Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Staff Picks: Top five Inlander City Hall stories of 2013

Posted By on Wed, Jan 1, 2014 at 10:09 AM

click to enlarge Staff Picks: Top five Inlander City Hall stories of 2013
The Spokane City Council

It was like picking at a scab.

After ending 2012 with a bitter budget fight, leaders at City Hall appeared to be building some bridges in 2013. The mayor's budget restored some of the cutbacks liberals had fought the year before, and the council got behind (most of) a set of administration-led efforts aimed at downtown mischief, like skateboarding and vehicle prowling. But then, things went to hell.

As the leaves turned, new battles brewed. The final downtown ordinance, an expansion of the city's sit-lie ban was contentious, and the fight over Spokane's Office of Police Ombudsman resurfaced. As the mayor has promised he's doing everything in his power to increase the office's independence, council members have criticized his negotiations with the police guild, at one point unanimously rejecting the agreement the two sides reached. That battle begins our list of the top stories from City Hall this year.

1. Out of Excuses, September 10:

As negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild dragged on toward the two-year mark, Councilman Steve Salvatori spearheaded an effort to empower the ombudsman through a city ordinance instead of a contract change, leaving the city open to an unfair labor practice suit from the guild. But before the council voted on that ordinance, the mayor announced a deal had been reached. We got an early look at it, which confirmed what oversight advocates had been saying: it didn't include the power for the ombudsman to open his own investigations outside the police department's Internal Affairs process. The council rejected it, then warmed to a plan including the same contract and a new ordinance, then postponed voting on it. The disagreements are complex (we boiled the central questions down here) and, as we enter 2014, you can be sure you haven't heard the last of this.

2. Raising the Stakes, October 17:

This year's races for Spokane City Council were some of the most expensive in the city's history, attracting big donors and PAC-funded attack ads. In the end, incumbent Jon Snyder kept his seat and liberal Candace Mumm beat conservative Michael Cannon. Her replacement of Nancy McLaughlin will tip the council's balance to the left.

3. To Hire and Fire, September 24:

In adding and reorganizing departments, including police, fire and parks, Mayor David Condon reduced the number of city employees hired through the civil service testing process, drawing criticism from Council President Ben Stuckart and others.

4. Judgment Day, August 28:

A business-vs-activists court battle brought Envision Spokane's Community Bill of Rights into the spotlight once again. In a challenge over whether their ballot initiatives were beyond the city's scope of authority, that group, along with Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution, lost to economic groups, county commissioners and a handful of city council members.

5. Time's Up, April 30:

The city bought card-friendly, sensor-equipped parking meters for downtown this year, prompting cries of "big brother." Later in the year, the city council passed a program to begin booting the cars of people with four or more unpaid parking tickets.

RUNNER UP: marijuana zoning. While most of the heavy lifting of creating Washington's new legal marijuana market happened in Olympia, Spokane leaders debated and created new zoning regulations to manage where new medical and recreational businesses will be allowed in the city. Find a map of the final agreement here.

Look for the biggest Inlander stories of the year in this week's newspaper along with the most popular print stories, blog posts and other highlights online.

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Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...