by Kevin Taylor. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & f you are among the few dozen who watch Cable Channel 5 for the Spokane City Council meetings, then you know George McGrath. The stocky man with the crew-cut white hair was on camera at the podium on Monday night -- just as he is most weeks -- to offer commentary on council actions.
"I am a wee bit concerned about the fact that approximately 125,000 citizens will be represented by someone that four votes up here selected," McGrath said.
A game of musical chairs that began when city residents voted out Mayor Jim West in the Dec. 6 recall election ended Monday when the council voted unanimously to select local business owner Rob Crow to fill a vacant seat. The opening arose when Dennis Hession took over as mayor and council member Joe Shogan replaced Hession as council president.
Crow, 36, is co-owner of Lloyd Industries, a thriving small business, and he was chosen out of 19 applicants for Shogan's seat, which represents District 3 in northwest Spokane.
He appeared amiable and sharp as he was quizzed by the media and others after his selection was announced Monday.
In the last 13 years, Lloyd Industries, which makes cookware for the pizza industry and is co-owned by Crow and his father John, has grown from a two-man operation in 100 square feet of sublet space, to one that fills 40,000 square feet in the Spokane Industrial Park and employs 35 full-time workers -- all of whom, says Crow, are offered competitive wages and health benefits.
Crow spent a couple of years in Spokane as a teenager, attending Gonzaga Preparatory School as a freshman, before moving away. He came back in the early 1990s and has lived in District 3, most recently in Five Mile. The explosive growth in that area -- while an economic boon -- has also created traffic, water, habitat and flooding problems that must be addressed, Crow says.
The continuing shortfall in the city's general fund -- which has run more than $6 million in four of the last five years -- must also be fixed, he said.
Crow admits to almost no political experience but said business skills and "a passion for the city" will help as he dives into council issues. "It's an honor to be selected," Crow told the council after Monday's vote. "This has happened quite quickly. Those concerned about the process must realize the six of you were elected to make decisions of such import."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & nd it seemed the council was taking pains Monday to head off any criticism of its selection process. One of the applicants who didn't make the short list sent the council a letter noting that in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, 93 applicants for a council vacancy each had a chance to make a five-minute pitch in person.
In Spokane, only four were interviewed. "There was no discussion about meeting all the candidates," Shogan admits.
McGrath's point that a majority of four votes can win someone a post that represents roughly a third of the city is slightly off-target. The council is obligated to fill vacancies quickly by appointment.
There is another view that holds the council is being hasty and shortsighted by not meeting all applicants. "I'm disappointed with the interview process," says John Waite, owner of Merlyn's Science Fiction and Fantasy Store. "They had 19 applicants and only interviewed four people. I've had some council members say they did want to do interviews. The system in Spokane is set up that they don't. What we miss is who has good ideas that you might not hear otherwise."
Shogan and councilwoman Mary Verner explained Monday that the selection process began with all six council members reading through the packets submitted by the 19 applicants and then marking them on a scale of one to five, with five being best.
Asked about any criteria for grading, Shogan says, "We didn't have set criteria. Each council member voted for who they wanted."
This could conceivably lead to stale or rote choices, or what Waite calls "old-school politics."
Next, a three-person selection committee -- Shogan, Verner and councilman Al French -- did the math, as Verner says, to total the scores and break any ties. "There were two ties," Verner adds, and in each case the applicant with scores from the most council members was given the nod.
"Each selection committee member [then] voted for four," Shogan says. And the four finalists -- Crow, perennial candidate Judith Gilmore, Liberty Lake administrator Lewis Griffin and Air Force officer Andrew Rathbun -- were the only ones with multiple votes.
"We chose to go in-depth with the people we selected," Shogan says. "I don't know how [Seattle] can go in-depth with 93 people."
"It sounds like it would be a waste of that person's time if it was someone with no support on the council," Verner says. "[Seattle has] a full-time council. We all have other jobs."
Which is missing the point, Waite says. An initial interview round that allowed all 19 applicants five minutes to present themselves could be done in under two hours, Waite says, and would allow the council to see the person behind the resume and character references.
Waite's chances may have been hurt by the nature of his comic book and gamer business. Even The Inlander made a joke last week that he could bring a Justice League atmosphere to the council (which the writer intended as a good thing).
"I saw that. I'm cool with that," Waite says, adding that "I'm pretty normal. I have house, a business, play basketball with the guys."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ithout in-person interviews, would the City Council have any sense of this, or does it all come down to which applicant can mention Leadership Spokane connections, or has letters from city officials, former governors, former city managers or other local power brokers?
Verner, elected from South Spokane in November, was herself appointed to fill a vacancy on the council, chosen from 23 applicants and seven finalists.
"When I went through it, there was a winnowing process, and then I was sent out to the neighborhoods," where residents were able to quiz the finalists, she says. There was, however, no citizen involvement while filling this vacancy. The council spent two hours on Jan. 19 in half-hour interviews with each of the four finalists.
"I am worried that we are a little town," Waite says, "and we're pretty isolated and that people in Spokane don't know how the rest of the world works."
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