by BONNIE MAGER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & just returned from a trip to yet again find that my fellow commissioners immediately scheduled a meeting in my absence -- the last time this happened, Spokane County ended up owning a raceway. This time they scheduled a press conference to hype the raceway they bought. I would have never guessed upon taking office that it would be such a risk to leave town.
Having been in office now for a year and a half, I can tell you it has been an Alice Through the Looking Glass experience -- that is to say, things are rarely quite what they seem.
Long before the idea of running for office entered my mind, I served as the executive director of the Neighborhood Alliance -- an organization committed to the preservation of neighborhoods and a champion of the level playing field. At the Alliance, we fielded many calls and got a number of tips that alleged corruption in city and county government.
When the Alliance filed suit against the county for withholding public documents related to the hiring of Steve Harris (the son of former County Commissioner Phil Harris), I was no longer employed by the Alliance, yet my soon-to-be fellow commissioner, Todd Mielke, chalked up the suit to "political motivation."
When I spoke out against spending millions of taxpayer dollars on the purchase of a contaminated raceway, both Commissioner Mark Richard and Mielke laid it to "political motivation."
When I blew the whistle on their illegal secret meeting with raceway operators out at the track, according to Richard, it was "my bad and not theirs" and once again, the phrase "politically motivated" came leaping to his defense.
In the short time since we witnessed Mark Richard captured on the front page of the Spokesman exuberantly bidding against the private sector for the raceway, a couple of very important related events have taken place. Keep your eye on the bouncing ball -- or, perhaps I should say, watch the shells carefully.
The rationale for buying the raceway has morphed from:
The Consideration of Purchase Rationale: "It is reasonable to buy the raceway in order to save a unique facility IF it pencils out AND the private sector does not step up to buy it"...
The Post-Hearing "Need" for Public Ownership Rationale: "We must buy this facility with public tax dollars to keep the private sector from buying it, failing to make a profit, and then selling it off to developers,"
The Bold and Visionary Rationale: "We are bold visionaries, spending these millions of dollars and countless more to create a world-class sports complex (and, oh yes, a law enforcement training center) that will make Spokane rich!"
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & eanwhile, back on Planet Earth, purchasing the raceway cost us the opportunity to apply for a $500,000 matching grant because now the match money is uncertain. Our Drug Court needs $200,000 to function at full capacity -- $100,000 less than the cost of the yearly debt service on the track -- yet much hand wringing and foot dragging goes on and on over approving this proven cost-saving program to cut recidivism.
The economy is tanking, the county Road Department is running out of funds, our mental health system is in dire straits and, among other things, we need to ask "you the people" to let us dig deep into your pockets for a new jail and wastewater treatment plant in the near future. All of this comes with a price tag of hundreds of millions of new tax dollars.
As I keep trying to advocate for prioritizing the many, many needs of our community into some semblance of "needs vs. wants" in this time of shrinking resources, my efforts are met with the trivialization of my concerns, staged events and the pat sound bite: "politically motivated."
And after being simultaneously hurt, angry and amused each and every time that I am accused of being "politically motivated," I have reflected and decided that my colleagues, Richard and Mielke, are right. As a politician and public servant, my actions are politically motivated -- just as they were as a citizen advocate and public servant. I am indeed still "politically motivated" to give you the best decisions and government that I can, and to point out when I believe you are not getting good government or a good value for your dollar.
So from now on: Please, call me politically motivated.
Bonnie Mager, a Democrat, is a Spokane County Commissioner. Fellow commissioners Todd Mielke and Mark Richard are Republicans.