Category Archives: City Council

Fair Chance Hiring Adopted: 11.27.17 Council Meeting Recap

Last night, Council chambers was full and the stories that were shared by the people in the room were sometimes painful, sometimes transformational, but very powerful. The topic was a proposed ordinance by CM Beggs that would require employers to remove the criminal record box from job applications and inquire about criminal record later in the hiring process. This effort is called “ban the box” or “fair chance hiring.” Council voted to approve this policy on a 5-2 vote (Fagan and Mumm no) after hours of public testimony. The ordinance goes into effect in 2018, but there are no fines or penalties for at least one year to allow a period for education and outreach and to allow businesses time to adjust application materials, etc.

To be honest, before 2014 I was not aware of how “the box” impacted people in the City or in my own neighborhood. If you have never been convicted of a crime, you don’t check it, you move on, and you hope to get a call back for an interview. If you have been convicted of a crime, however, that box can be a barrier to ever getting an interview and ever getting a job. Each person’s story is unique: what crime was committed, whether or not there was a victim involved, how many years ago, etc. Over the past several years, I have taken the time to listen and better understand the stories and hear from people who have criminal records. And there are many in our community — thousands of people. They are my neighbors. They are parents. Many want to work. They want to prove themselves and provide for their children. But the barriers can be high to reentering the community if they need to create new support systems, get a higher education, find housing, and find employment. The box can be a barrier to some if not all of these needs.

I believe in the right of businesses to decide who they want to employ and to check into potential employee’s history and background. And there are jobs where the Federal Government says you CANNOT have a criminal history (teachers, working with children, law enforcement, etc). But are we putting up an artificial barrier to employment when we force people to check a box before we’ve considered their resume? I’ve thought long and hard on this. I’ve listened. I’ve read studies from around the country. I voted to support this ordinance because I believe in opportunity. To truly provide opportunity to all people, even those who have committed a crime and done the time, it is time to remove the box as an initial screening tool.

The other reason I supported the ordinance is purely practical and financial. I’ve supported a lot criminal justice reform practices at the City, like providing alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders. I’ve supported Community Court and triage programs for homeless individuals and veterans. I’ve supported apprenticeship programs and reentry job training programs. I’m on the Board of Priority Spokane where we are working to stabilize families at Logan and Deer Park elementary schools by ensuring they have safe housing and access to employment, nutrition and education resources.

We invest millions of public dollars in jails. We also invest millions in evidence-based practices that are proven to prevent recidivism and to offer a greater opportunity to kids who have struggled with inequity based on income, race and growing up with an incarcerated family member. However, after all this public investment and retraining and reform, if someone or someone’s parent is going to be screened out of most opportunities by a box, we are wasting a lot of time and public dollars. Especially when that person and his/her family ends up on public assistance. That’s the practical part of me speaking. I hate investing public dollars and not getting the outcomes our community needs. We need people working and we need our economy to be strong.

Will passing this ordinance mean everyone with a record will find work? No. Will passing this ordinance mean you have to hire a felon? No. But taking the box off the application will give people a more equitable opportunity to get hired. It’s still up to our community to navigate these issues. This is just one policy and it is a reactive more than a proactive strategy. We have a lot more work to do to PREVENT crime and incarceration, especially in lower-mod income neighborhoods in NE Spokane. We need to roll up our sleeves and focus on the kids and young adults in our neighborhoods and ensure every child reaches his/her full potential despite what zip code they grow up in. This is the promise of the future!

Budget Hearings & Power contract for WTE: 11.6.17 and 11.13.17 Council Meetings Recap

City Council has been holding hearings on the Administration’s Proposed 2018 budget. On Nov. 4th, we heard from our Fire and Police Chiefs about hiring potentially 10 new officers, as well as continuing to focus on property crime/vehicle theft and other specific initiatives. The budget process is literally a year-long process that starts in the early part of the year when the Finance Dept closes the books on the previous year and begins to make projections for the next. Council discusses and then adopts Budget priorities by April and then the Mayor’s Finance staff begin the long process of engaging with each department throughout the spring and summer, developing a draft programmatic budget to deliver to Council and the community in August/Sept. Then Council begins weekly study sessions to ask questions and get clarity on changes and provide guidance back to the Administration. The Mayor delivers the final budget in October and Council then holds hearings in November and must vote to adopt a balanced budget by the end of December.

This year, because of the development of the Strategic Plan, Council has been able to engage on a whole new level, helping shape both operational investments as well as strategic one-time investments in top Mayor-Council strategic initiatives.

I wanted to note that on Nov. 4th, several individuals came down to comment on the need to share sexual harassment stories and call out leaders who may not be listening or supportive. Unfortunately, our 3 minute Council open forum is not the best opportunity for folks to share long stories…and it is important for the community to hear these stories! I have suggested that the Human Rights Commission provide time on its agenda when Councilmembers and citizens might be able to openly discuss these issues and hear from each other in a more conducive forum. I hope this will be scheduled soon.

I was out of town on a vacation and was not able to be present at the Nov. 13th City Council meeting. However, I do know that at my suggestion, Council voted to put off a decision on the water intertie agreement with Medical lake until next year to allow time for a study session on the aquifer and River to be held and more opportunity for Council to engage with stakeholders and River advocates on water conservation strategies, among other topics.

Also, Council passed an emergency ordinance (6-0, Waldref absent), to enter into a new 5 year contract with Avista to purchase energy generated by the Waste to Energy plant. The urgency was due to entering into the agreement before a new tariff was to be put in place, which would lessen the revenue to the City and to Avista.

It is my understanding that after several issues arose with the Mayor’s proposed 2018 budget, Council voted 6-0 to keep the hearings open and delay a vote on the budget until Monday, Dec. 11th to allow for time to get questions answered and resolve some concerns, mainly around the utilities budget.

So here we are

Why does the City of Spokane need a strategic plan? (Plus Oct. 23 and Oct. 30th Council meeting recaps)

The last 8 weeks have been the busiest in my almost 8 years on City Council. I guess it is trying to wrap up many issues, projects and policies I’ve been working on before the end of my Council term on Dec. 31st. The time is near!

Strategic Plan
One thing I am VERY proud to have been a part of over the past year is developing this City’s first Joint Mayor/Council Strategic Plan. (Yes, I’ve been known to carry copies of it in my purse and hand to folks I speak with at the grocery store). Here is a link to the Plan and a way for you to provide your input: StrategicPlan@spokanecity.org

Why should you care about (yet another) plan? Don’t we have a Comprehensive Plan that we just updated as a community? We have an amazing Comp Plan that sets out big goals and vision, but not a shorter term strategic or “action” plan that implements these ideas. I noticed this the first year after I was elected. Often times we were chasing our tail or reacting to needs rather than proactively working to develop solutions to our greatest challenges and investing in/marketing our greatest assets. Sometimes Council would be chasing an idea, sometimes the Mayor…but we weren’t always aligned. When Council and Mayor began to sit down and discuss where we had shared vision and outcomes in implementing our Comp Plan, we found a lot of commonality.

To advance greater prosperity and resiliency in our city, we need to build up on our assets and recognize where we trail behind, and then we need to work differently (regionally, across city departments, with neighborhoods and community groups and businesses) to get to the outcomes we all want and deserve — safer city, greater household income, increased connection to our city/neighbors, etc. So not only do we have to work differently (and budget differently), we need to set targets and performance measures and track our outcomes…and share this with our citizens. For me its about accountability, transparency and moving the needle. This takes focus, patience and constant communication with our community members.

So please, click on the link to see the visual document that shows the timeline and strategies and provide me your feedback. Did we miss anything? We’ve already aligned our Council committees to focus on the four goal areas. Teams are developing tactics and measures for each strategic area (if they haven’t already been identified). I’m excited to leave the Council and Mayor at the end of this year with this roadmap to guide the focus of future budgets and policy decisions.

Oct. 23rd and Oct. 30th Council Meetings
Last week, I was able to receive a scholarship to attend a truly amazing conference called Meeting of the Minds in Cleveland, OH (more to come on what I learned!). But because of this, I missed the Oct. 23rd City Council meeting. Luckily, there were few items of note on the agenda and one item did get deferred until Nov. 13th — consideration of a water intertie agreement with Medical Lake. After requests from community members for more time to review and engage on the proposed agreement, Council agreed and I have been spending significant time speaking with Spokane River stakeholders and getting their input.

This Monday, Oct. 30th, Council opened our first night of budget hearings. We heard from our Economic Development, Planning, Housing and Human Services Division. We also provided a forum to educate the community on revenue sources to the City (where does the money come from to invest in City services and how much of your property tax dollar/sales tax dollar actually goes to the City?). We kept the budget hearing open and next week we will be hearing from our Police and Fire chiefs to discuss changes for 2018 in their budgets. Council also voted 6-0 (CM Kinnear absent) to set a hearing for Nov. 20th regarding renewal of the Transportation Benefit District, which is currently funded with a $20 car tab to pay for residential street repair.

New contract approved to manage East Central Center: 10.16.17 Council Meeting Recap

On Monday, Oct. 16th, Council had the difficult job of deciding whether to approve a contract with a new organization to manage the East Central Community Center. Council did approve a contract with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center on a 4-2 vote (CM Stratton and Fagan opposed, CM Beggs abstained).

Five years ago, the Administration began a process of transitioning the Center from being a City Department to being managed by an outside contractor. The first contractor to take this on was the East Central Community Organization (ECCO) and they should be commended for taking on this difficult task.

After renewing the contract once with ECCO several years back, the Council decided to go out for an RFP earlier this year. I don’t regret initiating this RFP process because I think it is vitally important that we have high-quality management of the Center with the hundreds of thousands of public dollars invested in the contract.

There is a lot of history over the past 5 years. However, in this RFP process, I took it upon myself to not dwell on the past, but to focus on the two proposals to manage the Center: one from ECCO and one from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, which has managed an early learning and family center in the S. Perry area of the neighborhood for over 20 years.

Unfortunately, the review process of the two proposals before a decision came to Council was bumpy. Two different advisory groups gave conflicting recommendations to the Council about which proposal was the stronger one. This caused a lot of hard feelings and a divided neighborhood. The public testimony on Monday night showed this and it made me very sad.

Thus, I focused my review on the two proposals and the criteria laid out by the City. In reviewing the proposals, I found that the MLK Jr Center had the stronger proposal, specifically in three areas: integrating and expanding services; the ability to invest capital into maintenance and expansion of the Center; and a stronger fundraising plan and demonstrated experience raising capital and operating dollars.

I am very frustrated that the Administration-led community review process resulted in hard feelings on all sides. I am hopeful that the community can come together and that, especially, the MLK Jr Center, can reach across with an olive branch to ensure the efficient and healthy transition of leadership at the Center. The ultimate goal is providing a safe place where all are welcome and served in one of our most challenged neighborhoods.