Stark’s Last Stand

In his four years on the Spokane city council, Brad Stark has weathered his share of conflicts. In fact, he caused several of them himself. The city’s youngest-ever council member, Stark has been known for speaking his mind — his propensity to put his foot in his mouth even became a talking point in his own campaign against Richard Rush this fall. More than once, Stark led off debates by underscoring his own fallibility. “I’ve made mistakes over the last four years,” he told The Inlander in an interview during the election. “You know what? I acknowledge that. I guarantee you I’ll continue to make mistakes. But I’ve been an extraordinarily effective council member.”

But this month, with only weeks left on the council after losing his bid for re-election, Brad Stark has made some moves that make one wonder: Is he setting up a legacy? Or a political future?

Last week, a contentious council debate grew over the protocol for filling Mary Verner’s South Hill seat, with Councilman Al French arguing for an expedited appointment process and Council President Joe Shogan hoping to push the appointment into the new year. The former plan would’ve allowed Stark a vote on the matter; the latter would’ve given the vote to Richard Rush, who will take over on Dec. 27. Media speculation arose over the importance of the timing. Were developers pushing for a Stark vote? Were environmentalists pushing for a Rush vote?

The council ultimately decided to appoint a new member by Dec. 17 (Al French’s preferred date), but in a surprise move Stark announced last Wednesday that while he would take part in the initial screening process, he decided “after much thought, prayer and seeking wisdom” that he would leave the final vote to Rush.

“The initially crafted plan would force a vote this year and be reliant upon my participation,” he wrote in a widely released e-mail. “If that plan were executed, there would inevitably be a fissure in the council for the next two years with a fault line of 4-3. That is not what the community needs as there are many difficult, complex issues that must be addressed. My stepping aside allows for greater opportunity for a consensus candidate to be cultivated and thus the hopes for a unified council are increased.”

Stark ended his release with this: “I’m reminded of the words … ‘Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.'”

Stark’s good intentions will be moot if the council decides to stick with the plan to vote for Verner’s replacement on Monday, though. Rush won’t yet be a seated councilmember and is therefore not eligible to vote. Shogan, however, is expected to make another move to delay the appointment Thursday in a special legislative session.

Stark’s sudden acquiescence would seem contrary to the testy nature of his campaign contest with Rush — a fight in which Rush painted Stark as a slimeball beholden to developers and Stark portrayed Rush as an out-of-touch environmental extremist.

It was during this campaign that Stark latched onto the idea of providing new and improved bicycle facilities throughout the city. His eagerness, while welcomed by bike activists, was also met with a degree of suspicion by some. Rush, a bike activist whose campaign hammered on New Urbanism, called the move a “convenient finding of religion” on Stark’s part.

Nonetheless, even after losing the election, Stark has continued to push hard for bike facilities. Last week, he proposed a resolution asking the council to set aside $470,000 for bikes in the 2008 budget. A quarter of that money ($120,000) would go towards creating pilot projects to test out the idea of “bicycle boulevards” — streets that use obstructions like traffic circles and speed bumps to discourage motorized traffic while catering to cyclists.

The remaining $350,000 in Stark’s proposal would go to the Bicycle Advisory Board (BAB), “to be used over the next seven years to enhance bicycling opportunities.” While the wording is vague, the math is clear. The total sum divided by seven years is $50,000. Seven years is the amount of time remaining to pay for street overhauls with money from the 2004 street bond measure. And $50,000 was the amount it took to bake bike lanes into the street bond project on Southeast Boulevard this fall. The citizen administrators of the street bond money refuse to use bond money to pay for bike facilities. The money offered under Stark’s proposal, then, would essentially close what many bike activists believe to be a gaping loophole in its bike facilities implementation.

But Stark may only get part of what he wanted. During budget negotiations on Monday, the council sounded willing to consider a resolution allocating $120,000 for the bike boulevards project and $50,000 for the BAB for 2008. But the other $300,000, Stark says, would likely have to come from future councils.

Stark has always seemed to enjoy the political maneuvering. “What is interesting is how folks in Spokane shy away from conflict,” he told The Inlander this week. “Conflict and disagreement are not bad things. It’s how you deal with it and overcome it that is the difference. This past Monday night, we had an impassioned debate regarding construction setbacks in the Critical Areas Ordinance. It was a great debate. Once it was over, we moved on. No biggie.”

Stark lists his accomplishments in the last four years: helping pass the city’s first balanced budget in almost 40 years, paving the way for Kendall Yards, nurturing the University District. As he has before, he emphasizes his environmental record, noting that his very first measure as a council member was to bring the city of Spokane into the larger Spokane County Conservation District.

Now, he says, he’s looking forward to the private sector. “I’m at a point in my life that if I am going to continue working 70 to 90 hours a week, I want to make some money.” He adds, jokingly, “Turns out, the green stuff buys things!”

The Spokane City Council will consider Brad Stark’s resolution on bicycle facilities at 6 pm on Monday, Dec. 17, in the council chambers.