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

Former Liberty Lake city councilman hopes to win back his seat in race against Cheney High School teacher

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Appointed Liberty Lake City Council member Tom Sahlberg said when he was appointed that he would not run for the seat and has kept his word, opening up a vacant seat that has attracted interest from a former council member and a political newcomer.

Mike Kennedy was first elected to the council in 2017 and stepped down in early 2022 when his wife became ill. Kennedy said that at the time he had the option to take a sabbatical instead, but didn’t feel that it would be fair to taxpayers to hold the seat even when he wasn’t at council meetings to represent them. His wife recovered after a few months and Kennedy applied for a vacant seat on the council in June 2022, but Jed Spencer was selected instead.

Kennedy said it seems fitting that he is running to fill the rest of the term of Position 6, which is the seat he held before he stepped down.

“I feel able to run for that position and serve out the rest of my four years and then I’m done,” he said. “I believe in term limits, I really do.”

Michael Hamblet, a teacher at Cheney High School, has long thought of running for public office, but said the library issue in Liberty Lake pushed him to do it now rather than later.

“The library ordinance was the catalyst,” he said. “I was thinking four years from now. I’ve always wanted to get into politics in elected office.”

A resident asked to remove the book “Gender Queer” from the library, which the library board of trustees denied in early 2022. The resident appealed that decision to the City Council, the majority of which voted in May 2022 to uphold the trustees’ decision to not ban the book.

Later that year, the trustees spent months discussing updates and changes to library policies, including the book challenge policy. They approved a policy that would make the trustees the final decision-makers in book removal decisions, not the City Council. In early 2023, four council members pushed a new city ordinance that would give the City Council the power to approve or reject any library policy. The ordinance was approved by those four council members, but was later vetoed by Mayor Cris Kaminskas.

One of the library trustees is Brad Hamblet, Michael Hamblet’s father. Hamblet said he didn’t like the contentiousness of the process.

“I didn’t like the divisiveness it caused,” he said. “I saw people vilified on both sides. I thought better explanations could have been given.”

He said he was also concerned that the majority of the City Council wanted to make the library control ordinance retroactive.

“They wanted to go back into the past and change a policy that already existed,” he said. “Retroactive policy is never a good idea.”

He said he believes the decision on whether or not a book should be banned should stay with the trustees because their positions aren’t political like the City Council seats are.

“They have a job to do that’s not political,” he said.

Hamblet said he’s not in favor of banning any books.

“I’m not a fan of stifling freedom of speech,” he said. “Individuals are smart and they can choose whether or not they want to consume a piece of literature or not.”

Kennedy was not serving on the council when the book ban and library ordinance came before it. He said that the Revised Code of Washington states that the City Council is in charge of city departments, so he believes the library policy should not have been changed to remove the City Council as the final arbiter or whether a book should be banned.

“The library is funded by the city,” he said. “Because of that, the library comes under the rules and regulations of the city. Where does the buck stop? It stops at elected officials.”

Kennedy said that while he supports the work of the library, he does not believe the book banning policy should have been changed. “That I do not support,” he said.

After the mayor vetoed the library ordinance, Councilman Chris Cargill announced that he would be voting against any person recommended for appointment by the mayor in protest.

Kennedy said he doesn’t agree with that tactic. “You just can’t do that,” he said.

Recently the council has been discussing creating a Transportation Benefit District to collect money to fund street projects. Kennedy said he favors creating the district and reducing or eliminating the utility tax currently in place.

Hamblet said he’s in favor of creating the Transportation Benefit District, but doesn’t believe the .01% sales tax being discussed as the funding mechanism would be enough to fully fund the city’s streets. He said if the city creates a new sales tax to replace the utility tax, it’s still a tax.

“It’s not a tax cut,” he said. “We’re changing the burden.”

He’s concerned that a new sales tax would impact businesses in town, such as the car dealerships.

Hamblet said he’d like to serve on the council to utilize his training and education in creating policy.

“I want to end the divisiveness in our community,” he said. “I realize we’re not that far apart. I have the education, experience and training to make policy that bridges that gap and is transparent.”

Kennedy said he would keep an eye on the city’s budget if he’s elected again and he knows how the city works.

“I’m knowledgeable. I’m experienced,” he said. “I learned how to read a financial sheet. I’m good at numbers.”