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Church and State 

Spokane's budget wrangling starts; plus, a Cheney school under fire for religious speech

Budget Season Begins

Mayor David Condon unveiled his broad 2015 BUDGET plans last week, emphasizing spending on public safety and promising that, in contrast to massive cuts in 2013, the city won't lay anyone off to make ends meet.

Following up on funding last year to hire 25 new police officers, this year's $585 million budget plan includes $450,000 to fund a police "hire-ahead" program to train incoming officers as others retire and directs a 1 percent property tax increase to buying police and fire equipment.

Condon's plan also directs $30 million to ongoing river cleanup efforts and $163 million toward capital projects, like street repairs. That spending would be in addition to the $25 million street levy and a $60 million bond to renovate Riverfront Park, both of which the city will ask citizens to approve this fall.

While the 2015 budget cuts no positions, 32 city positions will be eliminated this November when the county takes over management of the regional solid waste system and two city waste transfer stations. Those employees will be offered other positions throughout the city, according to city spokeswoman Marlene Feist.

The city council will study the mayor's proposal in coming months before hashing out a more specific line-item budget with him this fall. Read the full budget and give feedback at myspokanebudget.org. (HEIDI GROOVER)

McMorris Rodgers' town hall

Heading into the fall election, U.S. Rep. CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS plans to host a community town hall meeting Monday in Spokane to discuss hydropower, veterans issues and other topics as chosen at random from audience-submitted questions.

The town hall is scheduled from 5 to 6 pm on Monday at the Lincoln Center. A Spokane-area mailing recently mislabeled the date of the event. Spokeswoman Audrey Scagnelli says the office corrected the mistake online, but hopes the typo does not impact attendance.

"At the end of the day, the congresswoman wants to hear from the community," Scagnelli says. "That's what matters most. She's looking forward to it."

In her fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, McMorris Rodgers faces Democratic challenger Joe Pakootas in November. (JACOB JONES)

Gospel of Cheney

Before speaking at a Cheney Middle School assembly back in March, former Army Ranger Gary Horton, with an organization called American Freedom Assembly, was warned not to TALK ABOUT GOD. The administrators specifically walked him through what his speech was to be about. After all, this was a public school before a captive audience.

But Horton talked about God anyway — letting "the Lord speak through him," he said in a newsletter. That ignited a parental complaint.

"Both [vice-principal Nicole Nanny] and I were incredibly disappointed that the speaker went off-topic and decided to do their own thing," says Cheney Middle School principal Mike Stark. "He was brought in to do a motivational speech to get our kids to try their best on their tests."

As of this week, the Cheney school district has officially apologized for bringing Horton in as a speaker for the mandatory assembly and for not stopping the speech when Horton began to talk about religious matters.

"You took advantage of a captive audience to deliver a message that we did not ask for, and one that is not even legal to promote in a public school," Stark wrote in a letter to Horton after his speech. "I will do everything I can do to make sure other public schools don't make the same mistake that we made, allowing you into our school under false pretenses."

Despite the district's apology, the parent who made the initial complaint tells the Spokesman-Review he still wants the district to go further, by sending out an apology to all parents and holding those who brought Horton accountable. (DANIEL WALTERS)

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