Wednesday, November 30, 2016

State auditor's office clears Spokane Valley of wrongdoing in firing of city manager

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 4:31 PM

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When Spokane Valley City Council voted 4-3 to oust city manager Mike Jackson in February while offering no explanation for the move, many citizens were outraged. Two councilmembers — Dean Grafos and Chuck Hafner — who voted against Jackson's firing eventually left their seats, citing the decision as a major reason for leaving.

Comments and actions made by the council majority — Mayor Rod Higgins, Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard and councilmen Ed Pace and Sam Wood — did little to alleviate concerns that they may have violated the state's Open Public Meetings Act in the way they decided to get rid of Jackson. In a March interview with the Inlander, Pace admitted that the week before Jackson was fired, Higgins and Woodard told Jackson that he should resign — potentially marking a decision made outside of a public meeting. Email records later obtained by the Spokesman-Review revealed that councilmembers emailed about the city manager before ousting Jackson, furthering the notion that the decision was a violation of state law.

But an investigation completed this month by the state auditor's office has addressed those questions. The Spokane Valley City Council did not do anything inappropriate, according to the evidence the auditor's office reviewed.

Grafos isn't satisfied.

"I'm very disappointed that the state of Washington failed, or chose not to recognize, the spirit of the law in regard to the secretive, serial meetings and disrespect by the council for the citizens of Spokane Valley and their tax dollars," Grafos says in response to the findings.

The auditor's office explained their findings in a letter to the current city manager, Mark Calhoun, dated Nov. 10, 2016. The office says there were 14 instances where there was "communication between a quorum of board members," but all instances were a "passive receipt of information."

The "passive receipt of information," says audit manager Brad White, includes the email that Mayor Higgins received from former Spokane County Undersheriff Dave Wiyrick suggesting that Jackson would  "need to be put under control" shortly before Jackson's ouster. Higgins forwarded that to Wood, Pace and Woodard, but not the other three councilmembers.

But because only Pace responded to the email, that does not represent a quorum, and therefore does not violate state law. If Wood and Woodard would have responded, it likely would have violated open meetings laws, according to White.

As for the mayor and deputy mayor approaching Jackson and telling him he should resign days before his ouster, White said there was no documentation of any encounter Jackson had with the mayor and deputy mayor for the auditor's office to review.

"We can only look at things officially documented," White says.

A total of 10 citizens shared concerns with the auditor's office. Aside from accusing the city council of discussing city business outside of public meetings, they accused the city of paying Jackson $320,000 more than he should have received "to go quietly" (Jackson, as part of the deal, agreed not to disparage officials). Finally, the citizens alleged that the city intentionally and illegally diverted $270,000 in community development block grant funds to other governmental entities.

Responding to the allegation that the city paid Jackson to go quietly, the auditor's office found that the "main reason" for the larger payment was because of negotiations allowing him to be paid 18 months of salary and his entire sick leave balance. In regards to the final allegation of diverting money to other governmental entities, the auditor's office found that the transfer of funds was "not inappropriate."

White says the auditor's office took the allegations seriously.

"I think we did as thorough an investigation as we can," White says. "We were not looking to come out on the side of the city, or of the citizens. We have to go by what the state laws are, and we didn't find any violations."
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Elton John returning for Spokane Arena show on March 5

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Elton John at Spokane Arena in 2014 - AMY HUNTER
  • Amy Hunter
  • Elton John at Spokane Arena in 2014

Here comes the regular.

Elton John, who came through Spokane just two years ago, is coming back to the Lilac City for a show at Spokane Arena on Sunday, March 5. Tickets are $49, $79 and $159, and go on sale next Saturday, Dec. 10, at 10 am through TicketsWest outlets and the arena box office. So mark your calendars, people!

John is touring with his long-time band that includes Nigel Olsson on drums, Davey Johnstone on guitar, John Mahon on percussion, Kim Bullard on keyboard and Matt Bissonnette on bass.

John's last performance in Spokane garnered the "Best Concert of the Past Year" prize in our Best of the Inland Northwest issue in 2015, so clearly he still has the chops that made him a superstar in the '70s and beyond, thanks to hits like "Rocket Man," "Philadelphia Freedom" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," among many, many more.
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Black and white and surprise outdoor weed bans (and other morning headlines)

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 9:44 AM

I imagine Trump on my left shoulder whispering into my ear, trying to get me to be evil, and Romney on my right, trying to convince me to be good - GETTY IMAGES
  • Getty Images
  • I imagine Trump on my left shoulder whispering into my ear, trying to get me to be evil, and Romney on my right, trying to convince me to be good

On Inlander.com

Paint It Black
Lewis Black, he of bulging angry forehead vein fame, is coming to Spokane.

Paint It White
Snow is beginning to fall, ominously, over the city of Spokane. Here's where you can ski.

HERE


Weed Pulling

The Spokane County Commissioners quietly passed an ordinance to put a moratorium on outdoor marijuana farms, with County Commissioner Al French saying “You don’t want to advertise these things before they even take effect.” (Spokesman-Review)

Interior Decorating

The Spokesman-Review reports that Cathy McMorris Rodgers is being considered for Secretary of the Interior. (Spokesman-Review)

A Solid Bee
WSU is working on breeding stronger honey bees, because apparently they haven't seen that terrifying Black Mirror episode yet. (KREM)

THERE

Air Conditioner Repair
Trump and Pence help keep air conditioner jobs in the United States — but we don't know the details yet. (New York Times)

Deal With A Donald
Mitt Romney, who slammed Trump as a danger to the country, looks to be repairing things with the President-Elect in an attempt to be Secretary of State. Is this an example of Romney's patriotism — trying to do what he can to limit the damage of the Trump presidency?  Or has he been seduced by the trucker-hat-stitched promises of Trump, like so many of his fellow Republicans. (Washington Post)

Priced In
Tom Price, Trump's pick for the Health and Human Services  Committee — gasp! — doesn't even like Obamacare! (The Atlantic)
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Lewis Black brings his standup tour to Northern Quest March 19

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 2:53 PM

Lewis Black performs at Northern Quest Resort and Casino on March 19.
  • Lewis Black performs at Northern Quest Resort and Casino on March 19.

Chances are decent that you're already exhausted by all the chatter surrounding our president-elect. But if there's one guy who might inspire you to willfully — even gleefully — take in a full night of Trump Talk, it just might be the perpetually outraged comedian Lewis Black.

Well, lucky you, because The Other Man In Black is returning to the Inland Northwest for a show at Northern Quest Resort and Casino just a couple months after Trump takes office. Who knows what kind of shenanigans the country will have witnessed by then?

Black has plenty of material beyond politics to stoke his outrage, but it's hard to imagine the longtime Daily Show regular will be able to resist focusing on the election's various characters, from candidates to media pundits to the so-called "basket of deplorables."

Black performs on March 19. Tickets go on sale Saturday at 8:30 am through the Northern Quest website; they cost $45, $55 and $75.

Black last performed in Spokane in 2014 on his The Rant Is Due tour, when frustration at the midterm elections had him up in arms.
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Let it snow: Where you can ski this weekend

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 1:54 PM

Schweitzer Mountain Resort opens for the season on Friday.
  • Schweitzer Mountain Resort opens for the season on Friday.

Patience is not exactly a virtue of the snow-loving skiers and snowboarders I know —understandable given that the elements conspire to put their favorite hobby on hold for at least a few months every year, barring some serious travel.

With the temps down and some snow in the air, we're finally getting some openings at area ski resorts.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort announced today that the Sandpoint ski spot will open for the season this Friday, with Musical Chairs and Basin Quad Express both running and adult tickets going for $45. On Saturday, the resort will add the Lakeview Triple run to the mix, and adult tix rise to $55 for a full day.

To check out some of the more far-flung resorts in the region, you'll want to peruse our massive resort guide.

Here's the lowdown on the resorts close to home:

Continue reading »

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Trump's cabinet grows, 85-year-old suspected molester and morning headlines

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 9:27 AM


ON INLANDER.COM


NEWS: This is something you probably don't want to hear: syphilis rates in Spokane are rising.

IN OTHER NEWS


Sexual predator
An 85-year-old man was arrested for first-degree child rape, child molestation and unlawful imprisonment of a young girl, and Spokane County Sheriff's deputies suspect the man, Marvin E. Petersen, had been sexually assaulting girls since the 1950s. (KXLY)

Budget approved
The Spokane City Council approved its 2017 budget last night. The budget will devote more money to services for the poor. (Spokesman-Review)

Downtown opening up
The construction project that has caused lane closures on Monroe and Lincoln downtown should be complete next Monday, according to the city. (KHQ)

Knife attack
What was originally described as an active shooter on Ohio State's campus yesterday was actually a student who crashed his vehicle into pedestrians, then slashed at students with a butcher knife. The attacker was shot and killed by a university police officer. Eleven people were hospitalized, with one in critical condition. (USA Today)

Repeal and replace
Donald Trump has picked Tom Price, a six-term Republican congressman, as his secretary of health and human services. Price is a leading advocate of dismantling the Affordable Care Act. (New York Times)

Free speech
Donald Trump made more news on Twitter this morning, stating "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!" This is a direct conflict of free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
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Monday, November 28, 2016

Attack at Ohio State University, Castro is dead and other headlines

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2016 at 9:42 AM


ON INLANDER.COM

THIS WEEK: Die Hard at the Bing, a poetry reading in Cheney and The Chris Robinson Brotherhood to kick off the first week of December.

Fake News: a new study out of Stanford found that middle school, high school and college aged students are easily duped into thinking sponsored content is real news or fail to see the influence of political bias.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: How confidential informants keep the justice system out of the public's view.

IN OTHER NEWS:

• At least eight people have been taken to a hospital after reports of an "active shooter" at Ohio State University. One of those people is in critical condition, authorities say. (New York Times, CNN)

• Former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died last week. Although he leaves behind a complicated legacy, many remember the Communist leader for his oppressive regime that eliminated dissent and deprived Cuban citizens of basic human rights. He was 90. (Miami Herald, New York Times)


• Talk of changing the law that protects Washington state cops from criminal prosecution moves forward. The law, which some prosecutors say makes it nearly impossible to bring charges in use of deadly force situations, says officers cannot be charged unless they acted with malice and in bad faith. (Seattle Times)

• A federal judge will allow the man accused of killing nine African American church worshipers to represent himself at trial. Dylann Roof, 22, could be sentenced to death if convicted. (Post and Courier)

Editor's note: the original headline inaccurately described a "shooter" at Ohio State University. The man used a knife and a car in his attack on the university's campus, not a gun.
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Sunday, November 27, 2016

THIS WEEK: Die Hard, Kendall Yards Artisan Fest, Bing fest and more

Posted By on Sun, Nov 27, 2016 at 3:00 PM

The Bing Crosby Film Festival happens Saturday at, you guessed it, The Bing.
  • The Bing Crosby Film Festival happens Saturday at, you guessed it, The Bing.

If you haven't scoped out a calendar lately, let me be the first to let you know we hit December this week, so feel free to start panicking about Christmas shopping instead of Thanksgiving prep, and musing on where the year went.

Instead of getting all maudlin, though, maybe you should just go out and play, using our event listings and Staff Picks to figure out a game plan.

Here are some highlights of the week ahead:

Monday, Nov. 28

ETC | Go out to Northern Quest and hope they call you to "come on down" and get in on The Price Is Right Live! action. You know you've always wanted to spin the big wheel and play in the showcase showdown.

Continue reading »

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Study: Students easily tricked by fake or biased news

Posted By on Fri, Nov 25, 2016 at 10:29 AM

People may know how to use this tablet, but can they identify fake news?
  • People may know how to use this tablet, but can they identify fake news?

It's not only adults who have trouble judging fake news from real news. Students, even if they're more digital-savvy than adults, often are duped by sponsored or politically biased content, too, according to a new Stanford study.

Stanford researchers collected responses to more than 50 tasks from 7,804 students across 12 states between January 2015 and June 2016. The study, released this week, came to the conclusion that middle school, high school and college students are easily tricked into thinking sponsored content is news or fail to see how political bias can influence content. Researchers described students' ability to discern information on the internet as "bleak."

"Our 'digital natives' may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped," the study says.

Inlander contributor Scott A. Leadingham wrote about the spread of fake information on social media in last week's paper. On Facebook, for example, a fake story about Megyn Kelly being fired from Fox News for supporting Hillary Clinton became a "Trending Topic" on the social media site.

Continue reading »

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Experts explain how confidential informants infect the criminal justice system

Posted By on Fri, Nov 25, 2016 at 10:12 AM

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Transparency is essential to a fair and equitable criminal justice system. Knowing how we handle criminal behavior and dole out punishment allows the public to hold law enforcement accountable. The use of confidential informants, however, can pervert that premise in many ways.

"We rely on such information to monitor whether the criminal system is effective and fair — in individual cases as well as more broadly," Alexandra Natapoff writes in her book on confidential informants. "Taking such information off the public record thus bolsters law enforcement authority while reducing the ability of legislatures, the press and the public to evaluate executive actors and hold them accountable."

Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, is considered one of the nation's leading experts in the use of confidential informants. She has testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in 2007 and had a hand in writing legislation in Florida known as Rachel's Law, which was enacted in the wake of a young drug informant's death.

The Inlander spoke with Natapoff for our story about Isaiah Wall, a 19-year-old drug informant who ended up dead 11 days after he started working for police.

During that conversation and in her book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice, Natapoff points to ways the use of confidential informants has transformed the justice system:

Continue reading »

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