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Filling in the Valley 

Will the Spokane Valley City Council’s two vacancies just be filled with more of the same?

click to enlarge Rose Dempsey and Bob McCaslin
  • Rose Dempsey and Bob McCaslin
Last year, Spokane Valley council members Rose Dempsey and Bob McCaslin peppered council meetings with their back-and-forth arguments. Sometimes it was lighthearted — other times, Dempsey says, it got caustic.

But now, both council members have disappeared from the dais. Bob McCaslin — weathering Type 2 diabetes, a heart operation, a leg amputation, and myelodysplastic syndrome — stopped attending meetings in January. (Officially, he remained on the council until his death on March 13.) Also, Rose Dempsey — fed up with feeling she could no longer make a difference — suddenly resigned.

For every meeting since Jan. 18, the council has been short-staffed. The remaining council members have two tasks: First, from 10 candidates who have turned in applications, choose an interim replacement for Dempsey. On March 29, the council will give applicants their final interviews; on April 5, they’ll anoint a new, temporary council member.

Then, with the help of the new council member and with new applications, the council will repeat the entire process for Bob McCaslin’s replacement.

Which raises a question: Will the City Council appoint new members more like Dempsey or more like McCaslin?

McCaslin was one of five members of the “Positive Change” contingent that dominates the council, elected on their opposition to the restrictive zoning of the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan (SARP). Dempsey, however, opposed the council majority’s attempt to completely dismantle the SARP.

“I know this group will select someone of their own ilk to replace me,” Dempsey said after she resigned. “Instead of being 5-2 it will be 6-1 at the vote.”

Most of the council members don’t raise specific litmus-test issues when citing criteria for choosing the replacement. Mayor Tom Towey says he’s looking for candidates with passion. Bill Gothmann wants candidates with specific understanding of the city’s problems.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel, however, gets more detailed.

“I would have a hard time supporting someone who thought SARP was a great idea, and [that] we should continue down that path of heavy-handed zoning that has been harming business,” Grassel says.

SARP supporters can always run for office, she says. She would just have a hard time appointing one. “It’s human nature to go with people who are like-minded,” she says.

THE APPLICANTS

Just over half of the applicants vying for Dempsey’s seat support the direction of the current council.

There’s Arne Woodard. A real estate broker, he was one of the two planning commissioners who supported the City Council’s plan to eliminate SARP entirely.

“It was great for San Francisco, but not for Spokane Valley,” Woodard says. Woodard echoes other “Positive Change” members of the council, who believes that rejuvenating the Valley requires low regulation and low taxes. “I’m extremely conservative,” Woodard says. “And I’m proud of it, too.”

“Lower taxes” is a tenet also held by security guard John Baldwin, another applicant. He calls the recent license-tab fee hike in Spokane a business-killer.

Where SARP zoned for “cutesy boutiques and coffee shops” with a “huge cost to the taxpayer,” the Valley needs a manufacturing zone, says applicant Steven Neill, a materials coordinator. He finds the new City Council refreshing. So does applicant Jennie Willardson, who accuses the former City Council of listening to developers, but not property owners or neighborhoods.

“The reason people chose to incorporate wasn’t to build some city,” says applicant Joe Collins, a precinct committee officer for the Republican Party. “It was to keep the Valley the way it was. To protect the Valley from annexation.”

While applicant Ron Lippincott, an actor, had concerns about the tone of council debate this year, he supports the policies they’ve enacted.

The rest of the applicants are more critical. In the comments on the Spokesman- Review’s website, council applicant DeeDee Loberg, a stay-at-home mom, launched a blizzard of critiques against the current council.

“What we don’t have is at-large representation,” Loberg wrote. “What we don’t have is a council that listens. What we don’t have is a political process that takes into account all the different views and opinions.”

Applicant Ben Wick, a software engineer, says the council should have tweaked the SARP, instead of trying to kill it entirely. Either way, he says, they need some sort of long-term plan.

Applicant George Watson, an architect, says the Valley’s already spent so much money consulting for the SARP project, it should find a way to make it work for everybody.

Clyde Cordero, an applicant who ran as a Democrat against Cathy McMorris Rogers last fall, says the SARP had the right goals — preventing urban blight. “We’re experiencing urban sprawl,” Cordero says. “If you’re going to have a city, then this is something you have to address. Not just pick up and build City Hall in a nice place along the river.”

HOT SEATS

The replacements to be chosen will only get a few months on the Valley City Council before they’ll have to defend their seats. In November, both interim positions will be up for election.

That’s something Ian Robertson knows all too well. When Steve Taylor resigned from the Spokane Valley City Council in July 2009, Robertson (a member of the planning commission) was chosen over candidates like Ben Wick and Dean Grafos.

But Grafos had the last laugh. Just three months later, in November’s general election, with the backing of the Positive Change contingent, Grafos beat Robertson by a hefty 24 percent.

“They were well-funded,” Robertson says. “Having been a pastor, I didn’t have a lot of money.”

Many of the applicants say that, even if they aren’t chosen, they’ll run for one of the four open council slots this fall. Others will join them. Chuck Hafner, for example, the man behind the scenes in the formation of the Positive Change bloc, plans to run.

As for the Positive Change platform, however, Hafner says, “I’m not running for that particular platform. I’m running for Chuck Hafner.”

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