A memorial service has been scheduled for Richard Munson, former mayor of Spokane Valley, for Saturday, Jan. 8, at 10:30 a.m. at CenterPlace, 2426 N. Discovery Place.
City of Spokane Valley flags are being flown at half-staff through Sunday in Munson’s honor.
On Tuesday, current Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey read a proclamation in observation of Munson’s passing. He was joined by three council members who served with Munson: Gary Schimmels, Bill Gothmann and Rose Dempsey.
Mike Jackson, city manager, spoke on behalf of city staff.
“Mayor Munson cared very deeply for the council and also very deeply for the staff,” Jackson said. “He always treated the staff with great respect and professional courtesy, both within and out of the building. We appreciate that very much.”
Mark Munson, Richard’s son, addressed the council and said, “On behalf of my family and my father, he was never so alive as when he served this city. He loved you all very much.”
News of the 68-year-old Munson’s death began to circulate Saturday after he passed away from complications from leukemia. He was admitted to Deaconess Medical Center after suffering a heart attack following a holiday trip to Seattle to visit family members. Munson had also battled prostate cancer and heart disease.
“It was very unexpected,” Mark said on Monday. “We all thought he would make it.”
On Monday, Towey said he had been unaware of the severity of Munson’s illness. He also said the former mayor was not shy about giving advice to Towey after Munson failed in his 2009 re-election bid.
“Rich was a visionary,” Towey said. “We need more visionaries like him in the community.”
In 2002, already a longtime community activist, Munson – who was then serving on the Spokane County Board of Equalization – was one of over 50 political hopefuls seeking the job of City Council member to newly incorporated Spokane Valley. After defeating Joan McCurdy in the general election in November, he joined Gary Schimmels, Diana Wilhite, Mike Flanigan, Steve Taylor and Mike DeVleming on the first council.
“One thing I’ll say about Rich, is he was passionate,” DeVleming, who was the city’s first mayor, said. “But he was willing to listen to another perspective.”
After going unchallenged and re-elected to office in 2005, Munson served as deputy mayor to Wilhite for a time before being chosen by his colleagues to assume the role of mayor in 2008. Under the city’s council-manager form of government, council members choose a mayor as the honorary designee and to lead council meetings.
It was a job he held until his defeat by Bob McCaslin in 2009. McCaslin and four other current council members were voted in after promising to remove the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, which was supported by Munson.
Munson always said SARP was “not perfect” and could be changed if needed. But he doggedly supported the notion of the need for a plan for future development along the Sprague corridor.
“At some point – maybe it will take 20 years – growth in Spokane Valley is either going to explode or it will stop,” Munson said in 2009, adding that he wanted to see the city as a place that young people didn’t leave to pursue careers elsewhere. “With the right people in place, Spokane Valley could surpass Spokane.”
During his tenure on the council, Munson served on the Growth Management Steering Committee, the city’s Finance Committee and the Spokane Transit Authority board of directors. Those who worked most closely with him at City Hall said he logged many hours at his desk and if he didn’t come in on any particular day he would at least call to check in.
Since Munson was a trained economist, Gothmann said he looked to his former colleague for accurate information on city finances.
“He had a great background, an economic background,” Gothmann said. “Of course you’re going to listen to him.”
Munson came to Spokane Valley in 1977, while his wife Janet taught in the Central Valley School District. All three of their children attended CV schools and graduated from University High School.
Munson entered into the political arena after his career as a stockbroker were winding down with Piper Jaffray. Munson was active with the Republican Party and assisted Rep. George Nethercutt as a campaign treasurer.
It was working with the congressman that Munson met future colleague Taylor, who is now the city administrator for Connell.
“I was struck by Rich’s practical approach to politics and government – conservative in thought but temperate in action,”
Taylor states in a piece he wrote about Munson. “It was a rare trait given the ideological partisan environment we are accustomed to today.”
Taylor does admit, however, that Munson had his stubborn side.
“Working side by side with Rich wasn’t always a dream,” he states. “Rich, to say the least, was opinionated.”
It was that characteristic, Gothmann said, that he respected most about Munson.
“He was a very direct guy,” Gothmann said. “But that was a quality I appreciated, because I’m a direct guy.”
As a boy, Munson moved a lot due to his father’s service in the military. He attended high school in the San Francisco Bay area and his first stint in college was at San Jose State University, where he picked up a degree in political science. Munson later received his master’s degree in business from the University of Arkansas.
Munson’s own time in the Air Force, from 1966 to 1993, had taken him to combat zones I Vietnam and the Middle East during Desert Storm. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Munson also coached youth sports and was a Boy Scouts leader.
Munson had served as president of the Association of Washington Cities during his tenure on the council. He was active with Rotary, and had recently been named to the board of directors of Spokane Valley Partners.
He is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren.
In early 2010, after settling into life no longer dominated by public office, Munson said he wouldn’t have done anything differently during his tenure at City Hall.
“I don’t regret a single thing,” he said. “Everything was motivated by making this city a better place to live.”
Of that, DeVleming said his former colleague is correct.
“He worked hard to make this the best possible city it could be,” he said.