by THE INLANDER & r & & r & SPOKANE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS & r & & r & & lt;ul & & lt;li & TODD MIELKE & lt;/li & & lt;li & MARK RICHARD & lt;/li & & lt;/ul &
Over the next four years, Spokane County faces some of the biggest challenges in its long history. There's the need for a massive sewage treatment facility in order to keep the Spokane River clean, the Spokane County Jail needs replacing and then there's the nagging need for systemic reform, especially to expand the Board of Commissioners from three members to five. And on top of all that, if we are to believe the predictions of many economic analysts, the nation is in for a recession, perhaps a very painful one. Local government will be challenged, and that's why we recommend staying with the experience of Todd Mielke and Mark Richard.
There is objective evidence that the past four years have brought welcome changes to the board, some changes quite surprising to be coming from Republicans. An internal auditor has been added, the bond rating is solid, and the Conservation Futures program has been made permanent; the focus on the river, whether forced or not, has started an important conversation; and there has been greater cooperation -- and fewer lawsuits -- between the county and its cities and towns via joint planning and revenue sharing plans.
But in this election, many votes will depend on issues like the controversial purchase of the raceway park and the expansion of the Geiger railroad spur and related land purchases. If you think the county should not be in the business of rails and racing, or if you just want a more liberal majority view on the board, you'll probably be voting for a change. And challengers Kim Thorburn and Brian Sayrs are both competent candidates with strong commitments to community service and good ideas about empowering county neighborhoods and making government more transparent. But we think the county should be open to playing a quasi-entrepreneurial role in the development of the county. The jury is still out on the wisdom of the raceway and the spur, but an active yet careful approach should not be categorically rejected. It's going to take some vision to keep Spokane County competitive in the quest for economic development.
Mielke and Richard have troubled us at times, especially on their land-use philosophies -- although in fairness, some of the county's most egregious land-use decisions predate this board. And on trust, they have been simply too smug -- land deals with campaign supporters, no matter the explanations, are always going to erode trust. If re-elected, Mielke and Richard would be well served to push to get all their meetings televised and to better engage their constituents in any way possible. But most of all, they need to push hard for a reform of the system that has three commissioners juggling dozens of board memberships and the supervision of 2,000-plus employees. Moving to five commissioners would do more than anything else to improve the effectiveness of county government -- and the community's trust in it.