While Mary Verner laid her hand on the Bible and took her position as Spokane's 43rd mayor on Tuesday, there remained some question as to how -- and how quickly -- her former colleagues would fill her old council seat.
"We have two conflicting opinions on that," Council President Joe Shogan told us on Monday morning. He noted there was some question as to whether outgoing Councilman Brad Stark should have a vote, or whether the choice should be given to his replacement, Richard Rush. Stark currently represents the same legislative district Verner was elected to represent.
Shogan said he has a plan that would allow participation by both the out-goer and the in-comer, explaining that Stark would be involved in the selection process until Rush replaces him. (There's some question as to when that will happen, too, though it will occur by Jan. 2, at the latest.)
But related to this argument was the question of when Verner's replacement should be chosen. Councilman Al French on Monday filed a resolution laying out a short timeline, one that would have the new council member on the dais by Dec. 17, the "desired last day for the council to meet" this year, according to French. That date also represents the desired deadline for the council to finalize the city's annual budget, and French worried that a six-member council on Dec. 17 -- or on subsequent weeks, should the budgeting process drag on -- could produce a 3-3 tie and a stalemate.
French's timeline was considerably more streamlined than that of Shogan, who estimated the council could find a replacement by Jan. 14. But French downplays the streamlining, commenting that his suggested timeline was the same as the one used to appoint Rob Crow and Mary Verner to their positions. "We're getting pretty good at this," he says. "Let's be diligent, but let's be expeditious ... Let's get on with getting on." Shogan, though, cautioned that he's heard a rumor of a large number of candidates, and if that happens, it'll take longer to winnow them down.
The arguments got heated at Monday's council meeting, with Shogan and French holding their ground and the rest of the council members offering suggestions in between. French argued that "we need a full complement of council members to do the business of the city" (especially finalizing the budget) and that "the consequences to the city could be traumatic." Nearly an hour into the discussion, Shogan raised his voice, saying that anyone who wanted to limit the window for applications was going to have to answer to the voters of the second district.
"Let's be honest," Brad Stark interrupted halfway through. "This is about me." He cited a phone conversation with The Inlander that morning, in which this reporter relayed Shogan's questions about whether the timeline would allow Stark or Rush to vote on the new council member. "This is not about you, Mr. Stark," blasted Shogan. "This is about the budget."
Mary Verner, in her last council meeting, noted that appointing a candidate to make an instant decision on the budget was folly. "I start studying the budget in August to vote in December," she said. "Bless their souls if they're voted in one day and have to vote on the budget the next day." Bob Apple concurred, saying, "Whoever we pick is not going to be able to help us. They can rubber stamp [the budget], but that's not being very effective."
In the end, the council compromised on a timeline proposed by Rob Crow (in his last council meeting) that gives applicants until Dec. 7 and the council until Dec. 17 to pick their appointee -- but the council will only do so after budget deliberations that night. In between, a council selection committee made up of Shogan, Apple and Nancy McLaughlin will check that applications meet all relevant criteria and will record each council member's top three candidates. Top candidates will be interviewed publicly by the full council on Dec. 14, before the decision is made on Dec. 17.