While Rod Higgins might be Spokane Valley’s mayor, he’s not immune to a challenge to his Position 1 City Council seat.
In Spokane Valley’s council-manager form of government, the mayor is chosen by the majority of council members. So if Higgins’ two challengers in the Aug. 1 primary – Al Merkel and Chris Jackson – have designs on that post, it’s not quite as simple as winning an election.
That aside, Higgins – who has been mayor since January 2016 – will have to be one of the top-two vote-getters in the primary in order to move on to the November general election.
Family? How long living in Spokane Valley? 26 years
Why did you want to file for candidacy one more time? There are a number of unfinished items of business I’d like to complete.
What are your goals for the Spokane Valley City Council in your next term? 1) Continue the direction of the present council in positioning the city to attract new businesses and residents. 2) Complete the rail crossings as Pines and Barker. Both are necessary for the economic health of the city and the safety of our citizens. 3) Our roads are already the envy of the county. We’ve got to find a way to finance keeping them in that condition. 4) Complete our efforts to create a community center by building a library in Balfour Park, then finishing the plan for the entire park. 5) Completing the addition to our industrial park. The work currently underway will more than double the size of our existing industrial park, providing room and support for higher paying jobs.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing the city in the immediate future? Constructing rail crossings at all our major intersections. The current situation limits development of the city north of the tracks.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? Most folks are satisfied with the job this council is doing. Issues are usually minor such as an occasional pothole. One thing that really surprises people is the accessibility of council members.
What differences separate you from your opponents? A hands-on working knowledge of the issues confronting our city, in-depth experience in this city’s finances, and good working relationships with surrounding municipal governments and elected officials.
Family? How long living in Spokane Valley? My family has been here in Spokane Valley since 1997. Spokane Valley has been my U.S. residence since that time while on foreign travel.
Why did you want to file for candidacy? I have grown up in Spokane Valley, and it is a beautiful place with wonderful people, amazing scenery and weather (most of the time), and a great family-friendly environment. I have always been driven to help others, and after high school and college here in Spokane, I went to work for the Agency for International Development (USAID) helping our world community develop economically as a gift from the American people. While working overseas, and learning the tenets of economic development first hand, I felt more and more that my own home could benefit greatly from the knowledge and experience I had gained. I feel that I can best serve our Valley by using my experience and common sense leadership to develop a brighter future focusing on jobs, roads and trust.
What are your goals for the Spokane Valley City Council? I would like to see the City Council depoliticize and focus on common-sense leadership rather than dogmatic obedience to either party and restore citizen trust in open meetings and dealings. I would like the council to focus on fostering our economic development, as only growing the local economy can help balance our city budget in a sales tax-based state. I would also like the council to continue a commitment to road maintenance and maintaining other city services at acceptable levels. Additionally, I would like to work with my colleagues to implement a “true cost” building code model, whereby developers pay all service increase costs for newly constructed developments. Finally, I would like to focus on the procurement and contracting system the city has, orienting our contracts to performance based rather than input focused, and having an open fair competitive process that aims to boost local business efforts.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing the city in the immediate future? I would say it is a tie between solving the current impending road maintenance crisis caused by the current council's lack commitment to city services, and local economy not growing at a rate matching or exceeding local population growth, thus causing a bind in city resources for service provision.
Issue 1 can be solved by looking at the current budget, refocusing excess funds into road maintenance and restructuring city income to set aside additional funds for maintenance. In addition, the city must redouble efforts to seek matching grants, which the current administration has let fall off.
Issue 2 needs a council who is willing to look at economic development through a honest, experienced lens and see the changes that our national economy is currently going through and find how we can be winners in the new economy by low cost city initiatives to foster the kinds of business that will lead to economic growth. I have the experience to do this.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? I would say the most surprising is the disillusionment with Mr. Higgins authoritarian-style of governing, many citizens feel the Mr. Higgins does not listen to citizens, and does not work well with others. I intend to reverse this style.
What differences separate you from your opponents? I would say the following:
1. I am patient, I listen to constituents concerns, and will work with my colleagues to find compromises rather than lead by majority at the exclusion of the minority.
2. I am experienced with economic development, monitoring and evaluation, contracting/procurement, human resources, and general government operation. Neither of my opponents have my experience. I would never make a hiring or firing decision that would cost the city funds in excess of what is guaranteed in a contract (i.e. the firing of the last city manager cost the city over $300,000 in excess of what was guaranteed by contract because of how the decision was carried out).
3. Common sense leadership. I am truly nonpartisan, neither dogmatically to the right nor the left. I will consider all solutions, and make decisions using data unlike Mr. Higgins, but I will also prioritize needs over wants, focusing on road maintenance and service delivery (needs) before social programs (wants).
Family? How long living in Spokane Valley? My family and I have been in the Valley for three generations. I was born here and have lived in the Valley for over 22 years.
Why did you file for candidacy? I was livid with how the secret majority of the council handled the firing of City Manager Mike Jackson. By all accounts, he was a perfect city manager; the envy of all other Washington cities. All of the people at the council meeting when Mike was fired had nothing but positive things to say. Four of the current council members, however, made up their minds before the meeting even began. Other council members were not consulted, and the people they represent were ignored. We need a council that behaves better.
What are your goals for the Spokane Valley City Council? 1) I want to make the city council an approachable, open, transparent, and accountable body. 2) I want to look for ways to encourage mass participation. 3) I want to give our youth a reason to stay in the Valley. We need to court industry in technology.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing the city in the immediate future? Finding a permanent budgetary solution to fund the road preservation efforts of the city. There is no universal, one-step fix without raising taxes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is making a false campaign promise. I believe we can do better by increasing revenue and reducing expenditures (e.g., we are one of two cities in Washington state that provide full health care benefits to City Council members...who only work part-time).
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? People from across the political spectrum are all saying the same thing: this council is too partisan. Ed Pace, for example, is vocal about the fact that the council raised the issue of a 6-percent increase in utility tax only so people could vent their frustrations. That strategy feels too political to be a reflection of reality. If I were a gambling man I would say they did not realize how much backlash there would actually be. If for some reason they did make the decision to allow people to vent, what is the benefit of wasting staff time and making people angry?
What differences separate you from your opponents? My background in social psychology is perfect for speaking with people. It side-steps the partisan issue because my goal as a representative is to give everyone -- from Republican to Democrat -- a place to speak and be heard. My opponents have been great at claiming that they represent everyone, but many people have not felt like their voices were heard (see Mike Jackson firing).