PACs Are the Taliban

Roskelley takes on Mielke. Plus, a building crisis, a Supreme Court smackdown and the quest to end corporate statehood.

PACs Are the Taliban
Former Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelley (left) wants to take on current commissioner Todd Mielke

He's more of a mountain climber than a doctor, but former Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelley says the county is in poor health.

“I see a community today that is in serious need of CPR and a shot of adrenalin,” he said in a statement announcing his bid to rejoin the board of commissioners. “I can bring that vision and voice of reason back to the commission.”

Roskelley, a Democrat, aims his criticism at the entire commission — specifically its makeup of three Republicans. But in particular, he’s taking on Commissioner Todd Mielke, who this year is running to serve a third term on the commission.

“Mielke’s answer to a budget crisis is to increase taxes,” Roskelley said in his statement. “Examine his record. He was the public face for the recent animal control facility property tax, and lobbied the public for three sales-tax increases: a jail operations tax in March 2008; the Crime Check tax in May 2008; and the Public Safety tax in 2009. These programs were possible with alternative funding, but the options and public debate were missing.”

Roskelley was a county commissioner from 1995 to 2004, when he stepped down to join the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board at the invitation of then-governor Gary Locke. In that position, he says he’s seen the current commissioners show a “blatant disregard” for the Growth Management Act that has “cost the county millions in lawsuit settlements.”

As for his upcoming campaign, he says he’ll keep it clean, but he understands the world has changed a bit since he last ran.

“After seeing the ugly, vicious, and unsubstantiated attacks against [former state Sen. Chris] Marr and [former Spokane Mayor Mary] Verner by conservative PACs during their campaigns, I’m prepared to get into the trenches with these faceless enemies. PACs are the Taliban of politics,” he said. “My advice to the Spokane Homebuilders Association, the BIAW, the Realtors PAC, or any

other PAC wanting to preserve the status quo is to get your money out, boys, and be prepared to drop some serious Benjamin Franklins to keep your stranglehold on the present county commission.”

Roskelley says he will not take money from any PAC, union or the Democratic Party.(Nicholas Deshais)

Illegally Underfunded

Washington, its state constitution says, has a “paramount duty” to make “ample provision” for basic education of all children within its borders. That duty hasn’t been fulfilled, according to a ruling by the state Supreme Court last week.

In 2007, multiple school districts — including Spokane Public Schools — joined the Network For Excellence in Washington Schools, which asked the courts to force the state to fulfill that duty.

In 2010, King County Superior Court Judge John Ehrlich ruled that the state was in violation of its own constitution, pointing out that the state’s funding formulas produce far less than basic education requires. In response, the state created new, more complicated and accurate funding formulas.

While the formula for distributing funding is in place, says Spokane Public Schools Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson, it hasn’t changed the overall amount of funding.

“They’re continuing to cut,” Anderson says. That’s essentially what the state’s Supreme Court said when it released its decision last week. The decision applauded the suggested reforms, saying they will fix deficiencies with the school’s system, if they’re fully funded. But right now, they’re not fully funded.

The Supreme Court will maintain control over the case to ensure that the reforms are implemented by 2018. (Daniel Walters)

Occupying to Amend

The Occupy movement has found a new goal. Occupy Spokane will be petitioning the Spokane City Council to pass a resolution against the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

The effort, dubbed Move to Amend, comes after the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street passed a resolution calling for a U.S. Constitutional amendment to nullify parts of the controversial ruling.

In the 2010 decision, justices ruled that the Federal Elections Commission could not prevent corporations from giving unlimited sums of money to help support candidates for office, though they can't directly give or coordinate with a candidate's campaign.* Individual donors are limited to giving just $2,500 to each candidate per election, according to federal law.

Bethany Heath, an organizer with Occupy Spokane, says they have so far petitioned several City Council members to propose a resolution but have not yet heard back from any.

“Because of the ways that the Move to Amend is going to happen, it’s going to start locally and go to the state, and when the state ratifies it, it can go to the U.S. Congress,” Heath says. Councilman Jon Snyder says he has not yet been contacted about pursuing a resolution but says he is opposed to the Citizens United decision.

“It’s basically saying the more money you put into a speech, the more protected it is,” Snyder says. “I think it’s terrible for public policy.” (Chris Stein)

To Kill a Jensen-Byrd

The Spokane Preservation Advocates are still fighting for the renovation and preservation of the Jensen-Byrd building, located in Spokane’s University District.

The historic building was sold to the Texas-based company Campus Advantage in December for $2.85 million, after approval by Washington State University’s Board of Regents. Campus Advantage plans to demolish the building this summer to make way for student housing.

In a letter written early this month, the preservation group appealed to the board to take into consideration that the building is a historic part of Spokane.

“There is ample undeveloped land in that district for new construction,” the group wrote in a letter dated Jan. 2. “The Jensen-Byrd Building provides a unique opportunity to throw a national spotlight on WSU’s commitments to innovation through the use of historic preservation as an economic development tool.”

The building was constructed in 1909 for the Marshall-Wells Hardware Co. of Duluth, Minn., but it is currently vacant. Campus Advantage says it plans to replace the Jensen-Byrd with a five-story, 425-bed student-housing facility.

According to the preservation advocates’ letter, Spokane developer Ron Wells made an offer equal to the $2.85 million by Campus Advantage and promised to renovate the building instead of demolishing it. The university said that Wells’ request for nine months to assemble financing was too long.

“WSU sold to a developer known for its track record in creating high-quality, livable, well-managed housing that appeals to students,” the university says in a statement. “Our decisions around capital development are not made lightly, and when we enter into contracts, we do so in good faith. To ask us to do anything less is to ask us to ignore our legal and fiduciary obligations as a state university.” (Lauren Miller)

* An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the Citizens United ruling

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