The Spokane City Council will weigh a diverse set of seven finalists, including business owners, nonprofit leaders and a former teacher, for a vacant seat Monday.
Although each council member made a set of seven recommendations, the finalists were chosen by Council President Breean Beggs, per the procedure laid out in a resolution passed by the council last month.
The appointee will fill Beggs’ former seat, which he vacated when he won the citywide council president election over Cindy Wendle in November.
The council will hold public interviews with finalists beginning at 10 a.m. Monday. It is expected to vote on a winner at its 6 p.m. meeting that evening.
The Spokesman-Review reached out to candidates and reviewed their applications to assemble the following summary.
Alan Dickson Chatham: A Spokane native, Chatham returned in 2012 and has embedded himself in the local arts scene and volunteered for community service. He has served as executive director of Spokane Interactive Arts since 2013 and served on the Riverside Neighborhood Council. He was also a partner in Fellow Coworking, a startup co-working space, and a co-founder of Window Dressing, which fills vacant Spokane storefronts with art.
Chatham said he hopes to “make the city a more vibrant, exciting place for young people like me.”
Chatham leans on his professional and volunteer experience in pitching himself as the right candidate for the job. He would also be the only council member to live downtown, a perspective he highlights in his application.
“We definitely kind of have our boots-on-the-ground viewpoint of a lot of the issues,” such as homelessness, Chatham said.
Pia Hallenberg: When she arrived in Spokane in 1994, Hallenberg was uncertain how long she’d stay. Now, 25 years later, she’s hoping to earn a seat on its City Council.
A native of Denmark and former longtime journalist with the Inlander and The Spokesman-Review, Hallenberg has spent the past two years as director of development at the Spokane Humane Society.
Hallenberg touts her nearly two decades of experience as a reporter in Spokane, as well as her more recent role on the Riverside Neighborhood Council.
“It was a sacrifice that I had to not get involved when I was a journalist,” Hallenberg said. “I’ve always been engaged in my community. I’m curious, I want to know why things are going the way that they are.”
As a downtown resident, Hallenberg expressed excitement for the planned Central City Line from the Spokane Transit Authority and suggested extending it from Spokane International Airport to Coeur d’Alene. More generally, she said the city has to plan for its continued growth.
“We need to look at how to deal with a large influx of people,” Hallenberg said.
Randy Ramos: A personal trainer by trade, Ramos has dedicated himself to progressive political causes, volunteering for organizations like Greater Spokane Progress and Washington Community Action Network.
His activism is rooted in his experience as a recruiter for Spokane Tribal College, where he helped students navigate issues, including housing and food security.
“I found the work that I ended up doing was a lot of social work,” Ramos said.
Born and raised in Spokane and a member of the Colville Tribe, Ramos reflected in his application about how that experience taught him each community member has a role in the tribe and that decisions “can have a huge affect on the community as a whole.”
Ramos wrote that Spokane is “lacking” in its efforts to be inclusive and promote equity among marginalized communities.
“We need to apply different lenses to all the issues that we’re addressing, because if we don’t do that, we’re bound to make the same mistakes,” Ramos said.
Katey Randall Treloar: Treloar, who unsuccessfully ran for the Spokane Public Schools board in 2019, spent eight years as a teacher in Spokane Public Schools before working as a program coordinator for At the Core, an education nonprofit, from 2013 to 2015.
Her experience in education has pushed Treloar toward seeking public office. In her application, Treloar said she would focus on enabling children in Spokane to succeed, supporting families and improving the relationship between the city and its public school system.
“During my campaign, I really was able to look at some specific areas our city and schools could be more connected,” Treloar said.
A native of Spokane, Treloar supports preventing homelessness through “multigenerational, wraparound services.” She advocates for a similar, preventive approach when it comes to criminal justice. She supports interventions for at-risk youth and families.
Treloar recalled being described as “naive” during her race for the school board for running as a “middle-of-the-road candidate.”
“I don’t come to this position with any agenda or preconceived ideas. I’m showing up, I’m going to listen, and I want to learn, and I want to do what’s best for our city,” Treloar said.
John Waite: Though perhaps most well-known as owner of Auntie’s Bookstore and Merlyn’s Comics and Games, Waite has a long history of civic engagement in Spokane. He has run for office in each of the three City Council districts, though he has never won a seat.
Waite, who was raised in the West Central Neighborhood, has served on the Cable Advisory Board and Business Improvement District board.
“I like to help other people,” Waite said. “It’s kind of my nature.”
Auntie’s was in trouble when Waite took ownership of it four years ago, but it has since become a “stable business,” he wrote in his application.
He said his experience taking over businesses and making them efficient and innovative had “created new ways for them to succeed.” That skill set would be especially useful to the city if and when an economic recession hits, Waite argued.
Waite does not support the construction of a new jail, and warned of the mounting expenses associated with continued incarceration. Instead, he advocates that the city support “preventative and proactive social programs.”
“Government needs that, and frankly government is going to need it more,” Waite said.
Michelle L. Weaver: Weaver retired in 2019 after a 20-year career as chief operating officer of Embassy Management, a management services company that assists several social services organizations. But she’s not done working.
Already since her retirement last spring, Weaver has jumped in to participate with the South Perry Business and Neighborhood Association. Weaver believes her professional skill set would be a good fit on the City Council.
“I’ve been on the search for the next thing that I can really pour my heart and passion and skills and experience into. A number of people have suggested to me that I get involved in politics,” Weaver said.
Given her experience in social services, Weaver said the city should assemble an array of stakeholders to address homelessness. Services will have to include case management, education, employment, job skills training and more, she wrote in her application.
“A lot of the issues that we’re currently facing as a city, I’ve had the opportunity to address through my work in social services because we are serving people who are marginalized and have a variety of barriers, with housing, with employment and with being a part of their local community,” Weaver said.
Weaver, who has become active in climate-focused organizations, believes the city should take a leading role in addressing climate change and not wait for federal action.
Betsy L. Wilkerson: Wilkerson has risen to prominence in the community in no small part due to her leadership as board president of the Carl Maxey Center. Wilkerson also owns Moore’s Assisted Living, a residential care facility.
As a candidate for the council seat, Wilkerson said she brings the perspective of a parent, person of color and small-business owner.
“Through my involvement with local nonprofit organizations, I have worked on the issues the city faces today,” Wilkerson added.
As a business owner, Wilkerson understands budgeting, she wrote, and as president of the Carl Maxey Center she’s experienced in obtaining grants and overseeing the expenditure of capital funds.
The city should take the lead on criminal justice reform, Wilkerson believes. She supports the city’s use of therapeutic courts and diversion programs aimed at keeping people out of jail. To address homelessness, Wilkerson suggested the city could improve access to housing by improving education and communication between landlords and tenants.
As for inclusion and diversity, Wilkerson highlights the unique perspective she would offer as an African-American woman. Put simply, she noted that the city is 85% white. “That still leaves 15 percent,” she wrote, adding that everyone deserves to feel like Spokane is their city.
The council’s process in filling the void has been more expedited than in previous vacancies, including when Beggs was appointed to fill the role of District 2 seat representing south Spokane in 2016.
Why the rush? Simply put, “we’re missing a council member,” Beggs said.
“It’s important to give representation to the district. Right now, the district is missing one person representing them. The sooner we get someone on board, the better.”
Beggs lives in District 2. Even with the vacancy, the South Hill still accounts for one-third of the voting members of the council.
There was plenty of time to meet with prospective candidates for council members who chose to do that, Beggs said. (Councilwoman Candace Mumm, however, announced early on that she would not hold private meetings with candidates.)
Beggs began meeting with candidates as early as November, he said.
Michael Cathcart, the council’s only new member following the November elections, expressed mild disappointment in the process, saying he wished he had a bit more time to meet with and study candidates.
“I do wish, generally speaking, I wish the process was a little more thoughtful, I guess. Because it just feels a little rushed,” Cathcart said. “But it’s not the end of the world.”
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