New year, new jail?

CIVICS | And our dissent for the Spokane County Commission’s consent agenda

CIVICS | And our dissent for the Spokane County Commission’s consent agenda

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It’s officially “let’s table this until the new year” season. Spokane City Council has no meetings this week, and the County Commission only has one special session on Monday. BUT, we have to unpack an item from last week’s County Commission meeting, thanks to a little consent agenda item from last week.

Spokane County Board of Commissioners

Jailbreak: County officials have been talking about building a new jail to replace the two in use for at least the last 15 years and now Spokane County residents will get to vote on it in November after county commissioners voted to put it on the ballot last week.

You say, “But RANGE, why wasn’t this in last week’s CIVICs newsletter? That seems like an important item!” And to that we say: you are absolutely right! It would have been extremely helpful — and some might even say in the spirit of open public meeting laws — for our county commissioners to explicitly say this is what they were talking about rather than, once again, tucking it into a consent agenda item that completely (purposefully?) masked the nature of what would be discussed.

If you recall from past articles, consent agendas are usually meant for routine and procedural items — think signing paychecks and paying vendors for road salt.

There is no public comment about consent agenda items because they are supposed to be routine. Except Spokane’s county commission has made a habit of using this part of the agenda for objectively non-routine things, like declaring an emergency at Camp Hope.

The jail item first came up in the Dec. 12 Strategic Planning Meeting agenda as “Public Safety Sales Tax Resolution” with a 20 minute time slot. These agendas don’t get agenda packets with more information, so that’s all you get.

Then it showed up in the Consent Agenda for the Regular meeting as, “In the matter of calling an Election within Spokane County to be held on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, and submitting to Electors a Proposition to impose a Two-Tenths of One Percent (0.2%) Sales and Use Tax equal throughout Spokane County, as authorized by RCW 82.14.450, the proceeds to be used by the County, Cities and Towns within Spokane County for Criminal Justice, Public Safety, and Behavioral Health purposes.” The full resolution and ballot language reads largely the same, never mentioning a jail.

The commission did pull this item off the consent agenda for discussion during the meeting and Commissioner Josh Kerns opened up by saying, “I will be straight up front that one of the items that we plan to include in the revenue generated from this is a new jail or community corrections facility.”

He goes on to say that the county has plenty of data for voters to make the decision, the maintenance of the current jail is expensive, functionally obsolete and unable to meet all the needs of the programming needs to reduce recidivism and diversion.

Kerns and commissioner Al French voted to put the measure on the ballot following no opportunity for public comment. (Commissioner Mary Kuney was traveling on commission business and not present).

Later that day, the county sent out a news release announcing that the measure would be put on the ballot and offering the most detailed information so far on what the measure will pay for: “If approved, these funds will be used to construct an improved Community Correction Center facility with the ability to hold more inmates, offer programming and behavioral health programs, realize operational efficiencies, and require significantly less maintenance and capital improvement costs for years to come.”

The decision was made in one of the last meetings before new commissioners are sworn in. The two new commissioners are both Democrats and expected to shake up the formerly all-Republican board.

For some background on this long simmering issue here’s a shameless plug for Luke’s 2012 Inlander deep dive into the debate over building a new jail. Watch the commissioners make their comments about the jail item here. Listen to early RANGE episodes on the jail here.

Special meeting: OK, now onto next week’s actual meeting! The county commission is set to have a special meeting Monday morning to talk about the 2023 legislative agenda for the county and talk to legislators whose districts fall in the county. See a draft of the legislative agenda here.

Agenda here
Monday, Dec. 19 at 9 a.m.
1116 W Broadway Avenue, Room 100
Watch via Zoom here

Spokane Public Library Board of Trustees

TikTok on the clock: You can always count on the library people to stick to their meeting schedule. The Board of Trustees’ agenda isn’t the most detailed, but from what we can see, they’ll talk about a bond construction project update with construction company Hill International, an overview of social services offered at the library and launching a new TikTok.

Agenda here.
Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 4:30 p.m.
Central Library
906 W. Main Ave, Spokane

Canceled: The Spokane City Council got their budget approved last week in a unanimous vote, so this week’s meetings are canceled. This includes the Finance and Administration Committee.

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