Spokane mayor hands out layoff notices

One-person departments – Weights and Measures, Arts – are eliminated; 20 to 30 more cuts expected

October 7, 2012 - Updated: 6:30 a.m.

Spokane Mayor David Condon is continuing on the path of change and reorganization at City Hall.

This week, the city’s arts director, the last remaining employee in Spokane’s consumer protection department, and a longtime administrator intimately involved in the creation and operation of the city’s trash incinerator were told they would lose their jobs by the end of the year.

Officials say all the workers are being dismissed as part of reorganization or money-saving efforts, not for cause.

Last month, the city announced that about 100 jobs would be eliminated in the city’s 2013 budget as part of Mayor David Condon’s 2013 budget plan, which he will present to the City Council on Monday. Most the positions are vacant, but about 35 are filled. Attempts to reach Condon for comment on Friday were unsuccessful. City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said she expects about 20 to 30 more layoff notices to be given in coming weeks.

Arts

The least surprising of the moves was the layoff notice received by Arts Director Karen Mobley.

When Mobley was informed earlier this year that Condon, like his predecessor Mayor Mary Verner, was considering the elimination of her department, some local arts leaders expressed outrage. But City Council President Ben Stuckart said he expects Mobley to be hired as part of a new arts coalition.

He said an announcement will be made on Oct. 22 about “an exciting new partnership that will actually keep the arts sustainable.”

Since word leaked earlier this year that Condon was planning to eliminate the one-woman Arts Department, Stuckart has worked with Condon and others to create a coalition to take over arts duties.

Feist said Condon’s budget will include $100,000 for the new effort and that partners will include the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Visit Spokane (formerly known as the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau), the Spokane Public Facilities District and the nonprofit arm of the city’s Spokane Arts Commission.

Weights and Measures

Condon’s proposed budget would dissolve the oldest weights and measures department in the state, but the city intends to end the service even before the end of the year.

Steve Parker, Spokane’s only city sealer, said he was informed this week that he will be laid off early next month.

The one-man department checks every scale used to calculate price and all regular-grade gas pumps once a year to make sure they are accurate. Duties for checking scales and pumps will revert to the state, which checks about 80 percent of scales and pumps just once every three years.

Verner also proposed eliminating the department last year, but the City Council disagreed and funded it for 2012.

“I’m disappointed that it actually is going to happen, because the state certainly can’t take care of the consumers in the city as well,” Parker said on Friday. “There’s a lot of time for the devices to be inaccurate before the state gets around to checking them.”

Cutting the department will save about $60,000 out of the city’s $164 million general fund budget.

Jan Quintrall, Spokane director of business and development services, said Parker has done an admirable job with little backing, but that the program has been gutted so much over the years that it has become ineffective. The biggest problem, she said, is a lack of record-keeping that makes it difficult to track and follow up.

“It’s just become an orphan,” she said. “It would take a lot of people and a lot of money for us to be where we need to be.”

Despite the longer gap in checking scales and pumps, the state has proper record management and more modern equipment, including devices that check for gas contamination, she said.

Jerry Buendel, program manager for the state’s weights and measures program, said he was informed by the city on June 19 that the city would disband its department on Oct. 1. He said that on Sept. 26 he was informed by the city that the closure had been pushed to early November. He said it’s unclear whether he will be able to add an employee to help with the new load.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said he opposes the elimination of the department but that he doubts there will be four votes on the council to restore it in the 2013 budget.

City Councilman Steve Salvatori said he supports the decision to cut the city service because it duplicates work that can be done by the state.

“In a way we already pay for it through the state,” he said.

State inspectors already handle weights and measures activities everywhere else in the state except Seattle, which would be the last city with an independent program.

Trash incinerator

Damon Taam worked on the Waste-to-Energy Plant well before the West Plains incinerator was built.

Taam, one-time leader of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System and the system’s current contract manager, was given a layoff notice this week. His last day will be next month.

Utilities Director Rick Romero said Taam’s termination is part of a reorganization in which Spokane Regional Solid Waste Director Russ Menke’s job and Taam’s job will be shifted into two new positions. One will be filled by Menke. The other job will be filled as early as next week, he said.

Taam, who worked for the city for 27 years and for Spokane County for six years before that, said he was surprised by the decision but declined to comment further. He said he remains confident that the Waste-to-Energy Plant, which was the topic of significant controversy in the 1980s and 1990s, was the best trash solution compared to building new landfills.

“It’s all about sustainability as well as renewable resources. If you aren’t making energy out of it you’re just throwing it away,” Taam said. The Waste-to-Energy Plant “doesn’t leave the problems that we inherited for future generations.”


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