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What's the Big Hurry? 

by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & nstead of choosing Mary Verner's successor sometime in mid-January, the City Council has shocked many by deciding to cut off applications this Friday and to fill the vacancy as early as Dec. 17. Citizens of South Spokane can apply for the job, and the council will winnow the field to three or so, then pick a person to finish out the remaining two years of Verner's term.





Councilman Al French, the promoter of the hurry-up decision-making process, says he is concerned about passing the budget by year's end; he fears a 3-3 tie, so he wants a seventh vote. French can't be serious about this as a justification. As Mayor Verner herself pointed out, inasmuch as the budget will be voted on almost immediately, the seventh member won't possibly be able to learn enough to cast an informed vote.





What's worse, neither Verner nor incoming City Councilman Richard Rush, the two election winners from South Spokane, aka District No. 2 (once again the district with the largest voter turnout), will be able to influence the choice of one-half of their district's Council delegation. Rather, District No. 2 will be represented in the selection process by the losing candidate, Brad Stark, who didn't just lose his seat; he was summarily dumped. Rush, a largely unknown newcomer and first-time candidate, beat Stark by eight points. In a town where name recognition counts for so much, that's a landslide.





And these numbers don't tell the whole story. As in the mayor's race, a major financial advantage turned out to be a kind of liability come Election Day. According to state election records, Stark raised $52,600 to Richard Rush's $29,900. And while most of Rush's money came from small contributions -- he had only had two contributions at or above $1,000 -- some $27,000, more than half Stark's total, came from only 14 contributions.





But wait, there's more: Setting aside Stark's single contribution to himself, six of those remaining 13 large contributions came from various realtors' and homebuilders' political action committees. Another five came from Coeur d'Alene (guess who that would be), and the remaining two from Avista (our publicly regulated, supposedly apolitical monopoly which gave Mayor Dennis Hession $14,000 while giving Mary Verner zero). What the numbers show is that Stark's 13 major contributions carried the political agendas of just three narrow special interests. If it walks like a duck...





Rush's broader base of support (almost twice the number of donors) made it possible for him to run a labor intensive "retail" campaign, while Stark (like Mayor Hession, by the way) was left to run a "wholesale" campaign. In the end Stark had the big checks, but he had no foot soldiers and Rush won going away.





And just what were Stark's supporters expecting to get for all that money? My deduction is that their support of Stark had less to do with what he could do for them than it did with what they thought that Rush might do to them. Rush must have surprised Stark's supporters with his eloquent and persuasive case for growth management via the Comprehensive Plan, which, argued Rush, remains the city's only legitimate planning guide and should serve as the template to guide development, new as well as infill. If you don't like the Plan, change it; but, argued Rush, you can't just ignore it.





To the contrary, Stark was political bedfellows with those who have never supported growth management. And the voters in District No. 2, in no uncertain terms, rejected Stark's political views. My guess is that supporters of both Stark and Hession now fear a Council that might actually take growth management seriously.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hich brings us back to this hurry-up process. South Hill voters made choices in the last election -- clear statements about what they want in their elected representatives. If that spirit is not honored by the City Council's choice to replace Verner, the very moral core of our system of district representation will be violated. (Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin says that all she wants to do is avoid a "hiccup." Some hiccup!)





So, what to do? We need to consider the Council decision in context. Are there forces at play that want to replace Mary Verner with somebody more like Brad Stark than Richard Rush? We'll start seeing the names of candidates soon, and we'll hear the speeches from the council members. Soon we'll find out if the South Hill delegation is being set up to become a stalemate when it comes to growth management, or if it will consist of two people who have similar views -- views in step with the majority of South Hill voters.





It's still not too late for the Council to wait until mid-January to make the appointment, with Rush involved in the decision. But if they don't -- if they are bent on hurrying this decision -- they'd better take care to appoint someone who reflects the recent election results.
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