News

Friday, October 20, 2017

New County Commissioner Mary Kuney narrows focus on solving budget issues

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 12:31 PM

Mary Kuney was sworn in as a Spokane County Commissioner on Friday, Sept. 29. - COURTESY OF SPOKANE COUNTY
  • Courtesy of Spokane County
  • Mary Kuney was sworn in as a Spokane County Commissioner on Friday, Sept. 29.

The details of a county budget may not excite the average citizen. But for a former accountant and state auditor like Mary Kuney, there may be nothing more enticing than the challenge of balancing a budget that has a shortage of revenue.

That's the situation that Kuney has been thrust into since being appointed to the Spokane County Board of Commissioners weeks ago. And it's a challenge she relishes. After all, it was her experience as a Certified Public Accountant and a state auditor for 10 years that inspired her to run for office in the first place.

"When you're doing that, you see a lot of really good elected officials, and you see some bad elected officials," Kuney tells the Inlander. "The good ones definitely inspire you, and you see the ability to have an impact on the community and the future of the community."

Kuney hopes, by focusing on the details, she can be one of the good ones.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee chose Kuney as the next county commissioner after a contentious selection process following Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn's departure in June. The Spokane County Republican Party gave commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns three choices to fill the vacant seat. Kuney, then the county's chief deputy auditor, was the second choice of the party. County treasurer Rob Chase was the first, and marketing consultant John Guarsico was third.

It wasn't the first time Kuney faced off against Rob Chase. Kuney lost to Chase in the election for county treasurer in 2014. This time, with Inslee choosing, she got the nod.

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Follow the money on Prop 2: big bucks roll in on one side of coal & oil train initiative

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 10:52 AM


As ballots arrive in mailboxes this week, the Inlander is covering the decisions local voters will be asked to make.
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Among the issues Spokane voters will see on their ballot is Proposition 2, which asks whether the city should make it a civil infraction for anyone to bring uncovered coal train cars or rail cars of untreated crude oil through the city, subject to a $261 fine per rail car.

Proponents say the measure is necessary to increase safety as an oil train derailment with explosion could devastate downtown. Opponents say the measure is illegal and unenforceable, and would not only be costly but could eliminate local railroad jobs.

Both sides got to expand on their positions in our story this week, which you can find here.

What didn't make the cut was a look at who has been funding the pro and con campaigns:

SAFER SPOKANE
Until last week, Safer Spokane’s committee had been wrongly registered with the Public Disclosure Commission as “Proposition 2” instead of “Safer Spokane,” says Safer Spokane chairman Jim Lee. That has since been updated.

As of today, Safer Spokane reported collecting a total of $6,269.68. The largest single donations are $1,000 each from retirees Michael Bell (who donated a total of $2,150 to the campaign over several months) and Candace Schmidt (who donated a total of $1,300).

Other smaller donations came from the United Unitarian Church and other people who mostly listed their occupations as “retired.”

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Violent white supremacists, Hanford, weed & opioid death rates, morning headlines

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 9:46 AM


ON INLANDER.COM

Give a crap; go vote!
But first, read this year's Election Issue, starting with this story on the City Council race in District 1 between Tim Benn and Kate Burke.

Feds: We lacked authority over Kettle Falls Five
Federal prosecutors acknowledged they didn't have the authority to pursue criminal charges in a case against the Kettle Falls Five, Eastern Washington medical marijuana growers who were complying with state law.

Too deep
Tyler Berens is trying to escape addiction's grasp, yet something holds him back.

Third option
A nonbinary gender option will soon be available on California's birth certificates without a physician's signature. (via New York Times)

A total of 31 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation's Plutonium Finishing Plant inhaled very small amounts of radioactive material in June, following a take-cover order for a contamination spread.
  • A total of 31 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation's Plutonium Finishing Plant inhaled very small amounts of radioactive material in June, following a take-cover order for a contamination spread.

IN OTHER NEWS

Nuclear contamination
Thirty-one Hanford nuclear reservation employees tested positive for small amounts of radioactive material after a contamination spread in June. (Tri-City Herald)

White supremacist violence
Why is the brazen violence from white supremacists drawing so little attention from law enforcement? (ProPublica)

Can weed help the opioid death epidemic?
A peer-reviewed study suggests legalizing marijuana could drive down opioid-related deaths. Although the authors claim no cause and effect between the two, data from before and after Colorado legalized weed for recreational purposes suggests that nearly one fewer person per month died of an opioid overdose. But Colorado officials are skeptical. (Denver Post)
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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Feds acknowledge lack of authority in prosecuting Kettle Falls Five for medical marijuana grow

Posted By on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 12:19 PM

marijuana.jpg

Federal prosecutors acknowledged this week that they did not have the authority to pursue criminal charges in a notorious case against five Eastern Washington medical marijuana growers, known as the Kettle Falls Five, who were complying with state law.

Three of the Kettle Falls Five were convicted in 2015 for growing marijuana. One defendant took a plea deal before trial. Another, Larry Harvey, was dismissed from the case after he was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 2015. The five originally faced distribution and firearms charges, of which they were acquitted.

The three appealed their convictions, and have been out of custody while case lingers in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a brief filed Monday in the Ninth Circuit (see below), U.S. attorneys acknowledge that "the United States was not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants after December 2014 because the defendants strictly complied with the Washington State medical marijuana laws."

"I'm shocked that the government is agreeing with us, especially in light of who is in charge right now," says Frank Cikutovich, the Spokane attorney representing defendant Jason Zucker. "I'm hopeful that as far as these defendants are concerned, they'll see they've wasted enough time and money and forget about them."

Zucker took a plea deal before trial, but the conviction appeal still applies to the charges against him.

Although the case is being touted as an "historic" victory for states' rights to legalize and regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, Cikutovich is reserving his celebration.

"It's hard to say what we should anticipate next," Cikutovich says. "But it's good to see their filing. My client, as well as the others, have been saying that the entire time."

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'Hot pizza' suit, climate lawbreaker, snowplow plan, morning headlines

Posted By on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 9:40 AM


ON INLANDER.COM
oiltrain1.jpg


Snow's comin'
And city officials have approved a new plan to plow Spokane's streets. The problem is, that plan will eliminate half of the city's on-street parking all winter.

Climate criminal
A 77-year-old activist argued to a Spokane judge that he was left with no choice. He had to break the law to stop the volatile coal and oil trains passing through Spokane. The argument worked — for now.

Old soul
Spokane transplant, artist and writer Chelsea Martin's new collection of essays explores the last generation before every kid had a cellphone.


IN OTHER NEWS

'Hot Pizza' in hot water
The 67-year-old woman is suing the man who yelled "Hot pizza!" before barreling into her on the Centennial Trail last week. (Spokesman-Review)

He 'knew what he signed up for'
That's what President Trump allegedly said to the window of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed during an ambush in Niger earlier this month. Johnson's family was offended by what was supposed to be a condolence call. Trump fired back that his words were twisted, claiming that he "had a very nice conversation with the woman." (New York Times)

The other George Washington
Centralia, Washington, population 16,982, is remembering its African-American founder, George Washington — the son of a slave, whose reputation as a generous and selfless man lives on today. (Seattle Times)

Skip tracer
The "world's best bounty hunter" reveals her tricks in a two-part podcast. Listen to the first episode here. (Reply All)

Witness in custody
Prosecutors throughout the country — including Washington — are incarcerating innocent witnesses in order to compel testimony in court. (New Yorker)

Too little, too late?
A trio of U.S. senators will try to force Google, Facebook and other internet companies to reveal how they're purchasing political advertisements. (New York Times)
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New snowplow plan will eliminate half of Spokane's on-street parking all winter

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2017 at 4:27 PM

Whether it's snowing or not, cars in Spokane will only be able to park on the odd side of the street all winter. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • Whether it's snowing or not, cars in Spokane will only be able to park on the odd side of the street all winter.

The big headlines of the city's new snowplowing plan have been focused on the faster and more frequent plowing.

But for some residents, the new parking rules associated with the plow strategy may make it impossible to find a place to park on the street. From November 15 to March 15, in order to make room for regular residential snowplowing, the city's new rules require that residents only park on the odd side of the street — effectively eliminating half the city's on-street parking all winter.

In previous years, the snowplowing rules required residents to move their car to the even or odd side of the street only during a major snow event.

"We would call a snow event and ask them to run outside and move their car," says city spokeswoman Marlene Feist.

That was a source of frustration for a lot of residents. They'd be sleeping in the middle of the night when a snow event was called and wake up to find their car plowed in. Not only that, but on narrow streets, it only takes one car parked on the wrong side of the street to stop snowplows from getting through.

Last winter, plow drivers would text pictures of streets blocked by cars to City Hall.

So now, drivers will be required to park on the odd side of the street all winter, whether it's snowing or not.

Feist says that the new rule is an attempt to simplify things for residents.

"This is the simple request: Park on the odd side of the street," Feist says. "This is a collaboration. We’re asking the citizens to do this."

Yet for many neighborhoods, like West Central and Browne's Addition, access to driveways or parking garages are limited.

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Spokane judge OK's necessity defense for climate change lawbreaker

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2017 at 1:29 PM

George Taylor is one of several oil train protestors who refer to themselves as the "Climate Defenders." - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • George Taylor is one of several oil train protestors who refer to themselves as the "Climate Defenders."

The reverend believed he had no choice. Now he'll make his case to the jury.

Rev. George Taylor stood on railway tracks in September 2016 to protest what he believes to be insidious coal and oil trains rumbling through downtown Spokane, and their contribution to global climate change. Taylor, a spry 77-year-old, knew he was breaking the law. And that's the point.

He's currently facing misdemeanor charges of trespassing and obstructing or delaying a train. In court, he explained to the judge that the other ways in which he's attempted to halt the flow of coal and oil — lobbying, attending public hearings, writing to legislators, protesting — have thus far been unsuccessful.

Taylor argued that he, and the other senior citizen activists arrested on train tracks last year, were left with no choice but to break the law. His co-defendants have taken plea deals. But in order for Taylor to present his argument — known as the necessity defense — to a jury, he needed a judge's permission.

Following testimony from Taylor and experts including a climate change scientist, Spokane County District Court Judge Debra Hayes will allow the uncommon legal defense to go to a jury.

"The ultimate goal would be to keep those fossil fuels in the ground in Wyoming and Montana where they're not going to do any damage to anybody," Taylor said during a June interview. "So that would be my goal. But this is an attempt to bring to the public the urgency of this problem."

Taylor's attorney, Rachael Osborn, called Hayes' ruling "fitting for these unusual times." She notes that a judge in a Minnesota court also recently approved a necessity defense for climate change activists.

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Murray's heath-care fix, judges block Trump's third travel ban, morning headlines

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2017 at 9:29 AM


ON INLANDER.COM

NEWS: A bipartisan agreement between Washington Sen. Patty Murray and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander to provide funding for critical subsidies to health insurers is intended to stabilize health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act. (via New York Times)

NEWS: This morning on Twitter, President Trump denied a Florida congresswoman's claims that he told a grieving Army widow her husband, one of four soldiers killed in an attack in Niger earlier this month, "knew what he was signing up for." (via New York Times)

ARTS & CULTURE:
Next Thursday at the Garland Theater, the Upper Columbia United Tribes debut United By Water, a film commemorating the emotional 2016 gathering for their first tribal journey by canoe since 1943, when the Grand Coulee Dam was completed.

ARTS & CULTURE: The new photo project "Meet the Joneses" explores the Inland Northwest through a 1950s family of plastic figurines.

FOOD: Winter's coming, and we know exactly what to do with a rotisserie chicken.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray reached a bipartisan agreement to stabilize health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, defying President Trump's executive order last week aimed at undermining the ACA. - THE NEW YORK TIMES
  • The New York Times
  • Washington Sen. Patty Murray reached a bipartisan agreement to stabilize health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, defying President Trump's executive order last week aimed at undermining the ACA.

IN OTHER NEWS


Third time's not the charm
A federal judge in Maryland has joined his counterpart in Hawaii in blocking parts of the third and latest version of President Trump's controversial travel ban — which was set to take effect this morning — saying that the president's own words show it was clearly aimed at Muslims, in violation of the Constitution. (Washington Post)

No laughing matter
President Trump reportedly joked that Vice President Mike Pence "wants to hang" all gay people. Trump also reportedly mocked Pence's extremist evangelical Christian positions, including opposing abortion and the rights of LGBTQ Americans. (The Hill, New Yorker)
• Trump's joke about Pence would affirm the long-held concerns of many in the LGBTQ community. (Washington Post)

Thanks, but no thanks
Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino, who pulled out of consideration to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy on Tuesday, is the 11th nominee to withdraw from consideration for a Trump administration post. (CNN)
• Last April, Rep. Marino helped drug companies pass an industry-friendly law that hobbled the Drug Enforcement Agency's efforts to halt the spread of the opioid crisis; he took nearly $100,000 from the pharmaceutical lobby while advocating for the law. (CNN)
The drug industry's triumph over the DEA. (Washington Post)

Washington AG sues DeVos
Bob Ferguson, Washington's attorney general, sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for suspending an Obama-era rule intended to keep for-profit colleges from offering worthless degrees, leaving graduates with high levels of debt. It's the 17th time that Ferguson's office has sued the Trump administration in less than nine months. (Seattle Times)

Cyclist killed in I-90 hit-and-run
Idaho State Police are asking for the public's help to identify a bicyclist killed in a hit-and-run crash last night on I-90's westbound lanes at milepost 15.5 in Coeur d'Alene. (KHQ)

Accused murdered claims another victim
Donovan Culps, accused in last month's murder of a Cheney pot shop employee, now claims he's responsible for a separate "revenge" killing on the Yakama Reservation last year. (KHQ)

Drone near-disaster
It's been revealed that a drone crashed into a passenger plane above an airport in Québec City last week, raising new safety concerns about unmanned aircraft. (New York Times)
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Spokane unveils new snowplow plan, WSU searches for new AD, morning headlines

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 9:16 AM


ON INLANDER.COM


Mayor David Condon standing in front of one of the city's new snowplows. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • Mayor David Condon standing in front of one of the city's new snowplows.
NEWS: With another hellish winter likely on the way, the city of Spokane has a new snowplow plan that will see workers plowing the moment it snows — though that will create bigger berms.

NEWS: This week, we wrote about the issues caused by the stalled state capital budget. Here's a list of the major projects on hold because of it.

NATION: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl, 31, from Hailey, Idaho, was held captive by the Taliban for five years before the Obama administration traded him for five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. (via New York Times)


IN OTHER NEWS

No longer unspoken
The hashtag #MeToo has exploded on social media, signifying all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted, and helping people to understand the prevalence of such behavior in society. (The Atlantic)

Watch for falling trees!
Strong winds are expected to roll into town today, with gusts reaching up to 40 or 50 mph. Don't worry; this is nothing like the historic Noiveme2015 windstorm. (KREM)

Community divided
After admitting the process was botched, the Spokane City Council voted 4-2 to allow the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach center to operate the East Central Community Center. (Spokesman-Review)

Moos on the loose
Following Bill Moos' unexpected departure from his position as WSU athletic director, the university has named John Johnson, senior associate athletic director, to lead the athletic department in the interim. WSU President Kirk Schulz also announced the members of a committee that will begin the search for a new athletic director. (KXLY)

ISIS loses its capital
U.S.-backed forces in Syria claim to have taken over full control of Raqqa, the Islamic State's one-time capital that held symbolic significance. (Washington Post)
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Monday, October 16, 2017

Spokane's new snowplow plan: Faster plowing, narrower streets, bigger berms

Posted By on Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 5:41 PM

Mayor David Condon stands in front of a front-end loader equipped with a gate that can drop down to prevent snow from being plowed in front of driveways. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • Mayor David Condon stands in front of a front-end loader equipped with a gate that can drop down to prevent snow from being plowed in front of driveways.

Winter is coming to Spokane.

And if it's anything like last winter, it will be a snowy hell of fury and flurries. Last winter, complaints abounded about the city's snow response, including objections from the neighborhoods, downtown businesses and school districts.

In fact, last year, in the middle of snow season, then-Streets Director Mark Serbousek was fired from his position.

But with new Streets Director Gary Kaesemeyer in place, the Condon administration and City Councilwoman Amber Waldref have been pushing to try to reinvent the way the city gets plowed.

They even put out a survey in April to get feedback from Spokane residents.

Today, the city officially outlined their new snow-plowing strategy at a press conference in front of a new front-end loader snowplow.

"The heart of our new plan is really pretty simple," Condon said at today's press conference. "More plowing in more areas sooner."

And so far, at least, they're doing it without spending extra money. Instead, they're shifting staff from other departments to man snowplows during the snow season, and changing the order of planned fleet replacement to buy new equipment.

"We've heard you, and we're going to tackle snow differently as a result," Condon says.

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