Law of the Valley

Newly appointed Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell talks about panhandling and pigs.

City Attorney Cary Driskell
City Attorney Cary Driskell

Only one person, a code enforcer, has been with the City of Spokane Valley longer than Cary Driskell. Last week, Driskell was promoted from acting city attorney to city attorney. We sat down with him Monday at Spokane Valley City Hall — a single-floor in the Redwood Plaza strip mall — and went through some the greatest legal hits of his Valley tenure.

INLANDER: What is your job like?

DRISKELL: We are primarily a contract city. We contract with Spokane County, with Senske, with the YMCA, with Poe Asphalt. … What that means is I review and draft a lot of contracts to protect our interests. I also review ordinances, resolutions. We do a fair amount of code compliance litigation.

What particular issue have you enjoyed tackling?

When I came on in April of ’03, the Council said, [code enforcement] is a high priority for us. There was a perception that Spokane County hadn’t done much to get property owners to clean up their property. They said your first task is drafting code compliance law that’s going to be enforceable and effective. … We are one of the more active cities in the state on code compliance. But we’re complaint-driven.

Do citizens in Spokane Valley complain a lot?

The first years they were a lot more active, because they recognized that the city was willing to help them out. We can’t always get things done as quickly as we want.

You also once wrote a memo arguing that a proposed panhandling ordinance was unconstitutional. The Council asked for an ordinance for dealing with panhandlers on the roadway. One of the codes we looked at was the City of Seattle’s. It addressed the issue of a captive audience — if someone was getting gas or loading groceries into a trunk, and someone asked them for money, they really had no ability to walk away from the panhandler. ... Just as we were about to introduce that, Berger v. Seattle came down regarding the Seattle Center, saying those type of regulations were unconstitutional.

Another panhandler ordinance was passed later. What’s the difference?

This one is focused on the traffic safety. We can base our regulations on public safety as long as we are not violating the Constitution. The concern for us is that we not have people walking in and reaching into the arterials and the off-ramps and on-ramps. But there are no regulations on panhandling for most of the city.

Was restricting panhandling the goal of this?

Traffic safety. We had groups that are also in the street — the fill-the-boot [fundraiser] with the fire department. They have to have a permit, a minimum $1 million dollar insurance policy, special traffic-safety training. The goal is safety. It is an incidental byproduct that the folks who want to panhandle choose the busiest places to do it.

What’s the oddest legal issue you’ve examined?

One person was trying to keep a potbelly pig at her house, which they’re not allowed to do in residential areas. She was claiming it was a service animal. And so we had to do research as to what a service animal is.

What was that answer?

That particular animal was not a service animal. … Just because an animal has a quirky behavior in response to something doesn’t make it a service animal.

You’ve been with the Valley for eight years. How much longer?

My daughter is a freshman in high school. Since she was 6 years old, she’s said she wanted to be a lawyer. She wanted to practice with me. I figure that gives me 10 more years.

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...