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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council ratifies mayor’s overdose emergency declaration

Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown speaks to reporters at a news conference Tuesday meant to address the opioid problem at Second Avenue and Division Street.  (Alexandra Duggan / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane City Council on Thursday unanimously ratified Mayor Lisa Brown’s emergency declaration, which she initiated through executive order on Tuesday, showing support for her efforts to address the overdose crisis citywide and particularly where it overlaps with chronic homelessness near Second Avenue and Division Street.

Brown’s emergency declaration pledges enhanced police patrols near that troubled intersection, increased withdrawal intervention conducted by the Spokane Fire Department and additional transportation to treatment and recovery facilities for those suffering from addiction. The administration also quickly moved to temporarily reopen the Cannon Street Shelter and enter into a 90-day lease for Empire Health Foundation to operate a temporary center to help connect those seeking treatment with services and transitional housing.

State law gives broad powers to the executive of a jurisdiction, in this case the mayor, to enter into contracts and spend city funds after declaring a state of emergency, actions that often require council approval and time-consuming bidding processes. Those emergency powers become effective immediately after the executive signs that declaration.

City law also gives the Spokane City Council the authority to approve, modify or reject those powers.

Brown’s Tuesday executive order had identified that her administration would use funds from the state Department of Commerce and the city’s portion of opioid settlements the state won from pharmaceutical companies and distributors.

The council’s action Thursday reinforced that the city’s distressed general fund and remaining $4.9 million COVID-19 relief dollars, the best use of which is a matter of continued debate by the council, could not be used through the mayor’s temporary emergency powers.

The council also put a clear end date for the emergency declaration of Sept. 3, unless the mayoral administration terminates it earlier.

Councilman Michael Cathcart had introduced an amendment to push up that termination date to July 22, which the council would have had sole authority to extend, arguing that this would give the city’s legislative body “leverage” to require regular communication about the administration’s actions through the emergency declaration.

That amendment was voted down 5-2, with Councilman Jonathan Bingle the only other member in support. Council President Betsy Wilkerson, who owns and operates Moore’s Assisted Living, argued that social services providers would be hesitant to enter into contracts without a guarantee that those contracts would last longer than six weeks.

Councilmen Paul Dillon and Zack Zappone offered instead to add an item to a monthly council committee meeting when the administration would be asked to provide regular updates.

“I have faith in this administration that they’ll be there,” Zappone said.