Like the mayor’s race, the City Council contest in northwest Spokane’s District 3 is quickly being consumed by debate over the Otto Zehm case.
Steve Salvatori, the conservative candidate in the race, wants to know who knew what and when they knew it.
At issue is the recent revelation that the U.S. Attorney’s Office sought meetings two years ago with Spokane’s top officials because of “urgent … ethical concerns” it had with the city’s legal department. None of those officials ever met with them.
Mayor Mary Verner, who is running for reelection, has declined to say whether she knew about these concerns.
“If the city attorney didn’t know about it, he needs to read his mail,” says Salvatori. “If the city attorney knew and didn’t tell the mayor, that’s wrong. If the mayor knew and didn’t tell the Council, that’s wrong. I mean, a guy lost his life here.”
Zehm died in 2006 after being mistaken for a robber and violently confronted by Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson in a Zip Trip.
Joy Jones, a newcomer to politics with the backing of Spokane’s progressive community, says much of the fallout from Zehm’s death could have been avoided with independent oversight of the police department.
“I think this situation illustrates the need to make sure the police ombudsman has full investigative authority,” says Jones. “We need more police oversight so we can catch this early-on and avoid some of the things that have happened with the Zehm case.”
Still, both candidates say there are more issues important to their race. Specifically, jobs.
Salvatori and Jones say the city’s business regulatory process — business licenses, fire codes, change of use permits, etc. — is in need of updating. But they come at it from very different points of view.
Salvatori, ran for county commissioner last year, heads the Spokane Entrepreneurial Center. In the five years since he launched it, he says, 150 companies have resided there. He also sits on Greater Spokane Incorporated’s Small Business Council.
“For everything that comes before City Hall, the first question is, ‘What is the likely impact this will have on the business climate, the jobs climate?’” says Salvatori, who has raised more than $35,000. “After three years of the worst recession in our lifetime, the No. 1 priority is jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Jones, who is pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning and public administration at Eastern Washington University, worked for EWU’s Center for Entrepreneurial Activities, where she helped businesses on Garland and West Broadway avenues get off the ground. Currently, she mentors kids of incarcerated parents for Goodwill Industries.
These experiences, she says, have brought her into contact with the “diverse populations” of the northwest part of Spokane, which includes low-income people, the working class, and the affluent residents of the suburbs.
“We need someone who can relate to and understand all those populations,” says Jones, who has raised less than $10,000. “Everybody needs a job. It’s helpful when that’s a good-paying job. I have no desire to recruit business that pays minimum wage. We have enough of those already.”