City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear clashes with challenger Tony Kiepe on public safety, homelessness and climate change

There's at least one thing City Council candidates Lori Kinnear and Tony Kiepe have in common: They both moved to Spokane almost 20 years ago and fell in love with the place.

click to enlarge Lori Kinnear
Lori Kinnear

But today, their visions for the future of the city are extremely different.

Kinnear has a background in journalism and public relations. She was a legislative assistant for former Councilwoman Amber Waldref before Kinnear won her City Council seat — representing the South Hill and downtown — in 2015. Kinnear, who drove the effort to make Browne's Addition a designated historic district, says she wants to continue focusing on neighborhoods in her next term.

Kiepe is a former health care consultant who is running on a platform of improving public safety and taking an uncompromising stance on homelessness, arguing that the city should not build more shelter space.

Kiepe also tells the Inlander he supports the controversial right-wing idea popularized by Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) that Eastern Washington should split into its own state called "Liberty."

"I like the idea: Less taxes, more freedom. I would support that," he says.

Kiepe says Shea is a "mesmerizing" speaker who he sometimes agrees with and sometimes doesn't. Kiepe says he's aware of controversy surrounding Shea, but declined to comment on the leaked document called "Biblical Basis for War" that Shea distributed and that appears to outline justifications for violence against perceived tyranny. Kiepe says he "hasn't read" the document.

Kinnear, meanwhile, called for Shea's resignation following a Spokesman-Review report that Shea targeted her and two other council members for surveillance.

But that's not the only issue where Kinnear and Kiepe stand in stark contrast. As they vie for a council seat in the November election, they also differ on other issues central to the future of the city: public safety, homelessness, housing and climate change.

PUBLIC SAFETY

In debates recently, Kiepe has said that if voters think crime is better than it was four years ago, they should vote Kinnear. If not, he says, they should vote for him.

Kinnear encourages voters to look at the stats showing crime is down this year. But the stats are muddy. Yes, violent crime is down in 2019 compared to 2018, but 2018 is the year violent crime spiked, according to FBI and CompStat data. Property crime rates, meanwhile, have dipped slightly in the last few years.

In any case, Kiepe says the city needs to do a better job enforcing laws. He says citizens shouldn't see others injecting drugs in public, and that police officers should be arresting those people and anyone selling drugs.

"Are we going after drug dealers who are enabling drug addicts?" Kiepe says. "I would say we're not."

He argues there should be a larger jail with better services for drug addiction and mental health. And despite a levy that was approved recently that will add even more police officers in the city, he argues there needs to be 20 more officers on top of that. He doesn't specify, however, where in the budget the money for those officers would come from.

Kinnear expresses frustration that Kiepe and other challengers are saying police aren't enforcing laws. She points out that police would have to see a person using drugs in order to arrest them, or else it wouldn't hold up in court. Suggesting otherwise, she says, is "doing a disservice to police officers."

She adds that she doesn't have "any data" that would suggest the city needs to add 20 more officers on top of those added from the levy. The city can't ignore other areas of government just to keep adding more police.

"To just blankly say that without any basis in fact is irresponsible," Kinnear says.

HOMELESSNESS

Before the primary election, Kiepe told the Inlander that the city should add a new emergency shelter, just not where the city was considering it on Sprague.

Today, he says the city shouldn't spend money on a new shelter or warming centers in the winter, even if there aren't enough beds for those seeking shelter. There is plenty of shelter now, he argues, and if any more is built, then "more will come."

"If they know Spokane is a harder place to get services from, to get help from, they won't come here," Kiepe says.

Kinnear, meanwhile, calls that not only inhumane, but illegal, citing the Martin v. Boise case in which a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it's unconstitutional to prosecute homeless people for camping in public when they had nowhere else to go.

"If there were no new warming centers or shelters and no space for people to go when they're cold and sleeping on the streets, parks or public spaces, then we have to leave them there," Kinnear says. "We cannot enforce sit-lie, we cannot enforce the camping ordinance."

She says the city has been working to address homelessness in the city but adds that Spokane Valley and Spokane County should help, too.

"This is a regional problem, and our partners need to step up," she says.

HOUSING

Kinnear says she wants to stick to the city's plan to incentivize development on the city's centers and corridors, which includes downtown and other neighborhood centers.

"We have enough room downtown to build housing — and it doesn't just have to be affordable housing. It could be market-rate, housing for seniors," she says. "We have the incentives, and we somehow need to try and entice our developer community to step up and to start building."

Kiepe, however, isn't on board with focusing on density downtown.

"I don't want to be New York City, where we have high rises in downtown Spokane," he says.

He would encourage development elsewhere, including along boundary lines. He argues more housing in those areas would help bring down rents — even if it means more sprawl.

CLIMATE CHANGE

"I don't believe in climate change," Kiepe says.

And yet, he put solar panels on his house last year. He proudly says that his solar panels are the equivalent of planting 300 trees a year.

But he put the solar panels on to save money, not because of any responsibility to go green, he says. Still, Kiepe says cities have a basic responsibility to keep areas of the city clean.

Kinnear says the solar panels "don't really jibe" with Kiepe denying climate change. Kinnear believes what scientists say about climate change: That it's real and human-caused. She says it's a city's responsibility to help combat climate change.

"I think it makes good business sense to plan for the future and to create local green jobs," she says. "Everything starts at the local level." ♦

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.