Valley council candidates offer range of experience

Valley council candidates offer range of experience

Jim Camden Staff writer

Like many people seeking a seat on the new Spokane Valley City Council, all candidates for Position 2 say they want to keep government costs and taxes down.

They want to make sure services stay as good as they are or get better. Most say they want to represent average folks, and think the Valley’s people are its biggest strength.

What does differentiate the six hopefuls for Position 2 are the variety of ages and experiences, and a wide difference in candidate finances.

Position 2 has one of the youngest candidates, 21-year-old Robby Currier. It also has one of the most senior, longtime Valley incorporation proponent Ed Mertens, 72.

Mertens and Rico Reed, 57, have each run unsuccessfully for the state Legislature in the Valley – Mertens in the mid-1970s and Reed in the late 1990s.

That’s a plus for a future City Council member, said Reed, who was also a Democratic party officer in Lincoln County: “You need to be a creative negotiator. Everything is compromise in politics.”

Currier, like Bob Milholland, 63, and Mike Tsoumpas, 42, has never run for office before. Neither has Steve Taylor, 26 – although as an aide to a congressman and a Republican Party activist, Taylor’s no political novice. The county GOP once nominated him for a legislative vacancy, but the seat eventually went to Lynn Schindler.

Five candidates are limiting their contributions and plan to spend less than $3,500. Reed is even recycling old campaign signs – repainting the backs of his and others – to hold down costs.

Taylor, meanwhile, leads candidates for all seven council seats in contributions at this point. He’s picked up an endorsement and a $1,000 check from the Spokane County Deputy Sheriffs Association, as well as contributions from longtime GOP donors around the county.

Taylor cites his government and political experience as a plus for the nascent council.

“I have a background in government, I’m fiscally conservative,” he said. “You can take a lot of business principles and apply them to government, but you have to remember that government is not a business.”

Currier and Tsoumpas contend the council needs a representative from the common man.

“I am not a politician,” said Currier. “I stand for what most people stand for.”

Although he’s only a few years out of high school, Currier says his years of work with Future Problem Solving, a program for gifted students, makes him “a professional problem solver.” He views the council as a chance to work for the people.

“I didn’t want to see things go down the tubes. I didn’t want to see taxes go up,” he says of his decision to run for office.

Tsoumpas, a school custodian, cites the need for everyday, working people with “no particular agenda” on the new council.

They can apply common sense to the decisions that the council must make, he said.

“I’m open-minded to look at everything, no preconceived notions, just hear what citizens have to say,” Tsoumpas said. “I don’t have an agenda or an issue I’m hot about.”

Milholland does. He calls planning and zoning his “hot-button issue” and has been active in the transition committee studying that topic for the new city. His interest stems from a bad experience with the county Planning Department a few years ago, when a zoning change he requested took more than a year, he said.

“I want the Valley to have a user-friendly planning and zoning department,” said Milholland, who works for the U.S. Postal Service. “We can save money and attract business with better planning.”

It’s a point that draws disagreement from some of his rivals. Taylor thinks the county has done a good job on planning. Tsoumpas is leery of coming in and saying, “We’re going to do this and change that.” Incorporation was Mertens’ hot button for more than a decade. While leading one of the main proincorporation groups, he said people used to ask him if he wanted to be mayor.

Absolutely not, he said. His studies of other new start-up cities convinced Mertens the council-manager form of government was the best way to go. That makes hiring the right city manager the most important job for the new council, he said.

Mertens contends his work on the incorporation effort gives him a leg up in voter familiarity, and represents experience that citizens of the new city might want to tap.

“When I was out putting out signs, I met a lot of fine people. I would hope people will remember what I did,” he said.

Reed, on the other hand, was not a supporter of incorporation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, he contends.

The incorporation proposal passed in May with a slight majority in an election with low turnout, and he thinks a majority of the new city’s residents were initially opposed.

“A lot of people didn’t think it was going to pass, and didn’t bother to vote,” he said.

But that’s in the past, Reed added. “Now I’m working at doing all I can to make government work for all the people.”

Most candidates for Position 2 say the issues are emerging slowly in the campaign. They talk about the need for more jobs, better roads and expanded sewers without really disagreeing.

Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk’s proposal this week, to provide law enforcement to the new city for $11.6 million per year is generating some discussion – but not much debate.

Taylor, who has the backing of the deputies union, supports contracting with the department.

Mertens, who calls himself one of the department’s strongest supporters, said he wishes the union contacted him before making the endorsement, because he also likes Sterk’s proposal.

So do Milholland, Currier, Tsoumpas and Reed, at least temporarily.

“I think we can do it cheaper on our own, in two or three years,” Currier said.

Another emerging issue – whether to keep Sprague and Appleway one- way streets as part of a traffic couplet – is beginning to create some differences.

Milholland would return Sprague to a two-way street, to help struggling businesses, and put any extension of Appleway on hold.

So would Currier, who thinks the tax base is going to suffer because business along Sprague is down.

Taylor would keep the couplet, which he considers good transportation planning.

“I definitely feel for the businesses along Sprague, but I don’t know if the couplet is the cause,” he said. The economic downturn, the Spokane Valley Mall and extensive construction on the main arterial have all taken their toll, he said.

Tsoumpas believes the new one-way pairs have helped traffic, but he realizes that businesses are unhappy. “I would stand on not changing anything right away,” he said. “I’d look at all sides and study it.”

But most say one of their main goals, if elected, would be to keep the Valley from changing too much, too fast.

“We want to keep the high quality of life,” said Milholland. “It’s a wonderful place to live.”

Copyright 2002 Cowles Publishing Company

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