Discover more from Indivisible--The High Ground
Pre-Election Council Shifts
City of Spokane government in transition
A week ago Governor Jay Inslee appointed current City of Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs to fill the Spokane County Superior Court Judge position that comes open this July 1st with the retirement of Judge Michael Price. Mr. Beggs will run to keep his new seat on the Superior Court in the fall of 2024. It remains to be seen if he’ll have a challenger.
Beggs, skilled legal mind and one of the smartest and most even-tempered people I’ve ever met, announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election as City of Spokane City Council President this fall after ably serving seven years in city government.
Beggs’ departure from the City Council Presidency will leave a gap in city government with six months to go before the beginning of 2024 when those elected this November will take their seats. As with any organization, in times like these one needs to consult the bylaws by which the organization was established. In this case those bylaws are the City of Spokane City Charter, written and adopted when we switched to a “strong mayor” form of government in January 2001.
Article II, Sections 8(B&C): Vacancies specify that in the event of a city council president or mayoral vacancy the city council members, by majority vote, “may elect one of their number to the vacant office” to fill the position. (Alternatively, the council members may, by majority vote, select “a qualified person” from outside the council as long as that person is a resident in the district represented [see P.S.].)
Since serving effectively as City Council President requires more than a passing knowledge of the institution—and, since there is only a half year to go before those elected this November take office, it seems entirely logical for the council to elect one of the current council members (CMs) to serve as President for the next six months. CM Lori Kinnear is the very logical choice. Ms. Kinnear served in Spokane City government before she was first elected CM from District 2 (South Hill plus) in 2015. She has served as council president pro tem when Mr. Beggs was absent. She knows the job. CM Kinnear as council president has not yet been voted by the council, but that is likely in the next few weeks. (See the Spokesman article for more detail.)
The Spokane City Council is composed of seven voting members, two from each of three districts and the council president. Making CM Kinnear Council President will leave an open seat on the council from District 2. As Nate Sanford put it in the Inlander:
If you're looking for work, there may be a job opening at Spokane City Hall this summer.
The position: interim City Council member.
If CM Kinnear’s position on the City Council remains unfilled until 2024 (when the winners of the November election take office), it will somewhat change the dynamic of the Council. With only six voting Council members the more liberal members of the Council would still have a majority over the two (Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart) who are more conservative, but the liberal members would no longer have the votes to override a veto by the mayor. Section 16: Ordinances – Signing and Attesting specifies that a veto override requires “a minimum five affirmative votes”.
Now might be a good time for some orientation.
The mayor and the city council president are both elected city-wide. The members of the council (CMs) are elected two each from three districts: District 1 (NE), District 2 (South Hill plus), District 3 (NW). (Click here for a map.) Every two years (in odd numbered years like this year), one seat from each council district comes up for election for a four year term. Thanks to writers of the City Charter we adopted in 2001 there is a two term limit on elected officials in the City of Spokane (except for the three municipal court judges).
Here’s the current composition of the Council:
District 1 (NE):
Michael Cathcart (Term: 2020-2023) up for re-election this fall
Jonathan Bingle (Term: 2022-2025)
District 2 (South Hill)
Lori Kinnear (Term: 2020-2023) term limited out—open seat this fall
Betsy Wilkerson (Term: 2022-2025) Running for Council President this fall. If elected, this seat will be filled (thru 2025) by a replacement based on majority vote of the remaining members of the Council.
District 3 (NW)
Karen Stratton (Term: 2020-2023) term limited out—open seat this fall
Zack Zappone (Term: 2022-2025)
Just how attractive is an “interim City Council member” position that will open up on July 1 and run only to December 31st? It will require civically-minded person willing to “stand in” for six months with little to no possibility of using the appointed incumbency as a springboard to election to the same seat for a following four year term. There are already four people running for CM Kinnear’s current seat this fall. Candidate registration for the fall election is already closed. So if it were feasible to learn the job and organize and run a campaign simultaneously, that option isn’t really open. The pay, at about $4000/month, for a job that, if done well, is all-consuming, is not likely to attract a professional (e.g. an accountant) away from current employment. It will be interesting to see if anyone steps forward and applies.
Campaigns being what they are these days (even for municipal elections) it would probably be unwise for one of the four current candidates for CM Kinnear’s empty seat to step forward—and there is no guarantee the Council would think it wise to appoint one. In any case the only one of the candidates whose resume includes time spent working in City of Spokane government is Paul Dillon.
It should be an interesting final six months in Spokane municipal government. Thanks to term limits the following year we will lose the long-standing expertise of CMs Kinnear and Stratton. Watch carefully for candidates with some administrative experience. In an upcoming blog post I’ll have a look at the candidates.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Interestingly, the way the two term limit is worded in Section 6(A): Qualifications anyone who had previously served out 8 years as Council President or as a Council Member, although likely well qualified, would be ineligible to come back for six months and serve in a position from which they had termed out—a possibly unintended consequence of the Charter writer’s zeal for term limits.