Two years ago, the mayor of Spokane Valley announced he wasn't going to run for another term.
"I haven't taken a vacation in four years, so I'm going to take a couple weeks off," Tom Towey told the Spokesman-Review in 2013. "At least."
But taking a vacation wasn't his reason for leaving. "My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012," Towey says today. "She went through treatment for chemo and radiation in 2013. I decided my place was at home."
Now he's returned, asking voters to put him back in the game. Towey will face off against the deputy mayor, Arne Woodard, for a spot on the council.
"My wife is completely cured," Towey says. "I think it's about time I rolled up my sleeves and did more work."
In 2009, Towey was part of the original "Positive Change" group which overthrew a council that had put into place an ambitious zoning plan intended to transform the Valley. A few resignations and appointments later, the group had almost complete control.
So two years later, when Councilman Ben Wick was elected, he was an outlier for a few reasons. He was by far the youngest on a very old council. And he was far more moderate than his deeply conservative colleagues.
"I was the odd man out for a while there," Wick says. But lately, he says, the larger coalition of conservatives has fallen apart.
"The mayor and deputy mayor don't see eye-to-eye anymore," he says. "This last week there was a major conflict over the budget."
Woodard supported lowering property taxes in the Valley, but Mayor Dean Grafos opposed the idea, noting that it would create a budget deficit next year. The motion didn't pass.
"At one time I thought [everyone on] the council had about the same principles," Woodard lamented. "I'm not sure that's true anymore. I vote for freedom and liberty whenever [they] come up."
As a libertarian, Woodard wants fewer regulations, whether you're talking about signs, landscaping or the environment. He worries that the city budget has been growing too fast.
"Just because we can grow at that amount doesn't mean we should," he says. "It's not the city's money. It's the taxpayer's money."
Woodard casts himself as a councilmember bringing deep scrutiny to bear on financial and policy decisions. He doesn't just want to follow staff recommendations, he says, but wants to do his own research and analysis.
Towey casts Woodard in a less flattering role.
"I worked with Mr. Woodard for four years. He's kind of a loose cannon," Towey says. "He brings up things that are questionable."
Like what kind of things?
"He doesn't like deer in the neighborhood," Towey says. "He brought up the question, 'Why shouldn't we have deer hunts in the neighborhood?'"
Woodard chuckles at the memory.
"I suggested we have a limited hunt every so often," he says, noting that "the game department is not interested in that at all."
Woodard also brought up a citizen's idea of the changing the name of Spokane Valley. He thought it deserved at least some discussion.
Towey scoffs. "The cost to the taxpayer of changing the name is just tremendous," he says.
The race between Wick and real-estate appraiser Sam Wood, meanwhile, is less about the past and more about perspective on the future. Philosophically, Wood is very close to Woodard. He cares a lot about low taxes and a lot about property rights. Who knows the importance of property rights better, he suggests, than a property appraiser?
"I bring that practical, common-sense, everyday experience to the council," Wood says.
As the city updates its large-scale comprehensive plan, he says his expertise will be vital.
"I don't think anybody will deny that the Valley is a small-business community," Wood says. "I think they need a strong voice."
Wick says his perspective is more vital. In his day job, he's an IT manager. "I led the initiative to get us into the digital world," he says. "Some of us can handle technology and some of us can't."
He wants to look long-term. For example, just by bridging a few railroad tracks, he says that entire sections of the Valley could be opened to new development, leading to thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact.
"I try to think 50 years down the road," Wick says. As the only young guy on the council, he has to. ♦