In that way, 2006 is the new 1863. It was a non-year, an in-between year -- full of slow, quiet, indeterminate transitions -- the kind of year that tends to disappear from the historical timeline. Sure, the Democrats won the election in 2006, but Congress isn't theirs just yet. It was another year of slogging war for America. The economy hovered around the status quo. The Cardinals won the Series.
Locally, it was the same story. Where there was once a garage, there's now a condo. Where there was once a building, there's a parking lot. The region has a new health director, Spokane County has a new county commissioner, Gonzaga has a new forward. But what any of this means we really can't say yet.
This is especially true for local law enforcement. By almost all accounts, this was A BAD YEAR FOR THE COPS -- particularly the Spokane Police Department, which suffered and stumbled through no shortage of controversies.
For instance, in March, police tangled with a mentally challenged janitor on a bad tip, Tasered him and hog-tied him. Otto Zehm ended up dead two days later. An investigation showed layers of miscommunication within police ranks before and during the incident. The department's response, in the media, was just as badly bungled. Meanwhile, the security camera footage seemed to replay in an endless loop on the evening news.
Just a month earlier, two officers had caught heat for deleting explicit photos of a 16-year-old from the camera of a city firefighter, who was caught having sex with the girl in the firehouse. In August, an officer was caught munching on pot cookies at the Gorge, after being turned out by fellow officers. Last month, an officer was fired for terrible judgment when it was discovered that he'd been allowing a sex offender/kiddie porn freak to live in his basement.
The Spokane County Sheriff's Department didn't go unscathed, either. In January, a 39-year-old inmate died after fighting with corrections officers at the county jail and receiving what was later described as a "donkey kick" to the torso. It was ruled a homicide. Then, in June, a seasoned deputy embarrassed the department by flashing his favorite barista at an Airway Heights coffee kiosk.
But this isn't really the point. True, it was a crap year for local law enforcement agencies, in terms of newspaper headlines. But it was a transitional year for them, too. Both the Spokane Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff's Department got new heads this year. And both seem intent on shaping up their new departments, building in more accountability and improving its relationship with the public. Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich fired the flashing deputy, a longtime friend of his. Chief Anne Kirkpatrick immediately set up a thorough Citizens Review Commission to look into controversial cases and fired the officer with the sex offender in his basement.
What this all means, we're still not sure. Will the SPD ever regain the public trust after a dismal 2006? Will the overcrowded county jail fight off its reputation as a place where criminals go to die (or, conversely, where they go to spend a night before being released)? It's a tough call. Ask 2007. (JS)
It's not like nobody'd ever built a condo in Spokane before 2006. Nor did the city transform into Metropolis this year, as all the development boosters seemed to promise. But 2006 was the year Spokane caught the condo craze. Kendall Yards was approved for development, and seemingly every big-name developer in town either announced, started or completed a condo project around downtown. On the other hand, Kendall Yards faced stiff opposition from concerned citizens. And developer Mick McDowell's proposal for a condo tower overlooking Peaceful Valley was shot down after strident protests from residents there. Many projects we heard about in January and February have yet to come to fruition -- or even to break ground. Also, there's the Rookery Building: property owner Wendell Reugh tore down the 72-year-old building in December after preservationists tried for months to save it. So the craze wasn't exactly contagious. But it's clear Spokane laid the foundation for making downtown Spokane home this year. (JS)
Iraq Hits Home
As the war in Iraq grinds on, local soldiers and officers are taking their turns on the front lines and in support roles. A handful of local medical personnel are set to ship out early in January (see story, page 11); and early last year, the Idaho National Guard came back from a year on patrol. Several of the 1,600 men and women deployed with the Idaho Guard shared their diaries and recollections with our own Kevin Taylor; their stories were harrowing and inspiring (Inlander, May 25). Well before pundits decided America was embroiled in a civil war, Idaho Guardsman Kevin Kincheloe observed that Iraq's three nations may never become one: "We are treating this like a colonial power. Drop the lines and let the people split up into three states." (TSM)
Bucking the Wave
The single biggest story of the year was the single biggest political shift in the United States in 12 years, as Democrats wrested control of both houses of Congress. The big blue wave may have played a part in the victories of Chris Marr and Don Barlow, both of whom won state legislative seats undarkened by Dems in decades. But it didn't wash ashore in Idaho, where voters elected to a seat in Congress state rep Bill Sali, a Republican who's been called an idiot even by members of his own party and who's argued that breast cancer's linked to abortion. Neither did it dampen the best Democratic Congressional candidate we've seen in years. Peter Goldmark, an ag scientist who looks good in cowboy boots, had the election cut out for him. But he was squashed by GOP frosh Cathy McMorris. Apparently you can lead a Dem to the tidal wave, but in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, you can't make him swim. (JS)
Hession Settles In
We thought Jim West was as boring a mayor as Spokane could get. Until all that news about... what was it again? At any rate, we were wrong. His replacement is far more boring. Dennis Hession's decidedly unflashy, uninspiring, un-anything administration since becoming mayor a year ago this month has us longing for the days when "Spokane" was a punch line on the late-night shows. Hession's slow, steady leadership has given the city little to get riled up about. He waffled on the Great Bernard Street Tree Debacle, and his response to the discovery that acting police chief Jim Nicks misinformed the public in the Otto Zehm case was not to step in and take charge but to put off a decision and seek an external investigation. Where's the dish, mayor? (JS)
Public Space, Public Debate
In North Idaho, as lakefront property has become more valuable than ever, a discussion has become more heated than ever: Who should have access to the waterways? Who owns Sanders Beach on Lake Coeur d'Alene was decided, finally, in favor of the local homeowners, but CdA citizens have also pushed for tougher restrictions on downtown building heights, to preserve lake views for all. But over at Riverstone, just off Northwest Boulevard, developers are planning a public space with Spokane River access as a centerpiece of the project. Maybe public access can be good business after all. (TSM)
Dennis Erickson's prodigal return to the University of Idaho was heralded by many in the local media (this paper included) as a possible panacea for all the Vandals' ills. Close. The team went 4-8, and Erickson jetted out of town. Adam Morrison's meteoric season was heralded by many in the local media (this paper included) as just what Gonzaga needed to finally bring home the NCAA trophy. Close. Even with his nasty 'stache, the nation's leading scorer couldn't muscle the Zags out of the Sweet 16. So, in a year full of high expectations and historical aspirations, the team with the least psychic weight and the shortest history paid off the biggest, as the Spokane Shock beat the Green Bay Blizzard to win the ArenaCup in something called... af2 football? (JS)
The Doctor is Out
In an acrimonious fight that punctuated the end of 2006, Dr. Kim Thorburn was removed from her job as the Spokane County Health Officer. Many doctors and citizens disagreed with the decision, saying members of the Health Board are putting politics ahead of public health. But this story isn't going anywhere, as that same Health Board will have to find Thorburn's replacement in 2007. (TSM)
End of an Era
Phil Harris had one of those improbable political careers, like Harry Truman's, where people often scratch their heads over how the man could rise so high and stay there so long with such humble origins. Harris represented Spokane County pretty well, with his homespun style and Will Rogers-esque wisdom. Of course, a lot of people couldn't stand him at all, but it was still surprising that he lost his shot at a fourth term. After the fall of Jim West, Harris was Spokane's most powerful politician. At his ed board meeting with The Inlander, Harris commented that he hoped all the anti-Republican fervor over the war wouldn't spill into his race. Perhaps it did, or perhaps Bonnie Mager made a strong enough case for change. Either way, the 12-year Harris era is over. (TSM)
Although he didn't serve as mayor in 2006, having been recalled in December 2005, Jim West continued to make headlines last year. His illness, which was much more serious than voters knew when they elected him, finally got the best of him, and he succumbed to cancer in July. But he may have saved his best political performance for after the grave, as he starred in a Frontline documentary in November about the controversy over whether he was a child molester and whether his being gay and attempting to date younger men was grounds for dismissal. It was not his day in court, but it was the closest he'll ever get. By most viewers' accounts, West was a sympathetic, believable character, while his inquisitors at the Spokesman-Review played the villains. No matter which side viewers took, however, Spokane was left with black eyes all around. (TSM)