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Veteran versus rookie: Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick hoping to fend off bar owner Brandon Fenton

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 13, 2021

Ben Wick and Brandon Fenton grew up in the same town.

They graduated from the same high school, in the same year, and decided to stay in Spokane Valley as adults. They both describe themselves as conservative.

But the list of similarities between the former classmates – who never knew each other well when they attended East Valley High School – isn’t terribly long.

Wick, Spokane Valley’s mayor, has been involved in Spokane Valley politics for nearly 20 years, since before the city incorporated in 2003. He ran for the inaugural City Council when he was a college student and kept trying for to get on council until 2012, when he finally won a seat.

In 4-3 City Council decisions, Wick sometimes votes in the majority alongside council members Brandi Peetz, Tim Hattenburg and Linda Thompson.

Fenton doesn’t have any political experience and said running for office never once crossed his mind until the pandemic began. The self-described Trump Republican said state and federal COVID-19 restrictions spurred him to run for City Council. Fenton’s bar, The Black Diamond, was fined $500 for ignoring Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order during the pandemic.

“It should be us at the local level, City Council and the county commissioners and the mayors – all of them – that should be pushing back and fighting against Gov. Inslee and filing lawsuits or just straight up becoming a sanctuary city if we have to,” Fenton said.

If elected, Fenton said he would like to see the city attorney look for legal technicalities that could allow the city to “fight back” against Inslee’s mask and vaccine mandates.

“I’m sure that there’s something that we can do to trip him up, to make him have to backtrack,” Fenton said.

In addition to fighting the state and federal government, Fenton said he would be focused on addressing homelessness, public safety and reducing spending if elected.

Wick said if he’s re-elected he’ll be especially focused on public safety, transportation infrastructure, managing growth and fiscal responsibility.

Based on the results of the August primary election, the incumbent Wick is a heavy favorite to win. He managed 60% of the vote, compared to 30% for Fenton. That was easily the most dominant showing any City Council candidate had in the primary.

Two candidates, Christopher Ingraham and Mark McManus, each received 5% of the vote during the primary. Ingraham never actively campaigned. McManus dropped out, then endorsed Fenton.

Here’s a look at where Wick and Fenton stand on some major issues facing the city.

Roads

In recent years, Spokane Valley has been funding road maintenance with money collected through a telephone tax.

The telephone tax has been bringing in less revenue every year, forcing the city to come up with other ways to pay for preventative maintenance and other projects.

Fenton said the city should avoid creating any new taxes to pay for road maintenance and simply incorporate road maintenance costs into the general budget. His main focus, he said, is less on where the money should come from and more on reducing road spending overall. He said many of the city’s recent road projects are unnecessary.

Wick isn’t advocating for a new tax either, but he disagreed with Fenton about the value of the city’s road projects. Preventing a road from falling into disrepair is far cheaper than completely rebuilding it, he said, so keeping roads in good shape is worth the investment. At the same time, Wick noted the city should always be looking for ways to maintain roads more cheaply.

Right now, Wick said he doesn’t have a plan for how the city can pay for roads in the future. Instead, he said he’s eager to see what ideas the city’s recently formed Streets Sustainability Committee comes up with.

Law enforcement

Spokane Valley is a contract city. That means the city operates with a skeleton crew of full-time employees and pays other private or government entities to do a variety of jobs the city lacks the staff to perform.

For law enforcement, the Spokane Valley contracts with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. At different times in the city’s history, city leaders have proposed splitting from the sheriff’s office and creating a separate police department. The question could come up once again as the sheriff’s office, like law enforcement agencies throughout the country, struggles to fill open positions.

Wick and Fenton both are opposed to the Valley creating its own police department.

“We have a great relationship with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office,” Wick said.

Wick said the contract with the sheriff’s office can always be tweaked and improved, but splitting away from the county and creating a separate police department won’t help solve staffing shortages.

Fenton said he wants a full investigation into why the sheriff’s office is struggling to hire and fill all of its open positions.

“We have to find out what’s going on,” Fenton said. “Something’s wrong, and the City Council should be looking into that.”

Parks and trails

In the past couple of years, Spokane Valley City Council has made a handful of purchases with the intent of adding to the city’s parks and trails.

Two acquisitions have stood out: the $2.1 million purchase of 45 acres along Spokane River south of Flora Road and Euclid Avenue and a $1.6 million purchase of 18 acres in the Ponderosa Neighborhood. Both chunks of land are slated to become new parks.

Wick is a strong supporter of the purchases. He said if the city hadn’t bought the Flora Road property, someone else would have.

“We’ll never get another opportunity to come up with 40 acres along the river,” Wick said. “Especially not one that accesses the river at grade.”

Fenton said he wouldn’t have voted to buy either of the future park properties. Houses could have been built on those lands, which would have helped address the city’s housing shortage, he said.

Spokane Valley shouldn’t be spending millions on parks when it has greater needs, Fenton said.

“There needs to be a little bit of the tightening of the belt,” he said.

Homelessness

Many in Spokane Valley say homelessness seems to have risen in the past few years, and they point to a housing shortage as a major driver.

The city continues to lack a shelter. Anyone seeking a bed has to go to one of the Spokane shelters, which the Spokane Valley supports financially.

Wick and Fenton both say there shouldn’t be a shelter in Spokane Valley city limits.

Earlier this year, the City Council hired Arielle Anderson as a housing and homeless coordinator. Anderson helps the city develop plans for addressing housing and homelessness issues, and also interacts directly with homeless individuals. For instance, Anderson might help people in a homeless camp find housing or assist someone without any ID to get the necessary documents required to land a job.

Wick said Anderson’s hiring is a big step in the right direction for the city.

“I’m a strong advocate that we need to increase our outreach to try to connect people to services,” Wick said.

Fenton said he thinks the city shouldn’t have hired Anderson and called the decision “irresponsible.”

“I think that money can be better spent elsewhere,” he said, explaining that he would rather have all of the city’s money dedicated to addressing homelessness be sent to nonprofits, such as the Union Gospel Mission.

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