Nearly four years ago, despite heavy objections by Mayor Rich Munson, the Spokane Valley City Council opted not to give “Fill the Boot” the boot.
This time around, with a different council in place, the Boot may finally kick the bucket.
Fill the Boot -- a summertime fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association where off-duty firefighters man street corners and straddle medians of busy intersections to entice motorists to stuff dollar bills in rubber footwear for charity – was heavily championed by supporters the last time around the issue was brought up in 2008. A patchwork ordinance based on a Tacoma law, involving safety training and city-issued permits for such events, was hastily drawn up that allowed Fill the Boot to keep marching on.
The majority of the council liked it at the time, even though Munson did not.
“I think we’re doing this too fast,” Munson said. “I think we’re setting a (bad) precedent with the other charities…I’d like to see us do it right. I don’t think we’ve done that.”
On Tuesday, city legal experts and the Spokane Valley Police Chief said they continue to worry that Fill the Boot and other events like it are an accident waiting to happen. While the involvement of the firefighters for the MDA event make that exceptionally more safely executed, other unnamed permit-seekers have come forward with less-than-impeccable results with regard to interacting with traffic.
“We can’t restrict (the ordinance) to one group,” Cary Driskell, city attorney, told the council. “We have to look at it from a traffic safety standpoint.”
“In a way, we may be going backwards,” said Police Chief Rick VanLeuven. “The issue isn’t the fundraising… (but) we’re kind of playing Russian roulette in waiting for somebody to get hit.”
The last time around, advocates for Fill the Boot complained that the city-preferred alternative – directing cars into a parking lot to make donations – was unworkable.
But Driskell said press reports from Vancouver, Wash., where a similar fundraiser does just that type of thing, has proven successful. And every year since incorporation, the city has received many complaints from citizens who prefer not to see their firefighters weaving in and out of stopped cars collecting cash from driver’s side windows.
But removing the permit process and not allowing Fill the Boot to go on as it has will also have its own repercussions, he said.
“I’m not going to be popular by bringing this up,” Driskell said. “We’re going to get calls. You’re going to get calls.”
Council Member Brenda Grassel asked if there is any way to compromise to allow the MDA event to go on while suspending the permits of other groups. Driskell said he doesn’t think so.
“The solution is to not allow soliciting in the roadway,” which, he added, would be consistent with the city’s panhandling ordinance.
VanLeuven added he’s found teenagers standing on concrete medians at busy intersections soliciting cash. When told they can’t do that, they’ve complied – but he said he’s not certain what happens after the police leave.
“We can’t stay there all day,” he said.
Council Member Chuck Hafner said citizen safety must come first.
“If it’s not policeable, we shouldn’t have it,” he said.
Council Member Dean Grafos said he is concerned the city could be liable if it issued a permit and then somebody got hurt.
“That argument is out there,” Driskell said.
Council Member Ben Wick suggested a “three strikes” type of ordinance, but Driskell said that means the rules could be broken with impunity for two-strikes prior.
“I don’t think it’s the message we want to have,” he said.
Driskell said no ordinance or permit would be necessary for fund-raising groups to direct traffic to parking lots, like car-wash-type events.
The council could possibly vote on doing away with the existing ordinance in the next few weeks.
“We want to get ahead of this,” Driskell said.
In other news, the council directed city staff to come back with a motion to authorize the city manager to sign a letter of intent for the possible purchase of just over eight acres of property at Herald and Sprague that could be used in a partnership with the Spokane County Library District for a new library and the expansion of Balfour Park.
Money for such a land purchase could come from the city’s Capital Projects Fund, which currently has a $3.4 million balance. The city would purchase the entire piece of property, and the library district would reimburse the city later for the western portion of the land after voter approval. If that doesn’t happen, the city could have the option of developing the entire site as a park, which was suggested as early as 2006 in the Parks Master Plan.
The property in question is owned by Jack Pring, who contributed cash to six of the seven current council members. On Tuesday, those council members bristled over media reports and the suggestion that the deal was being done for Pring’s benefit and not the city’s.
“I take exception to the suggestion that I couldn’t make an unbiased decision,” said Hafner, who once was an employee of Pring. “If (the land purchase) is not good for the city, then I won’t support the measure.”
Finally, county Commissioner Todd Mielke gave a report of a potential partnership between Spokane County and the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley for ownership of a new facility to replace the aging headquarters of the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service. Council members said they supported the idea in theory and said they would continue talks to learn more information regarding the proposal, which could involve the purchase of the former Latus Harley-Davidson dealership at 6815 E. Sprague. Sale price for the building is $1.8 million.