Tipping the Scales of Local Government
Mike Allen's initiative to undermine the Spokane City Council
Mike Allen, former City of Spokane City Council member, has filed the paperwork for an initiative for this November. He wants to cap the salaries of Spokane City Council members and the the City Council president. If he and his followers gather just 3,477 signatures from City of Spokane residents before June 7, his initiative will appear on the November ballot. Mike Allen’s initiative push was covered in a short article in the Spokesman on May 3.
Who is this guy and what is the context? Mike Allen was appointed to a partial term on the City Council in 2007, replacing Mary Verner’s District 2 (South Hill), Position No. 1 seat, when Ms. Verner was elected Mayor. When Verner’s seat’s term ran out in 2009, Mr. Allen tried to hold the seat but was roundly beaten by Jon Snyder. He ran again in 2011, squeaking by Richard Rush by 88 votes out of 21,314 votes cast. By 2015, after voting most consistently with Mike Fagan, Mr. Allen had enough. He announced he would not seek a second elected term on February 25, 2015:
Going forward I plan to focus more on my teaching at North Idaho College, my marketing clients and developing more wine tourism in Spokane via The Cork District.
So for six years Mike Allen held a seat on the City Council justified only by appointment and one 88 vote margin. Six years after he left for better paid employment, Mr. Allen is back hyping an initiative to cap City Council and City Council President salaries (but not the Mayor’s). Sour grapes or political expedience?
The Spokane City Council members are responsible for a budget of just less than a billion dollars. The six city council members’ and the council president’s salaries currently total $342,200. That’s 0.034% of the budget they manage (contrast that with the common 0.9% skim a private investment manager commonly takes). Doubling all six salaries would be inconsequential in terms of taxes—but railing against council salaries piggybacks well on Republican hyped tax worries—in spite of the math. Regardless of Mr. Allen’s treatment of it,1 a seat on the Spokane City Council is a full time job with a great deal of responsibility.
Local government of the City of Spokane (pop. ~222,000) doesn’t work in a vacuum. City of Spokane government extensively entwined with the Spokane County government (pop. ~523,000 [including the City of Spokane] ) and representatives from the governments twelve smaller incorporated cities and towns within the County. There are twenty-nine Boards and Commissions within the County on many of which both Spokane City Council Members and Spokane County Commissioners sit.
The County Commissioners pull down a salary of more than $110,000 a year, a fact highlighted when Commissioner Al French, arguably the most powerful elected official in the entire County, accused a state legislature of coveting the salary and considering a run for Commissioner. (Washington State legislators make $$56,881, but, at least theoretically, are only serving when the legislature is in session.) Spokane County Commissioners are not term limited, while City of Spokane electeds are limited to two four year terms. That gives Commissioner French (with 10 years in office) a head start in pulling the levers of power.
The Spokane City Council members currently make $46,700, less than the County’s median 2019 household income of $52,447. The Council President does a little better at $62,000. Mr. Allen conveniently argues to change the City Charter to cap Council salaries to the City’s median household income. (The Mayor of Spokane, for contrast, makes $168,000, a goodly wage by anyone’s standard.)
A person capable of intelligently managing a budget of nearly one billion dollars, communicating with the public, and working on countless joint committees and boards is highly likely to possess expertise that would land a position in the private sector that commands a salary closer to that of a County Commissioner than that of the median Spokane household. Mike Allen’s stepping down after one term stands as an example of his own lack of altruism compared to current Council members.
Mr. Allen wishes us to look only at City Council salaries and turn a blind eye to the salaries and power possessed by the County Commissioners. His initiative is meant to undermine the voice of the liberal majority on the City Council. His appeal to salary envy and a misplaced sense of fairness is disingenuous. He couldn’t be bothered to run for another four year term to be paid at less than he thought he was worth. Now he wants to undermine the Council from the outside.
Watch Mr. Allen roll out this initiative. Make opposition to it part of the conversation.
Keep to the high ground,