Larry Andrews: Council plays politics with volunteer appointments


By Larry Andrews

The Spokane City Council’s call for citizens to apply for an open position is closing Friday. The musical chairs game created by Council President Breean Beggs’ appointment by to the Spokane County Superior Court has left the council’s southern district with a vacancy. Their appointment will illuminate the council majority’s dedication to either an unbiased process or political patronage.

If the past is a predictor of the future, the council majority will quickly narrow the list of applicants to their political allies and donors. Then they will anoint a member that will fulfill the political “trifecta” strategic plan published by council president candidate Betsy Wilkerson and council candidate Paul Dillon.

I hope they prove me wrong, but it was Wilkerson who was appointed by this council majority the last time Beggs changed seats. She is a beneficiary of political appointment and has written that her election-year goals include, “If we win this race, preserve the Council majority, and help Lisa Brown win her race for Mayor, we can create Spokane’s first-ever progressive trifecta. We can enact our values and pass our policies in full force.”

This kind of “by hook or crook” political power play has also corrupted our city’s volunteer boards and commissions.

It can be difficult to find residents willing to volunteer their time and talents on committees when the City Council majority outright rejects many months of their work. This was never so clear as last year when the volunteers on Spokane’s redistricting board unanimously approved a fair and noncontroversial map that was heavily favored by residents from across the political spectrum. What did the council do? Wilkerson sponsored last-minute legislation to ignore volunteer citizen work and replace the map with her fellow council member Zack Zappone’s map that favored his chances for re-election.

Residents may also be reluctant to join boards and commissions due to public attacks by those disgruntled with the process. Consider the recent case of Kara Odegard, who resigned her highly compensated, council-created position as their director of sustainability initiatives in the middle of a volunteer ethics commission investigation. Did Odegard thank the volunteer members of the city ethics commission for their time? No. Instead, she called them ignorant. Safe from their authority after having quit her job, Odegard wrote, “The Commission’s view there was an appearance of a conflict based on my work with a private company makes no sense considering the facts. The claim should have been dismissed by the Ethics Commission.” She asked the city to “Educate the Commission on basic requirements of jurisdiction (such as OPMA being outside its role) and rules pertaining to the authority of complaining witnesses.”

In most cases, as outlined in city statute, an individual fills out an application, submits it to the mayor’s office, and may be appointed pending confirmation by the City Council. However, the Spokane City Council’s ever-expanding ambition to grow its staff and legitimize lofty salaries has brought about multiple subcommittees that they alone create and control.

An example is the Spokane City Council’s Sustainable Action Subcommittee. The SAS was created in 2018. In 2022, the City Council reconstituted the SAS and created the SAS Steering Committee including in its resolution, “The membership as a whole shall reflect a broad range of opinion, expertise, socio-economic levels, races, ages, and expertise with the objective of implementing the Sustainability Action Plan.”

The initial makeup of the SAS Steering Committee included predominately aggressive climate change activists, several of whom are founding members of “350 Spokane,” a group that has testified in our state Legislature and before the Washington State Building Code Council in favor of eliminating natural gas in new homes and businesses and eliminating the commercial and residential use of natural gas stoves.

As a longstanding member of the SAS, this past February I applied for the vacant seat on the Steering Committee reserved for a member of the Spokane business community. Having served the Spokane area as an HVAC/R and plumbing professional for over 30 years, I thought I would have much to offer. What have I heard? Nothing. Rather than respond to my application, the SAS is advertising for three vacancies for SAS Steering Committee volunteers. Sure, the council wants a broad range of opinions, only if you agree with their “trifecta” agenda.

My question to the City Council: Why would people apply for these boards and commissions if the fix is in?

Larry Andrews is the owner of Andrews Mechanical, Inc., in Spokane.

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