Every year, the Spokane Valley meets in a winter retreat to plan their business for the upcoming year. This year, of course, there were two fewer council members than last year. Bob McCaslin is struggling with major health issues. Rose Dempsey, frustrated with the tone of the council, quit.
For whatever reason, today there was none of the sort of fighting that Dempsey says compelled her to quit. Instead, there conflict had largely been replaced by public agreement on most things discussed.
Here are a few of the more interesting quotes from the 6 1/2-hour session:
1) “What have you done for me lately? You tried to bring in competition for me!”
- Ken Thompson, Finance & Administrative Services Director quoting a business from another city frustrated with incentives in that city. Most economic development in a community, Community Development Director Kathy McClung says, comes from business that are already there.
2) “We've arrested groups of people. We have one particular guy that we charged, we had 120 charges … We'll catch someone and take them around in the car ride, and they say that, 'Yeah, I did these and these and these.' And we’ll solve 120 cases.”
- Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick VanLeuven on new techniques that have given Spokane County remarkably high clearance rates, despite the considerable economic problems the sheriff has had to navigate.
3) “Right now as far as I'm concerned, we're flying blind. We don't know what
our citizens want. Right now our information is six years old.”
-Councilman Bill Gothmann on the need for a new survey to gauge attitudes of Spokane Valley citizens about development. The last survey came out in 2004. A lot — like a recession, say — has happened since then. Gothmann often cited the old survey numbers in meetings.
4) “You've got to realize though, that some of these goals that were placed in here, were from a different time. Different economy. Now we're in a different situation. We have to place that goal into the economy we have right now.”
- Mayor Tom Towey on the long list of goals listed in the city’s comprehensive plan. The economy – not to mention the council’s ideological makeup – has changed considerably since.
5) “Is there a possibility of an ombudsman, even if [we contract for police services] Is there a person who could be a mediator between the [community and the police?]
-Councilwoman Brenda Grassel, asking the police chief if there was a way Spokane Valley could have an ombudsman. After Pastor Wayne “Scott” Creach was shot in Spokane Valley, constituents called members of the Valley City Council with their frustrations.
6) “It was a one-time gift from the economy, the county, the incorporation, everything. We're not getting that back.”
-Councilman Dean Grafos on the considerable $26 million general-fund reserves . The council discussed setting a strict cap on the growth of revenue.
7) “We ended up plowing the whole city twice. We needed about 14 or 15 graders, running 24/7. We can plow the city in about two to four days … It cost about $65,000 each time we plow all the residential streets. Our total costs, just for the graders this year was $120,000 … I've seen 60 or more e-mails or phone calls complimentary on our snow plowing.”
Public Works Director Neil Kersten. Since Spokane County won’t provide snow-plowing services, the Valley, with help from contractors, has to do it themselves. This was the first year their snow-plowing system was truly tested. One contractor, Kersten says, quit after being insulted too often by citizens.
8) “If I had the opportunity to make 700 percent on my investment I would take it. From a straight business point of view, I'd go out and borrow money to make that investment … I know this is heresy … One of the things I'm hearing is this is not the right time. If it isn't the right time maybe we could borrow money until it is the right time.”
Gothmann on why it makes economic sense to pay for street maintenance now, instead of paying eight times that cost years later.
9) “To the citizen, this is one basic service that they see every day. They see it driving down to the grocery store, they see it going shopping … We certainly don't want it to get it passed like Spokane did. They got so far behind they're playing catchup.“
- Towey on the importance on finding a sustainable revenue source for street.
10) “I think we might be ready [to start] looking at voting for the mayor as opposed to council appointment. I just want to throw that out there.”
Grassel on reforming the way the mayor is chosen. Unlike Spokane, Spokane Valley does not have a strong mayor system. Major operations are run by a city administrator.
11) “We need to go out and do some town hall meetings like we did two or three years ago. We had a lot of problems then, and maybe we solved them. [We’d ask] 'What do you like? What don't you like?' Look at the city hall. Look at road maintenance.”
Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels on gathering citizen input.
12) “Let's spend smart on roads. If we took our limited resources and we targeted them in some strategic areas, you'd accomplish two goals. We'd attract business to some areas of the city and we'd show the citizens that we're getting something done. Let's start at Auto Row, enhance that area. Dress it up. Make it look bright.”
- Grafos on coupling street maintenance with aesthetic improvements in key areas.