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Even with budget cuts, Spokane City Council plans to hire spokesperson, citing heavy workload

UPDATED: Tue., May 5, 2020

The Spokane City Council is expected to hire a council spokesperson soon. (sr)
The Spokane City Council is expected to hire a council spokesperson soon. (sr)

The Spokane City Council wants its own voice and connection to the community – and it’s willing to pay for it.

The council is moving ahead with plans to hire its own spokesperson despite belt-tightening elsewhere in city government, with its members saying the position is vital and already accounted for in the 2020 budget.

“Right now in the crisis we’re in, it’d be super good to have that position,” said Council President Breean Beggs. “There’s so many things going on, and it’s so difficult with the COVID restrictions, that having a really smart experienced person on how to engage with our community is more important than ever.”

The council planned to interview five finalists for the position beginning Monday night, and could have someone in the role within a month, according to Beggs. The position was advertised at a salary range of $71,911 to $97,948.

The Director of City Council Communications and Community Engagement will be tasked with everything from developing press releases on the council’s behalf to directly engaging with members of the community.

“We don’t want a spokesperson, and if you look at the job description it’s somebody who’s going to help us with community outreach,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.

While the new hire will help “craft what we want to say,” Kinnear said “we can speak for ourselves pretty well.”

The position was funded as part of several revisions the City Council made to former Mayor David Condon’s 2020 budget proposal last year.

The spokesperson would have been hired prior to the pandemic, Kinnear noted, but the position was caught up as the human resources department reviewed the new position.

Beggs said the city is currently asking departments to contemplate two scenarios – a 6% budget cut and a 12% budget cut. The council already has saved more than 6% of its budget in 2020, he said.

“It’s in our budget, it’s paid for, it’s not taking away from anything else,” Beggs said.

Kinnear highlighted the heavy workload of a city council member.

“When you realize the amount of emails and communications we get a day … it’s not possible for a single person to represent 85,000 people – which is about the number of people I represent in District 2 – by myself,” Kinnear said.

Kinnear worked as an assistant in the council office, starting in 2008, prior to her election to her first term in 2015. At the time, the council was just a “rubber stamp for the mayor,” she contended.

“Nothing was getting done, and there wasn’t the amount of interest, quite frankly … there is a higher expectation on council to do things, and back then there just wasn’t,” Kinnear said.

Councilwoman Karen Stratton, along with former City Council President Ben Stuckart, was one of two to oppose the position during the budget vote last year. The legislative assistant assigned to each council member and the communications staff at City Hall is sufficient, Stratton told The Spokesman-Review.

“It wasn’t a priority position for me,” Stratton said.

Of the five finalists for the position, none are from Eastern Washington.

“If we’re going to do this, it would be great to have somebody local that knows the area,” Stratton added.

Kinnear noted that one of the finalists was born and raised in Spokane.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on May 5, 2020 to add information that one finalist originally was from Spokane.

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