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Verner's Ride-Along 

Mayor Verner takes a trip into Spokane’s heart of darkness; plus, tuning up democracy and hunting down wolves

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MAYOR OF THE MIDNIGHT CITY

Mayor Mary Verner, in blue jeans and a dark wool coat, walked softly into the basement of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church on a recent Saturday morning, where Spokane’s black pastors had gathered for a regular business meeting.

She had spent Friday night getting a different view of the city — her city — than she gets from the seventh floor of City Hall. She rode the night in a police cruiser. And not for the first time, she says.

“We have a lot of broken families,” Verner says. “There is one call that’s haunted me. I haven’t had any sleep all night.”

The call was first broadcast as a crowd of children — dressed in black — dancing in the middle of Maple near Mission. Further details come. They’re not dancing. They’re fighting. The cruiser speeds across town.

“There was a clump of young people… all excited. They want to tell the police officers how they were attacked by West Side,” the mayor says. “They are not hiding anything at all. ‘We’re North Side,’ they say. ‘West Side is messing with us.’ Can you imagine that you are in a gang and call the cops because another gang attacks you?”

It’s weird. But it gets weirder. “They say they were attacked because they were gay.”

The attackers have scattered, but soon, the officer and the mayor come upon two kids running down an alley. The skinny one says he was angered that — “I’m going to be gritty with you,” the mayor warns the pastors, not sparing them the language — “that those faggot North Siders came down here in my park.”

His friend, wearing only a short-sleeved shirt on the cold night, has been living in a dumpster in the alley. For months, it turns out.

As they are placed in the back of the cruiser, not aware of who is riding along, the one shrugs off going to juvie. “It will be warm,” Verner hears him tell his friend.

“What are we going to do about these young people?” the mayor asks the pastors. “They haven’t been in school all year.

“These are the things that haunt me. I serve as the mayor and of course I’m responsible for the budget and business and economic development, but if we don’t fi nd a way to deal with the broken people in our city… I’m real concerned.”

She had left the call at midnight. And here she was with the pastors.

“I didn’t know what you wanted me to talk about this morning. I felt I had to share what was on my heart,” Verner says.

Just as softly as she came in, the mayor turns around and leaves.

UPDATE, Nov. 20: The mayor says she has reached out to the Colville Confederated Tribes and has located social service support and family members who have agreed to help the homeless teenager upon his release. She has also discovered that the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations, which helps Native American youth combat drugs and alcohol, is not part of the juvenile justice system. She’s seeking to rectify that. (KEVIN TAYLOR)

DIRECT DEMOCRACY TUNE-UP

This Monday, the Spokane City Council will consider changing the way initiatives and referendums reach the ballot.

The proposed changes — which attendees to the council meeting will be allowed to comment on — give full authority to the city attorney in writing the language that will appear on the ballot and compels the city to perform a “fiscal impact statement” on any measure that receives enough signatures to reach the ballot.

“I have to admit that all of these were ripped off, stolen from the state,” says Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo. “These are the ones that made sense for us to adopt.”

The proposed modifications come on the heels of Prop. 4, the ballot measure that was defeated by a three-to-one margin earlier this month, and are sponsored by Councilman Al French. French tried and failed to keep the Community Bill of Rights off the ballot entirely, despite the measure collecting more than 5,000 signatures (when just 2,800 were needed to qualify). At a later meeting, he put two additional “advisory questions” on the ballot — asking what taxes should be raised and which city services should be cut to pay for the Bill of Rights. This was meant only to confuse voters, Prop 4 supporters said.

Piccolo says the changes are just a way to “clear up some confusions” about the filing process. Additional changes in the ordinance would prevent the City Council from removing any measure from the ballot and imposes an earlier filing date for every measure to allow for a 10-day review by the city attorney for “advisory recommendations.” The City Council meets Mondays at 6 pm at City Hall. (NICHOLAS DESHAIS)

IDAHO: NOT ENOUGH DEAD WOLVES

Overriding advice from its own professional staff, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission decided to double the length of the state’s first hunting season for gray wolves to March 31.

This extends the kill into denning season. Wolves in the state give birth to pups from mid-February through March, says Ken Fishman, vice president of the Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance.

Game commissioners and legislators have said there are too many wolves in Idaho and set a quota of 220 starting Sept. 1. Hunters shot 111 through Nov. 19. Wolf hunting was to end Dec. 31 in 10 of 12 designated areas, but now will run until March 31 in all 12 districts.

Fishman says the low number of kills may indicate the state overestimated how many wolves are out there. (KEVIN TAYLOR)

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