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Two council members, two newcomers vie for Spokane City Council president

Two sitting members of the Spokane City Council are among the four candidates hoping to become its next president.

Mike Fagan, who represents the northeast district, and Breean Beggs, who represents the South Hill, are joined in the race by political newcomer Cindy Wendle and former Spokane NAACP President Phillip Tyler.

In the weeks leading to the August primary election, the candidates have focused on addressing public safety and homelessness, housing and economic development, and a number of other hot-button issues in Spokane.

One of the four candidates will replace Ben Stuckart, who is running for mayor. The City Council president is the only member of council elected city-wide and runs council meetings.

First elected in 2011, Fagan has served two terms representing the city’s northeast and touts his tenure as a unique voice on the City Council. Beggs also touts his record on the council, to which he was first appointed in 2016 following a career as a civil rights attorney. He won election to that same seat in 2017.

Tyler, who has faced multiple allegations that he physically abused three of his ex-wives, gained prominence in Spokane as the president of the city’s NAACP chapter.

A newcomer to politics, Wendle has pitched herself to voters as a candidate who will put politics aside and put people first.

Wendle is the only female candidate in the race and, she believes, provides a stark contrast to the two current council members seeking the position.

“The two current council members (are) both pretty extreme on the political spectrum. That doesn’t sound right to me in a nonpartisan race,” Wendle said.

Beggs rose to prominence in Spokane as the director of the Center for Justice from 2004 through 2010. He represented the family of Otto Zehm in their lawsuit against the city following his death while in police custody in 2006. The family eventually reached a settlement with the city to end the suit.

Fagan has built a reputation as the most conservative member of the City Council. He hosts a radio show, “Right Spokane Perspective,” and co-founded the anti-tax political action committee Voters Want More Choices. He raised eyebrows in May when he spoke at a fundraising event hosted in Spokane Valley by proponents of Liberty State, a conservative secessionist movement that seeks to split from Western Washington.

Fagan described those associations as “helping friends out” and said he has received compliments throughout the campaign from those who work in Democratic and independent circles.

“People just need to take time to sit down and have a talk, that’s what I’m all about. I’m very open, and that’s my reputation on the street,” Fagan said. “I’m not going to be a book missing pages. They know that I’ve stood on principle.”

Fagan laments that other council members prioritize “social issues” and “push agendas.”

“No more agendas, people are tired of that. They want to see their streets fixed. They want to know that SPD is going to call them back if their garage is broken into,” Fagan said.

When it comes to public safety, Wendle said, residents don’t feel like their calls are being taken care of in a timely manner.

“People don’t feel safe going to parks,” she said.

To address the issue of homelessness, Wendle said, the approach has to be based on building partnerships between all of the relevant stakeholders, including nonprofits.

There are two subsets of people in the homeless community, according to Fagan: There are those who choose not to participate in society, and “the rest of them are addicted, period.”

Fagan criticized a City Council – which passed an ordinance last year requiring U.S. Border Patrol to obtain written permission from the mayor before entering the Spokane Intermodal Center – that he said has “embraced illegal immigrants.”

Fagan said the city is “owned by the Sinaloa cartel” and tied the availability of drugs in the city directly to its issues with homelessness. Although city data identifies family conflict, lack of income, lack of affordable housing and loss of a job as larger drivers of homelessness than drug use, Fagan said he has spent time with the homeless community in order to come to his conclusions.

The Spokane Police Guild has gone more than 900 days without a new contract, Tyler noted. Negotiating a new deal would be a top priority for him.

“What I hear when I’m speaking with officers, both high-ranking and low-level officers, is that they are frustrated with our council and our council appears to be anti-law enforcement,” Tyler said. “They’re creating a chilling effect with the officers.”

Regardless of whether or not crime rates are decreasing, Tyler said, “perception becomes reality.” Residents’ perception of crime is different than what the rates indicate, he said, and that deters people from going to the areas of the city they believe to be unsafe.

Meanwhile, the number of complaints lodged against police have decreased, Tyler added.

“That doesn’t mean our officers are perfect – holding them accountable but also praising them for their great efforts are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Tyler said there is “no panacea to cure homelessness” but that “we can mitigate the circumstances” and “deal with upstream issues that manifest in the downstream behaviors.”

Beggs also wants to tackle homelessness and housing affordability.

The council has worked to change development standards to allow more housing density but coupled that effort with a process that allows neighborhoods to preserve their design standards. It has also expanded tax-exemption zones for builders of multifamily homes.

“That’s another tool that we have. Increase density so you have less infrastructure costs and taxes are spread out over more people,” Beggs said, adding that the city also has “become far more builder-friendly” when it comes to processing permits.

If elected, Beggs hopes to focus on criminal justice reform. That work includes working to implement pretrial community supervision for those charged with a crime who do not pose a danger to society while awaiting trial.

Currently, there are two options for someone charged with a crime: sit in a high-security jail or be released with no supervision.

“That doesn’t really work for anyone,” Beggs argued.

Instead, probation officers could be used to supervise people pretrial at just a fraction of the cost of holding them in jail.

Fagan supports construction of a three- or four-story “hybrid center” that would provide counseling and other treatments to those facing addicion. He also suggested utilizing Ricky’s Law, which was passed by the state Legislature in 2016 and allows for the involuntary treatment of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

In order to address the housing pinch, the city’s comprehensive plan needs a “major facelift,” Fagan said, but the timing will be contingent on if and when the state revises the Growth Management Act, which limits how cities like Spokane can expand and develop.

Either way, Fagan believes the city needs to work closely and directly with home builders to help identify proper zoning regulations.

The economy is going to continue to grow in Spokane, but for Wendle the question is how.

“We just need to grow well, and the jobs we provide have to be the right kind of jobs and have the ability for people to access those jobs,” Wendle said.

Tyler said the city has to utilize modern zoning and land-use policies and “that might mean changing what it looks like to have a single-family home.”

The city needs to encourage new housing “at all levels,” not just affordable housing.

“It’s about building homes and spaces for everyone,” Tyler said.

Wendle is the commercial real estate manager of Northtown Square, a shopping center she co-owns. She said her responsibilities include recruiting businesses, managing leases, and helping to oversee the property itself. It’s a skillset she has highlighted throughout the campaign.

Previously she was hired at Washington Trust Bank with no banking experience, but ultimately helped lead it to an expansion into Pullman, Moscow, and Lewiston before managing the corporate branch in Spokane.

It’s not the “experience factor in an industry or a role” that creates results, Wendle said.

“I want people to know that I’ve been trusted before and been very effective,” she added.

Addressing mental health is also a focal point for Tyler, who lost a son to suicide in 2017. He suggested analyzing the funds that the city spends on social issues such as homelessness and directing it to mental health service, which impacts residents of all economic levels.

“I don’t think we’ve been giving enough attention or funding to that,” Tyler said.

Tyler has been accused by three ex-wives of physical abuse. Though he admitted he is “not a perfect human being,” he continues to unequivocally deny allegations of physical abuse.

“It’s unfortunate that these issues formed decades ago continue to be brought up as a narrative in this campaign,” Tyler said, adding that anytime a couple goes through a divorce it is “always traumatic and tough on all parties, and I don’t know if this does any benefit not only to myself or to my ex-spouses.”

His advice for those concerned about the allegations: “This is who I am. Get to know me for who I am, not through media soundbites.”

Original article from the Spokesman Review here.

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