As friends, family and supporters trickled into Spokane Valley Council chambers Tuesday evening, they were greeted by a festive American flag sheet cake reading “2020, a new vision.”
While council members said they were surprised by the cake and the message, which former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite provided, that refrain was repeated in various ways, during public comment and by audience members throughout the meeting, where a new majority chose its leaders.
Spokane Valley City Council picked Ben Wick to serve as mayor and Brandi Peetz to serve as deputy mayor Tuesday night, ushering in what some believe will be a new era for the legislative body.
Council members are able to nominate each other for the positions in Spokane Valley and then vote from the pool of nominees.
Councilman Ben Wick was one of two council members who was nominated for the position, but he was the only council member to accept the nomination. Councilwoman Pam Haley, who normally votes with several more conservative council members, nominated Linda Thompson, who declined the nomination.
Every council member except previous mayor Rod Higgins voted for Wick.
Higgins, who left soon after the meeting ended, has previously criticized Wick, Thompson, Hattenburg and Peetz, saying they are not true conservatives. He, Haley, Councilman Arne Woodard and former Councilman Sam Wood, who did not run for re-election, clashed with the three returning council members over how to spend surplus money, whether an inclusion policy was needed and the council’s public-comment policy.
Peetz was one of three council members nominated for deputy mayor, but she was the only person to accept her nomination. Tim Hattenburg, the newest council member, nominated Peetz and declined when Higgins nominated him for the same position. Woodard nominated Thompson.
Every council member but Woodard and Higgins voted for Peetz as deputy mayor.
After the vote, Wick led his first meeting as mayor, which he said went well.
“You never know what’s going to happen, so I’m pleasantly surprised,” Wick said. “We have a lot of great council members.”
With his new position, which will allow him to delegate committee appointments, Wick said he hoped to return to the Spokane Regional Transportation Committee, which Higgins removed him from. He said he also hoped to get started on regular 2020 business, interviewing candidates for the Spokane Valley Planning Commission and Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.
Thompson said she turned down the nominations for mayor and deputy mayor because she believes Wick has a mind for city issues and has compassion and will listen to all his constituents. She said she also wanted to make sure younger people on the council like Peetz and Wick had the opportunity to make a difference.
“To have a young mayor and a young deputy mayor, to me that’s what we need to be doing in this country is giving our young people a chance to lead,” she said.
Peetz said she was honored to be nominated and to have earned the support of mentors, such as Thompson.
“I really appreciate the opportunity and I’m honored that she said that. She’s been an amazing council member, and I’m really excited for the coming year,” Peetz said.
Before the meeting, the council members who won elections in November – Hattenburg,Woodard and Peetz – were sworn in.
While Spokane Valley City Council meetings are usually sparsely attended, a crowd of friends, family and supporters gathered and cheered throughout the swearing-in ceremony and the beginning of the meeting.
Wilhite, who served as Peetz’s campaign manager and who has feuded with the council’s previous majority, said Tuesday’s meeting signaled some changes coming to the city.
“We’re getting a new vision on this council – a friendlier, gentler, kinder council where people are welcome to come before City Council (and speak),” she said.
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