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The West Record 

by Robert Herold & r & Setting aside for the moment "the issue" that has led to his recall, let us focus instead on Mayor Jim West's record, his leadership and his claims of success -- reasons enough, he argues, for the voters to forgive his "mistakes."


His list of successes begins with his street paving initiative. No doubt he gets much credit for fixing those potholes. The voters trusted his competence and supported his request for more taxes.


Nor has the public been asked to endure waves of distractingly uncomplimentary coverage in the media (again, other than coverage of "the issue"), especially in the Spokesman-Review. No, Mayor West hasn't purchased any rooftop gardens, nor held expensive dinners for poverty-fighting elites -- that is, elites concerned about poverty, but not so much that they would pass on a good free feed held just for them.


On the state front, Mayor West gets credit for knowing his way around Olympia. The John Powers administration barely knew where Olympia was.


And it is true that the mayor has managed to get the unions to shut up if not always cooperate. West understands that when given a choice of throwing members overboard or taking a cut in pay and benefits, unions will always reach for the plank, so his giveback strategy has been bold. Mayor Powers, nice fellow that he was, mistakenly assumed that jobs mattered most to union leadership and that asking for benefit contributions was a reasonable way of maintaining services. Boy, was he wrong.


But West's record is also marked by failures and a disturbing lack of political presence. While two straight years of budget problems can't be entirely blamed on the mayor, he can and should be held accountable for his response to the city's fiscal woes. Here he doesn't get high marks. For example, Spokane can't figure out how even to keep its library system open, nor even, alas, maintain its low-cost, crucial Historic Preservation Office. Yet so far as the mayor is concerned, Spokane has never been in such good shape; it's a city "on the move." (Some would say "to the Third World.")


The city is responding to its fiscal problems, in part, by laying upon citizens what approaches confiscatory utilities rates -- the most regressive form of taxation. And as for increasing the city's tax base, aside from an early success up on Moran Prairie, the mayor has made no progress on the annexation issue.





Which brings us to the morale problem down in City Hall -- OK, yes, I said we would set aside "the issue," but when it comes to morale of city staff, we just can't. Except for a few diehard loyalists, the mayor has lost support and confidence of his staff -- a staff that is struggling to find its way in the absence of any political direction.


Compounding his problem is the fact that he has also lost confidence of the Spokane City Council. And in recent weeks, the council's sentiment has been transformed (finally) into action. Until recently, the mayor got from the council most everything he wanted; but no more. Led by Council President Dennis Hession, the council is now seriously questioning the mayor's budget cuts and his approach to the city's fiscal plight. And quick fixes like selling Joe Albi Stadium aren't playing well any longer.


Hession's newfound political independence is playing out most dramatically on Riverside Avenue, down by the Rookery Building. Hession is working to save this historic block through the creation of another public authority that could come up with the necessary financing. Threatened by demolition, this historic building needs to be saved. Developer Ron Wells has struggled night and day for months trying to work something out, but to no avail. On the one hand, Wells has had to deal with an owner who seems to make Scrooge look like Mother Theresa. On the other, it appears that Wells has received little or no help from the city. For example, he needs angle parking, but the mayor bailed on that idea after receiving negative feedback about the idea from businesses in the area that don't seem to understand where their long-term best interest lies.


Now the historic block faces the wrecking ball unless something good happens in the next week or so. Will Wells and Hession succeed? We hope so; but this isn't the question at hand. Rather, we want to know what our mayor has done in all this.


One would think that Mayor West would have weighed in long ago; but instead he did little more than wring his hands. Now, in reaction to Hession's bold initiative, the mayor is reduced to calling attention to the public's criticism of the last public-private partnership formed to build the River Park Square garage.


What we have needed from Mayor West isn't lamentation; it's leadership. Is this block worth saving, Mr. Mayor? Is it good for the city to have yet another parking lot? And what about greed? Is that OK? Why hasn't the mayor raised these questions, let alone provided answers? We don't know.


Stellar record? Spotty at best, and in recent months a fair observation would be that he flirts with failing grades. Which, I suppose, brings us back to the recall issue after all.

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