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The Spokane City Council’s free-for-all on charter amendments

click to enlarge Mike Allen wants voters to decide the police ombudsman’s powers.
  • Mike Allen wants voters to decide the police ombudsman’s powers.

The Spokane City Council this week did the easy part, spending $200,000 to set up a series of public votes come February. The question now is whether voters will approve tax restrictions, police ombudsman powers and library funding as easily as they came to be on the ballot.

In an auditorium packed with pro-library public commenters Monday night, the council gave its stamp of approval to each of three city charter amendments.

The rush on amendments to the city charter — that’s like Spokane’s local constitution — began with the police ombudsman amendment, which councilmen Steve Salvatori and Mike Allen sponsored. It would allow for the city’s police ombudsman to independently investigate alleged misconduct within the police department. It’s one piece of unresolved fallout from the death of Otto Zehm in 2006 at the hands of Spokane police.

The tax restriction amendment, sponsored by Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, would require five votes — rather than the current simple majority of four — to approve any city tax raises. The councilwoman says the change was inspired by the popular ballot measures that have restricted taxes Olympia can collect.

The tax levy for the library means someone with a $100,000 house would pay $7 more per year in property taxes. Currently, the library’s projected $500,000 deficit for 2014 would go beyond layoffs or restricted hours.

“We’d lose the East Central and Hillyard libraries,” said Council President Ben Stuckart, when presenting the amendment.

Passing the tax would not only save those two branches, but would open those branches back up — along with the Indian Trail Library — to five days a week, according to Stuckart.

Councilman Mike Fagan, who lambasted libraries as government overreach for providing genealogy sections and movie nights, sported a blue sweatshirt with “Let the People Decide” emblazoned in yellow.

While Fagan declined to criticize the library — perhaps humbled by a grade-school student who called him out by name in public testimony — Fagan urged voters to “always, continually and constantly challenge your government to be better.” 

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