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New five member Spokane County Commission elect Mary Kuney as chair

The Spokane County Courthouse
Rebecca White
The Spokane County Courthouse

In a tense Tuesday meeting, the Spokane County Board of Commissioners voted to make Mary Kuney their next chair.

This is the first year the county has five commissioners, and the first-year elections were held in districts, instead of county wide.

That led to two new Democrats winning seats on the board, Chris Jordan and Amber Waldref. Josh Kerns and Al French, two more conservative Republicans, are incumbents who won reelection. Kuney, also an incumbent who won reelection, is a more moderate Republican who appears to be rapidly emerging as the swing vote between the two blocks.

Kuney’s efforts to increase regional collaboration has led to her being publicly rebuked by her colleagues on the commission in the past. French argued Kuney was the wrong person to be chair because in the past she’s met with other governments without first getting his, and Kerns approval.

“That's just not the kind of leadership that this position demands, it’s not this kind of leadership that I think the community is hoping from us,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Kerns argued Kuney didn’t have time to chair the board because she was chosen to lead the Washington State Association of Counties, and had other volunteer and community commitments.

In a follow up statement after the meeting, he and French accused Kuney of misleading them.

“Today Commissioner Mary Kuney has deceived both the public and her two fellow Republican Commissioners,” French said, “The voters of this community voted for a conservative majority this past November and Mary has disregarded their wishes.”

Mary Kuney is a Republican who has won the backing of many conservative local leaders such as former Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Pam Haley, the mayor of Spokane Valley. During the rest of Tuesday’s meeting, she voted the same way as French and Kerns did on several other issues.

During the meeting Kuney said she had spoken to the association of counties and they had agreed to allow her to spend more time in Spokane than other past chairs.

“It is most important for any president of the organization to take care of their county first and that’s what I intend to do,” she said.

She said yesterday’s meeting was the first time she’d heard any concern from them about her leadership or schedule.

While Kuney’s record has angered her colleagues on the commission, it won Waldref and Jordan’s support.

“I've watched her in the meetings over the last year, I think she's done an amazing job,” Waldref said. “I've also seen her step up around regional challenges and leadership from homelessness, doing a lot of work in the last year. It’s a big regional issue that I'm looking forward to working with all of our cities here to try to come to some better practices in Spokane County so we can see some changes happen.”

Over three votes, Kerns and French each nominated and voted for each other each earning two votes. Waldref nominated Kuney, who voted for herself breaking the tie. She will serve as chair of the board, the public face of the county and the presiding officer over meetings, for the rest of the year.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.