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New Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick finds inspiration in his hometown’s potential

Ben Wick is the new mayor of Spokane Valley. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The window looking out of Ben Wick’s new office on the third floor of City Hall gives Spokane Valley’s new mayor a view of big-box stores, an Arby’s, a park frequented by the city’s homeless residents and one of the widest and busiest sections of Sprague Avenue.

Wick sees what he’s always seen – potential.

He can point out where a pedestrian island will be on Sprague to help connect City Hall to what someday will be an expanded park and a library.

While Spokane Valley may never have a traditional downtown, Wick said it has an identity and a community feel with gathering spaces that already exist, plus more planned for the future.

Wick, 37, who was chosen Jan. 7 by the rest of the City Council to become Spokane Valley’s next mayor, said the city’s potential always has inspired him. The new mayor was one of many residents who campaigned for the sprawling community to incorporate in 2003 and – when he was just 18 years old – was among the first 52 who filed to run for Spokane Valley office.

Wick’s unusually young start to his political career didn’t surprise his father, Tim Wick, who served two terms on the East Valley School Board when Wick was in high school, or his mentor, retired East Valley School District Superintendent Chuck Stocker.

Stocker said Wick was interested in politics and his community since he first met him as a student at East Valley High School.

“Someone at 18 years of age could be easily discouraged,” Stocker said. “But Ben’s attitude is, ‘We’re going to do this, and I’m going to move forward. And, you know, if I lose something, I’ll come back at it again.’ And he just has that kind of demeanor about him. He’s not going to give up.”

Wick’s persistence eventually led him to an elected position, but at first it wasn’t at Spokane Valley City Hall. He was active with Eastern Washington University’s student government while he worked toward a degree in computer science. Wick, a lifelong resident of Spokane Valley, said he refused to move to Cheney while going to college and commuted from Spokane Valley everyday.

After he graduated, he worked in IT for Goodrich Aerospace, which allowed him to travel around the country. The company eventually offered him a position in Pueblo, Colorado, but after a few months, he returned to Spokane Valley, saying the opportunity wasn’t enough to keep him away from his hometown.

In the years following his first run for office, Wick applied for open City Council seats but was not selected. He finally won a spot on the dais in 2011, after he ran for a seat that was held by Bill Gothman, who threw his support behind Wick.

“He had such maturity for a young man that I just thought, ‘Wow, this is tremendous and we do need young people and accountable people who can give us new ideas for the future,’ ” Gothman said. “There comes a time when us old guys need to step back and let the young guys get in and do the job.”

Gothman now works as the City Council correspondent for the Current, the newspaper Wick and his wife, Danica, bought after Wick lost his bid for re-election in 2015 by 99 votes.

Wick said that election was a turning point for him. He wasn’t sure he wanted to run for office again, but he still wanted to be involved in the issues that affect Spokane Valley.

“I never gave up on wanting to be a part of our community, and I think the newspaper, the business that we bought, was another avenue to be able to do that.”

Wick’s family kept him anchored in Spokane Valley. His wife also encouraged him to run for office again against Ed Pace, who was a part of a group that fired former City Manager Mike Jackson and debated non-city issues at City Hall, such as vaccines and sex education in public schools.

She said she knew Wick wanted to run again after he protested her idea to buy a farmhouse outside of Spokane Valley’s city limits.

“He’s just so smart and such a great listener, and I wanted our community to have that,” Danica Wick said.

The family usually hits the campaign trail together, taking a stroller with their young children when they go doorbelling. One of Wick’s favorite places to doorbell is Wick Avenue, a street named for his grandfather, who built the cluster of houses along that street.

Wick himself is deeply connected to the Valley’s business and agrarian roots. He grew up raising llamas with his family, taking them on trips to the mountains, and has been the llama barn superintendent at the Spokane County Fair.

He is also a descendent of pioneers who homesteaded in Spokane Valley. His great grandparents, the Spooners, owned a dairy farm on what was known as the Apple Way but lost it in the Great Depression. The family’s farm was located where Sprague and Interstate 90 meet, about two-and-a-half miles west from where Spokane Valley City Hall now sits.

In addition to building houses, his grandfather also owned a recycling business.

That history and connection to his community have also influenced Wick’s perception of where Spokane Valley should go. Wick remembers businesses and parking lots that used to be hayfields and learned to drive just as the Sprague-Appleway couplet opened for the first time almost 20 years ago.

“I think one of the things that we created the city for was to be able to be in control of our own destiny,” he said. “We don’t have to be a Sardineville. We don’t have to infill to the nth degree. We can still have areas where there’s people that have horses or llamas or an orchard or a family farm or something like that. I know the Growth Management Act wants us to infill … but having our own city, we can control where those kinds of things go.”

Wick now owns a house on a couple of acres near his extended family and may consider getting a llama or chickens in the future, which are both legal in Spokane Valley city limits.

While the mayor of Spokane Valley does not have the power to direct the day-to-day operations of the city like Spokane’s mayor does, the mayor is the public face of the city, runs the City Council meetings, makes the rules for public comment and appoints council members and constituents to boards and committees.

Some, such as former Mayor Diana Wilhite and Councilman Chuck Hafner, hope that Wick’s optimism and calming presence will encourage more participation in city issues, and make City Council meetings and City Hall feel more welcoming and open to new ideas.

“I think that if he brings anything to the council and to this community, it’s a positive atmosphere,” Hafner said. He will ensure “things are being looked at in a realistic manner and things are being taken care of properly and there’s trust. And I think that’s what’s going to develop as time goes on is there will be a trust in him as a mayor.”

Wick said he would likely take another look at the rules regarding public comment, which the council reduced and moved to the end of meetings in 2018.

“I’d like to really look at that again,” he said. “I don’t think it’s had the same effect that we really wanted in the beginning. I mean, moving into the end of the meeting, we see oftentimes where people sign up to comment but then don’t want to wait through our agenda and the meeting. It’s important to hear from people.”

Wick’s passion, however, is transportation. He was previously vice chairman of the Spokane Regional Transportation Committee, but was unexpectedly removed from the board by former Mayor Rod Higgins and the majority he led. Wick hopes to resume his role on the transportation board and do what he can to keep Spokane Valley projects in state lawmakers’ minds as they prepare for the fallout of Initiative 976, which barring court action will reduce car tabs to $30.

Several projects are dependent on federal funds, which are in turn dependent on matching state funds that may no longer be available.

“I don’t think there is a lawmaker that would stand to lose as much federal dollars coming into any community across the state if they knew about it,” he said. “So it’s our challenge to kind of get out there and share the story.”

Past City Councils have been criticized for making large decisions without discussion or for having hostile interactions with people during public comment. Wick said council members haven’t always had as much discussion as was needed, and he hopes both the public and individual council members will feel empowered to speak up and the council will discuss more things openly, to educate both the public and each other.

“We may not agree on everything all the time, but we’re here to work together, he said. “And I have a lot of passion for our community and want to see it be successful.”

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