Right-wing v. righter-wing?: Spokane Valley council race pits incumbent Haley against bar owner Fenton

<p><p>In the conservative vs. conservative battle for Spokane Valley City Council Seat No. 5, will voters choose a familiar candidate in City Councilwoman Pam Haley, or will they opt for a political outsider best-known for flouting Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order during the pandemic? </p></p><p><p>Haley has served on Spokane Valley City Council for six years. She’s generally viewed as one of the more conservative members, sometimes voting in the minority alongside councilmen Rod Higgins and Arne Woodard in 4-3 council decisions. Haley, who has spent much of her adult life running day care facilities in Spokane, said if she’s reelected to council her main priorities will be public safety, infrastructure and homelessness.</p></p><p><p>Her challenger, Wayne Fenton, has never held an elected position but he’s not entirely unknown. He made headlines during the pandemic when <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2020/may/21/bar-war-escalates-with-state-citation-owner-vows-t” target=”_blank”>the Black Diamond, the bar he co-owns with his son and fellow City Council candidate Brandon Fenton</a>, remained open in defiance of the governor’s mandate.</p></p><p><p>Fenton said Spokane Valley’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic inspired his run for local office. He called himself a one-issue candidate intent on pushing back against government overreach.</p></p><p><p>“The issue that I am focused on is the freedoms that are being taken away from us right now, on a federal and state level,” Fenton said.</p></p><p><p>City leaders don’t have the power to ignore state or federal laws, but Fenton said that shouldn’t stop the city from making a stand.</p></p><p><p>“I think the City Council here should be fighting Inslee and Washington, D.C., on the things that they’re doing that don’t play into our area,” Fenton said. “There’s not going to be anything left if we allow Olympia and Washington, D.C., to take away all our freedoms.”</p></p><p><p>Fenton added that in addition to pushing back against government overreach, he would also be focused on addressing homelessness and reducing crime if elected.</p></p><p><p>The primary election results suggest Fenton will have a hard time unseating Haley.</p></p><p><p>In the August primary, voters strongly preferred the incumbent Haley, giving her 47% of the vote compared to 26% for Fenton. Pat Stretch, who died before the primary but was on the ballot, received 13% of the vote and Mary Butler-Stonewall received 14%.</p></p><p><p>Butler-Stonewall said she’s not endorsing either Haley or Fenton because neither is calling for the Valley to have a homeless shelter within city limits or fighting to clean up the Spokane River. She’s still running as a write-in candidate.</p></p><p><h3>Where they stand on roads</h3></p><p><p>Spokane Valley officials say city roads are in good shape now, but to prevent them from falling apart in the coming decades the city has to increase its annual road maintenance spending from $8 million to $16 million a year. Preventive maintenance is far cheaper than completely rebuilding a road, city leaders say.</p></p><p><p>City Council hasn’t decided how to come up with another $8 million a year or if it even wants to increase road maintenance spending by that amount.</p></p><p><p>Haley said she’s not sure if city staff’s road maintenance cost estimates are accurate.</p></p><p><p>“Staff originally said $8 million, not $16 million, so I’m curious if the numbers are correct,” she said.</p></p><p><p>Recently, Spokane Valley has had annual budget surpluses. Some of that surplus money has gone toward road projects.</p></p><p><p>For now, the city should keep using those surplus funds for roads, Haley said.</p></p><p><p>“We have extra money right now in our budget, and I think we need to use that money before we go to our citizens for more,” she said.</p></p><p><p>If the budget surpluses stop, the city may have to use general funds to pay for road maintenance, Haley said, but for the moment she wants keep using surplus money to pay for roads.</p></p><p><p>“I can’t see down the line too far, but for right now we have the money to fix the roads,” she said.</p></p><p><p>Fenton said he thinks the city has been spending too much money on roads, doing unnecessary construction. He said that instead of coming up with a new method for funding road maintenance the city should just do fewer projects.</p></p><p><p>“Where it (the money) comes from is less important than the amount that they spend,” Fenton said.</p></p><p><p>Projects that use state or federal grants aren’t always a good idea either, Fenton said, even if those grants significantly defray the cost and Spokane Valley only has to pay for a fraction of the work.</p></p><p><p>“No matter where it (the money) comes from, it comes from the people, and it doesn’t just come out of thin air like they think it does,” Fenton said.</p></p><p><p>Fenton said he’s not opposed to the city using general funds to pay for road maintenance because all road projects are funded by taxpayers anyway.</p></p><p><h3>Homelessness</h3></p><p><p>There aren’t many reliable, long-term statistics available, but anecdotally, the number of homeless individuals in Spokane Valley has increased significantly in the last few years.</p></p><p><p>Despite the growing problem, there’s no homeless shelter in Spokane Valley city limits. Instead of supporting a city shelter, Spokane Valley sends $1.5 million to Spokane County every 2 years. That money goes toward homeless services in Spokane which Spokane Valley shares.</p></p><p><p>Fenton said he doesn’t know if Spokane Valley should have a shelter and he’s not sure if the city should be spending any money addressing homelessness.</p></p><p><p>But if the city is going to spend money, it should go directly to Spokane Valley nonprofits that work with the homeless, Fenton said.</p></p><p><p>“Let the charities take care of them,” he said.</p></p><p><p>Haley has said sending money to Spokane, via the county, may be a mistake.</p></p><p><p>She said she’s not opposed to a homeless shelter in Spokane Valley city limits, but there shouldn’t be a no-barrier shelter.</p></p><p><p>People experiencing homelessness in Spokane Valley are afraid to use the no-barrier shelters in Spokane, Haley said. She said if Spokane Valley were to have a shelter, people should only be able to get in if they aren’t using drugs or alcohol.</p></p><p><p>“I think we need to make something that’s safe for everybody, not someplace they’re afraid to go,” she said.</p></p><p><h3>Parks and trails</h3></p><p><p>In the past few years, Spokane Valley has made a number of purchases that will expand or enhance the city’s parks and trails system.</p></p><p><p>In 2020, the city spent $2.1 million on a 45-acre, undeveloped parcel along the north bank of the Spokane River, south of the Euclid Road-Flora Avenue intersection. This year, the city spent $1.6 million on 18 acres of undeveloped land in the Ponderosa neighborhood.</p></p><p><p>City Council unanimously approved the Ponderosa purchase, but several councilmembers initially opposed buying the riverfront property. Haley was one of the opponents.</p></p><p><p>“I think that our timing was pretty bad,” she said.</p></p><p><p>The Washington State Department of Transportation owned the land and the city had a right-of-first-refusal on the property, Haley explained. She said the city could have waited until after the pandemic to make the purchase.</p></p><p><p>“There was no rush,” she said. “I feel like we should be handling some of those practical, not-quite-so-fun things first like roads, infrastructure and public safety. Those are what the city does.”</p></p><p><p>Haley also noted she’d like to see the city focus less on adding parks and more on adding benches, bathrooms and other amenities to the trails and parks it already has.</p></p><p><p>Fenton said he’s generally opposed to the city buying more park land.</p></p><p><p>“The City Council needs to just stop spending money on parks and other unnecessary things and just take care of the citizens,” he said.</p></p><p><p>He added that the city has plenty of park space already and that “the parks are not overrun by users, they’re more overrun by the homeless and the criminals.”</p></p><p><p>Instead of buying new land, the city should team-up with schools and turn playgrounds into public parks, Fenton said.</p></p><p><p>“Those schools are everywhere,” Fenton said. “If you continue to buy parks that just means that down the road you’re going to have to maintain them, you’ve got to try to keep the homeless out and you have to patrol them for crime.”</p></p><p><p>Turning school playgrounds into public parks wouldn’t be dangerous for school children because the playground-parks would be mostly used during the summer and in the evenings, when children aren’t in school, Fenton said.</p></p><p><h3>Law enforcement</h3></p><p><p>Spokane Valley doesn’t have its own police department, even if those sky-blue, custom-painted police cruisers suggest otherwise.</p></p><p><p>Instead, the Valley pays the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to fill the city’s law enforcement needs. All Spokane Valley police officers are part of the Sheriff’s Office.</p></p><p><p>Spokane Valley leaders have long debated whether the city should create its own police department rather than continue contracting with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. As Spokane Valley grows, and as the Sheriff’s Office struggles with staffing shortages, City Council may take up the conversation once again.</p></p><p><p>Fenton said he doesn’t know if Spokane Valley should have its own police department.</p></p><p><p>Regardless of the city’s law enforcement approach, citizens need to take crime fighting into their own hands, Fenton said.</p></p><p><p>“Instead of having to wait for a police officer to come out, we should be able to have the citizens ready and willing to step up,” Fenton said. “I’m not telling people to chase them (criminals) down the street in their car, but there’s too much petty theft going on and it needs to be stopped and the citizens need to get involved.”</p></p><p><p>Neighborhood watch programs should be improved, Fenton said. He emphasized that people shouldn’t be relying on the cops to handle every type of crime.</p></p><p><p>“We can’t depend on the police for everything,” he said. “If it (crime) happens to me I’m going to detain a person, I’m not just going to call the cops.”</p></p><p><p>Fenton has previously said he’d like the city to consider creating an incentive program that would encourage more residents to buy guns because increasing gun ownership will discourage crime.</p></p><p><p>Haley said the city should keep contracting with the county for law enforcement needs. There’s no reason for the city to have its own police department, she said.</p></p><p><p>“Our sheriff’s department does a great job and I think it’s cheaper than if we had our own,” Haley said. “They’re doing the best they can with the staff they have. I’m really proud of the sheriff’s department.”</p></p><p><p>If the Valley created its own police department, Sheriff’s Office deputies who work in the Valley might abandon the county and join the city, Haley said. Poaching county deputies in order to form a city police department should be avoided, she said.</p></p><p><p>At the same time, Haley said that as Spokane Valley grows, the city might be forced to create its own police department.</p></p><p><p>“If we get bigger, we may have to, that may just be a reality,” she said. “But for now I am very positive about our relationship with the sheriff’s department.”</p></p>