by Doug Nadvornick & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen visitors arrived at a community event at CenterPlace in Spokane Valley one day last October, they were surprised to see lights flashing on four sheriff's department cars.
"Their trunks were open and the contents were out on the ground," remembers Spokane Valley Parks Director Mike Jackson.
The event was only a training exercise. But it sure made an impression on Jackson.
"We're trying to market CenterPlace as a premier event center," he says. "That wasn't appropriate for this facility."
And says Jackson, neither is the presence of a sheriff's training unit housed in space the city rents to the Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS). On March 31, the city will evict the deputies.
The colleges have occupied space at CenterPlace since the facility opened in August 2005. In March 2006, without telling Spokane Valley officials, CCS officials signed a sublease with the sheriff's department, giving the agency room for three training officers.
The arrangement made sense for the sheriff. "We wanted to provide training for our deputies here so that we could avoid sending them to Seattle," says Undersheriff Jeff Tower.
Jackson says CCS officials did tell him two weeks later about the sheriff's presence at CenterPlace, saying the officers were teaching CCS classes. But they didn't mention the sublease. He says the arrangement was clearly more complicated than city officials were told. "The officers were providing in-service training for their deputies," says Jackson. "It wasn't a community-based program that fits CenterPlace's mission."
He wasn't happy that officers wore their weapons into the building and asked for keys for after-hours access.
Finally last August, CCS officials told Jackson about the sublease and apologized for the late notification. In October, city officials asked the CCS to terminate the sublease. The three parties met several times last fall to try to overcome their differences, but without success.
On Feb. 6, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich asked Spokane Valley City Councilmembers to reconsider. Several valley business leaders and residents also expressed their support.
Councilmember Bill Gothmann backed them. "I'm disturbed that the city hasn't worked this out," he says. "This has been a terrible experience in how a city should operate."
On Feb. 20, Jackson met with CCS officials, who agreed to terminate the sheriff's sublease. The agency is forbidden from doing in-service training at CenterPlace and allowing its people to work there. "It does allow the department to hold two planned regional training sessions there before the end of September," says Scott Morgan, CCS' chief operating officer.
The agreement does not please Councilmember Gary Schimmels, who said he and at least two of his colleagues planned to raise the issue at Tuesday night's council meeting, after The Inlander's deadline. "This decision doesn't make sense," he says. "We need to look at the real intent of CenterPlace."