Debate Over Spokane County Commissioner Positions Continues

Oct 13, 2015

Spokane county voters will have chance to decide if the county should expand its commission from three to five members. 

When the Spokane county commission was first established, there were about 50 thousand people in the county. Now, over 100 years later, the population is about half a million, but that board still has three commissioners.

Spokane county voters will have a chance to decide if the commission should be expanded to five on this Falls ballot.

One who thinks there are merits to the concept is current county commissioner, Todd Mielke, who says commissioners serve on a number of boards, a time consuming effort that could be spread out if more members were added.

But Commissioner Al French , who opposes the current ballot measure, says the idea that commissioners are too busy because of board meetings is overblown. He says he has compiled a list of the boards all the commissioners are members of:

“In Todd’s case he sits on ten boards that are active, 12 that are inactive, that haven't met in the last year or even five years, and Shelley sits on 12 boards and three inactive.  So when we talk about being meetinged to death, which is what one of my commissioners says, the record doesn’t really support that.”

For his part, Mielke argues that the state’s public meetings law prohibits a majority of the commission from discussing issues without calling a public meeting. And since the majority of a 3- member council is two, that restricts conversation between two commissioners to non-business items if they are not at a public meeting:

“By going from three commissioners to five, what it means is you divvy up the work among five people, you will have more time to implement the decisions you have gained at these meetings, and have one on one meetings with a colleague to gain that perspective.”

Mielke says he has had to avoid speaking to his counterparts if only one is present, and not the other, when it comes to county business.

Again, Al French says that is an exaggeration of the facts:

“One of the things that we do when we want to share information with a fellow commissioner is say for information purposes only I’m going to share this information with you, and then I can share anything that I want. The only thing I can’t do is say would you support, or anything that looks like I am asking for a vote”

Former county commissioner Bonnie Mager says she supports the idea of adding commissioners through the changing of the county charter, where there is more public input on such things as drawing up new district boundaries. If this commissioner expansion were to pass, Mager says it gives incumbents an advantage in the 2016 election. She cites the example of Shelley O'Quinn and a possible unannounced opponent:

"This gives her the opportunity to draw them out of her boundary as well as it gives both the opportunity to hold off setting the boundary until next spring which means they have an advantage in raising money, and no one knows what district they would be in, so no one knows who they are running against, so if they are in a new position or what.”

Efforts to increase the number of commission members have failed twice in the recent past. Those efforts would have moved the county to the charter form of government.  That concept failed in 1994 and 2007.