January 24, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 40

AH council ends STEP agreement

Spokane County would have received percentage of funds from project earnings

At its Tuesday, Jan. 22 meeting, the Airway Heights City Council unanimously voted to fully terminate the interlocal agreement between the city and Spokane County regarding services and impacts of tribal gaming on Indian lands.

The interlocal agreement sent a certain percentage of gaming funds earned from the Spokane Tribe Economic Project (STEP) to Spokane County. Part of the agreement included a neutrality clause for the board of county commissioners, forcing the board as a group to remain neutral in public proceedings.

The City Council met for around 40 minutes in executive session before coming to its decision, noting potential litigation as the reason for the session and later adding real estate to its deliberations.

The interlocal agreement has been the source of scrutiny in recent months, as it silenced county commissioners regarding the matter of the project. Commissioner Al French spoke to the City Council late last year regarding the agreement, as it was made before he was elected to the board and prohibited him from performing his duties as a public official, representing his constituents. French subsequently said the next move for the county was a lawsuit against the city.

“I am sensitive to the fact that we have an obligation to our constituents to represent their interests in any legislative matter,” French said at the Aug. 20, 2012 City Council meeting.

Irv Zakheim, CEO of Zak Designs in Airway Heights, spoke regarding the amendment before the City Council’s decision. He said silencing his representatives at the county was wrong, noting that city representatives were able to voice their opinions to Bureau of Indian Affairs officials when they were in Airway Heights.

“You should be ashamed from a public standpoint,” he said.

The neutrality statement in the agreement stated, “For the purpose of the Agreement the terminology ‘neutral’ shall mean not submitting any written communication to any official of the United States Department of the Interior, the Office of the Governor or any other entities taking a position in support or in opposition to gaming activities on the Trust Property.”

French, at the Aug. 20, 2012 meeting said a letter sent to Attorney General Rob McKenna provided enough justification to ask Airway Heights to release the county from the neutrality section. The letter, he said, took away the opinion of future boards, particularly with the Environmental Impact Statement process for STEP in March last year.

Also at the meeting the City Council approved a consultant agreement with TD and H Engineering to provide engineering services for design and construction of the Highway 2 shared use path. Public Works Director Kelly Williquette said the project will involve a 10 -14 foot wide asphalt path on the north side of the highway, extending pedestrian access from Garfield Road to commercial areas along Hayford Road.

During his report, Rushing said he helped welcome the city’s newest thrift store, Cleone’s Closet, Monday, Jan. 14. Covered in last week’s edition of the Free Press, proceeds go toward the Women’s Healing and Empowerment Network, which operates the store.

Rushing said he hoped the city’s probation officer and the store could network and partner together for some future events.

Meetings regarding the Fairchild Preservation and Community Empowerment project, regarding housing in the Accident Potential Zone approaching the base’s runway, were still underway. Still in the funding stages, Rushing hoped to get Spokane County involved in the process to contribute funds.

“This is a regional issue,” Rushing said. “It concerns Fairchild and we want to make sure that that’s taken care of.”

Rushing said he and City Manager Albert Tripp visited with representatives from the offices of Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in an effort to see if federal funds were available for the project.

“At first it was a little shaky on what the federal level was able to do. As we progressed through the rest of the meeting, we were able to open up some doors, thoughts on it and we’re hopeful there are some housing funds we can seek,” Rushing said.

Another meeting with Catholic Charities, one of the larger partners in the housing project, discussed some land issues. The organization, at a previous meeting, had suggested using some of the land involved in the 70-acre park for the housing project, however the City Council was wary on the idea, hoping to discuss it with them at a future meeting.

During her report, Councilwoman Tanya Dashiell said she attended a sustainable community conference in New Orleans, La. The conference discussed how cities were able to avoid urban sprawl by developing sustainable uses in an urban setting. Some of the cities represented at the conference had been shaken by natural disasters, and had a greater opportunity to develop their city in a different way than before.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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