Dean Grafos and Chuck Hafner may have stopped being Spokane Valley City Council members this week, but the pair says they are not going away.
“I plan on still working for the citizens of Spokane Valley,” Grafos said Monday.
“I might be getting older in age, but not in working to do what’s right for this city,” Hafner said a day later in a phone interview. “I can do more out in the community.”
Grafos announced his resignation from the council, effective Monday, on April 20. Hafner followed suit earlier this week with his announcement, with his resignation becoming effective May 2.
“The decision to resign was not an easy one,’ Hafner wrote in his resignation letter. “However, I believe at this time it is the right one to make.”
Grafos, who was re-elected last November when he ran unopposed, said he had thought about leaving the council since last February when the majority ousted former City Manager Mike Jackson. He believes Jackson’s removal was done illegally, with the decision made prior to the formal council vote. He says the majority of the council has become “blinded by ideology” and refuses to discuss or reach compromises with the minority.
Grafos said he has had no traction in the city initiating an independent investigation on how Jackson’s firing came about. His last attempt to get the issue on a future council agenda came toward the conclusion of last week’s meeting.
“The biggest problem with this council is that the majority does not allow for authentic discussion,” Grafos said of Mayor Rod Higgins, Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard and Council Members Ed Pace and Sam Wood. “I’ve been in business over 50 years, and you always have to make compromises.”
The far-right bent of the majority, Hafner added, has resulted in discussions that are not the city’s business, such as a recently passed council resolution to let lawmakers in Olympia know Spokane Valley is not in favor of rules in Washington that allow access of public restrooms to be based on gender identity. Some council members have also supported Washington becoming a “right to work” state like Idaho, which drew a large outcry from union supporters at Tuesday’s meeting.
“As a council, we were always nonpartisan politically,” Hafner said. “Now the majority is clearly moving forward with an agenda, whatever it is.”
Higgins has said the council acted appropriately in the way it handled Jackson’s removal and that he “respects” the decision of Grafos and Hafner and wishes them success.
Grafos and Hafner have not been participating in executive sessions since Jackson’s removal. For his part, Grafos says it’s to distance himself from the majority so he can speak about the issue freely. Executive sessions of the council are closed to the public.
Grafos and Hafners’ replacements on the council will be chosen by the majority. The council will also have to seek a replacement in June for temporary Council Member Bill Gothmann, who was appointed for a year-long term to fill in for ailing Council Member Bill Bates.
Hafner added he hopes that there are citizens who will decide to become more active in Spokane Valley government.
“Maybe this will be the catalyst to get people to start taking an interest in their city,” he said.