A political rookie is attempting to unseat a man who has been involved in Spokane Valley politics since before the city existed and who currently leads the city government.
Brandon Fenton, a 39-year-old bar owner, appears to be the lead challenger to 39-year-old Ben Wick, the city’s mayor, in the upcoming City Council election.
Wick might have more experience running for Spokane Valley City Council than anyone. He first ran before he’d even graduated college, trying to get on the inaugural City Council. He didn’t get past the primary that year, but he kept running. Voters put him on council in 2012.
He lost his 2015 re-election bid in a nail-biter against Sam Wood. After a two-year layoff he won another City Council race in 2017, beating out Ed Pace. City Council chose Wick as mayor in 2020.
Wick describes himself as conservative but noted he’s unafraid to make strategic investments that will benefit Spokane Valley in the future.
Brandon Fenton is a self-described Trump Republican.
Spokane Valley City Council races are officially nonpartisan.
Fenton gained some publicity last year when his Spokane Valley bar, the Black Diamond, stayed open in violation of the state’s COVID-19 orders.
Shutting down businesses was government overreach, Fenton said. He said he’s running for City Council because of how the city failed to stand up for local businesses like his.
“I had absolutely no desire, never had a thought of running for office or anything prior to this,” Fenton said. “Then this happened and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, where are my rights, where’s the support, where are my people in Spokane Valley that are going to fight for our businesses, fight for our community, fight for our stuff against the state?’”
Two other names will appear on the primary ballot Aug. 3 vying for Wick’s seat, but at least one of them isn’t a true candidate.
“I’m not really running,” Mark McManus said.
McManus said he encourages anyone who would have voted for him to vote for Fenton instead, since he believes Fenton will be more fiscally conservative.
A fourth candidate, Christopher Ingraham, did not respond to The Spokesman-Review’s multiple requests for comment. Ingraham has not filed any campaign expenditures with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission and does not appear to be actively campaigning.
Homelessness remains one of the biggest issues facing Spokane Valley. Due in part to housing shortages and rising housing prices, anecdotally it appears the city’s homeless population has grown in the past several years.
Wick said the city has made a lot of progress in dealing with homelessness during his most recent council term.
He noted that he meets with Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney every other week to discuss the region’s homelessness efforts. Employing a collaborative approach to homelessness is important, Wick said.
Hiring Housing and Homeless Coordinator Arielle Anderson was also a big step forward, Wick said. Anderson was hired in April and gives the city a designated person to tackle housing and homeless issues.
Fenton said the city’s spending too much money on homelessness, and shouldn’t have hired a housing and homeless coordinator. He added that instead of funneling money through the county, the city should divert more of its money toward local nonprofits.
Spokane Valley lacks a homeless shelter but gives money to the county which in turn goes toward homeless services in Spokane.
Wick and Fenton have fairly similar views on how Spokane Valley should tackle housing challenges.
Spokane Valley’s new housing action plan emphasizes the need for middle housing – duplexes and townhomes, for instance.
Fenton said he too wants to see more middle housing and housing diversity, but also wants to see more single-family development.
“I know there’s the missing middle, but that doesn’t do anything for you if you can’t get people that are in those positions to move out and get in single-family homes,” Fenton said.
Wick also said he’d like to see the city allow for more single-family development. There aren’t many restrictions for multi-family, he said, so the focus should be on incentivizing single-family development and transportation infrastructure improvements.
“We noticed in reviewing our codes that we had allowed density virtually everywhere,” Wick said. “We actually had permitted more multifamily housing than single -family housing.”
Yea or nay on Matt Shea?
Some Spokane Valley City Councilmembers have defended Matt Shea, Spokane Valley’s former state representative. Shea was ousted from the House Republican Caucus in 2019 after an independent investigation found he committed “an act of domestic terrorism against the United States” for his role in the 2016 standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Southern Oregon.
Neither Wick nor Fenton denounced Shea. Wick declined to comment on Shea at all.
Fenton said he’s only met Shea a few times and doesn’t know enough about him to have an opinion.
“I wouldn’t want to go off of rumors or anything else about anybody,” Fenton said.
Trails and parks
Fenton and Wick have different ideas on whether the city should invest more in parks and trails.
Wick is a parks proponent. He said the city should make park land purchases when the right opportunities arise. As Spokane Valley grows, land becomes increasingly scarce, so the city should buy land when possible to prepare for the future, Wick said.
He noted that the city passed on buying the Painted Hills Golf Course property in 2013. That land has since been developed.
Painted Hills was a missed opportunity, Wick said. He said parks investments are important in order to improve Spokane Valley’s quality of life.
“As long as it makes sense and we have the cash on hand to do it, I’m for it,” Wick said.
Fenton said if elected he’d be less inclined to spend money on additional park land. While he loves the parks the city already has, he doesn’t want the city creating more right now.
Instead, Spokane Valley should focus on maintaining roads, addressing homelessness and improving the economy, Fenton said.
“Eventually, with foresight and balance in spending, I think parks are great,” Fenton said.
Spokane Valley leaders say their roads are in relatively good shape.
The question is how to keep them that way.
The city has been using a telephone tax to fund road work. As more people abandon landlines, money raised by that tax has decreased exponentially. In order to maintain roads, the city will have to find money elsewhere.
Fenton said the city might be fixing up some roads that don’t need maintenance.
“I think we need to be more conservative with our spending or our budget on the roads,” he said.
Wick said he believes the city has done a good job finding money to maintain roads.
“We’re in a very good spot,” he said.
City staff have done an excellent job winning state and federal grants, Wick said. The city has effectively also used money left over in the general budget at the end of the year.
That system is working well, Wick said, and he emphasized that maintaining roads, rather than letting them fall into disrepair and rebuilding them, is the fiscally responsible move.
“Every dollar that we spend in preservation, preserving a street before it breaks down too far, we save $8 for having to rebuild it,” he said.