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Councilman Jonathan Bingle issues complaint about Stuckart to HUD over Spokane homeless shelter

UPDATED: Wed., May 4, 2022

The proposed homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent has more than 33,000 square feet of indoor space.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The proposed homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent has more than 33,000 square feet of indoor space. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As the city of Spokane prepares to try again at finding an operator for a proposed homeless shelter on East Trent Avenue, a city councilman says he has made a formal complaint against another official accused of derailing the first attempt.

Councilman Jonathan Bingle has made an ethics complaint against Ben Stuckart, chair of Spokane’s Continuum of Care Board. The complaint, which accuses Stuckart of improper actions, was sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development .

The Continuum of Care Board, which works with the city to develop homelessness policies and annually distributes federal HUD funding, was once tasked with recommending a potential operator for a 33,000-square-foot homeless shelter out of submissions received with a request for proposals issued in March.

The process has started over, however, with the city citing apparent conflicts of interest and alleged breach of process.

The city received three separate submissions from Jewels Helping Hands, The Guardians Foundation and Salvation Army Spokane during the first request for proposals process. Under the Jewels proposal, Stuckart – a former Spokane City Council president – was proposed to serve as a first-year project manager with a salary of $151,200.

Stuckart has said members with apparent conflicts of interest had recused themselves from board votes related to the proposals.

The board’s charter, however, states members must fully disclose the nature of the interest and “recuse themselves from discussing, lobbying or voting” whenever they or any immediate family members have a financial or personal interest in an issue before the board.

“The appearance of impropriety by elected or appointed officials’ casts doubt on the fairness of government,” Bingle said in a statement. “The citizens of Spokane deserve to know that the process to select a new shelter has integrity and that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being stewarded appropriately.”

Bingle referenced how a state auditor’s report in 2021 found Stuckart, in his capacity of City Council president, may have violated city conflict of interest law when he allegedly helped steer a city warming center contract to Jewels in 2019. Stuckart has denied this claim.

In an email Wednesday, Stuckart said Bingle’s complaint is a retread of concerns expressed by Mayor Nadine Woodward and the city administration two weeks ago when the restarted process was announced. Woodward defeated Stuckart in the 2019 election for Spokane mayor.

He also decried the letter as a distraction from rising crime and homelessness rates, describing Bingle as a political grandstander “that is in over his head.”

“The council member should focus on doing his job and solve the issues of the city, not harassing volunteers who are actually making a difference,” he said.

Beyond the conflicts of interest, the request for proposals process was also restarted after the proposals were shared outside of the board before the recommendation process was completed. City officials have said this opened the process to outside influence.

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