"To me, the larger issue of this settlement discussion should not be about dollars.... I think the larger issue is more important. And that issue: Will one family continue to dominate and influence the financial and political future of this city.... If this agreement is signed, the Cowles will continue to contribute to the financial and political dysfunction of this city. ... Today I'm not about bashing the Cowles; it's not trying to run them out of town. The issue is accountability -- the same accountability that the Cowles family and this newspaper places on each and every one of us every day. Praising our good deeds and holding us accountable for what we do wrong."
In his testimony, Corker started to discuss the Cowles' behavior in the 19th century, when Council President Dennis Hession ruled him out of order for not addressing the issue at hand. Corker said he could not separate the issues, and walked away from the podium. Al French, a former political foe of Corker's, made a motion to allow him to finish, which passed. Councilman Brad Stark excused himself, saying since the testimony wasn't about the issue, he wouldn't listen to it. Corker continued.
"This is what people aren't willing to talk about. This is the undercurrent. This is the issue that nobody even wants to put on the table. ... If we're ever going to heal, I think these things have to be said."
Chud Wendle - President of Wendle Motors, community volunteer - "I do want to say one thing about the Cowles -- it just hurts me to hear this cold description of them. On many of the boards that I serve on as well as my family serves on, they do give back to the community. They give back hugely and immensely. Enough said there.
"I truly feel ... the approval of the street bond this fall shows the faith the community has in the leadership of the city of Spokane, including Mayor West. It has nothing to do with downtown and the RPS, it has to do with, 'Let's move on.' It surprised a few of us, it made a bunch of us proud and I think it's very important and it's a signal that we are ready to move on. ... I do urge [you] to move on and pass this settlement."
Jim West - Mayor of Spokane - "It doesn't matter how we got here. What matters is how we handle what we find when we got here. How we deal with the situation we find ourselves in, and where we go from here. It's instructive to know what maybe led up to this, so we don't do it again. But to dwell on the past and to decide we can't move forward until we discover everything there is to know about the past means we will not progress at all. ... The past does not equal the future unless we allow it to. We can learn from our mistakes, but we can't erase them. And we shouldn't attempt to. I'm the fourth mayor to deal with River Park Square, and the solutions we come up with today are ones that I fully recommend to you and I take full responsibility for.
"Have we learned from this? I would say yes. I would say we must be extremely cautious if we're ever approached again to enter into any kind of public-private partnership -- extremely cautious. And we need to be very careful as to what the documents say. Because as the lawyers on the council know ... contracts are contracts. Sometimes you wish you didn't sign them, but sometimes you find out you should have paid more attention when you did.
"My mother, who is the philosopher in my family, who is now deceased, used to tell me, 'When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.' ... Is seven years of misery enough? The plague in Egypt was only seven years long. Do we need to prolong this to eight and nine and 10 -- a dozen? Do we need to fight this battle forever?"
Cherie Rodgers - Spokane City Councilwoman - "Betsy Cowles was always on the hook to pay off the HUD loan. She used it for her project, used it for attorneys' fees, for building Nordstrom, for the AMC. It was all done for her project, so she should be on the hook to pay that off. And so when I see that she's, you know, out of the goodness of her heart agreeing to pay off the HUD loan as part of this settlement -- that always was her responsibility.
"What do we have to show for [this settlement]? Zero. We don't even own the garage. At least if the city had owned the garage we could have had an asset, and the money coming into the garage could have been used to help pay off the HUD loan.
"What bothered me the most is the way this was presented at the last minute, where we were told in executive session, 'You take this, or they'll go bankrupt.' That was the bottom line, and that's why the council is being asked to vote on it at this point in time. I just won't be part of this -- this is covering it up, there'll be no accountability."
Mary Verner - Spokane City Councilwoman - "The original business strategy of River Park Square was to create an inescapable web so the city was always ensnared and the developers always had an out in case the original vision of prosperity didn't pan out. And we're there in that web. ... To wait until the eve of trial to raise the specter of bankruptcy is a picture worth a thousand words for me about the developers. ... I personally find this reprehensible and contrary to the developer's professed devotion to Spokane's economic vitality. The developer's attorneys were very effective; they are excellent litigation strategists, and I admire them for that. I've learned a lot from them; I hope I never have to use it. They're shrewd negotiators, and they're willing to pursue a scorched-earth policy to get what their client wants.
"I've agonized over this decision. I take it very seriously, and as my family and friends and co-workers will tell you, the weight of this decision has troubled me greatly. ... So I have canvassed and solicited input from the constituents in my district to see how they want me to vote. Most of my constituents who have contacted me have said, 'Get us out of this mess.'
"I'm very torn because this decision is a moral decision. How do we do what's right in this circumstance? ... It's inevitably painful, no matter what the outcome. I think the city's share of the pain is excessive, but I don't know how to stop the bleeding without bringing this to a close. ... Sometimes the only way to end the battle is to stop fighting. So with great regret, I'm going to support settlement of this case."
Al French - Spokane City Councilman - "It's been an all-consuming process to get through this. ... It has dominated much of our time in terms of trying to find a solution that is fair and equitable. ... And quite frankly, I think I've failed you because, in my opinion, this is not a fair deal, it is not an equitable deal, but it's probably the best deal we're going to get.
"We got outlawyered in this deal. We did not have, as a city, the expertise to be able to be good negotiators ... we did not have good consultants.
"I'm going to support this deal but with a great deal of reluctance. I feel like I've got a gun to my head, and the choices are do this or get shot -- shot in court, shot in the bankruptcy courts."
Dennis Hession - Spokane City Council President - "I'm so impressed with the attitude, the diligence and the passion of my fellow council members about this issue.... And I'm thankful for all of my council members' opinions.... even for those who don't [support this settlement], because their passions are no less than ours about how they feel about how this matter ought to be resolved.
"Unfortunately, we find ourselves in circumstances over which we have little control.... And so we're put in a position where we have to make decisions to manage our risk, and I hear that from all of the council members, particularly those who are supporting it -- that this is the time when we have to look at this thing not as to whether we like it ... but more in terms of what is the most responsible thing we can do ... This is the right resolution of a bad deal."
Publication date: 12/16/04