An open letter to Spokane's new mayor, Nadine Woodward

click to enlarge CALEB WALSH ILLUSTRATION
Caleb Walsh illustration

Congratulations on your win! Now you only get three months to get a second term. That sounds ridiculous, but it isn't. It takes a long time to move an institution like the city of Spokane in a direction. The first 100 days are key to setting up your success. Start with your administration staff: Hire the right people, not the convenient people. Mayor David Condon got this right and it was a big factor in getting that second term.

OK, you ran on Spokane Solutions, time to start delivering because you don't have years to plan them.

Deliver on your campaign pledge: The downtown homeless issue. That is a big pledge considering the large sums of money that have been tossed at this issue for five years now, and we just get more of it. We are at a tipping point, we don't want to be Portland or Seattle. We are counting on you!

But you also need a bigger vision than the homelessness issue. As important as that issue is, we need a vision of where we are going as a city. Communicate that vision. Some ideas: Revitalization of Division Street from downtown to Francis Avenue, to include more housing and transportation frequency; bringing this mythical community policing model into existence; or perhaps annexation of certain areas that has been needed for a long time. There is no shortage of opportunities, so find yours. Otherwise, you will be subject to the City Council's agenda and vision, and you will be perceived as reactionary.

Don't be afraid to make decisions. I watched Mayor Mary Verner kick the can down the road on many issues including problems in the Police Department. The result was having them all land back on her lap five weeks before the general election. She had won the primary by almost 30 percentage points and then lost the general. That lack of decision-making at the appropriate time cost her a second term.

Pick your battles. Especially with a veto-proof council. There is always a natural conflict between the mayor and council president, even when they view the world in a similar way. From my experience, most of the time you can find a solution, but sometimes you can't. It's not personal and don't let it become personal. If you do, it degrades into a toxic environment and puts city staff in a very difficult place. Compromise is only dirty when it benefits the few instead of the many.

Rebuild relationships with key for-profit and nonprofit organizations in our community. If done right, they can be your greatest asset and most faithful allies. As mayor, you don't run everything within the city limits and they don't need to bend to your will. Also, listen and understand the staff at City Hall because their institutional memory is invaluable. To me, this is a simple one and can be a huge win for you and our community.

Your time is tight, and this is a 24/7 job, but don't forget the citizens who helped to get you elected. There are going to be some very rough days, so just keep your head. Take a few minutes every day to keep those relationships, because you will need them in the future.

Finally, don't be so driven by ego that you fail to ask for help if you need it. Everyone wants you to be successful. Your success is our success. ♦

Michael Allen is a business and entrepreneurship professor at Spokane Community College. A longtime Republican, he previously served six years on the Spokane City Council.

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