A lot has been said about the Spokane City Council over the last couple of years: too much bickering, not enough action; too much action, not enough thought. A council acting like this one, some people say, hurts Spokane's image. It's not easy serving in any public office, but it's especially difficult in a city that tries to change its governmental structure every couple of years.
Regardless of what happens to the initiative to repeal the strong mayor form of government, Spokane still needs a city council, and there are nine candidates in the primary race for three open seats. Come January, there could be four new faces on the city council. Steve Corker, Steve Eugster and Roberta Greene are out for sure, and if either Dennis Hession or Al French is elected council president -- Pam Behring is also running for that seat -- then the council will have to choose a replacement to finish the vacated term. With this field of candidates, it looks like Spokane politics will get some new faces.
At the time the strong mayor form of government was established, the city was also divided into three districts, from which representative city council members are elected. Let's go to the races:
District 1, Northeast Spokane -- In this race, Terri K. Beaudreau is running against Pete D. Rayner and Bob Apple. Apple is the only one of the three who has run for the office before -- his last campaign for city council was two years ago.
"I decided it was time to try again, because the city has a lot of problems," says Apple, who owns the Comet Bar and Restaurant as well as Comet Roofing in Hillyard. "We need living-wage jobs that will enable people to own a home and become part of our city. We should encourage the small businesses that are already here to grow. Perhaps we could provide sewer and water hookups at no charge to new businesses, and we need to do something about the garbage fees and the utility tax -- those are too high."
Apple adds that Spokane has too many renters because people simply can't afford to buy houses, and that many can't afford to maintain their property once they get it. To help that, he'd like to see the city offer low-interest home improvement loans to people on limited incomes.
Beaudreau has served on the Spokane School Board for 18 years -- including representing Spokane schools in Olympia, and the state of Washington's educational system in Washington, D.C. -- and says she's a full-time community volunteer.
"I decided to run because I was approached by a number of people in the community and asked to run," says Beaudreau. "I would like to see a long-range planning process take place, and I also think we need to work on having positive self-esteem as a community -- that could be part of the planning process, to celebrate the things Spokane does well and then move on to the things we are not doing so well."
Beaudreau says Spokane has an incredible school and health care system, good parks and great human capital -- but that among the not-so-good things are the deteriorating roads and bad customer service at City Hall. "If we are all talking, all on the same page about our priorities, then I believe providing good basic services will draw people and businesses here," says Beaudreau. "The charter says the city is responsible for providing the basics, like police, fire protection, libraries and utilities. If we do a good job at that, I think we'll attract good business. It's a 'build it and they'll come' concept."
Rayner has a degree in tax law, and he owns the Beacon Hill Events facility together with his daughter. Though he hasn't run for office before, he says he was very vocal during the adoption of the comprehensive plan.
"I wasn't sure I could accomplish a lot as a city council member, until we got the districting in place," says Rayner, who has also been involved with the local neighborhood council and with the Greater Hillyard Business Association. "But coming from the community background, I now feel like I can. The fact is that our community has been dying a slow economic death for the last 20-some years. The growth management act [the comprehensive plan] has been used to stop growth around here, not stimulate it."
Rayner says city planners support New Urbanism and that their strategy has hurt the community. "Some advocates of New Urbanism believe it's all right to create five or 10 years of economic ruin to retrain Americans to get away from the automobile and live the way they think is right," he says, adding that Hillyard has been ignored for decades when it comes to infrastructure spending. He says he doesn't understand why the city keeps talking about expanding the industrial area on West Plains when there's a light industrial area in Hillyard that has plenty of vacancies.
As for the City Council's bad rep, Beaudreau says she has worked with 17 different school board members for the last 18 years within a culture of respect and of honoring others' perspectives, regardless if there's agreement or not.
"I certainly intend to bring that to the council position," she says, adding that she would prefer the council-manager type of government over a strong mayor system. "I worked under that system for 18 years, and it worked very well. To continue the success, I think it's a matter of the council understanding and evaluating the city manager better than was done before. But I can work under any system the voters decide."
Rayner says he's an advocate for the strong mayor system, adding that he's been frustrated with the direction the council has taken for years.
Apple supports strong mayor as well, but gives the current council a bit more credit. "Frankly, I think the council has been kind of mellow the last month or so. Perhaps they realized that people didn't like the way they were working together?" he says. "We need a balanced council. We simply don't have that. We have housewives and attorneys on the council and nothing else -- no offense to the housewives."
District 2, South Spokane -- Lonnie Eachus -- who's the current chair of the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council -- also ran for city council two years ago. He's running again, this time against Brad Stark and Ava Becks, neither of whom have run for office before.
"I have considered running for a while. I'm a full-time student again, and that adds some time and money restraints," says Eachus, who is 44 and attending SCC after having worked in the computer business for a number of years. "But I still believe Spokane needs to see some real change. We must do something about the economy, something proactive. We have the Economic Development Council, but have they really helped us bring new businesses to Spokane? I haven't seen a lot. We must watch our regulations and taxes so they are reasonable, not overdone as they are today."
Stark worries about the local economy as well. "I decided to run for council last Christmas, when I took stock of what has happened around here," says the 23-year-old executive for the Boy Scouts of America. "I had eight close friends -- dynamic, driven and creative people -- who just left town because of lack of opportunity. Because of that, I chose to stand up and bring forth my abilities and talents that can work for the community -- especially leadership, consensus-building and collaboration."
Becks has more personal reasons for running for office. "I'm doing it for my children, and for the children of Spokane," says Becks, a former TV reporter who now works at Greenbacks All a Dollar on 29th Avenue. "I had a hard time finding a job after leaving KXLY-TV. It irks me that it is so hard to find a good-paying job that will let you take care of your kids at the same time. It's incredibly hard for working mothers and fathers to provide for their families in this town." Becks would also like to do something about traffic; she says it's really bad in her neighborhood, around East 17th Avenue and Franklin Elementary -- "it's just an accident waiting to happen," she says.
To move toward a stronger local economy, Stark, who supports the strong mayor form of government, would like to see the continued development of the University District as well as for the city and county to work together on providing some services.
"We should not duplicate efforts, especially not on wastewater and sewer issues," he says. "The city also needs to continue the reform of the permitting process. I have been out doorbelling, and there is a feeling that we, as a city, can do better. People are tired of the rancor -- they want a council that is worthy of their representation." Stark says he is concerned about the increase in traffic as well, but would like to take a broader approach to get cars and through-traffic out of all neighborhoods.
Eachus also supports the University District and says he'd like to see some serious work on getting a medical school going in Spokane as well. "Medical schools don't lose money," he says. "I also think attracting biotech companies is a great idea -- they are a good match with the medical facilities we already have here."
Becks has a different perspective: "All I ever hear is how we should bring big business to town, but you know what? I worked 18 years in media here, and all that happens is they stay for a while, then leave. Just look at Boeing," she says. "We should grow the businesses that are already here and make sure it's feasible for someone to go in and start their own business and actually make it. Business owners say the taxes here will kill you. As a layman, I don't know where that money is going. That's the first thing I want to find out about when I'm elected. Then we need to take care of people here." She says she doesn't know enough about the One Spokane initiative to say if that's a solution to the poverty and unemployment issues.
Stark says the idea behind One Spokane is altruistic, but he'd also like for local colleges and business to work better together on breaching the gap between the jobs that are here and the people who need them.
Eachus agrees that poverty is an issue that needs to be addressed. "We can help the poor until the cows come home, but as long as everyone else is hurting too, we are all going to end up poor," he says. "Bottom line is, we need to attract businesses and get people some jobs."
District 3, Northwest Spokane -- Barbara Lampert has run for office countless times, including for the U.S. Senate and county commissioner. Her last bid for city council was in 1999. Running against her are Joe Shogan -- an attorney in private practice -- and Victor Frazier, who's just finished a job as an Americorps volunteer in West Central and now lives off his military pension.
"My running for office is a very calculated and thought-out decision," says Frazier. "My work with Americorps brought me in contact with City Hall, with zoning issues and with the comprehensive plan -- and quite frankly, approaching City Hall, I sometimes felt like I had been dropped into Mogadishu with a BB gun." He says he believes the best way to change something is to join the organization and work within the system.
Lampert, who is retired yet volunteers for the Rainbow Center downtown, says she considered running for mayor and council president before she decided on a council position.
"I've decided that I'm going to run for office every year," she explains. "I do have different plans and approaches for different offices, and I thought there was plenty of people running in the two other races, so I decided on this one. Didn't want to let the two guys have a free run through the primary."
Shogan has chaired the Northwest Neighborhood Association for two years, as well as having volunteered on the Human Services Board and chaired the task force on the homeless.
"I learned how to represent the neighborhood council at the community assembly, and I believe I can be a bridge between the neighborhood council and the city council," Shogan says. "People want a council to accomplish matters as opposed to constantly bickering."
Frazier says that current council members lack respect for one another. "Sometimes they haven't even treated those who stepped up to the microphone with dignity and respect," he says. "I've even gotten my share of that, when I've been speaking there." Frazier has been very involved with the Spokane Neighborhood Economic Development Alliance and he says he applauds what has happened downtown -- aside from the River Park Square controversy -- but he'd like to see more micro-enterprise.
"Technical assistance to small businesses is crucial. TINCAN [The Inland Northwest Community Access Network] is a good example of that," Frazier says. "Workforce training is essential as well -- for high tech companies, we should have high tech workers ready. We have some of that, but there's room for improvement."
Lampert sees no need to change the city's economic development strategy. "I believe the city has experts with good ideas on that subject, like the Chamber of Commerce and such," she says. "My position is to take their expert advice and look at it carefully, then encourage them in some of the ideas. I don't think I need a whole bunch of new ideas."
Shogan says city staff could be more receptive toward businesses that would like to locate here. "The council should encourage staff to be more permitting, to work better with businesses," he says. "I support the effort to get good-paying jobs here. I support the EDC [Economic Development Council] and the Chamber, and I'd like to see them collaborate more and perhaps look outside some of the normal channels they draw on, when trying to get businesses to move here." Alleviating poverty in Spokane goes hand in hand with providing jobs here, Shogan adds, but he'd look to the neighborhoods for ideas on how to do so, not just to the One Spokane office located downtown.
Lampert says she's not familiar with details about One Spokane, which seemed "overly religious" to her and turned her off.
"I'd like to see comprehensive mass transit for Spokane," she says. "That would really help people who otherwise can't afford to get around. I like the idea of light rail, and if we could get some people out of their cars that would also save the wear on the pavement -- we could spend that money on street repairs."
For more information, visit www.votespokane.org -- and don't forget to vote on Sept. 16.