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French and Prayer Collections 

Councilman Al French faces ethics allegations; plus, bikes and red kettles of prayer

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FRENCH AND THE BENCH

Outgoing Spokane City Councilman Al French used his influence to benefit a friend during the revision of the city’s sign code regarding bus bench advertising, says a four-page ethics complaint against French submitted to the city’s ethics committee this week.

The complaint comes after months of collection and preparation by Suzanne Markham, president of Citizens for a Scenic Spokane, and just in time for this week’s meeting of the ethics committee, which could decide if French’s actions constitute a conflict of interest.

The complaint describes in a more legalistic fashion what The Inlander first reported in July. Beginning in the 1980s, French, an architect, has had a personal and business relationship with Thomas Hamilton, a local developer who owns an advertising company. Hamilton donated $6,800 in bus bench advertising to French’s failed campaign for council president in 2003. Earlier this year, French led the battle against Mayor Mary Verner’s attempts to enforce sign codes first passed in 2001, rules that would have kept advertising off all municipal bus benches.

At the time, Hamilton’s Sunset Outdoor Advertising maintained the city’s 236 bus benches, and made, according to a company offi cial, about $85,000 a year selling ads for the benches. Currently, according to Markham’s complaint, French and Hamilton are working together on an “extensive mixed-use development” in Airway Heights.

The ethics committee is expected to look into this issue — especially considering French asked for a similar, if not as far-reaching, “advisory opinion” regarding his relationship with Hamilton.

French, who did not run for re-election this year due to term limits, has launched his campaign to unseat County Commissioner Bonnie Mager in 2010.

Hamilton’s complaint comes with footnotes and addendums pointing to different media reports, city titles, ethics rules and official correspondence. It also contains two videos, one of note because it shows French berating a citizen for inquiring into his relationship with Hamilton during a council meeting.

“It’s disappointing that this is the direction that you chose to go in,” a visibly upset French says in the video. “Despite your attempts to try and smear my reputation or smear my name, it would be nice if you kept focused on the issue before us, which is about bus benches.”

But with Markham’s complaint, the city’s business is looking into French and Hamilton’s relationship. (ND)

BIKE ART

Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne made news last year when he built a series of whimsical bike racks for the city of New York. You could chain your steed to a dog, a car, a high-heeled shoe.

Now the idea is coming to Coeur d’Alene. A group of students in the Resort and Recreation Management Program at North Idaho College has launched an initiative called WeCycle, aimed at promoting bike use and raising the profile of the bicycle in the city. As part of the initiative, they’re calling on artists to submit designs for between 15 and 20 five-bike racks, which would be installed along the Centennial Trail in May. The group hopes to link the grand unveiling to Bike to Work Week that month. They’re also planning a kind of scavenger hunt ride that will send participants from rack to rack. The racks would be provided free of charge to the city.

As for the design, Mike Dabrowski, a culinary student and metalworker who’s in the Managing Our Natural Resources class responsible for the project, says the only requirements are that the designs be all-metal, safe and that they use a 36-inch square base as their foundation. “Other than,” he says, “we don’t care.”

Artists can find out more by calling Dabrowski at (208) 290-5318. (JS)

HOLIDAY HOTLINE

Do you feel like the Divine Creator has tuned out your constant nagging pleas for health and prosperity? Or are you too far in the back of the line for Him to hear? Maybe you’re just too busy to say your own prayers?

Well, the Salvation Army is here to help. Spokane branch leader Kyle Smith has announced that during the holiday season, their 70-some bell-ringers around the county will be accepting not only your nickels and dimes but also your prayer requests. Just write your concern down (anonymous pleas are OK) and drop it in the red kettle. Then the Army’s “prayer team” will send your troubles skyward at their Wednesday morning meeting, assuring the attention and consideration of the Most High.

But act now. This offer only applies until Dec. 24. After that, it’s just you and Jehovah again. (JS)

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