OUTLANDER serves as a weekly round up of Inland Northwest outdoor recreation and natural resources news. This feature will highlight a wide variety of issues and events, ranging from camping stories to national environmental disputes. We’ll also try to include some scenic photos. Feel free to pass along suggestions or curiosities that celebrate the Great Outdoors.
Happy Thanksgiving! Today officially starts the holiday season. Check out information on cutting your own Christmas tree in the Colville National Forest, or from national forest in Idaho. Get out there and find the perfect tree, just like the U.S. Capitol tree from last year. (Inlander/USFS)
Federal officials revoke permit for controversial wolf hunting derby scheduled for January in Idaho. (AP)
Learn a little about the the Inland Northwest’s redband trout in a new “Trout Tuesday” feature. (USFWS)
Suggestions for the best early season snoeshoeing trails in the Cascade and Olympic mountains. (Seattle Times)
A small North Dakota town grapples with constant train traffic. (Reuters)
Ghostly photos from the Idaho range. (Outdoor Photographer)
In a bizarre and tragic twist, investigators find a hiker took photos of a black bear in New Jersey prior to fatal attack. (NJ.com)
Some predictions for the next year in outdoor adventure, extreme sports and fitness. (Outside)
Turkey Day: How wild turkey transfer programs improve genetic diversity. (The Nature Conservancy)
While most city officials seem open to a proposal filed today to change how the mayor’s salary gets set, Spokane city council members may conflict over the timing of a ballot measure that would put the matter before voters next year.
Councilman Mike Fagan filed a ballot proposal today that would alter the city’s charter to have the Salary Review Commission, the same entity that sets the city council’s salaries, evaluate and set salary for the mayor. The issue arose earlier this fall after a preliminary budget included a $7,000 raise for the mayor.
“It’s very, very simple,” he says. “All we’re proposing is using the same mechanism [as applies to the council.] That is as simple as you can get.”
City council members had voiced strong opposition to the mayor’s proposed raise, sparking a strong public debate over whether the existing charter rules still served as the best method for determining salary.
Meanwhile, Fagan scheduled three public forums on the issue, noting a total combined attendance of just 10 people. In hopes of putting the issue before voters on the February ballot, he hurried to file a proposal this week for the council.
“I made the decision to step forward and address the issue myself,” he says.
The ballot proposal would shift responsibility for the mayor’s salary to the Salary Review Commission. Fagan noted that commission might have to be restructured to ensure an impartial decision, but he felt it would be the best alternative. The mayor proposed a similar change recently as part of an Affordability Plan.
“It’s something that the mayor supports,” city spokesman Brian Coddington says, “and it’s probably the next step in the conversation.”
Council President Ben Stuckart says there has not been much prior conversation, arguing Fagan filed the proposal without bringing it through the regular committee process. Stuckart says he doesn’t oppose the idea, but opposes the way it has been rushed through the process.
“The timing needs to be discussed," he says.
Stuckart explains Spokane Public Schools and Spokane Transit Authority officials have contacted him about the potential impact on their upcoming ballot measures. The council president says the salary issue unnecessarily “muddies the water.”
When the proposal comes before the council, Stuckart says, he plans to argue for delaying the issue until the ballot in August. Fagan says he doesn’t understand why Stuckart would let schools or the STA dictate how the city operates.
“Changing the charter is really, really an important thing,” Fagan says. “If this was as hot-buttoned as everybody says it was, why are we pushing this back to August?”
The council will likely discuss the issue in greater detail next week.
If you thought the holiday season might dampen the Spokane City Council's antipathy toward Mayor David Condon, think again.
The council passed a $600 million budget Monday night that has the potential to strip Condon's version of the budget of some of the raises for his cabinet and funds about $600,000 worth of programs and positions he'd skipped over.
The mayor drew ire earlier this year when he released his draft 2015 budget, which included raises averaging 2 percent for department heads within the city, including Police Chief Frank Straub, Fire Chief Bobby Williams and the mayor himself because the city charter says his salary should match the highest paid city employee (which, according to the new budget, would be Straub). A majority of the council took issue with the raises because other requests they'd made — including more funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, a new planner and an attorney to work for the council instead of the administration's legal department — weren't included.
"I'm committed to changing the imbalance in this budget," Councilmember Amber Waldref said at a press conference criticizing the mayor's budget in early October.
Condon argued that the raises were required by certain contract agreements (for example, Straub's salary is tied to what lower-ranking officers are paid, which is determined by contract negotiations) and "step increases" (essentially guaranteed raises that high-ranking officials get after they've been at the city for certain lengths of time). On his own raise, he later relented and said he wouldn't take the $7,000 increase he'd originally budgeted for. He also says he doesn't take the pension he's eligible for in order to save the city money.
Even so, City Council President Ben Stuckart cited a piece of the city's administrative policy that says employees "must have received a performance evaluation" in order to get their step increases. In a letter dated October 20, Stuckart asked the city's Human Resources Director Heather Lowe for copies of the performance evaluations for all exempt employees who'd been "deemed eligible for a step increase."
Two weeks later, Lowe wrote Stuckart back pointing him toward the administration's performance measures, which gauge whole departments' success based on certain types of services they provide rather than evaluating individual employees. She called the performance review process "extremely outdated and ineffective." So, how many employees did receive performance reviews and will therefore keep their budgeted raises?
"I assume none because of their answer [to my request]," Stuckart says.
In response, the council's adopted 2015 budget removes any raises for exempt employees who are not given performance evaluations by the end of 2014.
In another coup, the council defunded a controversial position within the fire department, redirecting that $108,000 salary to the department's overtime fund. The Assistant Director of Integrated Medical Services position, held by Mike Lopez, was funded through a budget transfer that some, including local fire union president and Stuckart ally Don Waller, have argued violated city code. Some on the council have also taken issue with the fact that Lopez's position, which is exempt from civil service, was created shortly before a court decision reversed the fire department's expansion of exempt positions. Stuckart told the Inlander Monday that he wasn't sure if the fire department could continue paying Lopez from its overtime fund, or whether the move would mean Lopez would be fired.
"All I know is how to move the money around," Stuckart said.
In other changes to the budget, the council funded the following:
Stuckart says the money for those efforts came from a combination of excess revenue left over from last year's budget, money that had been directed toward reserves and savings on the implementation of the city's new emergency dispatch system. He says he didn't count on any of the potential savings from withholding the mayor's proposed raises since it remains unclear how much those savings could be. (Instead, those will go back into the corresponding departments.)
While the council's changes were dramatic in some ways, both council members and the administration's budget guru, Tim Dunivant, acknowledged that in the shadow of all $600 million in the budget, the council's changes were minimal.
After a brisk discussion and some public testimony in favor of the COPS funding, Councilman Mike Fagan cast the lone no vote. He says he doesn't support a new council attorney, the apprenticeship enforcement officer or the new planner. And while it was clear from the start he was in a very lonely minority, he remains ever the idealist.
"You stand on principle," he said after the meeting. "You stand for what you believe."
We were too busy protesting about the lives lost. Meanwhile, the protestors were on hand…
Apparently many of the small businesses that were looted and/or burned in the Ferguson riot…
Maybe you can dream of getting out of a culture that is self-defeating at every…
Michael Brown did not die because he was black in America. He robbed a convenience…
When is the winner announced???