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Spokane Valley councilmember decries state COVID-19 mandates; claims rules are ‘destroying our city’

Aug. 26, 2021 Updated Thu., Aug. 26, 2021 at 9:12 p.m.

Spokane Valley Councilman Rod Higgins, left, spoke out against coronavirus mandates during a council meeting this week. (Kathy Plonka)
Spokane Valley Councilman Rod Higgins, left, spoke out against coronavirus mandates during a council meeting this week. (Kathy Plonka)

State-issued mandates aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 amid the ongoing pandemic are “destroying” Spokane Valley, a member of its City Council alleged Tuesday.

Councilmember Rod Higgins aired his concerns about directives announced by Gov. Jay Inslee early in Tuesday’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting during a period scheduled for individual board member reports.

“The governor has issued mandates once again threatening businesses and individuals for noncompliance under an emergency declaration that’s extended for more than 18 months,” he said. “His actions are destroying our city and making a mockery of representative democracy.

“Unfortunately, we here on the dais are powerless to do anything about it. Perhaps it’s time for a little civil disobedience.”

Most recently, the state’s latest mask mandate – which requires everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in public indoor settings – took effect Monday. Inslee also recently expanded the state’s vaccination requirement beyond state and health care employees to workers in K-12 and higher education schools as well as most child care and early learning centers.

The measures were instituted amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, including Washington.

By Thursday, new COVID-19 cases in Spokane County topped 1,000 in the past four days, according to the Spokane Regional Health District. Meanwhile, Providence announced it is postponing elective surgeries and procedures at Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital.

Asked Thursday about his views in light of the rising cases, Higgins quoted Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“I’m sorry, but we’ve been fed so many statistics that have been proven to be untrue, I don’t trust statistics anymore like that,” Higgins said.

Higgins said “it’s very disturbing” Inslee has so much power to make directives without input from the state Legislature.

“I am encouraging people to do what they think is right,” Higgins said when asked about his mention of civil disobedience. “If they feel like not wearing a mask, then don’t wear a mask. If you don’t want to get a shot – and I personally don’t have a shot, and the reason I don’t is because I react badly to shots like flu shots and stuff like that.”

For his part, Higgins wore a mask during Tuesday’s session. He removed it to speak, as did a few other members at times.

While he said masks “are a waste of time by and large,” Higgins said he’ll “play the game” lest he incur a reaction from the state – “but that doesn’t mean I have to keep quiet about it.”

“What’s bothering me here is business in our city has suffered dramatically,” he said, “and now, we’re half a step away from being closed down again.”

His fellow councilmembers did not address Higgins’ statement during the meeting, which largely stuck to the agenda.

“I really hope that Councilmember Higgins wasn’t encouraging people to break the law as we took an oath to uphold the laws of our city and state,” Mayor Ben Wick said Thursday.

Wick said while he doesn’t much enjoy wearing a mask, he will do so given the input from health experts . And while Wick said the mandates and restrictions have made it difficult for the council to interact with constituents at the level they’re used to, he disagreed that the measures are destroying Spokane Valley, so to speak.

“We are having record development and record permitting and construction. In the current, our sales tax dollars are coming in pretty strongly as well,” he said. “I do know that it’s affecting some of our small businesses and events unfortunately, but we’re trying to do the best that we can.”

Deputy Mayor Brandi Peetz offered a statement when asked to respond to Higgins’ comments, saying “the best thing for us to do right now is to come together as a community and do our best to support each other.”

“All of our City Council members took an oath to faithfully and impartially uphold the applicable laws of the United States and of the state of Washington,” she wrote. “The governor has made decisions based upon what he thinks will keep our communities safe and it is our jobs as sworn elected officials to uphold these orders.”

Councilmember Tim Hattenburg said Higgins is entitled to his opinion.

His choice to share that opinion at City Hall was inappropriate, however, he added.

Hattenburg, a retired school teacher, said he doesn’t agree with Higgins’ views, as he believes the mandates are “the right thing to do.”

Responding to Higgins’ claim that the mandates are destroying the city, Hattenburg said he believes preventative action is needed to keep businesses alive.

“I don’t blame the government for shutting that down,” he said. “We need to get people involved in attacking this virus as a community together, and that’s the best way to support local businesses and schools and the like is to get this under control.

“I think the sum of our community is more important than a few individuals that disagree.”

Councilmembers Linda Thompson, Arne Woodard and Pam Haley did not return calls for comment.

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