Yesterday, May 16, Idahoans cast ballots in an off year, nominally non-partisan election for trustee positions on various boards, and, in some jurisdictions, various levies. Traditionally, library trustee positions are filled by dedicated people with a deep interest in libraries, books, and public service. (Library board member is an unpaid position.) This year Republicans nationwide are making positions on library boards a partisan issue by suggesting that public libraries promote sexual deviance among children—implying that libraries are out of control and must be held to account. Total hogwash—but, of course, sex is always a good subject with which to spin up fear, loathing, and suspicion among some people, especially those of a certain self-righteous mindset.
Imagine for a moment one of the Mom’s For Liberty folk nosing around the local library searching for titles of suspect books on a list provided by the national organization. Is one of those books available on a similarly diligent search by their innocent offspring roaming the public library? Oh my, a busybody’s delight! Never mind, of course, that all manner of sex acts are available to inquiring little minds with a little exploration on a smartphone or after a few keystrokes on a home computer—acts with no particular social or literary value—and totally without contextual placement in the human experience. The nationally inspired paranoia about library books—which do have redeeming social and literary value—is teeming with absurdity—but its thoughtless, emotion-stirring quality is undeniable.
So with that prelude one asks how low local Republicans operatives will go in order to distort reality and fire up their voters? The Spokesman yesterday morning, the day of the election, had the answer in an article entitled “Kootenai GOP ad makes baseless insinuations about library ahead of election”. It should be read as a condemnation of the tactics of those currently in control of the Kootenai County Republican Party Central Committee (KCRCC)—and, by extension, the national Republican Party that lies behind it.
A dramatized video ad paid for by the Kootenai County GOP falsely implies that North Idaho libraries are showing sexually explicit materials to young children.
The ad depicts a young elementary school -age girl, perhaps 6 years old, who comes home from school to tell her mother, who is washing dishes, about her day. The girl, whose voice can be heard off screen, says she went to the library where “a funny lady” read to her in a “special room for kids.” The woman reading to her gave her a hug, she said, and her face felt “really scratchy, like Dad’s face.”
The girl then explains that the woman showed her a book with pictures of kids “doing things like kissing each other and some of them didn’t have any clothes on.”
Then the girl asks her mother, “What’s anal sex?”
Here’s a link to the video for the full nauseating effect—if you have the stomach to watch it: https://fb.watch/kzLi38V6Bz/ . It specifically endorses “Tim & Tom” the two Republican-backed challengers for the incumbent trustees of the library board. It is a fair bet that this video was not produced locally. The voice near the end is disturbingly like that of Dinesh D’Souza, the far right Republican film maker responsible for the widespread election misinformation video “2000 Mules”. Before the polls closed on Tuesday the KCRCC video had been shared 22 times just from the KCRCC’s Facebook page (I did not pursue other social media platforms)—and was doubtlessly responsible for driving a certain segment of the Kootenai County voting public to the polls.
This is what the Republican Party has come to: posting what is an obvious and scurrilous misinformation video the weekend prior to a local election with almost no time to counter it before votes are cast.
Since this ad was fielded (if not produced) by a local Republican Party (and not a corporation) it might have been marginally legal even before the Citizens United v. FEC decision in 2010. That decision invalidated part of the bipartisan Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (aka the McCain-Feingold Act). The details are disturbingly similar to the locally posted Kootenai County video. (Of course, believe it or not, Facebook, the platform on which the current video is posted, was just becoming widely available in 2010.) The Citizens United case was setup for what Republican operatives are doing now. Citizens United, a right wing non-profit corporation, produced a video, Hillary: the Movie, specifically to challenge McCain-Feingold, proposing to air their electioneering video within the restricted 30 day period prior to the 2008 presidential primaries.
Citizens United prevailed on appeal to the Supreme Court in this infamous 5-4 decision that set the stage for the just-in-time pre-election social media campaigns like the one at issue next door in Kootenai County.
A certain group of Republicans will stoop ever lower to solidify their grasp on the power and the opportunity to subject everyone to their warped ideology. This ad is emblematic of their true character. It should be noted and broadly condemned.
In the last months we have read a lot about the “debt ceiling”, the national debt, and the Republican threat to crash the national and global economy unless their wish list of spending cuts are granted to them. Never mind that the very Republican “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017” granting substantial (and un-expiring) tax cuts to corporations—thereby reducing revenue—was a significant contributor to the national debt of which they are now complaining. (Remember Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ drumbeat “Money in your pocket” as she promoted pretended that corporate tax cuts weren’t the real purpose of the Act?
The national debt is an incomprehensibly large number, nearly 32 trillion dollars. The Weekly Sift post by Doug Muder that I have copied below is the best examination of the meaning of the national debt and how it relates to the debt ceiling that I have read.
NOTE: 1) The first graph in Muder’s article, the “150 year view of the National Debt”, graphs the national debt as a percentage of the United States’ “GDP”, the “gross domestic product”, i.e. the sum total of good and services produced and consumed in a given year. This is better than expressing the national debt as a raw number of dollars in part because the buying power of a dollar changes over time (by about a factor of 10 in the last sixty years) and because the country’s ability to make good on its debt is directly related to the strength and size of its economy. 2) In that same graph the rise at the end that takes the percentage about 100% is a projection, not necessarily reality. (Note where the year 2020 is on the graph.)
Keep in mind that the national debt number is the long term sum of annual budget deficits and surpluses. The national debt represents the sum of money the government has borrowed over time. Just like in your personal finances, in any given year whether the government runs a deficit or a surplus depends both on the level of spending and on revenues. Republicans, having paid off their corporate supporters with over forty years of corporate and estate tax cuts, really, really don’t want to talk increasing revenues—only about cutting spending.
Once again I strongly recommend signing up for the Weekly Sift email (look for the sign-up in the left hand column of this page). I look forward to Muder’s writing every Monday.
After reading Muder’s piece for orientation, check out the quote appended below Muder’s article taken from a recent email from Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-eastern WA) sent to selected supporters. Savor the inanity, particularly on account of its placement in a section of the email headed “Setting the Record Straight”.
Compared to other countries, no. But if you think the US should be “exceptional” and that climate change is a hoax, maybe.
As House Republicans get closer and closer to forcing a debt-ceiling crisis that could result in the United States defaulting on commitments it has already written into law, American citizens need to raise their understanding of how all this works. Previously, I’ve written two posts on this theme: The first explained what the debt ceiling is and why we shouldn’t have one at all. (Only the US and Denmark have debt ceilings, and Denmark doesn’t play chicken with theirs. No other country inflicts these kinds of fiscal crises on itself.) The second looked at the history of the US national debt and how it accumulated.
Now it’s time to address the main argument House Republicans are making to justify playing chicken with an economic catastrophe: Sure, the US defaulting on its commitments would be bad, but it’s worse to do nothing, because our ever-increasing spending and debt is pushing us towards an even greater catastrophe.
The nation’s good credit standing in the global capital markets isn’t imperiled by not passing a debt ceiling. The much-bigger danger is that Congress does extend the debt ceiling, but without any reforms in the way Congress grossly overspends.
The first part of that claim is obvious nonsense: Not passing a debt ceiling certainly does imperil the US standing in credit markets. But let’s examine the second claim: Not just that the government spends more money than some people would like, but that doing so is pushing us towards a national catastrophe.
Spending. It’s a matter of simple fact that government spending and debt have gone up considerably — both in absolute terms and as a percentage of our annual GDP — in the late Trump years and since Biden took office. Basically, the Covid pandemic both cut revenue and required enormous government spending to avoid great public suffering while the private sector was largely shut down. The necessity of that deficit spending was a bipartisan conclusion; it happened under both Trump and Biden and was supported in Congress by members of both parties.
(Notice that the extreme right of the graph above is a projection to 2050, not something that has already happened.)
That increase in the debt built on a previous run-up during the Great Recession that started in 2007. Again, the stimulus spending and tax-cutting was bipartisan; it began under Bush and continued under Obama.
But looking forward, the US faces challenges that the two parties see differently. Democrats want the government to spend money on them, while Republicans don’t.
Democrats see climate change as a problem that requires a major restructuring of the economy, moving away from fossil fuels and towards energy from sustainable sources. However, climate change is a classic externality — a real cost that falls neither on the producer nor the consumer of fossil fuels — so the market will not make this shift without government intervention. Republicans deny that climate change is a problem.
Democrats want to shift healthcare — nearly 1/7th of the economy — from the private sector to the public sector. Medicare began this shift in the 1960s. ObamaCare continued it, and progressives like Bernie Sanders would like to complete it. Republicans would like to stop this shift, if not roll it back.
Abstract debates about “spending” are really about these two issues, plus the perennial question of how good a safety net the US should provide for its poor: Is it enough to keep people from starving in the streets, or should the government guarantee every American a decent life, whether they can find a job or not?
It’s worth noting that the other big government expenditure — defense — is largely bipartisan. In general, progressive Democrats would like to spend less on defense and MAGA Republicans more, but neither party has a consensus for major changes in our military posture in the world.
The politics of spending. The bill House Republicans recently passed reflected these priorities: It agreed to raise the debt ceiling for about a year (at which point we’d go through the same ordeal again), in exchange for
capping “discretionary spending” — basically everything but Social Security and Medicare — at FY 2022 levels and letting them increase by only 1% per year.
rolling back provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act to subsidize sustainable energy, while increasing production of fossil fuels
plus a few other things. The discretionary spending cap isn’t across-the-board, but also doesn’t specify the cuts. This allows Republicans to dodge when Democrats say they’ve voted to cut some popular program like veterans’ benefits. And of course, every program that gets exempted from the cuts means that deeper cuts will be needed elsewhere.
The White House has been attacking Republicans for proposing cuts to veterans’ care. Republicans in House leadership have responded that no cuts are intended. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has promised he will protect the military from reductions, though the bill as written does not exclude them. And Kay Granger, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, has said border security remains a top priority.
This is a feature of our politics that I’ve noted before: The American people don’t really understand where government spending goes, so they support spending cuts in the abstract, while rejecting any specific list of significant cuts.
The two parties maneuver around that phenomenon: Republicans support vague spending “caps” that don’t specifically cut anything in particular, while Democrats try to pin them down. Do they want to cut defense? Veterans benefits? Health care? Education? No, of course not. They just want to cut “spending”.
As of 2022, the US was not an outlier in either direction, spending about 38% of GDP via government. That’s less that most comparable countries: the UK (45%), Germany (50%), Canada (41%), and France (58%) for example. But it’s also more than Switzerland (34%) and Israel (37%), and almost exactly the same as Australia.
And while government spending has been generally rising over the decades — it was less than 20% of GDP a century ago — the increase doesn’t look precipitous or out of control.
In short, if you argue that the US has a spending problem, what you’re implicitly saying is that we shouldn’t be like other nations. If you regard Germany or France as cautionary tales, then we need to cut spending before we wind up like them. On the other hand, if you envy countries like Denmark (49%), the Netherlands (45%), and Finland (54%) — Finland regularly comes out on top of polls about public happiness — then you can only shake your head at this “out-of-control spending” talk.
The ledger has two sides. So while the “spending problem” is debatable, it is obvious that the national debt is growing. Intuitively this seems bad (though I’ll push discussing how bad it really is off to a later post). But jumping immediately from a debt problem to a spending problem is sleight-of-hand. Spending 38% of GDP (or 50% or even more) through the public sector doesn’t necessarily create debt if we’re willing to pay taxes at that level.
Our debt problem (from the same Wikipedia list) comes from the fact that we’re only paying 33% of GDP in taxes. This is not high by comparison with other countries. South Korea pays 27% and Ireland 23%, but just about every other country we might compare ourselves to pays more: Germany 47%, Canada 41%, the United Kingdom 39%, and so on.
So it’s disingenuous to frame the debt as a national crisis, but take taxes off the table. In particular, the Trump tax cuts went mainly to corporations and the very rich, while adding trillions to the debt over a ten-year period. Most spending cuts are unpopular in themselves, but they’re particularly unpopular when you pair them with tax cuts, as in “We have to kick your cousin off Medicaid so that billionaires can keep the tax cuts Trump gave them.”
The private sector isn’t magic. Much of the debate about government spending is really about whether some necessary expense winds up in the public or private sector. We could, for example, cut government spending overnight just by closing all the public schools. Kids would still need to be educated, and most middle-class-and-above families would find some way to send their own kids to private schools (maybe with help from grandparents). Taxes could go down, but private expenses would go up.
Ditto for Social Security. We could end it an save everybody taxes. But you’d also have to worry about whether your parents or grandparents were starving, and maybe they’d have to move in with you.
All our highways could be toll roads run by private corporations. Taxes could go down, but you’d have to pay tolls.
The point I’m making here is that nothing magic happens when we move an expenditure from the public to the private sector or vice versa. Somebody still has to teach the kids, take care of the sick, and pave the highways. You don’t necessarily save anything just by paying those people out of a different piggy bank.
That observation is going to be important the next time we consider expanding national health care. Conservatives are going to freak out about the massive increase in government spending. “OMG! We can’t afford this!” But if the net effect is that taxes replace health-insurance premiums, we can. That’s the main reason government spending (and taxation) is higher in places like France and Germany: They’re buying stuff through the public sector that we buy through the private sector. People still wind up paying doctors and nurses to take care of them, but the money traverses a different route.
Spending and democracy. Finally, we need to recognize that the current situation results largely from what the American people want: The particular programs the government spends money are popular, while taxes are unpopular. The current spending and taxing levels were passed by the Congress the people elected.
The point of using the debt ceiling as a hostage-taking tactic is to circumvent democracy. Yes, the people did narrowly elect a House Republican majority in 2022, but Republican candidates ran on issues that have largely vanished from the House Republican agenda, like crime. They certainly did not run on a list of spending cuts, and in fact they still have not produced such a list, because they know it would be unpopular.
The American people have also elected a Democratic Senate majority and a Democratic President. (Both of those happened in spite of structural factors that allow Republicans to win without representing a majority of voters, like the small-state bias in the Senate and the Electoral College.) The Republican House should not get to control the agenda simply because they are apparently willing to push the economy’s self-destruct button unless they get their way.
So what should happen? The debt ceiling should play no role, and Congress should work out a budget for next year, adjusting both the taxing and spending sides of the ledger. Republicans should have a bigger say in the next budget than the last one, because they won the House majority. But both parties should publish their budget priorities and see how the American people like them.
So is there a spending problem? Not really. Not by international standards and not compared to what the people want. What the government spends money on may or may not be what you want it to spend money on. But that’s why we have elections.
McMorris Rodgers’ “Weekly Newsletter” email dated May 12:
Contrast Doug Muder’s explanation above to this McMorris Rodgers’ gem of political and economic nonsense.
A number of people have reached out this week concerned about a bill I helped pass last month called the Limit, Save, Grow Act [the Republican list of ransom demands] that would responsibly raise the debt ceiling. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation flying around about what this bill does, so I think it’s time to set the record straight. [Really???]
Despite what President Biden and the Democrats want you to believe, this legislation does NOT cut veterans benefits, Social Security, or Medicare. All it does is set a topline budget number – it does not outline any cuts to federal programs, and it does not replace the annual federal funding process. [i.e. they want to slash spending but they don’t want to specify what programs they plan to cut.]
I understand the urgency of the situation surrounding the debt limit, which is why I helped pass this legislation to ensure America doesn’t default on our debt and fight inflation to lower costs for the hardworking people of this country. [That is an internally nonsensical statement. Making sure no debt default occurs requires the simple act of raising the debt ceiling, not proposing undefined cuts in spending.] But in order for our divided government to work, Democrats need to come to the table. My hope is that my colleagues across the aisle will work with us sooner rather than later to deliver a solution for the American people. [The actual solution is, of course, to raise the debt limit, not to play chicken with the economy.]
Death like that recounted in Julie Garcia’s post below is one sober and very final result of policies, othering attitudes, and the legal and physical threats leveled at people “not like us”. Julie Garcia is the force of nature behind Jewels Helping Hands (JHH). Julie, with a small staff, many of whom came from the camp itself, is the glue and voice of Camp Hope. The camp has unwillingly served as a lightning rod for City of Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and (now) former Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s efforts to sweep the people experiencing homelessness as far out of sight as possible. Julie is the embodiment of the principles of Christianity I was taught as a youth, but which I lacked the strength to fully follow.
Julie Garcia on the deaths at Camp Hope
“No one ever should die alone, desperate, and hurt in a tent on the side of a freeway. No one ever. I can not accept this as ok.”
Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. Thank you to those tender souls who helped us feel supported.
We lost two friends yesterday. One lost his battle with cancer and the other chose to leave this world on his own terms.
Some things in life can not be unseen. Yesterday will forever be etched in my memory until it’s my time to join them.
My friend said his goodbyes to his friends and told them he loved them (we were lead to believe he was visiting family and they were as well). He told us he would be gone for two days so we wouldn’t check on him, he packed his valued items in a bag still laying next to him when he was found, he cleaned his tent, put on his new shoes and then hung himself in his tent, his home.
This man never left the camp. He was safe here. He felt safe. It was his home. He was kind and gentle. He loved the animals here. His smile was contagious. He was loved. His home was ending. His safety net vanishing. His already strained mental health was deteriorating due to his loss.
Today I am sad, devastated and angry. I am sad that I should have hugged him one more time. I am devastated that he isn’t here and I am angry at the policy that created the scenario that ended like this. It sparked a new fire. I can not accept that I live in a world where this is acceptable and accepted. I am even more determined to fix this, or die trying. If you aren’t in alignment with this please get out of my way.
Having a nice home, money, peacefulness that’s a conciliation prize and I am forever grateful for mercy and grace that allows for this. But at the end of the day, serving these folks is my moral obligation, it’s my rent for existence on this planet, my commanded path and responsibility. The other stuff is a bonus.
I know that God never said this was easy. He only said I wouldn’t endure it alone.
I can vouch for the not easy part. It’s brutal, really. I can only lean on him to help me endure and process. It will take time. But I know one thing for sure:
No one ever should die alone, desperate, and hurt in a tent on the side of a freeway. No one ever. I can not accept this as ok.
Show each other grace, you never know what storm someone is facing. What demon they are fighting and what choices they have. If you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.
May we all remember lives unnecessarily lost and May they be remembered and honored through our actions.
You both will be missed brothers, say Hi to Jay for me. And save me a place in line, I’ll see you again, someday.
Words and threats, othering, unkindnesses, and legal maneuvering all have real world consequences, far removed from sterile offices, board rooms, and court rooms from which they issue. There is a lesson here.
We should have paid more attention. The job of Mayor of the City of Spokane requires skill as an administrator. The job requires far more than serving as the public face of the City, the primary qualification offered by Ms. Woodward’s experience in television. Through managers the Mayor oversees around two thousand employees. Hiring, keeping, and working with the City’s managerial employees requires self-awareness, interpersonal communication, an understanding of the detailed workings of government, and administrative skills that do not automatically come with appearing each evening to present the news to a television audience.
Unless you’ve been paying far more attention than most of us, you might easily have missed a lot of the details of what has been going on in City Hall. In his May 5 article in The Inlander (copied below), Daniel Walters reminds us of the churn, challenges, and dysfunction in City administration that has mounded up over the last three and a half years. This is no way to run a city.
I urge you to read Walters’ article and consider how much better we could be doing in Spokane with a Mayor who possesses actual administrative skill. (I am reminded of another Walters’ article from 2019 that ended with: “The difference is the self-awareness,” Troxel says. “Ben knows he’s a jerk sometimes. Nadine doesn’t know.”)
Daniel Walters data visualization — City of Spokane data.
Resignations and retirements (and the occasional job abandonment) at the City of Spokane dipped during the first year of the pandemic — but spiked far higher in 2021 and 2022.
Was it a sinking ship? Or was it a shitshow? Or a train wreck? These are the questions anyone covering City Hall during the last three years has had to grapple with. We’ve written plenty of stories about internal chaos, employee exodus and departmental dysfunction. But consider each one of those stories individual stones in a larger mosaic. It’s only when you zoom out that you can see the full shape of things.
So we’ve built a data explorer that lets you take a gander at four years of people who retired, resigned, or were fired, starting from the end of the David Condon administration through the first three years of the Nadine Woodward administration:
We’ve filtered out temp/seasonal employees, employees who left because their elected term ended, those who reached the end of the term of a fixed-period contract, and those who died. (We’ve also lumped together resignations with job abandonments.)
Type in the name of any employee who left during that time period, and you’ll see it pop up on the chart along with their exit date, department, hourly salary and manner of exit. Desktop users can also see the number of vacant positions at the city each month from January 2021 through October 2022.
Compared with 2019, city employee departures in 2022 were nearly 30 percent higher. If you only look at resignations, there was a 60percent increase.
So what happened? We’ve been writing about this for going on four years now. But to save you the time of digging through your memory banks, we’ve turned this into the journalistic equivalent of a clip show, complete with some new revelations here or there.
THE CONDON HOLES
We start in the halcyon days of 2019, the final year of the Condon administration. We’ve used it as a baseline to compare the Woodward administration to — but back then, the number of major departures was considered somewhat shocking.
And that’s where the trouble with the Woodward staffing begins: Condon decided early on that he wouldn’t replace a number of major staffers as they left. In some ways, it made sense. With less than a year in Condon’s term left, who would want to apply for a job that may only last a few months? Besides, Condon reasoned, the new mayor might want to choose his or her own team.
And maybe that wouldn’t have been as much of an issue had then-City Council President Ben Stuckart won his mayoral bid. He already had a political machine ready to slot candidates into the roles. But Woodward came in without that network, leaving her scrambling to fill key roles right as…
Daniel Walters data visualization
All state and local governments saw a spike in resignations in 2021 and 2022 — but the spike was much more pronounced in Spokane. (Percentages depicted represent the percent increase since 2019)
… a global pandemic hit.
Make no mistake — as the mayor’s spokesman Brian Coddington frequently points out — the pandemic had a huge impact on pretty much every business, nonprofit and agency in the world, and the City of Spokane was no exception.
It’s difficult to overstate the impact of a global pandemic on municipal governments. COVID upended workflows, forced employees to work remotely, intensified worker stress and cultivated whole new genres of ideological conflict. It sparked waves of early retirements across the country, creating a national labor shortage.
That labor shortage reversed the balance of power between management and labor. Those who were sick of their job could just leave and surely find another employer waiting with open arms.
At the City of Spokane, however, retirements actually remained relatively stable. The number of retirements were actually lower in 2020 and 2021 than in 2019. It’s the resignations that went crazy the last two years.
Still, this was the period of the “Great Resignation” nationwide. Was Spokane’s turmoil anything special? It’s a tricky question to untangle. But here’s the thing: government jobs were generally more stable than non-government jobs.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t get as granular as city positions, they do track “quits” in state and local government positions. And the increase in the number of employees quitting in the City of Spokane from 2019 to 2022 was almost triple the percentage increase of state and local government quits during that same time period. Even if you average all three years of the Woodward administration, the percent increase from 2019 was twice as sharp as in state and local governments nationally.
That said, the first eight months of the Woodward administration received bipartisan praise for its agility and responsiveness in handling the sudden pandemic, and resignations were actually much lower in 2020 — when all of a sudden…
…City Administrator Wes Crago was pushed out.
Oh, to be clear, he officially “resigned.” (Very few people at the City of Spokane are ever flat-out fired, though there have been a few in the mayor and council offices in the last few years.)
But nobody — at least nobody that we’ve found — believes the Woodward administration’s spin that her first city administrator simply decided that his heart was with smaller towns.
Records and sources indicate that Crago was pushed out after Woodward had a series of one-on-ones with high-level staffers about him. City Council President Breean Beggs blames holdovers from the Condon administration.
“They did a palace coup against Wes,” Beggs says. “They got him out of here.”
But whether Crago can be credited for the smooth sailing of the early months of the Woodward administration or not, that doesn’t change the fact that the mayor had pushed out the person in charge of keeping City Hall running effectively.
In other words, at the very moment the H.M.S. Woodward Administration was navigating through treacherous, COVID-infested waters, her captain had walked the plank.
It wasn’t like Woodward was the sort of mayor to take the wheel directly herself. So for six months, the city drifted without an operational head.
Finally, in late March 2021, San Diego’s Johnnie Perkins was appointed. But he quickly ran into conflict with…
Daniel Walters data visualization — federal and city of Spokane data
The point-in-time count, typically conducted in January, is always a flawed metric for gauging homelessness. But with huge housing price increases hitting Spokane, a huge increase shouldn’t be a surprise. The challenge the Woodward administration has had to grapple with when it comes to homelessness has only increased.
….Neighborhoods, Housing & Human Services director Cupid Alexander.
Now, this role — and the Community Housing and Human Services leadership position it oversees — have always been a bit like the Defense Against the Dark Arts position in the Harry Potter series. It’s always been cursed by high turnover. The intense workload combined with the withering criticism — from supervisors, from the public, from the City Council — has sent employee after employee seeking the relative sanctuary of Catholic Charities.
So as Cupid Alexander took the reins in November of 2020, a kind of snowball was already rolling: A key employee would resign or go on medical leave, and their workload would have to be carried by the rest of the team. And all that extra work would cause another employee to quit.
Meanwhile, Alexander couldn’t stand the new city administrator. Alexander quit in June of 2021, firing off a barrage of allegations on the way out. Alexander’s allegations of racial discrimination were not substantiated by a city-appointed investigator, but the investigator did find that both were to blame for “unproductive, combative discussions” and identified a “revolving door” leading to a “downward spiral.”
That downward spiral kept spiraling downward. By October of 2021, the “sinking ship” of the Community Housing and Human Services department effectively left Spokane temporarily with no homeless team, right as homelessness was skyrocketing.
While the city’s IT guy, Eric Finch, and an influx of temporary employees managed to keep the department afloat, the city was still crippled.
Meanwhile, Alexander’s replacement, John Hall, only lasted three months before he also resigned with a flurry of criticisms of conditions within in the city, including inexperienced staff, council interference, and missed opportunities to get federal funding.
Of course, that challenge was exacerbated by the explosion of homelessness triggered by the housing crisis. Addressing the housing crisis was a top priority, which was made all the more difficult by the fact…
…the City of Spokane had gone four years without a planning director. In the middle of 2021, Beggs told the Inlander that they were “down four positions in planning, at the time of the greatest housing crisis ever.”
Condon had left the planning director slot empty since 2018, and it was nine months into 2020 before Woodward even started the search process for a new one. But the first search process for a planning director failed in November of 2020. And the second search process didn’t start until May of 2021.
And that one also failed. (In the midst of the staffing crisis, hiring could be downright Kafkaesque: Historic Preservation Specialist Logan Camporeale had to go through three different hiring processes simply to get his temporary position made permanent.)
Ultimately, the new planning director, Spencer Gardner, wasn’t hired until January 2022, at the start of Woodward’s third year in office.
The good news was that both Gardner and the new Community and Economic Development director above him, Steve MacDonald, received oodles of praise from City Council members like Beggs, developers like Kendall Yards creator Jim Frank, and employees like Camporeale. The only problem was…
DID SOMEBODY SAY MACDONALD?
… several veteran employees — we’re talking employees who had been here 10 to 20 years — felt disrespected by MacDonald’s management style. MacDonald clashed with longtime staffer Kris Becker, who’d been the director of development services, code enforcement and parking, and had also been part of both the team to handle COVID and the strike force to try to keep the homeless department afloat.
But Becker found herself iced out of key decisions under MacDonald — and she wasn’t the only one frustrated. In March of 2022, Becker and two other long-serving members of the Development Services team went on medical leave. Only one returned — and she found that her job had been given to another employee while she was on break, possibly violating federal law. That sparked another independent investigation — this one into potential gender discrimination and medical leave retaliation.
But the investigation was inconclusive, partly because…
HR’S ROUGH AND STUFF
… the Human Resources department was just as big of a mess as any of the other departments.
Woodward’s first Human Resources director, Tom Bartridge, resigned without explanation less than two months after being appointed by the mayor.
Woodward’s second Human Resources director, Amber Richards, resigned “as a matter of principle” in June of 2021, after telling the Woodward administration she could no longer continue “in good faith or with good conscience.”
Records show that, shortly before she left, Richards had sounded the alarm about “extraordinarily challenging conditions at skeleton staffing levels for an extended timeframe” within her department, putting an “arguably exploitive burden” on HR employees, making them “ripe for disengagement, exhaustion, and burnout.”
Woodward’s third HR director, Kristin Smith, resigned in June of 2022, after just five months on the job. Coddington said at the time that Smith wanted to focus on her family’s winemaking business in Chelan.
By then, the bench in the department was so thin that the City had to borrow someone from the City Attorney’s office to temporarily run HR.
That same month, Labor Relations Manager Meghann Steinolfson — who had previously served as the department’s interim director — also resigned to take a job at Avista.
Steinolfson, who had been involved in labor negotiations over the fire department contract, had previously run into her own controversy in 2019 over potential conflicts of interest due to her relationship with Deputy Fire Chief Jay Atwood.
But by September 2022, Atwood had left the city too…
FIVE-ALARM OVERTIME FIRE
… adding to the ongoing staffing crisis in the Spokane Fire Department. By the end of 2021, the Spokane Fire Department was racking up massive overtime costs, far beyond what the city had budgeted for. Blame COVID. Blame wildfires. Blame vaccine mandates. Blame the fact that the fire department had failed to hire enough firefighters to handle the regular workload, much less a pandemic-era workload.
The good news is there’s been a lot more firefighter hiring since then. And the City Council knows this is an issue. They funded a consultant study to examine police and fire overtime way back in the fall of 2020, which could have been useful for cutting costs except….
POOR STUDY SKILLS
… for the fact that study was only finished and presented this week. It took a year for the Woodward administration to actually hire a consulting firm. And when that firm, Matrix Consulting, actually began to try to start looking at the city’s overtime records, it found that, thanks to slow communication from the city administration and ancient software systems, just getting usable data was a nightmare.
A study that Matrix thought was going to take less than six months ended up taking a year-and-a-half.
The city’s attempt to conduct an audit of the fire department’s use of sick leave was even worse. The final version of that study wasn’t finished for 11 months, and by then, according to the city, the result was so flawed and behind deadline that the city refused to pay for it. The auditor, the city said, got basic facts wrong. But Melissa Preston, the accountant who conducted the study, said she’d been relying explicitly on the city’s own information that had been provided to her. She says she had provided an early draft of the findings with the same information and no one had let her know there was anything wrong.
In fact, the biggest contrast between Woodward and former Mayor Condon may be the use of data: Condon was famous for being a data-driven technocrat, publishing “performance measures” for many city departments on the city’s website. That ended with Woodward and COVID, preventing the public from easily seeing the impact of the pandemic and the staffing shortage on city efficiency.
The City Council has been repeatedly frustrated about getting timely information around homelessness and city finances, passing ordinances in vain. Woodward vetoed an ordinance from the City Council that tried to bump up the speed and frequency of city finance information, writing in her veto letter that the Finance Department was already “understaffed and overworked.”
City Councilman Michael Cathcart says that the city’s Chief Financial Officer says the city needs more budget analysts.
“I’ve said, ‘I will support tomorrow hiring more budget analysts’,” says Cathcart. “We can’t make good financial decisions without good financial data.”
But so far, he says, the mayor hasn’t made the request.
BUYING STABILITY WITH INSTABILITY
Right now, at least, the ship doesn’t seem to be sinking. The number of departures seems to have slowed down. But that’s come at a steep cost: with inflation spiking, the city bumped up its yearly pay increases for public sector union contracts, putting the city budget in peril.
And there’s still a gaping hole. Right now, the city has 328 vacant positions — more than in May of last year, yet still higher than in May of 2021.
“Part of the challenge is we have really good benefits at the city,” says Council President Beggs.
The retirement plan is particularly lucrative, he notes, but it takes seven years until you’re eligible to collect on it. And in the meantime employees are required to set aside a big chunk of their paychecks.
“For a lot of entry-level jobs, you’d have better take-home pay at McDonald’s,” Beggs says.
To sum it up: the city is still in desperate need of more staff. But right now, it can barely afford the ones it has. It leaves the mayor, whoever she ends up being, with a hell of a mess on her hands in 2024.
Filing a bill is cheap advertising to the gullible
“Our” Representative to the U.S. House of Representatives from eastern Washington, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA CD5), got a breathless, above-the-fold headline in the Northwest section of the Spokesman last Friday, “McMorris Rodgers bill would require VA hospitals to hold regular town hall meetings”. In her weekly email newsletter (the one her staff avoids sending to anyone identified as critical of her) she further touts her bill, the “Town Halls for Veterans Act”, aka H.R. 3114.
Let’s put this press-release-inspired bit of self-promotion in perspective within the workings of Congress. First, if it were to become law, this bill would do next to nothing to address Veterans Hospital issues. It would “require the Department of Veterans Affairs to hold quarterly town hall meetings at each of the nation’s 171 VA hospitals.” That is the sum total of the bill. (See the actual bill text here. The functional text is one short paragraph.) If this is the best McMorris Rodgers can do to tackle the problems presented by the electronic medical records rollout at the VA, it is a sad commentary on her understanding of what it takes to actually address an issue.
With all the Spokesman fanfare over McMorris Rodgers’ bill one might imagine that it was about to become law. Wait a minute. She just now introduced it. Its bill number is 3114 in the lineup of bills filed in the House of Representatives for this two-year session of Congress. She hasn’t lined up a single co-sponsor. The bill “will be referred to the House Veterans Affairs Committee, of which McMorris Rodgers is not a member.” Realistically, the likelihood of this bill even being taken up in committee (the first step) approaches zero. Is this the best McMorris Rodgers can do after warming a seat in Congress for more than seventeen years?
McMorris Rodgers’ touted bill, its press release, and its coverage on her website, in her “newsletter”, and in the Spokesman article, are cheap advertising to suggest that she is actually accomplishing something. If you don’t feel insulted—you should.
Meanwhile, on April 26 McMorris Rodgers cast her Yea vote along with all but four of her Republican colleagues in the U.S. House for H.R. 2811 – the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023. The 320 page bill is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s and House Republican’s threat to force the federal government into debt default. The payoff in exchange for Republicans not disrupting the world economy? Democrats must agree to dismantle climate change initiatives, increase permitting for oil and gas drilling, nullify the student debt relief program, add new work requirements for beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and reduce funding for the IRS, among other things.
In their 320 page bill Republicans strategically avoid specifying the magnitude (and many of the targets) of their proposed cost-cutting. Instead, they expect Democrats to propose the exact cuts, whereupon Republicans will cast blame at Democrats for the cuts they’d be forced to make if they agreed to this extortion. McMorris Rodgers, while proposing nonsense for fixing the VA Hospitals, neglects to mention (or is she so ignorant as to be unaware?) that the cost-cutting levels demanded by the Limit, Save, Grow Act would severely impact funding for the Veterans Administration she wants her constituents to believe she is defending.
McMorris Rodgers and her fellow Republicans are counting on voters lack of focus on what the proposed cuts would mean. Republicans are (for the moment) boxed out of threatening Social Security or Medicare. Similarly, they have no history of curtailing Pentagon spending. That leaves the rest of the discretionary budget from which to extract their cuts. If cuts were made to satisfy their demands the shortfall would result in a 22% decrease in spending overall. Any preserved level funding in any one department would require an even greater spending decrease in the remaining departments. For instance, if the VA were entirely spared, the remaining departments would lose 30%. (More cuts from the IRS? EPA? Education? National Parks? You choose.)
So let’s balance a 22% spending cut to the Veterans Administration against McMorris Rodgers’ bill to require “town halls”. The cut is effectively what she already voted to pass in the House; in contrast, the “town hall” proposal will never be heard in Committee.
McMorris Rodgers is either ignorant herself or she is counting on the ignorance and inattention of the voters she pretends to represent. Meanwhile, her Yea vote on the Republican debt ceiling hostage bill risks plunging the world into recession. Sent this woman packing in 2024.
Coordinating Economic, Social, and Cultural Life under Republican Rule
All week I have drifted back to the article that I’ve copied below from Doug Muder’s Weekly Sift, the first thing I read last Monday. (I apologize if you’ve already read it—I have recommended Muder’s writing for years.) Republican-controlled state governments of Montana, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas, Florida and elsewhere seem bent on passing laws that intrude on the very personal decisions of other people, decisions concerning reproduction, sexual identity, medical care, marriage, and what is available to read in schools and public libraries. As I watch, listen to, and read of these efforts I experience a palpable feeling of claustrophobia—a closing in—the very antithesis of the personal freedom we as a nation are supposed to stand for.
Gleichshaltung was the German word used in the 1930s to describe the top-down enforced coordination of the country under the Nazis. The word appears in Muder’s article toward the end. It is a word well worth keeping in mind.
The 20th-century Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once called the American states “laboratories of democracy”. But recently the red states have been experimenting with something else entirely.
In his 2018 book Reconstructing the Gospel, Christian minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove reflected on one of the paradoxes of religious fervor.
Even as we feel guilty about doing the things we know we ought not to do, and strive to do more of the good we want to do, our very worst sins are almost always things we know to be our Christian duty.
He illustrated the point with examples: the Crusades, the high priests who condemned Jesus, and the Southern “Redeemer” movement, whose violent terrorism ended Reconstruction and inaugurated Jim Crow.
Over and over, Christians support and participate in atrocious evil, not because we choose to do wrong, but because we think we’re doing the right thing — the righteous thing, even.
Not wanting to pick on Christianity, I’ll add some secular examples: the Reign of Terror, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and the Bush administration’s torture policy. Wilson-Hartgrove is pointing to a human thing, not a uniquely Christian thing. Cruelty is often practiced by people who imagine themselves to be heroes.
Seekins-Crowe. I recalled Wilson-Hartgrove’s observation this week, when [Montana State] Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe‘s moving and highly emotional speech went viral.
Seekins-Crowe gave the speech in March, during the debate over Montana’s new law banning gender-affirming care for minors. (The bill passed and was signed Friday by Governor Greg Gianforte.) The main argument against the bill was that it would cost lives. (We’ll get to Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s “blood on your hands” comment later on.) Teens struggling with their gender identity have a high suicide rate; gender-affirming care is often an attempt to save their lives. So banning it may well increase teen suicides.
Seekins-Crowe did not shy away from that argument. She did not scoff at it or trivialize it, but took the bull by the horns. She explained that she had lived for three years with a suicidal daughter, and so she knows that some things are more important than saving your child’s life.
That seems like a brutal summation of her words, so I feel obligated to quote her at length and provide a video.
One of the big issues that we have heard today and we’ve talked about lately is that without surgery the risk of suicide goes way up. Well, I am one of those parents who lived with a daughter who was suicidal for three years. Someone once asked me, “Wouldn’t I just do anything to help save her?” And I really had to think. And the answer was, “No.”
I was not going to give in to her emotional manipulation, because she was incapable of making those decisions and I had to make those decisions for her. I was not going to let her tear apart my family and I was not going to let her tear apart me, because I had to be strong for her. I had to have a vision for her life when she had none, when she was incapable of having [one].
I was lost. I was scared. I spent hours on the floor in prayer. Because I didn’t know that when I woke up if my daughter was going to be alive or not. But I knew that I had to make those right decisions for her so that she would have a precious, successful adulthood.
Monstrous as it is, I can’t watch that video without feeling Seekins-Crowe’s sincerity. She believes what she is saying, and believes that letting her daughter suffer for three years was the right thing to do. (I have no idea how that story came out. After three years, did the daughter stop being suicidal, or just reach adulthood?) And now, she believes that passing this law is the right thing to do. I have little doubt that she would describe it as her Christian duty.
That speech is, I think, an almost perfect distillation of the authoritarian mindset: People who see the world differently than I do are deluded, so I have to be strong enough to make their decisions for them, even if it kills them.
There is, of course, room for debate about when parents ought to overrule their children’s desires. Nearly every parent, at some time or another, has forced a toddler to go to bed, or refused to let one eat all the candy. Those calls get harder as children grow, and I don’t know any clear rule about when someone is old enough to make their own decisions about gender-affirming medical interventions.
But now Seekins-Crowe has taken the next step, and is making “right decisions” for all the parents in Montana, particularly those who might not be “strong” enough to ignore their children’s anguish, or sure enough of their own convictions to close their ears to whatever their children might say. Those “weak” parents need a strong government, full of strong people like Seekins-Crowe herself.
Providing that strength is her Christian duty.
Watching Seekins-Crowe’s speech makes me realize that conservative leaders like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have spoiled me, because their villainy is so direct and uncomplicated. I have no doubt that Trump knows he is a grifter, and that he is consciously taking advantage of the people who support him. Likewise, DeSantis knows that critical race theory is not a thing, and that Florida’s librarians and grade school teachers are not grooming children for pedophilia.
If everyone on the other side were like that, life would be simple. But instead the world is full of Abrahams whose willingness to sacrifice Isaac makes them feel closer to their God.
What can we do with them?
I don’t have an answer for that question, so I’m just going to continue talking about the Montana legislature, and red-state governments in Texas and Florida that also gave us insight into authoritarianism this week.
Zooey Zephyr. One thing authoritarians don’t do is tolerate dissent, particularly from people they deem inferior. A few weeks ago, the Tennessee House decided not to tolerate Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who are Black. The Justins delayed the business of the House for an hour or so by encouraging pro-gun-control demonstrators in the gallery, so they were expelled from office. But the people of their districts put them right back.
This week, the Republican supermajority in the Montana House did something similar to Zooey Zephyr, a trans woman (whose adulthood, in Seekins-Crowe’s terms, must not be “precious” or “successful”). On April 18, during debate on the bill banning gender-affirming care for minors (and several other anti-trans bills), she was blunt:
This body should be ashamed. If you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.
In response, the ironically-named Freedom Caucus in the Montana House called for “his” censure because of that “threatening” comment. Majority Leader Sue Vinton responded directly (and self-righteously) to the “shame” comment:
We will not be shamed by anyone in this chamber. We are better than that.
The censure resolution was not immediately taken up, but the Speaker refused to recognize Rep. Zephyr when she rose to speak, and said that he would not do so until Zephyr apologized, which she refused to do.
Last Monday, hundreds of pro-Zephyr demonstrators came to the Capitol. When Zephyr rose and was ignored, they loudly chanted “Let her speak.” The Speaker still did not recognize Zephyr, and the House ground to a halt for half an hour until the demonstrators could be removed. On his way to jail, one demonstrator explained:
In this country you don’t get many rights but one of the things you do get is an elected representative, and 11,000 Montanans are waiting for Zooey Zephyr to speak for them, to represent the interest of trans people in the state who belong in the state as well. It’s not just … the old white men who run the show over here. It’s every single person. Montana is big enough for all of us, and I think it has space for all of us.
Republicans have since inaccurately described the demonstrations as “violent” and “an insurrection”. (I commented two weeks ago on the Right’s practice of breaking words that have been used against them. Ever since January 6 they have been trying to break insurrection through misuse. It falls flat to claim that January 6 was merely a “protest”, so they have been characterizing any liberal protest as an insurrection.)
Zephyr was blamed for this breech of “decorum” (the same offense charged against the Justins). So she was banned from the House floor for the remainder of the session (which ends May 5). The resolution banning her did not also bar her from serving on committees, but all the committees she serves on then had their remaining meetings cancelled.
Like the Justins, Zephyr returned home to a large rally of her supporters. (Remember: “Large” means something different in Montana, where each House district has only about 11,000 people.) Since the legislature only meets in odd-numbered years, her term is effectively over. But she’ll be running for reelection in 2024.
Universities. Another thing authoritarians do not tolerate is an alternative source of institutional authority. That’s why the current crop of red-state authoritarians is working so hard to bring the universities under control. Universities do not wield power directly, but they are recognized sources of authoritative opinion. So they cannot be allowed to remain independent.
A number of German words have already made it into the American vocabulary — zeitgeist, schadenfreude, realpolitik, gestalt, wanderlust. Well, it’s time to learn another one: gleichschaltung, [click for a fascinating article from the Holocaust Museum] whose root words mean “same circuit”. Originally an engineering term translated as “coordination” or “synchronization”, gleichschaltung was adapted in the 1930s to describe the process of unifying German society and culture under Nazi ideology. Simply controlling the national government wasn’t good enough; the kind of German renewal the Nazis promised could only be accomplished by a unified society whose institutions all pulled in the same direction. So local governments, corporations, unions, professional associations, universities, social clubs, and youth organizations all needed “coordination”.
This week, Texas took a step towards its own gleichschaltung when its Senate passed SB-18, which would eliminate tenure in the state’s universities.
An institution of higher education may not grant an employee of the institution tenure or any type of permanent employment status.
Current tenured faculty are grandfathered in, but no new tenured appointments would be made after September 1. The Texas Tribune claims that the bill “faces an uphill battle at the Texas House”, so perhaps Texas’ university system will be spared for another term or two.
The argument for the bill is primarily political, not educational.
[Lieutenant Governor Dan] Patrick’s push to end tenure in Texas started more than a year ago after some University of Texas at Austin professors passed a nonbinding resolution defending their academic freedom to teach about issues like racial justice. The resolution came as Republicans hinted that they wanted to extend restrictions on how race is discussed in K-12 classrooms, which were approved by the Texas Legislature in 2021, to the state’s public universities.
The resolution outraged Patrick, who accused university professors of “indoctrinating” students with leftist ideas and argued that the state must stop awarding tenure because faculty with the benefit don’t face any repercussions for it.
But that’s precisely the justification for tenure: It allows academics to do their jobs without worrying about offending the politicians currently in power. In a liberal democracy, universities are not supposed to be “coordinated” with the ruling party.
Florida is another state trying to synchronize its educational institutions with government ideology. Governor DeSantis’ Stop WOKE Act created a list of ideas that cannot be taught in Florida public schools, including the state universities. The part affecting the universities has been blocked by a federal judge, whose ruling says:
The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark.
But acts of the legislature are only one path to gleichschaltung. The governor also has executive power to appoint trustees to university boards. DeSantis’ new trustees are in the process of coordinating New College in Sarasota. At a recent meeting, all five faculty members up for tenure — including three in the supposedly apolitical hard sciences — were rejected, and the faculty chair (who had been broadly criticized for being too accommodating to the new regime) quit.
Disney. I mentioned corporations in the list of things that need to be synchronized with the ruling ideology. Well, after DeSantis passed his Don’t Say Gay law, Disney had the temerity to put out a statement saying that it opposed the law and would continue to work against it through the systems our constitution provides for reversing government actions:
Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.
All in all, it was pretty tepid stuff, but it marked Disney as a company not marching to the DeSantis drum. That led DeSantis to strike at Disney in ways that fell comically flat: A bill to dissolve the special taxing district around Disney World had to be undone when nearby counties noticed they might wind up responsible for about $1 billion in bonds the district had outstanding. Then DeSantis announced a takeover of the board that oversees the district, but was again outsmarted by an agreement Disney signed with the outgoing board.
Now DeSantis is trying to get the legislature to nullify that agreement, and Disney decided it had had enough: It filed a federal lawsuit claiming that DeSantis is illegally retaliating against Disney for speech protected by the First Amendment.
There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so. … This is as clear a case of retaliation as this Court is ever likely to see. …
It is a clear violation of Disney’s federal constitutional rights—under the Contracts Clause, the Takings Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the First Amendment—for the State to inflict a concerted campaign of retaliation because the Company expressed an opinion with which the government disagreed. … In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind.
The reason there’s “no room for disagreement” is that DeSantis didn’t just announce in public that he was abusing state power to punish Disney for making a political statement, he wrote about it in his book. DeSantis clearly could have benefited from the class Stringer Bell taught in The Wire:
Is you taking notes on a criminal f**king conspiracy? What the f**k is you thinking, man?
DeSantis’ defense of his actions is that Disney’s control of the special taxing district around Disney World is an inappropriate merging of state and corporate power, so he is right to take it away. And in the abstract, that may even be true. But legal and even reasonable exercises of government power become unconstitutional when they are used to punish speech protected by the First Amendment, as these actions clearly were.
If the government could deny a benefit to a person because of his constitutionally protected speech or associations, his exercise of those freedoms would in effect be penalized and inhibited. Such interference with constitutional rights is impermissible.
But in spite of the governing precedent, French is still not entirely sure how the case will come out.
At the beginning of this piece, I said that DeSantis should lose, not that he will lose. Court outcomes are never completely certain, but this much is correct: A Disney defeat would represent a dangerous reversal in First Amendment jurisprudence and cast a pall of fear over private expression.
French is afraid, in other words, that gleichschaltung may already have reached the Supreme Court.
Last summer, Camp Hope became a flashpoint in Spokane. Sprawling over a large lot in sight of the I-90 freeway, organizers counted more than 600 people in the heat of summer. Opinions ranged on why people had come to the camp and where they were from. Julie Garcia, the founder and director of Jewels Helping Hands, collected her own data on the camp’s inhabitants, but no official data was collected by the city — and the reliability of Garcia’s data was challenged by local leaders.
The lack of information allowed anecdote and conjecture to fill the holes left by solid numbers. Excuses proliferated:
People were coming to the camp from out of town. Garcia was exaggerating the camp size. The camp was full of criminals and people who wanted to be homeless.
But under city law, this information vacuum shouldn’t have existed.
One year earlier, in the summer of 2021, Spokane City Council passed a law requiring city staff to track the overall homeless population, provide demographic information on people experiencing homelessness and identify barriers to accessing housing. City staff in the Community, Housing and Human Services (CHHS) Department were required by the law to provide quarterly reports to city council and the public through the city website.
In a functioning government the legislative branch (in this case the City Council) passes laws that the executive branch (here the Mayor’s office) carries out. Meanwhile the judicial branch (remember “checks and balances”?) makes sure that the “constitution” (here the City of Spokane Charter) and the law are being followed and are not in conflict.
Each calendar quarter the City shall present to City Council and publish on the City’s website a written report using HMIS and other reliable data sources to provide its estimate of the average number of homeless individuals in the City of Spokane and Spokane County who were unsheltered on a nightly basis over the previous quarter along with demographic information and key barriers identified by them to securing adequate shelter.
The Ordinance became law by Ms. Woodward returning it unsigned after the “Mayoral Signature Deadline”. As Segerstrom’s article details, it appears that the executive branch under Mayor Woodward simply ignored the legal requirement to gather and offer data on the homeless population. Instead, the Mayor chose to spend money on grandstanding legal efforts to forcibly close Camp Hope. Ignoring the law is no way to run a city. Lack of data gathering means that that city is flying blind in its efforts to address the issue. As stout a conservative as Councilperson Michael Cathcart understands this. Consider this exchange [the bold is mine]:
Council members are hungry for better data and frustrated that it’s not coming from city staff — despite city laws that require it. In an April 27 city council study session on the point-in-time count, Council member Michael Cathcart requested that the CHHS create a live dashboard of homelessness data. Presumably with live data on the state of homelessness in the community, policy decisions could both be data-informed and be constantly tracked for their efficacy.
Council member Kinnear responded, “Michael, Michael, we’ve asked for that for years.”
“Hence the reason I’m asking for it again,” Cathcart said.
“So, keep repeating that,” Kinnear said. “In fact, I think we put that in one of our ordinances that we require that.”
“It’s in an ordinance,” Cathcart said.
“It’s a head-scratcher,” Kinnear said.
Clearly, it is “in an ordinance”—it’s just that the Mayor, either by intention or ineptitude, ignored it.
It’s not really a “head-scratcher” either. The City of Spokane City Council has no means of forcing the Mayor to abide by the laws it passes. That deplorable circumstance would have been rectified by Proposition 1, a ballot measure that appeared on the November General Election ballot just last fall in 2022. Prop 1 was voted down by 51 to 49 percent. Thanks to its failure, the City Attorney still serves mostly at the pleasure of the Mayor. Section 24 C. of the City Charter gives the Mayor the “Power to appoint and remove the city attorney, provided such appointment shall be subject to the approval of the city council.” Prop 1 would have changed the Charter to make the City Attorney less dependent on the Mayor’s pleasure.
I’m sure I voted for Prop 1, but I don’t think I fully understood the importance of this Charter change until RANGE Media pointed out this glaring example of Mayoral nose-thumbing at a City Council Ordinance (aka law).
More from the RANGE article:
“Unfortunately, under our City Charter, the city council is not permitted to retain a lawyer and sue the administration for ‘specific performance,’” Beggs said. “That was the point of the independent city attorney ballot measure last November that was narrowly defeated after a large influx of cash from the mayor’s supporters.”
The other option is for a private Spokane citizen to sue the city for not following the law by failing to file quarterly reports tracking homelessness in Spokane.
“Any taxpayer in Spokane can file a mandamus, which is a special proceeding to ask the court to enforce the municipality’s own laws or to enforce against the executive — the mayor — the municipality’s own laws,” said Jeffry Finer, a local attorney who represented Jewels Helping Hands in a civil rights lawsuit against the city and county which was settled in January 2023.
This kind of lawsuit is “a well-understood, well-established method to force a recalcitrant official to do their job,” Finer said. “The language [of the ordinance] is clear, it’s mandatory. This is not discretionary. The mayor’s decision to ignore that is frankly a little shocking.”
Read and subscribe to RANGE Media, to whom we are indebted for shining light on yet another example Woodward’s non-cooperation.
We need a Mayor who understands the importance of data and is willing to support data gathering, a Mayor who follows city ordinances without a citizen having to engage the legal system to force them to do so.
Vote for proven administrative excellence. Vote for Lisa Brown for Mayor in August and November.