The First 100 Days

Today is Mayor Mary Verner’s 100th day in office. How has she lived up to her promises so far?

The use of a politician’s first 100 days in office as a benchmark of political effectiveness goes back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who promised to undertake sweeping reforms in the first 100 days of his presidential administration, in 1933. On his to-do list that year? Creating bank holidays, electrifying Tennessee and generally dragging an entire country out of massive depression.

Mary Verner’s objectives are considerably more modest. To judge how she’s done, The Inlander obtained a memo written her first week in office outlining the new Spokane mayor’s 100-day goals — funding Crime Check, erasing graffiti, building a municipal court. Let’s see how she stacks up to the New Dealer.

The years-long effort to give Spokane its own municipal court is currently stuck inside the State Supreme Court, to which the Verner administration earlier this month filed an appeal. Meanwhile, say aides, the mayor has ordered the city legal department to figure out what such a court would look like, and the City Council two weeks ago approved additional money to fuel the appeals process. Should the current Supreme Court ruling stand, Verner says, “The result would be devastating. We could owe tens of millions of dollars and have to let offenders go free.”

The mayor has shaken up City Hall with a number of new hires, including a chief of staff, city administrator and heads of public works and the water department. A few positions remain open, including a permanent parks director (two finalists were announced earlier this week) and two positions related to waste management. Verner also moved the entire City Council onto the same floor as her office in January and attended their daylong retreat at West Central’s Native Project to talk about their priorities and projects. “Council members will [now] stop by, instead of having to exchange emails or set up meetings. If I have an issue, I walk down the hall and see if they’re here and we resolve it immediately,” Verner says.

The crack team established to shepherd through the annexation of tax-rich property on the north side appears to have succeeded. Effective April 1, the city will take over some 134 acres near Division Street and Francis Avenue, including the Costco, with tax revenue from the parcel being split with the county over time. As for animal control, the mayor says her team has a proposal pending that would have the city contracting with Spokane County Regional Animal Control and Protection Services (SCRAPS) after its contract with SpokAnimal runs out and SCRAPS is able to handle the increased business.

Talking to the mayor’s schedulers, you’d think this is all she does. “Her schedule is a nightmare,” says city spokeswoman Marlene Feist. Weekly meetings with county commissioner Bonnie Mager, jaunts to the Northeast Mayors’ Association, get-togethers with tribal leaders, Greater Spokane Incorporated, editorial boards, neighborhood councils, community assembly. Verner has met with local legislators in Olympia and this week will travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with federal ones. “Those are for the most part done,” Verner says, with some relief, of her meet-and-greets with fellow pols. “The mayors of Airway Heights and Cheney I have not met yet.”

5. GLAD-HAND THE PUBLIC (not done)
Despite controversy generated early in her administration, when she didn’t immediately divulge the identities of her political brain trust, Verner has been remarkably transparent. Or at least plans to be. She has been busy filming episodes of “Your City With the Mayor” and has scheduled one roundtable discussion per month for March, April and May, focusing on developer incentives, the Comprehensive Plan and paying for basic city services. She plans to appear in quarterly town halls, including some “virtual town halls,” in which the mayor speaks before a live audience while fielding telephone calls and online chat queries. In the meantime, she says, she’s trying to attend as many neighborhood council meetings and community assemblies as possible. “If people show up, great,” she notes. “If they don’t, I’m sure I’ll have a briefcase full of work I can do.”

Weird how something as quotidian as trash can become such a pivotal political issue, but it was a city decision to pick up garbage curbside rather than in the alleys around Corbin Park last year that become one of the steamiest issues of the mayoral election. Residents claimed it was an onerous burden and said Mayor Hession was deaf to their pleas. Making good on a campaign promise, Verner restored alleyway pickup in January and says she has tried to open up a dialogue with neighborhoods about where alley pickup makes sense and where the city might reasonably save a few minutes and dollars by picking up trash on the street. The move earned her praise from some of the most implacable trash activists. “How refreshing to have a mayor with follow-through,” says Corbin Park resident Sherrie Bryant.

“I haven’t been able to tackle that one yet,” the mayor says of her wish to devise a strategy when it comes to tax increment financing and other development incentives. “When the delegation gets back from Olympia, we’ll be really looking at that one in-depth.”

Last year the state legislature authorized cities to collect impact fees for use in transportation projects — a subtle hint that cities should start paying for their own damn projects. Spokane got the hint and has been trying to figure out how to use the Transportation Benefit District tool as effectively as possible. “Boy oh boy, we’ve spent a lot of time and effort on that,” says the mayor, adding she’s talked it over with the city council three times already and is actively talking with the Spokane Regional Transportation Council to determine which local projects could use the money and what might be left over for use on the north-south freeway. Despite emergency plans announced earlier this year to plow snow and fix potholes, Verner says the city has no 10-year plan for street maintenance.

Verner has little to show in the way of eliminating poverty altogether, but in all truth she did only say she wanted to “initiate/engage in action on … homeless/low-income housing solutions.” To that end, she’s established a task force to look at how the city can deal with low-income housing, how it should deal with tent cities and what it can do about panhandling. Of tent cities, Verner says “They’re not an option. I don’t want to encourage them … I don’t want us to become a magnet for tent cities.” She says she would rather focus on measures that would prevent the need for tent cities.

Nonetheless, Robert Gilles, the Spokane realtor who donated property to a tent city in East Central Spokane last year, approves of Verner’s tactics so far. “I’m extremely hopeful for our new mayor. She actually stopped by my office when the tent city was going on and wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting unwarranted repercussions,” Gilles says. “I think our new mayor is going to be extremely helpful on many fronts.”

10. FIGHT GANGS (half-done)
The mayor has commissioned a citizen group through the city’s neighborhood councils to look into both gang intervention and prevention and graffiti. Details on the former are hazy. On the latter, Neighborhood Services coordinator Jonathan Mallehan says the group is trying to figure out how the city’s existing graffiti ordinances work — and don’t work — while looking at other cities’ strategies. “The best way to address the problem is to come up with a uniquely Spokane solution to the problem,” says Mallehan.

Other projects that have become priorities in the first 100 days:

Though the city can’t do this alone, Verner says she has tried to help the idea gain momentum regionally and notes that a measure to appear on a special May ballot will be clearer regarding the use of the money than a similar measure that was voted down in November.

Negotiations continue over hiring a police ombudsman, but 12 new police officers will graduate in spring and be available to begin the vaunted “neighborhood policing” program throughout Spokane later this year. Six new firefighters are also in training academies.

Last month the mayor launched a state-funded “strategic action plan for sustainable practices” in city government, focusing on what city government itself can do to reduce its carbon footprint. “I’ve been so pleased to see some of the staff feel empowered to do things they’ve [been wanting to do] … Public Works has really surprised me. They’re not exactly a bastion of creative [environmental] thinking,” Verner says. Yet, she adds, that department’s water division has been competing internally to conserve the most water and electricity. The city’s Fleet Services department has proposed switching vehicles to a 90 percent ethanol fuel blend. (Verner says she’s not sure that’s economically feasible yet, however.) Officials at the Waste-to-Energy plant are investigating how they can reuse the ash residue they produce.

Verner says her goal for the program’s first year is to highlight how green Spokane already is. “We redefine ourselves, then attract other [green] businesses.”

From snow berms to potholes, Verner has in only 100 days already overseen some of the worst destruction to Spokane streets in years. Last month, she beefed up pothole repair and she says she’ll petition the city council to release $500,000 from the city’s new contingent reserve fund for further street work once construction season begins in April. She also plans to add extra money for street work and snow plowing in her 2009 budget.

Alerted that light snow was falling outside her office window on Monday morning, she grimaced. “I don’t want to see any more snow.”

53rd Annual Art on the Green @ North Idaho College

Fri., July 30, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat., July 31, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sun., Aug. 1, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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About The Author

Joel Smith

Joel Smith is the media editor for The Inlander. In that position, he manages and directs and edits all copy for the website, the newspaper and all other special publications. A former staff writer, he has reported on local and state politics, the environment, urban development and culture, Spokane's...