Three political newcomers are hoping to get into city government for the first time and replace outgoing Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Adam “Smash” Smith is a 34-year-old mixed martial arts fighter and owner of Smash Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which has training centers in Spokane Valley, Deer Park and Airway Heights. The former firefighter, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2019 and 2021, said he’s running because Spokane Valley has to be more in-touch with the community and needs more representation from people of color.
Rachel Briscoe, 38, co-owns a construction company and co-founded the Spokane Ladies Business Community. She has Peetz’s endorsement and says her top priority is public safety.
Jessica Yaeger, 43, has spent much of her career working in hospice and assisted living facilities. She’s the Spokane County chapter chair of Moms for Liberty, a conservative parental rights group known for resisting mask mandates in schools and fighting to limit discussions of race and gender identity in classrooms. Yaeger has endorsements from Mayor Pam Haley and City Councilman Rod Higgins.
Like Briscoe, she’s primarily focusing on public safety.
“As a woman, I don’t feel safe in my community at times because of the crime that we have going on,” she said.
On her campaign website, Yaeger says she wants Spokane Valley to form its own police department.
At first glance, Spokane Valley seems to have its own law enforcement agency. Its officers drive around in SUVs marked “Spokane Valley Police” and it even has a chief of police – Dave Ellis.
But despite those trappings, Spokane Valley pays Spokane County to enforce the law. The city’s officers are really Sheriff’s Office deputies, and Ellis works for Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels.
Yaeger writes on her website that creating a separate police department would improve public safety. She added a caveat to that stance during an interview and said that, while she’d personally like the Valley to create its own police department, she’d only support the change if it made financial sense and had the backing of city residents.
Briscoe and Smith say they’d like to keep contracting with the county.
“We essentially get our own force without the liability and costs other cities have to pay,” Briscoe said.
Smith said breaking from the county wouldn’t be shrewd. The Sheriff’s Office already has a SWAT team, helicopters and drones. Creating all of that from scratch would be expensive, he said.
“Fiscally, starting up an entire police force with a chief and a hierarchy and everything like that, it’s not easy on a town,” Smith said.
Briscoe said she believes the city can improve public safety by having police officers spend more time proactively interacting with community members. She also said the City Council can make the Valley safer by promoting decency.
“I believe that a lot of what we’re dealing with in more of the petty crimes can be solved with decency with our neighbors – knowing each other, having each other’s backs,” she said, adding that the city could try to improve decency by encouraging block parties.
The candidates have somewhat similar views on homelessness.
Smith said he doesn’t want the city to have homeless shelter beds. The Valley doesn’t currently have any, although Family Promise plans to add a few in the near future for families.
Homeless services are mostly in the city of Spokane. Therefore, Smith said, shelter beds should mostly be in Spokane, too.
“Trekking across the town from one end to the next to go get services isn’t very efficient for people that need services right away,” he said.
Yaeger said she wants to help people who truly want to exit homelessness, but doesn’t want the city to pay to put people in hotels or support the creation of any low-barrier shelter beds.
Low-barrier shelters accept most or all individuals, even people who aren’t sober, while high-barrier beds place more stringent requirements on guests.
Spokane Valley should focus its resources on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place, Yaeger said.
“It’s cheaper to prevent homelessness than it is to fix it once it’s there,” she said.
Briscoe shares some of Yaeger’s views on homelessness. For instance, she agrees that the city shouldn’t be spending money to help people unless they truly want to stop being homeless.
She opposes shelters somewhat more bluntly than Yaeger does.
“Part of me feels like, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” she said. “Building more shelters doesn’t feel like the right next step.”
None of the candidates offer concrete plans for addressing Spokane Valley’s road maintenance backlog.
Spokane Valley’s roads are currently in good condition, but city staffers say the city will need to start spending a lot more if it wants to keep them that way. In recent years the Valley has spent approximately $8 million annually on roadwork, even though its own employees say that number has to more than double.
Unless the city dramatically slashes some portion of its budget – which is roughly $110 million – it will need to impose a new tax to significantly increase road-preservation spending.
Yaeger said she won’t know how to address the funding shortfall until she’s had time to parse the city’s budget. Briscoe said she doesn’t have any answers but looks forward to solving the problem once she’s elected to the City Council. Smith said that he doesn’t know the solution.