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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Upcoming Spokane Valley elections feature intriguing match-ups

Spokane Valley City Hall is seen on May 11.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Three Spokane Valley City Council seats are up for grabs this year, and all three races offer plenty of intrigue.

Incumbent Tim Hattenburg, the lone council member with connections to the Democratic Party, faces a well-known challenger in Rob Chase. Chase is a former Republican state lawmaker who lost his re-election bid in November.

Longtime City Councilman Arne Woodard hopes to fend off Al Merkel, a Spokane Valley political junkie who co-owns a dog grooming business with his wife.

Three political outsiders are vying for the seat held by City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz, who isn’t seeking re-election. Adam “Smash” Smith is a mixed martial arts fighter who owns SMASH Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Rachel Briscoe is the co-owner of Briscoe Construction and Jessica Yaeger works at Angel Senior Care.

The Spokane Valley City Council has seven members, each of whom is officially nonpartisan and represents the entire city. Unlike in Spokane, where the mayor has real power over the day-to-day operations of city government, Spokane Valley’s mayor is a council member and largely a figurehead.

Whereas the Spokane City Council often focuses on crafting new legislation, the Valley City Council spends much of its time discussing the details of government services, such as specific road projects or park plans. In Hattenburg’s words, the council mostly deals with the “nuts and bolts of running the city.”

While the council is divided into a four-member majority and three-member minority, disagreements don’t tend to fall along liberal versus conservative lines.

For instance, one of the City Council’s biggest arguments last year was about where to place a bronze bear statue, with Mayor Pam Haley, Rod Higgins, Laura Padden and Woodard outvoting Peetz, Hattenburg and Ben Wick.

Council position 2

Only one of this year’s Spokane Valley City Council races will have a relevant primary.

Smith, Briscoe and Yaeger all want to replace Peetz, who hasn’t endorsed any of them. None of the trio has held elected office.

Briscoe said she’s running because she wants to be civically engaged and keep an eye on how the city spends taxpayer dollars. She describes herself as conservative, particularly when it pertains to family values and fiscal responsibility. If she wins, Briscoe said she’ll prioritize public safety, infrastructure and housing.

Yaeger has spent a significant portion of her adult life managing assisted living and memory care facilities. She said her background has taught her how to manage budgets and navigate laws. Like Briscoe, she describes herself as conservative.

Yaeger said she’d prioritize homelessness, infrastructure, mental health and public safety.

On her campaign website, she said she supports forming a separate city police department. Spokane Valley contracts with Spokane County for law enforcement services. While the city has its own police department in name, its officers are officially part of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

“There’s no timeline on it, it’s just something that I would work toward,” she said in an interview.

Smith has unsuccessfully run for the Spokane Valley City Council in the past. He declined to say where he falls on the political spectrum and said he’s “not looking to this to be a politician.”

“I don’t really like politics,” Smith said, “but I really like community leadership.”

Smith said he believes his background will enable him to better represent Valley residents from all walks of life and give a voice to underrepresented groups.

“I’m very diverse culturally – my ethnicity, my socioeconomic status and past and present is very dynamic,” he said. “Really, I don’t have an agenda of what I’m going to try to change, but when those issues arise, I know I want to be the voice that represents people that I don’t feel have been represented.”

Council position 6

Hattenburg won election to the City Council in 2019 after being involved in local politics for more than 30 years. The former geography and history teacher has been a Democratic Party precinct committee officer since the early 1990s, served on the county library board for a decade and twice ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature.

While he sometimes votes in the minority alongside Wick and Peetz, Hattenburg has generally had a less abrasive relationship with the City Council majority and frequently expresses his disdain for partisanship.

“I’m here to try to do the best I can for the citizens of Spokane Valley, regardless of the political situation,” Hattenburg said.

When the balance of power on council shifted further to the right in 2022, Haley stripped Wick and Peetz of most of their boards and committees. In contrast, she gave Hattenburg the seat he wanted on the Spokane Transit Authority board.

Hattenburg said he’s running again because he wants to see some major projects completed. He also emphasized the importance of the city’s law enforcement contract with the Sheriff’s Office and said he wants the arrangement to continue. Republican Sheriff John Nowels has donated to Hattenburg’s campaign.

Chase did not respond to requests for comment.

The former county treasurer and 4th Legislative District representative is well-known for promoting COVID-19 and election fraud conspiracy theories, advocating for a return to the gold standard and arguing that Eastern Washington should form a 51st state.

Hattenburg said he believes splitting away from the West Side is a terrible idea that would cause enormous financial problems for Eastern Washington.

Council position 3

No one on the City Council has served longer than Woodard, who has held his seat since 2011.

A former real estate broker and avid gardener, Woodard is a jocular council member who often attends meetings in Hawaiian shirts. The conservative is especially passionate about “local control” and frequently speaks in Olympia against proposed legislation that would place new zoning requirements on cities.

Woodard said he’s running for re-election because someone close to him told him to, and “because I do a good job.”

“I’m consistent,” he said. “I’m pretty well-predictable, and I’m good for business and the public.”

If he holds onto his seat, Woodard said he’ll focus on public safety, roads and economic development.

“I’m going to continue to try to help grow the Valley in a manner that gives people good opportunities and well-paying jobs.”

His opponent, Merkel, said he’s running because he’s worried about rising crime and the impact of population growth on city services. The former government services contractor describes himself as a “Ronald Reagan conservative.”

“I’m a fiscal conservative who believes in small government,” he said.

While he’s never held elected office, Merkel has run for the council before and expresses opinions about a variety of council issues. He criticizes Woodard for a handful of his positions.

For instance, he points out that Woodard has discussed the possibility of creating a new senior center as opposed to keeping it in CenterPlace Regional Event Center. He also criticizes Woodard for supporting a 1% property tax increase last year, even though the council rejected the idea.

Merkel said he has no interest in “culture wars,” and wants the City Council to steer clear of meaningless proclamations.

“I think that proclamations in general are a waste of time and city resources,” he said.