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Campaign season reveals field of sharp candidates
9/25/2013 4:45:03 PM

By Josh Johnson
Splash Staff Column

For whatever reason, it seems our culture has a hard time paying attention to the election until we get the kids back to school. 

So there I was on day one, shuffling the kids onto the bus along with the other parents, when I bump into Mike Tedesco. Turns out, this guy I know because his name is on the Liberty Lake ballot also puts at least one of his kids on the same bus I place one of mine. 

And then it hit me. I live in the River District, that area on the north side of I-90 that, when fully developed, is supposed to double the size of the city. So does Mike Tedesco, former Downtown Spokane Partnership president and CEO and now a Realtor and candidate for City Council. I checked the records, and Tedesco is only the second person who lives in the River District to ever file to run for City Council in an election. The first? Hugh Severs, who lives a block from me and beat Tedesco to the punch in filling out the paperwork during filing week, so we will call him River District candidate No. 1. 

Now here's what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that one should vote for a candidate based upon the geographic location of his or her home. Certainly not. 

What the existence of the first two River District candidates for Liberty Lake City Council does trigger, however, is a symbolic turning of attention to one of the important issues for any candidate in this race. How does the city prepare for the somewhat blank canvas that is Liberty Lake North? What is the community's responsibility when it comes to residential growth outpacing school capacity? What items previously considered for south of the interstate (park features, aquatic centers, and so on) may make more sense north of the interstate? 

I'll tell you what, the city staff and current council are asking these questions, and many more, and I was impressed that the new slate of candidates are asking these questions, too. 

I invited the candidates to a roundtable discussion in mid-September, but getting six busy people around a table at the same time proved difficult. I ended up breaking my initial visits with the candidates into three separate sessions (associated photos on the previous page). 

We will provide more information in future articles, but allow me to share just a few highlights and reflections from these initial meetings with the candidates: 

1. People can't stop talking about the utility tax. Nor should they. Indeed, Council veteran Odin Langford made the point that an annual review of the need for the tax is written into the ordinance that was approved at its initial passage. As you might expect, there were no candidates who felt the tax was certain to remain indefinitely nor were there any who were ready to completely do away with it. 

2. Everybody loves Katy Allen. And RJ Stevenson, too, for that matter. These relatively new city staffers (Allen has served as city administrator for more than a year now, Stevenson as finance director for more than two) are in the beginning stages of earning Brian Asmus-like popularity among the city's slate of elected officials. This is noteworthy because of how much things have changed from the last city of Liberty Lake election cycle, when HR issues and city manager discussions were all the rage. Elected city leaders seem very pleased right now with hired city leaders, for whatever that's worth. At minimum, perhaps it means we can talk about something else this time?

3. The race to watch at the candidate forum Oct. 2 may very well be Tedesco against Langford. Both are extremely well studied, which in their case translates into some pretty strongly held opinions. Instead of answering a question at our roundtable, Langford pulled an "Odin" and began asking Tedesco a series of questions about the finer details of one of his responses. The candidates went back and forth fairly aggressively until Jeff Sitton saved the day by asking for a turn to speak himself. Knowledge and ideas aren't everything, but they are a lot, and those two will provide plenty for voters to think about at the forum. 

4. As I was wrapping up my last visit, I reflected on the top to bottom quality of the candidate pool. This class of challengers seems to have at least started their homework, if not moved on to extra credit.

Now it's the voters' turn to be engaged. Hope to see you Oct. 2 at the Meadowwood Technology Campus. 

Steve Peterson
Peterson is approaching the halfway point of his term in his second stint leading the city (2001-2007; 2012-present)

Lori Olander or Debbi Haskins
Olander currently has the job after her appointment June 12, 2012. The victor in November's election will fill the remainder of this term, which goes through 2015.

Hugh Severs or Jeff Sitton
Current Council Member Josh Beckett chose not to run to retain this seat, so the winner of this fall's election between Severs and Sitton will join the dais in January for a four-year term.
Dan Dunne
Elected in November 2011, Dunne is serving his first four-year term, which runs through 2015.

Odin Langford or Mike Tedesco
First appointed on Oct. 23, 2007 and retained in November 2009, Langford is the senior member of the Council and is running for another four-year term. With a win Nov. 5, Tedesco would fill that seat starting January instead.
Shane Brickner
Elected in November 2011, Brickner is serving his first four-year term, which runs through 2015.

Keith Kopelson
As he didn't draw an opponent, Kopelson will earn a four-year term beginning in January. This year, he will complete the term he was appointed to on Jan. 31, 2012.

Cris Kaminskas
First appointed Jan. 19, 2010, and retained in November 2011, Kaminskas is serving her first full term, which runs through 2015.