by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "T & lt;/span & his was a good campaign event. With the ballots going in the mail Tuesday, how much more blatant can you be?"
That was city councilman and candidate for mayor Al French, last week criticizing Mayor Dennis Hession and his announcement that he's found help for Spokane's severely understaffed police and fire departments. More sizzle than steak, says French.
It does seem Hession, who has spent $14,500, more than his rivals combined, on political consulting (according to Public Disclosure Commission expenditure reports), may have promised more than he can easily deliver.
Hession assembled the two chiefs and a photogenic cluster of police bicycle and motorcycle officers last Wednesday for a press conference outside of City Hall to announce the imminent hires of six new firefighters and a couple dozen police officers, along with new deployment strategies. This comes two years after the city, citing a persistent "structural gap" between income and outgo in the budget's general fund, laid off six cops and 50 firefighters.
Nobody can tell if the new hires are really possible since nobody's seen a budget; nobody knows if keeping the new hires is sustainable in future budgets and nobody knows if the unions will agree with the new shift arrangements -- and the unions do need to sign off on those. The firefighters' Local 29 is especially down on Hession, contributing a record $5,000 to the French campaign -- the single largest donation in the race and $3,000 more than the local has ever contributed to anyone else.
Previously this year, Hession chided French for playing politics with the budget when the city council resolved to hire four police officers and four firefighters.
So it may very well be a draw with both sides playing politics with the budget, but it was striking that in photographs of the mayor's press conference, nobody looks happy. Not Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, especially not Fire Chief Bobby Williams. Not French. Not Local 29 president Greg Borg, and not city councilwoman and mayoral candidate Mary Verner, standing next to Borg.
"I'm concerned this proposal was made with no provision for funding," Verner says. Nobody has yet identified a funding source for the new hires in the 2008 and 2009 budget, she says, and neither has anyone suggested a funding mechanism that would keep the hires sustainable in future budgets.
"We have experienced in the last several years what it is like to have staff available, then have drastic layoffs, then try to gradually restore service. I don't want our city to go through that cycle again," Verner adds.
So she is writing an ordinance that would create a longer-term, six year budget to take electioneering out of the equation.
Stan Shore, the venerable political consultant who is handling Hession's campaign, says "I didn't know about the plan until a few days before it was publicly announced."
This fits the timetable related by Local 29's Borg, who says Fire Department administrators had lunch with union officials the Thursday before the press conference to speak about the proposals without saying they were imminent.
Shore, who's done consulting work in Spokane for two decades, says this about our fair city: "Every time I do a survey, the No. 1 issue is fix the roads. The No. 2 issue is public safety."
He worked with the late Mayor Jim West to craft a campaign to sell the 10-year bond issue to fix city streets -- something the city had never been able to get past its grumpy, tightwad voters.
Now Shore is working with Hession on public safety. The press conference was not a campaign maneuver, he says, "or else we'd have done it in February." Instead, Shore says the roots of this go back to the hiring of Kirkpatrick, giving her time to figure out her department and then how best to staff it.
Still, it made for great theater in which good news was delivered to no smiles.
Decline to Recline
What if they made a leather recliner and nobody kicked back in it? That would be last week's debate among mayoral candidates at Center Stage, where, apparently, nobody wanted to be cast as the La-Z-Boy Mayor and all the candidates struggled to sit up as straight as possible in the deep, comfy chairs.
"I could have used a footstool," says Mary Verner, whose feet swung clear of the floor during the debate.
Burgan's Furniture wrestled five hefty recliners -- all in the $1,600 to $1,800 range -- up the freight elevator and set them up in a shallow crescent for candidates Dennis Hession, Al French, Mike Noder, Verner and moderator Bud Nameck. Set against the room's paneling, the group resembled the staff at Hogwarts arrayed at the head of the Great Hall.
Sadly, no one debated in robes and pointy wizard hats, and even more sadly, alleged candidate Robert Kroboth is still campaigning in a parallel universe and was thus unable to attend.
The debate was the brainchild of Tim Vorpahl at Vorpahl-Wing Securities with the 10 questions drawn from the city's business press.