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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council member Zack Zappone makes mark early in first term

Zack Zappone, then a candidate for Spokane City Council, and Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson celebrate early results during the election night watch party for Democratic candidates at the Ruby River Hotel on Nov. 2.   (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

There’s a lot Zack Zappone can accomplish on the Spokane City Council – but can he get lights in the skate park?

His students would like to know.

Zappone, who took office earlier this month, remains on a part-time contract to teach 10th- and 11th-grade English at North Central High School.

“Being in the classroom, especially in a school in my district, keeps me connected to the community I serve,” Zappone told The Spokesman-Review. “Nobody keeps it as real as students keep it real.”

Zappone, too, has kept it real, already engaging in tense conversations in his first days as a City Council member.

During a meeting earlier this month, he directly called out Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration’s homelessness response through the wintry weather and its inability to identify a new low-barrier shelter. He criticized the way Woodward described the damage left to the Spokane Convention Center by a temporary warming shelter during a recent cold snap.

“This focuses on dehumanizing people and painting them as criminals when it sounds like we didn’t have the appropriate resources for the center in the first place,” Zappone told administration officials.

Zappone and Councilwoman Karen Stratton co-wrote a letter calling on the administration to abide by city law and plan to provide adequate shelter. After a flood of calls and emails from concerned constituents, Zappone said he was engaging in the council’s role as an oversight to the administration.

“We don’t have a solution (on shelter), so I view my role as a council member to bring up those issues that the community wanted addressed,” Zappone said.

That said, Zappone said he wants to work with the administration on finding space for a new shelter – although he noted he does not have the same time or staff resources as the mayor’s office.

Stratton, Zappone’s seatmate in District 3, said writing the letter with Zappone was a “smooth process.”

“I was impressed and relieved it was easy as it was, because he’s very disciplined and he likes to be prepared,” Stratton said.

Zappone stood apart from the council’s other new member, Jonathan Bingle, when it came to a vote on the appropriation of $13.7 million in American Rescue Plan funding in their very first meeting. Bingle requested more time, noting that he’d only just taken office and had unanswered questions.

But Zappone felt comfortable voting on the proposal. He said he’d had access to experts in City Hall in the weeks before he took office, and American Rescue Plan spending was something he’d been asked about on the campaign trail.

“I was ready to go on that one and it matched my priorities,” Zappone said, such as increasing access to housing.

Zappone takes office as the City Council continues to hold its meetings virtually, but he doesn’t feel hindered by the format. And like many offices, the situation is a bit of a hybrid, with people working from home and in person.

“It’s been a good transition. A lot of council staff are in and out throughout the day,” Zappone said. “While we’re virtual, we’re really connected all the time.”

When the WebEx camera isn’t rolling, Zappone has been settling into the new gig like he would any other – figuring out how to log in to computers, employee benefits and other council-related tasks.

He’s also focused on finding ways to balance a busy schedule, because as a City Council member Zappone has quickly learned how in demand his ear is.

The very people and organizations to which he once had to pitch himself as a candidate now want to meet with him to discuss issues including traffic-calming measures on Indian Trail or tax exemptions in the Garland District.

“It’s super exciting to get those opportunities to dig into the weeds,” Zappone said.

Zappone has also been focused on community outreach. Even after two campaigns in the past two years – one for state Legislature in 2020 and the City Council campaign in 2021 – Zappone said he still has more people to meet.

He’s been meeting with department heads in city hall, setting up police ride-alongs and discussions with neighborhood councils.

In addition to regular City Council meetings, Zappone is also fitting into his roles on various boards and committees. Those include positions on the Spokane Transit Authority board of directors and the council’s Urban Experience Committee, both of which tackle matters of urban planning and transportation about which Zappone is passionate.

Zappone also has a role of one of the few openly LGBTQ members in the City Council’s history, which he chose not to highlight until after he won election. Zappone’s bisexuality is a part of who he is, much like being a teacher, but he said it’s not the reason why he ran for office.

“Those are all different parts of the identity and perspective I bring,” Zappone said, adding that election of an LGBTQ council member is an important sign of progress for the city.