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

Liberty Lake incumbent faces city planner in November election

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

A Liberty Lake City Council member with almost a full term under her belt faces a challenge in the November election from a candidate with city government experience just over the Idaho border.

Annie Kurtz said she’d like to continue to serve the community as she has since she was elected in 2019.

“I’ve lived here for 12 years,” she said. “We’re committed to staying here. I really want positive things for the community.”

Coeur d’Alene city planner Mike Behary, who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2021 and applied for two vacant council positions, said he’s been trying to get a seat on the council because he wants to be involved in his community.

“I’m just a service-oriented person,” he said. “Some of the decisions you make can last for many years, like trails and open space.”

One of the key issues in Liberty Lake elections this year has been over the library and who should control its policies. A resident asked to remove the book “Gender Queer” from the library, a request that the library board of trustees denied in early 2022. The resident appealed that decision to the City Council, the majority of whom voted in May 2022 to uphold the trustees’ decision to not ban the book.

Kurtz said she is not in favor of banning books. She said the resident admitted that she had never looked at the book and had just heard about it being banned in other communities.

“It’s a copycat book-banning attempt,” she said. “I was really disappointed in the attempt to ban that particular book. It was a test of the library trustees, it was a test of the council. I’m glad we passed that test.”

Behary said he agrees with the decision of the trustees and the council to keep “Gender Queer” on the shelf.

“They were right not to ban the book,” he said.

Later in 2022, 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.

Kurtz, who voted against approving the ordinance, said she was pleased by the outcome. Book-banning is a political issue and council members hold political positions, Kurtz said. She said the trustees were right to change the policy to remove the City Council’s input.

“I think they made the right change,” she said. “I appreciate the mayor’s veto. She listened to the community. The community said they didn’t want this.”

Behary said he believes the council should have control over the library just like it does the police or the parks department, but the trustees should take care of the daily operations.

“As for the policies, I think the trustees should have control over the policies of the library,” he said.

Once the mayor vetoed the ordinance, which was supported by Councilman Chris Cargill, Cargill announced that he would vote against every appointment the mayor made as a form of protest. Kurtz said she thinks that is unprofessional and said she worries Cargill will vote against future funding of the library. The council voted to purchase a new building for the library in 2022, and the building will need to undergo a remodel soon before it can be used for its intended purpose.

“I think it’s unethical,” she said of Cargill’s protest. “I don’t know that we can hold grudges.”

Behary said it’s not for him to decide what Cargill should do.

“That’s Cargill’s right to do that,” he said. “I can’t speak for Chris. It’s up to that person to do what they want as a protest.”

In recent weeks, the council has been discussing creating a Transportation Benefit District to create funding for city streets, possibly from a 0.01% sales tax. The creation of a district would give the city the ability to create a fee on vehicle licenses or to create a sales tax for roads. Kurtz said she supports the creation of the district because it would limit how the money could be spent, but she’s concerned about simply replacing one tax with another. She said she’d like to see the city’s budget finalized before making a final decision.

“I want to make sure we fully fund the roads,” she said.

Behary said he’s not sure he’s in favor of creating a transportation benefit district.

“I would be against a sales tax increase,” he said. “I would look at other ways of funding that.”

He said he believes the city needs to focus on planning future growth and creating walkable mixed-use neighborhoods where appropriate.

Kurtz said she’s pleased the city was able to complete major projects such as the new Interstate 90 overpass and the new clubhouse at Trailhead Golf Course. Looking forward, the city needs to consider what to do with the Town Square property at Appleway Avenue and Signal Drive.

Behary said he wants to have an impact on his community.

“I’m a positive person who is looking to make a positive impact on the community,” he said. “I just really love Liberty Lake. It’s a great place to live.”

Kurtz said she wants to continue to work toward solutions for the city and will work with the interest of the community in mind, not her own.

“I think I bring an important voice to the council,” she said. “I represent parents on the council. I represent women on the council.”