When we were kids one Fourth of July, my sister, Piper, was looking at the warning on a pack of sparklers and asked, "Who's Emit Sparks?" We've had a good laugh about that for a couple decades now.
But it is fitting that we crave explosions on the day we celebrate America. Like fireworks, our democracy emits sparks, too.
I've been thinking about that as the fight at Spokane City Hall has been waged over the future of the Police Ombudsman. Right now, we're somewhere between Super Ombudsman and Ombudsman Lite. However it shakes out, it's progress, as these kinds of big, important debates haven't always happened around here. Lately, the sparks have been flying, and I like it.
To see a spark-free zone, check out the Spokane County Courthouse. With just three commissioners, and all of them Republican, it's more like a cone of silence. When there are no competing viewpoints — no sparks — citizens often are left to wonder why. (And I think that played a role in the county not being able to sell its plan to buy property in the crash zone outside Fairchild in November.)
Years ago, when the City of Spokane went for the strong mayor system, citizens were wanting some sparks for a change. Think of it this way: It's like the mayor is the President, and the council president is the Speaker of the House. When they don't agree, ideas collide, the gears grind, shooting off sparks, and — ideally — we all get better public policy.
In most ways, Washington, D.C., is a bad role model: the politics have become superheated by money; the electeds represent thinner and thinner extremes of the general population; and it's all become way too personal. Too many leaders think it's all about them and their political party; what's good for the nation comes second.
When I was in college, there was a house across the street we pretty much were at war with. Sure, we may have allegedly put hay bales in their swimming pool — possibly more than once. And on a random snow event, some guys on a commando raid might have put snowballs in some beds over there. Again, allegedly. But on Saturdays at Husky Stadium, we stood right next to those same guys, and we all cheered for the same team. In D.C., they seem to have forgotten that "same-team" part of the deal.
Here in Spokane, it falls to every elected official to emit sparks when called for (in a safe and sane manner, like the warning label says), but to always put Spokane first. Whaddya know! We're growing up and learning how to drive this strong mayor system after all. ♦