Community Court’s expansion into East Central recorded a key victory Monday.
The Spokane City Council agreed to accept a $166,000 federal grant that will support the Spokane Municipal Community Court’s expansion into East Central.
After weeks of Council consternation, the Community Court earned the unanimous blessing of the City Council to move forward with plans to hire staff for the new branch.
The location of the court has been more controversial than the Community Court program itself, which aims to divert people accused of low-level crimes from jail and into beneficial social services.
Councilmember Betsy Wilkerson has aggressively questioned court administrators why they chose the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in East Central instead of the Spokane Resource Center, which is also in East Central and already is home to a variety of social service providers.
“There was never any opposition to what the court does or the people it serves,” Wilkerson said Monday.
Court administrators have defended the new location, saying it was the only available community building that offers its space free of rent.
The City Council held up approval of the grant, which will be used to hire a social services coordinator, for several weeks even though it is not tied to a specific location.
Following the council’s previous delay on Oct. 19, Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs asked Lonnie Mitchell Sr., the recently retired pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, to hold a community meeting regarding the location.
At that meeting, Wilkerson said she learned the community center had, unbeknownst to her, been predetermined as the location before the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center won a three-year contract to operate the East Central Community Center in 2017.
“I will support it going forward, but I will continue to call for transparency in how we do business,” Wilkerson said.
Community Court also operates locations downtown and in Northeast Spokane.
Councilwoman Kate Burke said she’d like to see it expand to other locations, including the West Central Community Center.
“These are really amazing, forward-thinking ideas, and I’m just so thankful we have Community Court here, and that we’re taking these steps to lessen the likelihood of someone going into the criminal justice system when they don’t need to,” Burke said.
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