Raining Money

Big bucks flowing in the Spokane City Council campaigns; plus, another inmate dies on the job

Political Windfall

Two races for the Spokane City Council with the potential to change the body's conservative bent are getting costly. The four candidates have raised more than $240,000 between them and interested PACs have spent $70,000 on airtime to run ads attacking or praising them.

Liberal Candace Mumm and conservative Michael Cannon are vying for the seat representing northwest Spokane being vacated by Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin. Incumbent Jon Snyder is facing a challenge from former Republican State Rep. John Ahern for his seat representing the South Hill, Browne's Addition and downtown. Both races are the subject of a dramatic, $50,000 run of TV spots criticizing Snyder's and Mumm's support from unions and paid for by the political action committee Jobs and Prosperity for Spokane. (The PAC is funded by homebuilders and contractors groups and Eastern Washington PAC, for which Mayor David Condon helps fundraise.) Another group, Citizens for Honest Government, has shot back with $30,000 in ads and mailers praising Mumm and Snyder. A pro-Snyder mailer blasts Ahern as an "absentee leader," stamping "FAILED LEADERSHIP" over his photo.

Read more about the candidates and who's paying their way here.


Fatal Consequences

Almost exactly one year after a similar fatal workplace incident resulted in fines and new safety protocols, a second Airway Heights Corrections Center inmate died last week while serving on a Department of Natural Resources work crew in Stevens County.

Daniel J. Hall, 47, died last Thursday while clearing DNR-owned timberland south of Springdale. Investigators say Hall was struck by a falling snag. He becomes the second person to suffer a fatal injury in the history of the state's prison work program.

Another Airway Heights inmate, 22-year-old Danny Bergeson of Sedro-Wooley, became the program's first fatality when he was electrocuted on Oct. 15, 2012. In the wake of Bergeson's death, officials with the Department of Labor & Industries cited the DNR with five safety and training violations. DNR also paid a $25,100 fine.

DNR officials reported they had introduced new protocols to identify and avoid hazards before each inmate work project. Spokesman Peter Lavallee could not comment on the precautions in place prior to Hall's death.


Meeting in Secret

Along with a Growth Management Hearings Board challenge and gubernatorial skepticism, Spokane County's land-use expansion has resulted in yet another hurdle for the county: An open meeting act violation complaint before Spokane Superior Court.

Some of the same land-use groups that have long objected to the expansion allege that on May 13, 2013, the County Commissioners met with Department of Commerce employee Leonard Bauer to discuss the expansion. But that meeting, the Center for Justice argues in a complaint filed last Friday, was "held in executive session with no public allowed to attend and no meeting notes, audio recording, or transcript available for the public."

And with that, the complaint alleges, the county broke state law. The Center for Justice argues that by having a member of the Department of Commerce there, the exemption for discussions with legal counsel didn't apply.

That's where the county differs. Commissioner Todd Mielke argues the law allows the county to seek advice from outside groups during executive session when there's proposed and potential litigation. They had a possible lawsuit looming during that meeting, he says, from the same group that's suing now.

The Center for Justice not only wants the court to assess a minor fine — $100 per commissioner per incident — it wants any decisions made during that meeting to be reversed. Center for Justice Executive Director Rick Eichstaedt says he isn't sure what that will mean for the county because, well, the meeting happened behind closed doors.