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Spokane City Council eyes police contract, reform discussions

Breean Beggs, Spokane City Council president, came out of City Hall and spoke to protesters during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 8.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Breean Beggs, Spokane City Council president, came out of City Hall and spoke to protesters during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 8. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

The Spokane City Council’s to-do list includes enacting police reform measures and signing a long-overdue labor agreement with police officers.

And that’s just in the first 100 days of 2021.

The council is whittling down a list of priorities, including tackling weighty public safety issues, establishing new standards for homeless services and implementing new services for renters.

A draft of the list, discussed in a council study session on Thursday, is expected to be edited into a formal resolution and voted on by the full City Council.

“We’re in the brainstorming stage,” Council President Breean Beggs said Thursday. “Ideally, we would pass some type of resolution with an exhibit and have things just to kind of let people know what we’re expecting to work on in the first quarter.”

Last year, Beggs noted, the council’s goals were interrupted by a global pandemic, but “we still got a lot of them done.”

Public safety

Mayor Nadine Woodward has said signing a new contract with the Spokane Police Guild is a paramount priority entering the new year. It’s also in the council’s sights, but members rejected the most recent proposal in 2020.

The guild has been operating under the previous agreement that expired in 2016. Last year, the council unanimously shot down a proposed agreement that would have covered 2016 through 2020, with members arguing the deal failed to meet the standards for police oversight laid out in the City Charter.

That vote happened as police faced renewed scrutiny in Spokane and across the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

Meanwhile, Beggs and Woodward have pledged for months to embark on dialogue with community leaders about potential police reforms, but have insisted they take place in-person. The city had come close to hosting those discussions early this winter, but new COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in November once again stymied the in-person effort.

The priorities list not only calls for those discussions to begin in 2021, but for the council to begin enacting unspecified police reforms.

Homelessness

The priorities include the creation of a real-time tracking system of homeless shelter capacity, which city staff told members they were working to build last year. The system would, theoretically, help avoid confusion over which shelters have beds available – both for people experiencing homelessness and for police , who are legally unable to enforce camping laws if no beds are available.

The council will look to consider rules for pop-up homeless shelters that operate without city funding.

Housing

Under the draft list, the council could seek an organization to implement a universal credit and background check system for tenants seeking housing. A universal system would eliminate the need for tenants to pay new application fees at multiple apartments.

The council may also solicit an agency to offer legal services for tenants.

The city may also consider new ways to identify short-term housing units and enforce its ordinance that regulates them. Under a city law adopted in 2015, proprietors of such rentals were required to obtain a permit, but enforcement has long been a challenge.

Diversity, inclusion

The council plans to launch its equity and inclusion training program in early 2021, as well as advertise the opening for the city’s Civil Rights Officer, a new position created by the council in the 2021 budget.

What’s missing

Councilwoman Candace Mumm flagged an item not on the list: getting a COVID-19 vaccine to anyone who wants one.

“That’s got to be a priority. I don’t know how the council can add in on this, but getting everyone vaccinated solves a lot of problems,” Mumm said.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, meanwhile, implored the city to begin to implement its 5th Avenue Initiative economic development project in East Central, which has been in the works since at least 2016.

“The administrations prior have had fits and starts down there,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a great start, and then it’s ineffective, or (there is) a lack of resources.”

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who was among the thousands of Inland Northwest residents without power and internet service on Thursday, did not attend the virtual study session.

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