the law unconstitutional because it applies to all counties with more than 400,000, even though Spokane is the only one that currently fits that description.

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