Spokane North Notes
A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary Club
October 5, 2015
Editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Photos: Eric Johnson
Program Coordinator: Brad Stark
          The format, said program coordinator Brad Stark, “will be less like a debate and more like speed dating.”
          Indeed, the two candidates for Spokane mayor and the two for City Council president had four minutes each to make their “stump speech” and four more to answer questions and discuss issues with club members at each of four luncheon tables.
           Judging by the intensity and volume of the table-talk conversations, the format worked well as the incumbents, Mayor David Condon and Council President Ben Stuckart, shared their views with mayoral challenger Shar Lichty and Council president challenger John Ahern.
           In her opening remarks, Lichty, a 2010 EWU grad, said she has been a community organizer the past six years, pressuring lawmakers for improvements pretty much along the lines of Proposition 1, the “Community Bill of Rights”  measure which would mandate specific quality of life and wage improvements in Spokane.
           Lichty, who has four children and four grandchildren, said her campaign goals were “accessibility, transparency and full accountability” in city government.
           Noting that “my young daughter’s life was saved by a firefighter,” she stressed her support for “full police oversight” and a “fully-funded fire department.
           “I live near Audubon Park, and see deer outside every day, so I think the Spokane slogan of ‘near nature, near perfect,’ while grammatically incorrect, is appropriate,” Lichty said.
           Stuckart said during his 3 ½ years as council president, “we’ve done a good job of taking care of the basics.”  Utility rates have been controlled, he said, and funding measures for streets, Riverfront Park and the libraries have been passed with large majority votes.
          While police staffing has been raised, more officers still are needed, Stuckart, and the others, agreed.
          “Raising taxes is not an option in a city like Spokane, which has a high poverty rate,” Stuckart said.  The low median income, he said, hurts Spokane’s credit rating. The answer, he added, is to provide incentives for more businesses to move to Spokane.  He mentioned a well-positioned 180-acre industrial space in Hillyard, located near the BNSF rail spur and North Spokane Corridor freeway.
           Stuckart also suggests zoning revisions, mentioning that large apartment projects have been built in the far north and far south sides of Spokane, while changes from suburban-style zoning to better urban zoning would allow more high-density developments like Kendall Yards.
           Ahern said that “we need to bring back businesses that have left Spokane and we need to bring back a modicum of respect for the City Council.”   He said comments he has received from his door-bell contacts and from business people have indicated a loss of respect for the council.
           Ahern said he majored in business and sales at the University of Denver, has been a successful business owner and has made “nine sales trips overseas.”  During his 10 years as a representative in the State Legislature, Ahern said, he helped secure a home for veterans at fifth and Cowley and passage of a felony DUI bill.
           “Not too long ago,” he said, “unemployment was 8.1 percent in Spokane, while right across the border, in Idaho, it was 4.5 percent.  We need to make Spokane a business-friendly city,” Ahern said, adding he opposes Spokane becoming a “sanctuary city” and implementing a $15-an-hour minimum wage and mandatory paid leave programs.
           Condon talked about his studies at Boston College and starting five coffee shops in Boston.  He said he ran his dad’s dental company and a tugboat company in North Idaho before becoming deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers.
           The mayor said the current police staffing is “hovering” at 307, but 25 more officers are needed.  He said the city budget process now covers several months and is discussed at community and neighborhood meetings prior to passage.  Water rates, which had experienced double-digit annual increases, have been revised to much more modest increase rates, he said.
           Condon praised the voter-approved $853 million in infrastructure projects, including streets and Riverfront Park renovations, scheduled over the next six years.  “And these were done on today’s tax rates,” he added.  He also noted the 11 percent increase in median household income and the $850 million in new construction in the past few years.
           At one of the four tables during the “speed-dating” round-robin exchanges, each candidate was asked about the process of replacing the police chief who recently was forced to resign.  Condon and Stuckart both said they prefer a national search, but said that’s not a good idea until after next month’s election.  “No one would apply until they know who is in office,” Condon said.  Both Ahern and Lichty said they prefer a promotion from within existing ranks.
           After saying how important the North Spokane Corridor was to growing Spokane, Condon was asked how soon the freeway could be completed.  “It’s a 15-year program, but my gut instinct, and this is just me, is that the planning and right-of-way acquisition for some other state projects are not as complete as this, so our roadway may get funded earlier,” the mayor said.
            Lichty said she does support the changes, including expanded employee benefits, outlined in Prop.  1.  One business owner said that if the measure passes, “Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene will be real busy” (absorbing businesses moving from Spokane).   Lichty said all Spokane workers deserve a living wage.
            Prefacing the theme for the program, Sgt.-at-Arms Eric Johnson asked one table “who was the last two-term mayor?”  The answer, correctly stated, was David Rodgers (mayor during Expo ’74 and Rep. McMorris-Rodgers’ father-in-law).  Mayor Condon aims to break the streak of one-term mayors, a streak Lichty wants to continue, at least through this November.
(Ed. Note: Next week’s program features City Council candidates.)