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Day Care Owner Seeks Spokane City Council Seat

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

It’s election season and over our next few programs, we’ll feature candidates and measures that are appearing on Washington’s November 7 general election ballot. Those ballots should be in the mail sometime next week.

The Spokane City Council will see at least one new face in January as Amber Waldref moves off of the council due to term limits. She will be replaced in her Northeast district by either Tim Benn or Kate Burke. Though it’s a non-partisan race, Burke leans progressive and Benn is more conservative. Burke won 45% of the vote in the August primary, Benn about 37%.

We met Tim Benn at his family business, a licensed day care center he and his wife have operated in the Minnehaha neighborhood for 17  years. Outside there are toys in the fenced yard where children play. Benn built the house where the kids do their indoor activities.

“We’ve seen a lot of children come through here. It’s exciting to see what goes on with families and how the children grow and their interests,” he said.

It’s that experience guiding kids that helps to shape Benn’s view of government, especially as to how small businesses are regulated.

“When we first started the child care business, we had 30 pages of regulations. Now we have 140 pages of regulations," Benn said. "Most people, like my wife, they want to work with children. They don’t want to do compliance issues all the time and I think what’s happened now is that, to work with children, you’re in a situation, because the 140 pages of regulations, some of them actually contradict each other, so you are always out of compliance.”

Those regulations, he says, have driven many people out of the day care business.

Benn touts a regulatory reform bill that he wrote. In 2013, it was approved by the Washington state House and Senate and signed by the governor.

“We had social workers enforcing building and fire code from the state level and that’s a local (responsibility). Local building and fire are the ones charged with that. So we got that thing fixed and I think that that helped,” he said.

Benn believes the basic role of local government is to keep people safe and take care of infrastructure. He says voters want the city to put more emphasis on responding to and solving property crimes.

“Every person I’ve talked to has been touched by property crime and their feeling of safety, not just their belongings and their personal effects, but also their personal safety,” he said.

That personal safety includes the ability to walk in school zones without being run down by a speeding driver. After a long battle with the school district and the city, Benn says he and other parents to convince the city to install school safety lights around nearby Cooper School.

“I went outside of the process and I went and gathered signatures from almost 200 citizens around the school and parents, families and staff of the school. Finally the city decided maybe we should do this," Benn said. "To me, it was a basic government issue. This is a basic safety measure. It’s not very expensive. It’s a lot cheaper than a lot of the bump outs and different traffic calming things they do. It’s simply yellow flashing safety lights.”

Benn hopes those lights will be up and operational within a year or two.

Speaking of transportation, Benn opposes the November initiative that will penalize companies that run oil and uncovered coal trains through the city.

“This train issue, all it’s going to do is cause lawsuits that we’re going to lose because it’s not in the city’s power structure, whether it’s initiative or the city council, to stop interstate commerce," Benn said.

Benn hopes, within a few years, more commerce will be coming to his neighborhood as the state builds the North Spokane Corridor about two blocks west of his home and business. While some worry about the disruption it could cause to the neighborhood, Benn chooses to be optimistic.

“In the old Dogtown, which they call The Yard now, there’s a lot of industrial space there. There’s the old Kaiser plant. There’s R.A. Hanson up there. I think those are big opportunities for someone to come in and create jobs," Benn said. "So hopefully, it’s a North-South Freeway that makes us a destination and doesn’t just pass us by.”

Voters in Spokane’s Northeast district will choose between Tim Benn and Kate Burke on the general election ballot.