It wasn’t exactly brotherly love that was on display Tuesday night when Spokane Valley City Council members got around to making a pair of appointments to the Planning Commission. In fact, things got downright testy.
Still, after some pointed words, the council members voted 4-2 to give a commission chair to Bill Bates, a longtime Spokane Valley resident and Mayor Tom Towey’s half-brother.
Towey recused himself from the appointment, which is typically the mayor’s responsibility. Instead, the selection was made by Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels, who had received recommendations from each council member beforehand.
Schimmels said that Bates’ name and that of Joseph Stoy had risen to the top of the list.
Just as Council Member Bob McCaslin had finished saying that the decision had been “very difficult to make,” Council Member Rose Dempsey raised her objections.
“I know Mr. Bates and have a great deal of respect for him,” she said. “But he is also related to the mayor. It’s too much of an appearance of impropriety.”
Council Member Bill Gothmann echoed those concerns, saying the “appearance” of nepotism or favoritism alone was enough of a problem with Bates’ appointment.
“It’s a relationship that would not be permitted in any other department of the city,” Gothmann said. “It has the appearance of impropriety. The fact that the mayor has recused himself speaks loudly.”
On Dec. 6, Towey had said he knew his half-brother was seeking the Planning Commission seat but would not comment one way or the other, except to say, “I know Bill is an honest man.” The decision, he added, would be left to Schimmels and the rest of the council for confirmation.
McCaslin said Towey and Bates are like “night and day” and that he had read a newspaper account that the Bates and Towey are half-brothers.
“I don’t know what that means,” he said.
McCaslin then added that the city “needs more people like (Bates) to serve” and that the pair was “trying to discourage him.”
Dempsey then said she felt that she and Gothmann were being “maligned” by McCaslin, who then turned to Schimmels.
“You have the gavel,” he said. “Use it.”
Dempsey then asked, “Since when is it a mistake to describe a relationship?”
“I didn’t know they’re related,” McCaslin replied, which elicited a few chuckles from those in attendance. “I don’t know their history.”
Council Member Brenda Grassel said that she does not see a problem because planning commissioners are not paid and answer to the entire council. She also mentioned that in Airway Heights, a husband and wife are on the City Council.
“Two people elected by the public is not the same thing,” Dempsey said. “You can’t compare apples to oranges.”
Gothmann also reiterated, by state law, that the mayor is the one with the responsibility of appointing Planning Commission members and also removing them from the job, if necessary.
“To me, it’s clear,” he said.
After the 4-2 decision on Bates, with Gothmann and Dempsey voting no, there was no drama involved in the appointment of Joseph Stoy, who was approved in a 6-0 vote. Both will serve three-year terms.
Other applications came from Frederick Mark, Jaimelyn McCleod, William Miller, Seven Neill and Randall Vanhoff.
After Towey returned to the dais, there was some discussion about reappointing Valleyfest organizer Peggy Doering to the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. The ad hoc group gives recommendations to the City Council on how much money, generated by hotel bed stays, various tourism-promoting groups will receive.
Grassel, who is the chairwoman of the committee, suggested someone new take Doering’s place, since she had been a member since the group’s inception. That move was supported by Council Member Dean Grafos, who added that “Peggy does a great job” but wanted to see Keith Backsen, of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, appointed instead.
Doering received the appointment, however, after a 4-3 vote. McCaslin joined Grafos and Grassel in voting no. Lee Cameron, who is also currently on the committee, and Christine Cochran were approved unanimously to fill out the two remaining spots.
In related news, the council also unanimously agreed to pay out $496,000 in collected lodging tax dollars. Receiving the funds, which can be used for promotion purposes, are the Spokane Regional Sports Commission ($165,000), Valleyfest ($36,000), Spokane Valley Heritage Museum ($5,000), the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau ($250,000) and the HUB Sports Center ($40,000).