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Vacant hotseat 

& & by Pia K. Hansen & & & &

Complaining about the City Council's inability to get along has turned into a favorite pastime in Spokane. Now there is a perfect opportunity for anyone who feels qualified to help remedy what ails the council, because Councilman Rob Higgins will become City Council president, and therefore he'll leave an open seat on the city's most controversial board. Anyone who's interested in serving until next election may apply, but many fear that the six remaining council members will never be able to agree on which person to appoint.

Applications must be in the City Council office at the end of the day Friday, Dec. 29, the last business day of the year. The council will go over all the applications, and five candidates will be called in for interviews, before one is finally appointed.

"Appointing someone requires four votes, and that's going to be a challenge in itself," says Councilman Steve Corker, who finds it very likely that some of the many controversial issues facing the council will be brought up in the interview process. "As long as the River Park Square garage issue is so hot and heavy, I don't see how that can be bagged in an interview process. I think there is an opportunity for this seat to be vacant for maybe three months -- but Powers may not agree with me."

Mayor-elect John Powers says he'd like to see the position filled as soon as possible. He will not have a say in who's appointed, but would like to see someone with a longstanding, demonstrated commitment to the community.

"I'd also like to see some real independence in that person," he adds, "and no pre-judging of the issues. And I'd like for the council to find someone by the end of January. If it drags on, there is less incentive for the appointee to do it. If we drag this issue to March, for instance, there will only be seven or eight months left to serve."

A few of the candidates have already tried their luck in past elections and lost, and Corker isn't sure whether this is to their advantage. "I'm not sure if we are going to go for someone who's already run for election, if that's supposed to matter," he says. Some may look at an eventual appointee who's lost elections prior to the appointment as someone who's trying to circumvent the democratic process and get on the council in spite of voters' disapproval.

One candidate with a lost election in his recent past is Al French, a Spokane architect and committed neighborhood activist, who handed in his application Friday.

"I ran for the City Council last fall and lost to Steve Corker, but I still have a big love and desire to help move the community forward," says French. "I serve as the community liaison for the neighborhood council assembly, and the skills I have developed in that position are what I'm going to the council with."

French, who has provided input to Powers' transition team about the Convention Center expansion and other issues, says the council needs to broaden its perspective.

"We have spend a lot of time on a very small agenda, and River Park Square has dominated a good part of it," he says. "But we need to address poverty and we need to address our streets, and also the Convention Center expansion. We don't need to steer the City Council away from River Park Square issues -- clearly it has to be resolved -- but we can't continue to spend resources on just one issue when there are so many other things we need to deal with."

Among the 20 or so applicants, others who have applied include Shawn Quine, a college student, and Randy Quinn, pastor of the Deer Park Methodist Church. Past candidates Jim Kolva and David Bray are also said to be considering applying. Another applicant is Barbara Lampert, who works as a nursing assistant, and has run for many positions in local government during the 20 years she's lived in Spokane.

"I have a lot of experience, and I feel like that gives me a good finger in the wind as to what people really are concerned about," says Lampert.

Among the not-so-well-known faces is a candidate who's not ashamed to admit that he would never actually campaign and run in a traditional way.

"I would never run for a city government position, but I'm interested in this seat as a citizen of the community and as an administrator by trade," says Khalil Islam, assistant to the Dean of Students at EWU and the chair of the Spokane Human Rights Commission. "A big complaint I hear in the community is that the council can't get along, and I believe I'd bring a way of helping the council get along with one another."

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