Central Valley High School graduate and current Spokane County District Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn has faced plenty of obstacles in her first four years of office, but now she will face her first challenger for elected office since being elected in 2012.
O’Quinn, a Republican, is fending off a challenge by Andrew Biviano, a Democrat with a keen interest in criminal justice reform in Spokane County.
Family/How long living in the area: My family moved to the Spokane Valley (near 12th and Evergreen) shortly after I was born in 1975. I attended Keystone Elementary, Pioneer School, St. Mary's School and St. George's School. My first jobs were washing cars at “Born Again Bugs” and delivering the Spokane Valley Herald on my bike.
I've lived in the Valley all my life except for four years that I went to college at Yale and the four following years when I worked in Seattle. I also attended Gonzaga Law School. My wife Amy and I have two teenaged sons who go to school at West Valley High School.
Why did you file for office: I've worked as a mental health case manager, federal prosecutor, and currently work as a civil rights and plaintiffs’ attorney. My career has focused on bringing more humanity and common sense into government, especially in the areas of mental health, criminal justice and workers' rights. I’ve had success in all of these areas, both in direct service to people in need, as well as through lawsuits that have changed how governments and businesses operate.
I filed for this race because I realized that I could do a great deal for the people I serve if I were to be able to join the Board of County Commissioners, as it decides how we spend our tax money to reflect our values. I will work hard -- with conviction, courage and collaboration -- to make our county more inclusive and save money by helping people before crises arise.
What are you goals over the next four years: Three critical challenges will determine the future course of Spokane County. First, we must urgently reform our criminal justice system, which consumes 75 perfect of our budget. Second, we must grow our economy by increasing employment and incomes. Third, we must make wise land use decisions that allow us to grow without compromising our quality of life.
I am the only candidate with decades of actual on-the- ground experience working within the criminal justice and mental health systems -- as a mental health case manager, federal prosecutor and civil rights attorney. This experience provides irreplaceable firsthand knowledge of the strategies that make us safer (such as prevention, treatment, and supervision), as well as those that cost an enormous amount while actually increasing crime (such as the overuse of incarceration). I am best positioned to bring all sides together to save money while increasing safety and improving the lives of those in the system.
My career has also focused on fighting for workers, who are the true drivers of our consumer-based economy. Our current county leadership has not addressed the stagnant wages of the middle class and has allowed county employees to continue making 10- to 20-percent less than similar workers in comparable counties. This depresses wages for everyone, and deprives our businesses of a huge potential customer base. It’s time to reward hard work again.
While development is a great thing, we need a balanced land use policy that considers the needs of all of us, rather than only serving developers. Sprawl causes overcrowded schools and roads, hurts the environment, and increases the costs we all pay for public services. It is time to have a government that works for you and your neighbors.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing Spokane County in the immediate future? The biggest issue facing the county is the necessary reform to the criminal justice system, as its costs keep growing to the point of unsustainability, and because it is responsible for the most important public service: keeping us safe. Research clearly shows that locking people up actually makes us less safe because it increases crime: people become more and more likely to reoffend the longer they stay in jail. While we need to keep dangerous people in jail, there are numerous other tools available -- including community service, mandatory treatment, supervision, and restitution -- that can hold non-dangerous offenders accountable. These tools are also, very importantly, much less expensive than locking someone up and paying for their food, clothes, health care, etc.
A large piece of the solution can be the creation of a jail diversion center, which would allow law enforcement and courts to have another option available to treat people who need treatment or social services more than they need jail. My first priority as commissioner will be to make this plan a reality, and to make sure it is implemented correctly.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? How little the government listens to them. This is especially true in the Valley, as voters often feel that we take a back seat to the city of Spokane in economic decisions and land use planning, and that backdoor deals benefit others at our expense.
The close relationship between the commissioners and GSI leave many of us worried that planning is too focused on downtown Spokane, and there are too many backdoor deals, since GSI is not a public entity subject to disclosure laws.
The close relationships between commissioners and developers concern many who feel that their concerns about their neighborhoods are completely overlooked.
Land use planning decisions leave us with sprawl, traffic snarls, unsafe neighborhoods, and overcrowded schools.
The very important Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council does not include any elected officials from the City of Spokane Valley.
The county should not be making land use decisions that affect the growth of the valley and other metro areas, as it is these metro areas that will have to pay for many of these decisions.
What differences separate you from your opponent? My opponent and I are both qualified, and work hard. The biggest differences relate to our core constituencies and how we approach problem solving.
From PDC filings, you can see that my opponent is funded in large part by the powerful business interests of Spokane County, especially developers. This is reflected in her actions on the commission and how the county has operated in her tenure. My donations are mainly from working people and labor groups. This will be reflected in how I approach things, as I will be thinking about the common citizen first and foremost, especially the most vulnerable.
I also feel that I stand out with my experience in solving problems through collaboration. I have been involved in many intense and high-stake legal matters. I have fought tough battles on behalf of people with mental illness, prisoners, victims of scams and crimes, and many others. But in almost every instance I have been able to settle the matter collaboratively by finding a solution that is a win-win for all sides. Even those on opposing sides feel I have treated them with respect. This is an invaluable skill in government.
Shelly Maak O’Quinn
Family/How long living in the area: I have two boys, Ryland (16) and Iain (10). I was born and raised in the Spokane Valley (Central Valley High School). I graduated from Whitworth University in 1997 with a degree in accounting and business management and earned an MBA from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in 2001. I left Spokane for seven years after college and lived in Honduras, California and Florida. I returned to Spokane County in 2004. I couldn’t ask for a better community to raise my kids and I love being close to my family.
Why did you want to file for candidacy for a new term? I ran for county commissioner because I am a passionate advocate for Spokane County. I love serving our community. Every day, I have the opportunity to make a difference. And…to top it off, I work with great county employees who are committed to serving our region.
We have accomplished so much in the last four years. We have made great strides in the areas of criminal justice reform, services for those with mental health issues in our community, improving customer service at all levels of county government and more. We have focused strategically on the future – investing in creating jobs and quality of life resources (parks, conservation futures) to ensure our community is a great place to live work and play, now and in the future.
Yet there are so many more opportunities that lie ahead! We must continue to think outside the box on how we deliver county services. We must continue to look for opportunities for collaboration and regionalization where it makes sense. And we must recognize that every day is not one full of challenges, but rather opportunities for the future of our community.
What are your goals for the board over the next four years?
My priorities for the next four years include:
- Protecting our Community -- I have been a leader in reforming programs for the mentally ill, protecting victims of domestic violence, and standing-up for personal property rights against unwarranted government actions. I will continue to push for change and work to bring common-sense reforms to the criminal justice system.
- Creating jobs -- In order to protect the quality of life we value, we must have a vibrant economic environment. With the tremendous growth expected in industries like health sciences, research, biotechnology, and manufacturing, Spokane County is positioned for economic success. I will continue to fight for these opportunities to ensure future generations in Spokane County have the opportunity to thrive.
- Saving taxpayers’ money -- Your local government should be efficient, nimble, and focused on customer service. Since elected in 2013, I have implemented new approaches to government, including an emphasis on lean management and transparent project improvement. We have improved customer service and saved taxpayers’ money, but I’m not done! With your support, I will work to make Spokane County the state’s flagship government, renowned for innovative leadership and customer-oriented services.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing Spokane County in the immediate future? In Washington state, county government is financially unsustainable. Revenues (limited to property tax and sales tax) grow slower than expenses. County leaders are challenged to find more efficient and cost-effective ways to provide mandated services to Spokane County citizens. This is why I have made lean management/process improvement a priority since first being elected. Simply by changing “how” we do things, we are saving tax payers money and significantly improving customer service. Examples of our successes include:
The special events permit process for the parks department was streamlined from two weeks to one day.
Risk Management reforms saved over $240,000 in time-loss compensation costs in each of the last two years.
By converting the Human Resources Department’s paper employment application to an online application process, we increased the number of job applicants by over 3,000 in one year.
Visit the county’s website to view our new Performance Indicators – Measuring progress on our improvement! cp.spokanecounty.org/ChiefOperationsOfficer/PerformanceIndicators/
To address the long term fiscal sustainability issues with county government, we need a multi-pronged approach that includes continuing to think outside the box on how we provide county services, advocating for common sense legislative changes, and strategically investing in growing jobs and our local economy.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? Unfortunately, national politics has been dominating conversations at the doors. Both Democrats and Republicans are unhappy with the political divisiveness. This gives me an opportunity to speak about the important role local government plays in our community. The majority of the issues we deal with at the local level are non-partisan. There is nothing partisan about solid waste, animal control, emergency communications, or bridges. When we focus locally, the top three issues have consistently been: public safety, roads/transportation and our local economy.
What differences separate you from your opponent? I bring a unique background to the commission that includes diverse experiences from small business development in Honduras to running a homeless mission/outreach ministry in Florida to business and non-profit management in our local community. These diverse experiences give me a broad perspective on all of issues facing Spokane County residents.
I have been actively engaged in some of the most important reform issues facing Spokane county. I currently serve as chairwoman of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council (SRLJC), working to safely reduce our jail population by 15percent over the next three years and address the racial and ethnic disparities across the local criminal justice system. I also served on a two-year statewide taskforce on the integration of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder services, working to align services and improve outcomes for our citizens and communities.
My opponent has often criticized the work of the SRLJC on the campaign trail, claiming the process is moving too slow. Significant system reform takes partnership, collaboration, investment and time. While my opponent talks about these issues, he has yet to join us for the public meetings or engage in developing solutions.
I believe that local government has a specific role and purpose. As an elected official, I have a responsibility to ensure we are spending taxpayer money responsibly and efficiently. I am a fiscal conservative who brings common sense solutions to county government.
My opponent specifically stated that it is time we quit “talking about the size of government” and he is inspired by Bernie Sanders to bring a “progressive movement” to Spokane County.
I believe my experience, tenacity, integrity, and compassion make me the most qualified candidate for this position. I have a proven track record of getting things done for Spokane County and I would appreciate your vote!