Voter Guides

Check out RANGE Media

Jerry LeClaire

Oct 21

Please have a look at RANGE Media’s Voter’s Guide to Voter Guides, especially if your ballot just arrived or arrives over the weekend—and you want to send it in or put it in a drop box so that campaigns lose their incentive to knock on your door. (The fact that you voted is available to them, but not for whom you voted.) 

I do have one addition. The RANGE article mentions the Secretary of State’s Voters Guide, but does not mention that, thanks to a recently passed state law, residents of Spokane County will also receive in the mail a similar guide that covers right down to the local races. (Some Washington State counties may combine theirs with the Secretary of State’s Voter’s Guide. We in Spokane County have a separate guide for technical reasons of publication deadlines.) I urge you to go beyond these two government-mandated guides, since they mostly put forward photos and abbreviated campaign literature provided by the candidates themselves. 

My personal favorite in the as a positive voter’s guide and (WBWV) primarily as a negative indicator. Check out RANGE’s comments on both. (If you visit WBWV, be sure to drill down to the “Survey” each candidate who responds has to fill out in order to receive a rating. The questions and responses are often illuminating. For the November General Election WBWV has made it harder in some races to find the raw Survey results. One sometimes needs to click on the candidate’s name, then scroll down, and click on “View Survey Responses” under “Alignment Rating and Survey.”) 

Keep to the high ground,


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Local Redistricting Is Not Done

Neighborhoods need your input

Jerry LeClaire

Oct 19

In the heated atmosphere of the upcoming national, state, and county elections in November (at least in Washington State) it is tempting to put local governance mentally on the back burner. After all, City of Spokane elections for Mayor, City Council President, and City Council Members don’t happen until August and November of next year, 2023. However, important long term issues still can and do simmer on that back burner—a back burner I fear I have wrongly neglected. The City of Spokane Redistricting Board members were chosen last spring and had their first formal meeting on June 16. The Board held a Town Hall on July 20, at which just one citizen appeared, a representative of the non-partisan League of Women Voters of Spokane. Between August 2nd and 19th the Board held a “Thought Exchange” that garnered only 155 comments. Those comments emphasized two goals for the Board’s deliberations: 1) That the Board draw lines for the new City of Spokane Council Districts that correspond to Neighborhood Council boundaries (see below) and 2) That each Council District to contain a piece of downtown—since we all share downtown. Neither of these wishes was much respected by the Board in the map they are putting forward to the Council.

First, I think it is important to review the government structure of the City of Spokane. In 1999, twenty-one years ago, the City adopted the current “strong mayor” form of government. Spokane’s strong mayor system consists of an executive branch (the Mayor’s Office) under a mayor elected by citywide voting and a legislative branch (the “City Council”) with a Council President also elected citywide elected and six City Council members, two elected from each of three City Council districts. All eight City of Spokane elected officials are, nominally at least, non-partisan.

After each decennial census (2010, 2020) a redistricting board is formed to propose adjustments to the three council districts to allow for changes in population. This re-districting seems to come almost as an afterthought to other re-districting processes that readjust other (U.S. Congressional, state, and county) districts. Since the first municipal (city) elections affected by the changes aren’t held until two years after the census year, I suppose it seems reasonable that city council re-districting should come last. (There may also be a district border readjustment at each 5 year mark, depending on the perceived need.)

In 2000, around the same time the City of Spokane converted to a strong mayor system of government, the City also adopted the Neighborhood Councils Program “In order to foster communication between the citizens of Spokane and all facets of City government.” Each Neighborhood Councilsends a representative to the Community Assembly (found on the City website under “Official Commissions”), providing a neighborhood voice to City of Spokane government. Check out the map of Neighborhood Councils. (The map was an eyeopener for me. For years I’ve read in the Spokesman of this or that neighborhood and imagined a map location. The map revealed to me that my mental picture was often totally wrong. Can you confidently place the Riverside neighborhood, for example? I couldn’t.)

Just three of these Neighborhood Councils—East Central, West Hills, and Riverside—are currently split between two City Council Districts. The Neighborhood Councils are pretty much by definition “communities of interest”. Under RCW 29A.92.050:

To the extent feasible, the district boundaries shall coincide with existing recognized natural boundaries and shall, to the extent possible, preserve existing communities of related and mutual interest.

East Central, in particular, is a community of interest that suffered intentional geographic division when a path was cleared through the neighborhood for the building of I-90 beginning in the 1950s. This intentional division was (and is) perpetuated by City of Spokane City Council District borders that split East Central between District 1 (NE) and District 2 (South). As a consequence the voice of East Central is weakened. No City Council Member needs to listen as closely to the voice of East Central because East Central’s votes are divided between two City Council districts.

Between September 22 and October 2nd the Redistricting Board looked for more input in choosing from among fifteen maps they and others had offered up. The Board solicited rankings of the maps on an online Survey Monkey Survey. The Board logged just 287 responses, plus another roughly 30 emails (verbal statement by the Board Chair from the October 4 Board Meeting video). Survey Monkey results depend on awareness and motivation. Results can be overwhelmed by either a few folks filling out a survey multiple times (responses are anonymous) or by a highly motivated group logging in at a high rate. Even so, the two leading maps coming out from that survey were Map #1 “Minimal Changes with Shared Downtown” and Map #2 “Whole Neighborhood Council Boundaries with Shared Downtown”. (Here’s a map of the current City Council boundaries. Here is the Neighborhood Council Map, the same one linked.)

The clincher came at the October 4 Redistricting Board Meeting—a “Town Hall” (which you can watch here). Four maps were up for consideration, but only two were much discussed, #1 and #2 noted above. Over thirty people came to speak. Three spoke in favor of respecting Neighborhood Council boundary lines. Listening to all the others, it is immediately clear they were all raising the same talking points, often in the same order. If you take the time to listen to the video you will hear the “Talking Points” put forward by the SpokaneGOP (copied below in the P.P.S.) repeated over and over. Daniel Walters wrote in an article October 6th (it is worth clicking that link and reading Walters’ full article) :

…there was an active right-wing campaign to rally opposition to Zappone’s map [Map #2] and support for Map 1. 

Note that Map #2 became “Zappone’s Map” in part thanks to Daniel Walters’ prior writing—and, in spite of the fact that while many people submitted maps to the Board, Map #2 had risen to a position near the top on its own merits of preserving Neighborhood Council boundary integrity. (No one harped on the fact that Map #1 was proposed by Jennifer Thomas, one of the three voting Board members, and, arguably, the one with a partisan axe to grind—See P.S. below.)

Daniel Walters attended the October 4 “Town Hall” of the Redistricting Board and reported on the biases in the comment period on a revealing Twitter thread.

Following that hijacked comment period, the three voting members of the Redistricting Board, with several notes of reluctance, voted 3-0 to put forward Map #1 (Jennifer Thomas’ map) to the City Council (next Monday, October 24th). Seen in retrospect the comment period was a shameful exercise in partisan politics. 

Next Monday, October 24, at the City of Spokane City Council Meeting, the Redistricting Board will officially present its recommended map, Map #1, the “Minimal Changes” map, to the City Council for either approval or modification. Next Monday’s City Council Meeting is the last chance for the public to address this issue. Please send an email to your Council people in support of Map #2 (click here), the Neighborhood-Council-respecting map. Better, attend the comment period at the Council meeting and speak in favor of Map #2 (and against Map #1).

We should all have been paying attention sooner. We let the SpokaneGOP, along with its main financial backers, the builders and realtors, hijack the process (See P.S.)—and we hardly noticed.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Jennifer Thomas: There are issues with the makeup of the City of Spokane Redistricting Board. The Board was composed of three voting members chosen by Mayor Woodward and approved by the City Council. Qualifications are laid out in Sections 59 and 60 of the City of Spokane’s City Charter. The qualifications for the City of Spokane Redistricting Board try to minimize partisan bias by proscribing lobbyists and recent active participants in political campaigns. 

Please recall that Mayor Woodward was elected in 2019 with major monetary support from the Builders and Realtors. Jennifer Thomas, one of the three Redistricting Board Members put forward by Mayor Woodward, is the current Government Affairs Director for the Spokane Home Builders Association. Registered lobbyist? Not exactly, but certainly someone who may well have a partisan axe to grind. In addition, Ms. Thomas narrowly avoided the prohibition against a Redistricting Broad member “contribut[ing] to any political campaign of any candidate for local, state, or federal office while a member of the districting board”. Just four days before her appointment to the Redistricting Board was confirmed on March 21, 2022, Ms. Thomas contributed to City Councilman Michael Cathcart’s campaign to become County Commissioner, County Commissioner District 2. (When I last checked a few years ago only around ten percent of registered voters had ever contributed any amount to a political campaign.)

P.P.S. Below I’ve copied the SpokaneGOP call to action on Redistricting. (Note that they meant Map #2 when they wrote Map #4.) Of course, maintaining the integrity of the Neighborhood Council District boundaries is nowhere mentioned, in spite of importance of that concept in earlier input submitted to the Redistricting Board. 

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CMR Would Make Mass Shootings More Deadly

While she pretends she’s just protecting your hearing

Jerry LeClaire

Oct 17

In the wake of another mass shooting, this time by a fifteen year old boy in Raleigh, North Carolina, I am reminded that “my” U.S. Representative, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is so deeply entwined with the NRA that she co-sponsors a bill that could make these deranged shooters even more deadly. 

You all recognize the cylindrical device that an assassin screws onto the muzzle of his gun in spy movies, the device that reduces the discharge of the gun to a muffled “Pfffft!”. The mass shootings that have become so sickeningly common in our country—Sandy Hook, Uvalde, and Parkland to name just a few—have NOT involved such muffled (“silenced”) weapons. Imagine if these shooters had ready access to devices that muffle the sound of their weapons, maybe not to a “Pfffft” like in the movies, but enough to make the killing less obvious and the shooter harder to localize. How many more would die?

There is a simple reason why these deranged shooters aren’t already using silencers on their weapons: the purchase and ownership of a silencer is highly regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934—along with other people-killing devices like full-on machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. Republicans would like to change that—and they want to hide their intent.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, our soccer-mom-lookalike from eastern Washington (CD-5), the woman who solemnly offers her “thoughts and prayers” after every mass shooting, is a consistent co-sponsor of The Hearing Protection Act. The 2021-2022 version of this bill has 95 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives—every last one of them a Republican. As a shooter myself, McMorris Rodgers’ co-sponsorship of this disingenuously named bill makes me hopping mad. Read the bill. Not only would it remove federal restrictions on the purchase and ownership of silencers, but it would preempt any state and local laws that restrict silencers (See Sec 4). So much for “states rights”—a term that Republicans drag out only when it happens to suit their purpose—e.g. abortion regulations. 

Has our smiling soccer mom been duped by the NRA into somehow imagining “The Hearing Protection Act” is actually about protecting our hearing? No, she fully understands what she is co-sponsoring. In May of 2018 at a small Cathy-friendly town hall in Green Bluff, when confronted with the reality of her co-sponsorship of “The Hearing Protection Act” she assured the audience, “I’m definitely going to take a look again.” She also said, “…with everything going on [this was just three months after Parkland] I tend to think that this is…that now is not the right time.” In 2022 she is still a co-sponsor. She knows what she’s doing—and she thinks she can pull the wool over the eyes of enough voters to keep her in office. 

Remember McMorris Rodgers’ willful deception as you fill out your ballot this weekend. Vote for Natasha Hill. 

Keep to the high ground,


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What’s That About Spending Wisely?

So Much for Local Republican Fiscal Conservatism

Jerry LeClaire

Oct 14

As you vote your ballot for the November 8 election (after you receive it the end of next week) keep in mind the current Spokane County Commissioners’, Al French, Josh Kerns, and Mary Kuney’s, “non-agendized” surprise resolution authorizing Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell to spend resources building a case to sweep Camp Hope. Spending our tax dollars in an effort to justify impeding the progress that is being made at Camp Hope with Washington State money and the sustained efforts local organizations on the ground is not an example of the fiscal conservatism to which local Republicans pretend. 

While County officials French, Kerns, Kuney, Haskell, and Knezovich are spending our tax dollars on legal bluster, the executive branch of the government of the City of Spokane under Mayor Woodward has failed miserably on the other side of the fiscal equation. In what should be seen as a bombshell, Luke Baumgarten of RANGE Media broke the news last Tuesday, October 11, that the Woodward administration has left tens of millions of dollars “on the table” that could have been applied to resolving the homelessness issue—this of a mayor elected to “solve” homelessness.

We all should have had a clue that all was not well in the City’s executive branch. In mid September the second promising person hired to lead the City’s “Neighborhoods, Housing and Human Services” Department, John E. Hall III, resigned after just three months. (The prior director lasted seven months.) When, on September 21st, Kip Hill reported in the Spokesman that John Hall was leaving on September 30, the article downplayed the significance of Hall’s departure:

Coddington said Hall’s departure had “nothing to do with” the unfolding conflict over the homeless encampment, noting Hall had “a great opportunity” elsewhere and that Woodward wished him well in his new position.

“It’s an opportunity for him to start his own department, related to housing and community development,” Coddington said.

Turns out it was not so simple. On September 30, his last day on the job, Hall sent a 27-page memo to Mayor Nadine Woodward and City Administrator Johnnie Perkins. In the memo Mr. Hall laid out recommendations for improving the Department and detailing executive branch dysfunction in applying for and administering grant programs. That memo was obtained, analyzed and published by RANGE Media last Tuesday. (Aside: As I’ve come to expect, the Spokesman coverage of the memo, downplayed its significance. The article appeared with a small headline in the lower right hand corner of the second page of the Northwest section two days later on Thursday, October 13. The top of the front page headline that day? The Starbucks on 2nd and Division is closing, oh my!—an opportunity the author, Thomas Clouse, took to mention a recent political ad about a different Starbucks’ closure featured by U.S. Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley’s campaign. Apparently for the Spokesman stumping for Ms. Smiley overshadows legitimate recommendations to fix local government dysfunction. But I digress.) 

On the brighter side, on Wednesday, October 12, the Spokesman published a column by Shawn Vestal brilliantly highlighting the undermining actions and fiscal waste of both Spokane County government and the City of Spokane’s executive branch under current elected officials. It is copied below. Read Vestal’s article and remember it as you fill out your ballots. 

(RANGE Media subsequently scooped the Spokesman on the Guardian Foundation debacle mentioned in Vestal’s piece. Read it here.)

Keep to the high ground,


Shawn Vestal: Camp Hope is shrinking, no thanks to political grandstanding

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Here is something you probably won’t hear from the sheriff, the county commissioners [French, Kerns, and Kuney], the prosecutor [Haskell], the mayor [Woodward] or the chief of police [Meidl]: Camp Hope is shrinking, no thanks to any of them.

The state-funded effort to move people from the East Central Neighborhood encampment along Interstate 90 is proceeding, even as the aforementioned public officials grandstand, bluster, threaten and try to undermine it. Around 180 people have left the camp – some to the Trent shelter, some to transitional housing, some to family members, some just away, according to an update on camp conditions by documentarian and camp security official Maurice Smith.

Importantly, the people have not been simply scooted off to recamp under one of the crowded viaducts downtown or along a riverbank.

“While politicians threaten and argue over who should sue who, while offering no actual solutions,” Smith wrote in his update, “we’re moving ahead with the actual solutions our unsheltered homeless friends need to move forward with their lives.”

The Camp Hope population is down from a peak of 623 in July to 443 this week, he said. This comes as the state’s $24 million operation to move the campers into housing continues, though the effort is flocked on all sides by a storm of chaos and confusion sown by the very public officials whose long-running failures brought us to this pass.

Monday’s news that an employee of the Guardian Foundation, which operates two shelters for the city and oversaw the convention center debacle last winter, is believed to have embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars landed like the arrival of another plague in a series of them.

It’s still early, but the case looks like an accountability fiasco, both for the Guardians and the accountability mayor.

With every passing day, some new effort to undermine the success of the state’s work to clear Camp Hope comes from some new corner of local politics – threats to sue, or drive away the homeless, or fine the state, or huff and puff, or whatever. These efforts all amount to politicians stomping their feet and demanding – without any attempt to offer a practical way forward – an immediate, simplistic end to the camp.

This rush to the microphones began with the unhinged letter and news conference a couple weeks ago from Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who had never even set foot in Camp Hope, threatening to personally drive people out and put them on buses out of town.

This has been accompanied by threats from Mayor Nadine Woodward and then Chief Craig Meidl to use city nuisance laws against the camp – apropos for an administration that seems to regard homeless people as roadside junk. The chorus was then joined by the county commission and Prosecutor Larry Haskell, making their own threats and setting their own absurd deadlines.

All are demanding a faster closure of the camp than is remotely realistic, unless the goal is just to spread people to new homeless camps. There is simply not enough available housing to move them all immediately, and the city’s claims to the contrary are absurd – they are based on the idea that hundreds of people would go to the Trent shelter, well beyond the number of beds there.

It’s hard to know exactly what these blusterers think is going to happen if they get their way. Some of them, no doubt, are in the grip of the wishful-thinking problem with homelessness – the simplistic and satisfying idea that if some stern father figure just puts his foot down, all will be well. Some want to peacock before the election, because running against homeless people is, sadly, a safe way to get votes.

A conspiratorial thinker might wonder whether they see that the state is beginning to make progress – progress that these politicians have done almost nothing to aid and have actually tried to obstruct – and want to claim some credit for making it happen down the road.

Whatever it is, what they have combined to produce is a disastrous failure of community leadership. It compounds years of inaction on homelessness, fosters division instead of unified effort, leans on threats instead of cooperation, and deepens enmity among those who should be partners.

One part of this sorry stew – which bubbles up in whisper campaigns and Facebook rants – has been a narrative smearing those who are actually trying to help bring a positive end to Camp Hope as cynical money grubbers, getting rich on the homeless.

These claims are so common in anti-homelessness circles – and stated explicitly in the sheriff’s letter to the state – that it was really something to learn this week that if anyone affiliated with homeless services had stolen public funds for personal gain, it was a former Guardians employee.

The Guardians have been the mayor’s ride-or-die on homeless services, the recipients of multimillion-dollar contracts to run the Cannon Street shelter and Trent. Months after the plan for the Trent shelter was developed, it remains hardly more than a concrete warehouse, resembling an offseason expo barn at the fairgrounds – a symbol of the deep insincerity of the administration’s efforts.

It’s too soon to say much with certainty about the embezzlement case, but it does seem that the allegations were quite slow to make their way to the right authorities, and they call into question the oversight and level of due diligence practiced by the Guardians and the Woodward administration.

The Guardians apparently saw the first signs of trouble last summer; it wasn’t until the end of September that the police and officials at City Hall were alerted. Yet it was only this week, after two City Council members alerted the public, that the accountability mayor announced she was ordering an internal audit and the police department said it had assigned a detective to the case.

Meanwhile, the difficult, important work of bringing Camp Hope to an effective, humane closure continues. Some campers have been moved into housing, outreach workers continue to identify solutions for those remaining, and security procedures and rules are being enhanced to deal with the very real problems of crime and safety.

The bloviators and blusterers who are rushing out to make demands and stomp their feet will, no doubt, take credit for any progress that occurs at the camp. But make no mistake: The positive steps at Camp Hope are not the result of demand letters and news conferences and false deadlines.

They’re coming from the people on the ground whose efforts the big talkers are doing their best to undermine.

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The Prosecutor and the Sheriff Called Out

Retired Judges Weigh In

A remarkable Guest Opinion appeared in the Thursday, Sept 29th, Spokesman Review. A hallmark of our system of criminal justice is that a person accused of a crime is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. As a practical matter, it takes time for the judicial system and the judges who preside over the system to render a verdict on that question of guilt. In the meantime, the goal of the system should be to minimize risk to the community while at the same time assuring that the accused makes all the required court appearances for the system to work properly. Being incarcerated as a presumed innocent while waiting for the wheels of justice to turn is inevitably disruptive of a person’s life, the more so the fewer resources an accused person has at their disposal. Lives are put on hold, families and children are left on their own, and jobs are lost. 

Whether the accused is returned to the community or detained in jail while awaiting judgement is determined by a judge. That judge relies on the quality and completeness of the information presented by law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, and the counsel of the accused. 

Sitting judges in our system rarely (if ever) speak out publicly. Their focus is on the case before them, in which context they may offer criticism of the quality or completeness of the case presented, but a sitting judge does not weigh in or push back on public statements and accusations tendered by the prosecutor and law enforcement about the overall function of the legal system. A sitting judge who takes a side in such a public controversy risks losing the public’s trust in the fairness of their judgement. 

When three retired local judges write a guest opinion calling out the Prosecutor and the Sheriff for making false public statements it deserves to make news, in part because judges still sitting on the bench are constrained.

Remember Judges Murphy, Peterson, and Rodgers’ critical voice when you cast your vote in the Spokane County Prosecutor’s race in November. 

Keep to the high ground,


Sheriff, prosecutor claims about bail unsubstantiated

By Judges James Murphy, Vance Peterson and John Rodgers

In recent months, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Prosecutor Larry Haskell have criticized our courts regarding bail decisions. They have failed to produce evidence. They have relied upon unsupported accusations and have stated, “It is maybe time to clear the bench.” Under the Washington Constitution, all accused persons are guaranteed a right to bail.

The bail may not be excessive.

Bail set at a figure higher than an amount reasonably calculated to assure the defendant’s compliance is illegal.

The day-to-day mechanics of bail decisions ensure that fair, legal decisions are made. The decisions are made in public, recorded hearings. A neutral judge makes an individualized decision based on the facts presented at the hearing. The prosecutor and the defendant each have a right to present evidence.

The judge must release the defendant if no charge is filed or if the evidence presented is not sufficient. The rule is carefully drawn to honor the presumption of innocence and to ensure public safety.

In joining Knezovich’s criticism, Haskell has publicly stated that the Constitution does not provide for the presumption of innocence. He disingenuously omits that our laws certainly do. RCW 9A.04.100 states that “Every person charged with the commission of a crime is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.”

The prosecutor also omits court rules which require judges to release charged persons if they promise to return for court.

There are two exceptions.

First, if the judge determines that release without conditions will not reasonably assure the accused person’s future court appearance, the court is required to impose the least restrictive condition that will assure appearance. Second, if the prosecutor shows a substantial danger that the accused will commit a violent crime, intimidate witnesses or obstruct justice, the judge may impose conditions to prevent those, and a violation of those conditions is cause for immediate arrest.

A bail bond may be required only if the judge determines that other conditions are not sufficient.

But Haskell requests money bail in every case, without support of individualized evidence, and relies instead on a rote, check-box form.

This is laughably inadequate and risks the credibility of the prosecutor’s office. It is not a reasoned legal argument but only weak political cover.

While Knezovich and Haskell complain about bail decisions, they have never sought review in the Court of Appeals. Never. Approximately 75% of the persons in jail are being held while waiting for trial.

The argument that the court is releasing too many persons is false.

Knezovich makes scatter- gunned accusations on pretrial release decisions. We have been able to find only four in which he actually identified a case. In two, the defendants were fully compliant with court orders. In one, the prosecutor agreed to release. In the fourth, Knezovich complained that a judge released a known thief. But that information was not given to the judge.

Knezovich told the reporter more than he told the judge.

Nevertheless, Knezovich has continued with theatrical outrage rather than facts.

A file-by-file examination of the first 450 criminal filings from 2021 has shown that six, or 1.3% of the defendants, have been arrested for violent crimes during pretrial release, resulting in one minor injury.

In Federal Court, 183 persons had detention hearings in 2021. Only 1.4% were re-arrested with new charges.

Our court system is a wonder. Both sides present evidence. Proceedings are open to the public. Records are kept.

Decisions are made according to law. Appeals are available.

Bail hearings are difficult.

Honorable judges are whipsawed by the commands of law, the liberty of citizens presumed innocent, and the real concerns of protection of the community.

But Knezovich and Haskell show contempt for the courts.

They criticize without facts.

They fail to get evidence to courts. They fail to appeal but instead make public announcements, free from fact checking and accountability.

In their world, an arrested person should be kept in jail on their say so. Woe to a judge who applies the law. In their world, there is no presumption of innocence, only a presumption of guilt. Good luck to the citizen who is caught in their clutches.

Judges James Murphy and Vance Peterson are retired from the Spokane County Superior Court. Magistrate Judge John Rodgers is retired from U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington.

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Who’s Helping and Who’s Hindering

County Officials Seem Intent on Hindering Efforts to Combat Homelessness

“Don’t stand in the stairways, don’t block up the halls…” Bob Dylan

Thursday morning last week I attended the monthly meeting of the Spokane Homeless Coalition held in the open air just north of the cooling tent at Camp Hope. The presentation was an eight person panel discussion led by a moderator—all of them, including the moderator, were people directly doing the work of connecting the people of Camp Hope with the tools to become better housed.

Later that day at least some media coverage seemed to shift in a positive direction: KHQ (Q6) and KREM2 both highlighted progress made at the camp by community efforts.

Conspicuously absent from the meeting (and from the later tour of Camp Hope) were Spokane County Sheriff Knezovich; the three current Spokane County Commissioners, Al French, Josh Kerns, and Mary Kuney; and Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell. Instead, Sheriff Knezovich contributes media-highlighted threats and hot air while French, Kerns, and Kuney vote to spend our tax dollars on a lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Transportation—the agency that owns the property on which Camp Hope is situated. Knezovich is the point man for this political grandstanding ahead of the November election, but he cannot act to spend our property tax money on a lawsuit without the quiet, less-than-transparent cooperation of Commissioners French, Kerns, and Kuney. Then the Spokane County Prosecutor’s office under Larry Haskell will actually spend our tax money and their effort on constructing the lawsuit against the State. Wouldn’t you think they’d have better things to do?

City of Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs and Councilperson Betsy Wilkerson (in whose city council district Camp Hope lies) attended the Camp Hope meeting. Mayor Woodward, of course, along with her allies on the council, Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle, stayed away. 

The contrast between the engagement of some members of the City of Spokane government and the actions from afar of the Board of County Commissioners, the County Sheriff, and the County Prosecutor speaks volumes. Instead of putting their shoulders to the wheel to actually work as a community on the issue of homelessness in our region the County Officials, especially, are actively engaged in spending our money to hinder the efforts now under way, meanwhile feeding suspicion, hate, and othering for electoral advantage. It is time to reject that approach.

Vote them out in November. Let’s have a County government that engages to help rather than spends our money on posturing and hindering. County Commissioner candidates Maggie Yeats, Amber Waldref, and Chris Jordan will foster transparency, engagement, and mutual effort to solve problems, not hinder solutions. County Prosecutor candidate Deb Conklin (running against incumbent Larry Haskell) won’t willingly waste our county tax dollars on frivolous, counterproductive intra-governmental lawsuits.

Below I’ve copied the excellent article by Carl Segerstrom of RANGE Media, which fleshes out this county governance issue. I urge you to sign up to receive (and financially support) RANGE’s coverage of local issues. 

Keep to the high ground,


The public has been left out of the Camp Hope conversation

by Carl Segerstrom of RANGE Media

The county’s resolution to sue the state is the latest in a long-line of decisions that spurned public engagement.

Over the last month, RANGE Media developed a Civics newsletter to keep the community up-to-date on public meetings and political happenings. Each week we spend hours combing through public documents in an effort to distill and highlight important public events, forums and meetings. The goal: to raise awareness about how people in power make decisions and empower the community to make their voice heard.

So, it came as a surprise to us when the county announced a resolution authorizing the county prosecutor to sue the state in order to build the legal case for the county to sweep Camp Hope.

Nothing on the meeting agenda this Tuesday indicated the county would be discussing the encampment. The only faint public notice was the agenda for Monday’s strategy session, which includes a standing “Enforcement Action or Pending/Potential Litigation” agenda item and made no mention of the encampment. No one hoping to advocate for a different outcome, or provide public support for the county’s action, could’ve known the county was considering a resolution to sweep the camp. So, no one showed up.

On Tuesday, after 17 minutes in executive session, Commissioner Josh Kerns moved to approve the resolution — marking the first time the county’s resolution was spoken of in a public forum.

After Kerns made his motion and Commissioner Mary Kuney seconded, Commissioner Al French asked if there’s any discussion. The commissioners didn’t have anything to say in the public meeting about their decision to back Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s plan to sweep Camp Hope before passing the resolution.

After no public debate or discussion among the board, French made a call for public comment on the resolution. “Is there anybody online?” he asks the staff. French made a second and third call for public comment — again to an almost empty room with no one from the public online. “Seeing nobody come to the microphone, I’m going to close public testimony.” The opening for public testimony lasted about 13 seconds.

The result: once the prosecutor’s office files the paperwork, Spokane County taxpayers will be paying to sue our state.

If the county prevails, local resources from the Sheriff’s Department will be used to disband the camp just two days after the general election — so long as Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s November 10 timeline doesn’t change. The sheriff has made overtures that he’d bill the state for any costs the county incurs. So far, the state has brushed off similar reimbursement requests from the city of Spokane, making that outcome far from a done deal. The state has allocated more than $20 million of the more than $24 million in funding it originally committed to rehousing the people at Camp Hope, and is now projecting that it will spend more than $25 million total.

Following months of brinkmanship between the state and Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration, the county’s decision to follow Knezovich’s lead and enter the Camp Hope fray further complicates any hopes of an orderly disbandment of the encampment.

Simply put, the people living at the encampment have become pawns in a political chess game. To make matters worse, at no point have any of the political leaders shown the initiative to involve the general public in the process of removing Camp Hope and providing a path to housing for the people living there.

Instead, the public has only been able to access information on this issue through local media. While we all endeavor to keep the public informed, we don’t have all the answers, we have deadlines and, at the end of the day, it’s not the media who have the authority to make these decisions, it’s not the media who have a legal responsibility to inform and allow discussion of those decisions, and it is certainly not the media who must answer for them.

That’s why it’s so disheartening to see the way decisions around Camp Hope have been made. The closed door meetings, press releases and press conferences are a poor substitute for authentic public engagement. Throughout this process, the public has deserved a better public forum that allows people to get information from official sources and empowers them to raise concerns and propose solutions.

The only place this regularly happens is monthly Spokane Homeless Coalition meetings, like the one held just today. In general, those meetings are geared toward members of the service provider community who are working on solutions for the unhoused community day in, day out.

Today, the homeless coalition brought out more than 150 people to Camp Hope. Panelists of camp residents, nonprofit leaders and peer navigators described the progress being made and the multitude of challenges people face moving out of homelessness. They also described progress being made to move people off the camp (Julie Garcia said more than 130 people have been moved into housing in recent weeks) and pleaded for time to let the people working with the Camp Hope move people through the challenging process of getting into housing and for some mental health and addiction treatment.

Several council members were in attendance. County electeds were not. Instead they were across town in another closed door meeting about this very issue. It’s hard to understand how they can continue their drive-by policy-making without taking the time to hear from this community and the people serving them.

Lacking real engagement, the vacuum of public outreach has been filled with anger, resentment, and at least one lawsuit. The closest thing to a public meeting about Camp Hope that we’ve seen was a tinder box of frustration and misinformation as riled up West Hills neighbors came to vent their frustrations about more transitional housing services being sited in their neighborhood. While people were misinformed about how the facility will be run (it’s not going to be a low-barrier shelter), they had every right to be frustrated with a process that didn’t include any community engagement until after plans — submitted by the city and accepted by the state — were well on their way to being finalized.

Here, state and local leaders must own their responsibility for not building public engagement into the right-of-way funding program. Granted, this was always something that needed to move faster than your average bureaucratic planning process. The Commerce Department gave local municipalities and the county a month to come up with proposals to rehome the people living in the encampment. Clearly, that timeline precludes a ton of outreach and consensus building.

Still, there was room to invite the public into the decision-making. There could have been city, county and state sponsored town halls and forums to build awareness around the challenges that both government entities and the people living at the encampment face in moving forward towards housing solutions. Instead, conversations were siloed and the public was left to consume the dribs and drabs that entered the public awareness through leaked documents, media reports and scattered public statements.

Now, with winter approaching and elections about a month away, the public at large is left with little to go on when it comes to the future of Camp Hope. Instead of seeing plans and timelines from the state about what the next steps will be and when we can expect them to happen, we’re quickly seeing the future of Camp Hope devolve into political posturing and threat making.

It’s a sad and unnecessary reality that we’ll continue trying to keep the public informed on. But, you shouldn’t have to hear it exclusively from us. Local and state leaders owe Spokane a public voice they haven’t afforded the community so far when it comes to Camp Hope.

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Dalton v. McCaslin

Integrity v. Extremism

Bob McCaslin’s showcase strength as a candidate for the office of Spokane County Auditor is not his demonstrated competence for managing a large, detail-oriented office. His primary qualification is his devotion to the election fraud conspiracy theory carried forward, without evidence, from the 2020 election. McCaslin is running on the strength of his ability to cast doubt and distrust (even as he publicly downplays it), not on his competence. 

Who is this Challenger?

Judging by the biography on his campaign website, Bob McCaslin Jr.’s prior work experience is not in management but rather as a teacher in grades K through 5 in Spokane Valley, and as a volunteer at the Union Gospel Mission and at His Place Evangelical Free Church in Post Falls. In 2014 McCaslin Junior saw an opportunity to enter politics. His father, Bob McCaslin Sr., died in 2011 after serving as the well-respected conservative Republican State Senator from LD4 (Spokane valley north to Mt. Spokane) for thirty years. McCaslin Junior sailed into a State Representative seat in same legislative district, besting an exclusively Republican field of candidates while garnering 58% of the vote. His victory was arguably based on the name recognition built up by his dad.

McCaslin’s performance as a legislator was more of a follower than a leader. The vast majority of bills on which McCaslin is listed as one of the sponsors in the current session are of the “honoring, recognizing, celebrating, or acknowledging” variety, not substantive legislation. The one piece of substantive legislation that stands out is WA HB2115 “Improving election integrity, security, and accountability for Washington voters”. HB2115 stands out in part on account of McCaslin’s co-sponsors: Rob Chase (R-LD4), Robert Sutherland (R), and Vicki Kraft (R). McCaslin, Chase, and Sutherland have been tireless promoters of the Trumpian election fraud narrative, even as the public face these and all other local Republicans put on this pig is to blandly suggest they just want to “restore trust”. “Oh, no, it is not we who doubt the integrity of the Washington State election system: the doubters are other people in need of reassurance.” 

Here’s McCaslin Junior’s public statement to the Spokesman meant to reach people who don’t share his hidden views on election fraud:

“Really, I don’t have any proof of wrongdoing,” McCaslin told the paper. “I’m not running for this because I think there are serious problems. I just think I can contribute really positively to this.”

That isn’t just poppycock, it’s a lie.

In the Washington State legislature McCaslin Junior’s seat-mate from LD4 from 2014 to 2020 was the now nationally infamous Matt Shea, author of The Biblical Basis for War, a road map to insurrection. Shea is a theocratic firebrand who now serves as pastor of On Fire Ministries & Kingdom Christian Academy in Spokane. When Shea and McCaslin Junior were seat-mates from LD4, McCaslin Junior was a consistent co-sponsor of Shea’s billsto establish Shea’s theocratic “State of Liberty” by splitting the State of Washington in two along the crest of the Cascade Mountains. Now that Shea is gone from the legislature, McCaslin Junior, with just three other state representatives, carries on the tradition of annual sponsorship of Shea’s State of Liberty Bill. 

McCaslin Junior’s devotion to Shea is in defiance of McCaslin’s well-respected and long-serving father. When then Washington State Senator from LD4, Bob McCaslin Senior, resigned in 2011 for reasons of deteriorating health, he wrote a terse message to the Spokane County Commissioners tasked with appointing his replacement: “I wish to state that under no circumstances would I support Matthew Shea for any public office.” At the time Matt Shea was only in his second year as the State Representative to the legislature from LD4 (Spokane valley to Mt. Spokane). It took McCaslin Jr.’s father only those two years serving together with Shea in Olympia to recognize the danger that his son’s later seat mate (starting in 2014) presented. Yet McCaslin Jr has evidently become Shea’s legislative lapdog. 

The Civics of the Office of County Auditor:

Mr. McCaslin is applying to the voters for election to an office with a broad range of administrative responsibility. In the State of Washington County Auditors are tasked by state law (RCW 36.22.010with a multitude of detail-oriented duties summarized here from the Spokane County website (the bold is mine):

The Spokane County Auditor’s Office is responsible for the administration of the Recording, Financial Services, Motor Vehicle Licensing and Elections Divisions. 

The primary functions of these diverse divisions are the recording and preservation of all public records which are required by law to be recorded, the integrated financial management of all activities of Spokane County, conduct all Elections for the county in accordance with state law and the issuance of vehicle and vessel licenses for the County.

Is McCaslin even able to discuss these duties?

Evidently not.

The Spokane League of Women Voter website page on their candidate forums notes:

Other races [forums] that had been planned that could not be held due to League’s “empty chair” policy since only the first named candidate committed to attend: 

Spokane County Auditor – Vicky Dalton & Bob McCaslin (cancelled after confirming)

This is becoming a pattern that suggests that McCaslin is afraid his ignorance might be exposed.

In April Al Merkel of Spokane Valley Speaks podcasts offered interviews to both the incumbent Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton and candidate Bob McCaslin. Ms. Dalton demonstrated her deep understanding of the duties of a county auditor in a series of two interviews, each roughly an hour long. You can listen to them by clicking Part 1 and Part 2. McCaslin’s response to the offer of an interview with Mr. Merkel speaks volumes about McCaslin’s lack of understanding of the job for which he is applying to county voters: The Spokane Valley Speaks website states, “Candidate Bob McCaslin, also running for Auditor, was invited to interview as well. He initially agreed but withdrew after receiving the questions which were the same as those used for this interview.” 

Listen in to others of Mr. Merkel’s podcasts. His interviews are generally even-handed and open-ended. He offers a platform, not a grilling. Why didn’t McCaslin consent to an interview? Was it for fear of exposing his ignorance of the duties of the job of Spokane County Auditor, his association with the extremist Matt Shea wing of the local Republican Party, or his active promotion of the bogus Lindell/Trump election fraud narrative—or all of the above? 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. That the SpokaneGOP chooses to actually endorse McCaslin Junior for Spokane County Auditor, combined with its general support for the election fraud narrative, is a testament to the Republican sellout to extremism. I would understand and respect not endorsing either candidate—the Republican Party is, after all, the Republican Party. Endorsing McCaslin reminds me of variation of the theme of the old saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to endorse and remove all doubt.”

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