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French and the Clunkers 

An ethics committee clears Al French; plus a new, local Cash for Clunkers program

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AL FRENCH CLEARED

Sitting silently in the corner with a briefcase in his lap, Al French watched last week as the city of Spokane’s Ethics Committee cleared him of any wrongdoing for his role in last year’s battle over advertising on municipal bus benches.

In two separate complaints — which expanded on what The Inlander reported in July — French was accused of using his position to help a friend and business associate.

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 unsuccessful 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 official, about $85,000 a year selling ads for the benches. Currently, according to one complaint, French and Hamilton are working together on an “extensive mixed-use development” in Airway Heights.

However, the committee, after more than an hour of deliberation, found no evidence that French or Hamilton had benefited from French’s actions, and decided that French had nothing more than a “remote interest” in the dealings, therefore clearing him of any conflict-of-interest charges.

After the meeting, French expressed joy in being cleared, though said he wasn’t surprised. Going into an election year — he is challenging Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager for her seat — French has a clean bill of health.

But during the meeting, at least one of the committee members talked about his discomfort with how the ethics laws are written. “I’m still stuck — or torn,” said Ron Large. “I agree [that we need to be] developing a clear policy around what constitutes a conflict of interest…. I mean, it almost sounds as if, by definition, there would never be one. That’s what I’m stuck on.” (NICHOLAS DESHAIS)

CASH FOR CLUNKER BIKES

Just when you thought the Cash for Clunkers program was over, it’s back. This time, for bikes. And only in Spokane.

Nonprofits Pedals2People and the Union Gospel Mission have teamed with downtown Spokane bike shop Two Wheel Transit for a program they’re calling Bike Cash for Clunkers. You bring your clunker bike to Two Wheel

Transit, the techs inspect it for safety and serviceability and then give you $25 to $100 toward the purchase price of a 2010 Trek or Gary Fisher bike at the store, or in stock at Trek Bicycles.

Of course, receiving even $100 towards a pricey Trek cycle (their entry-level bikes start around $700, while their top-of-the-line Madone can go above $8,000) isn’t quite the same as having the feds pay for a quarter of your new Toyota Corolla. But the bike program differs from the fi rst Cash for Clunkers in one very key respect. While Uncle Sam relegated your ’78 Chevy Malibu to the junk yard, the people at Two Wheel will rehab your ’84 Schwinn Le- Tour and give it someone who could really use it. All bikes will go either to the nonprofit bike advocacy group Pedals2People or the Union Gospel Mission.

“When you don’t have a car and need to travel several miles, a bicycle is golden,” says Dave Wall, development director of Union Gospel Missions. (JOEL SMITH)

DE-FRIENDING JOHNNY LAW

About a month ago, Brad Robertson was nailed with a $100 ticket for doing a “California rolling stop” through a stop sign. His frustration boiled over into his creation of the Facebook page I Hate Sandpoint Cops.

“I thought I’d get a warning,” the 18-year-old high school senior says. His experience with what he believes to be overzealous enforcement led him to reflect.

“In Sandpoint, there’s really nothing to do. The cops have nothing to do and they get bored and start abusing their power,” Robertson says.

Despite a split verdict from his parents and his boss, he put the page up on a Sunday in mid-December, and it’s gaining about 20 friends a week — along with rumors “that it’s being investigated by the D.A.,” Robertson says.

“We’re not out to harass the youth,” says Police Chief Mark Lockwood, who says he’s heard nothing about the site being investigated. The chief says he likes the percentages of 87 FB friends of I Hate Sandpoint Cops out of more than 1,200 high school students in the city.

The posts are liberally sprinkled with F-bombs about the injustice of being hassled when there are meth users or violent crimes more suitable for police attention.

It’s just the newest wrinkle for people venting about police, Lockwood says.

“Right now, social networking sites are where people express this stuff, vent and get their angst out. We hope they outgrow it and hope they look back and go, ‘What was I thinking?’” (KEVIN TAYLOR)

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