Spokane Journal of Business

Poor leadership creates challenge

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It's easy enough to come down hard on Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan for putting his name to a fundraising letter that called Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee a "lying whore." Everybody from his fellow city council members to Spokesman-Review funnyman Doug Clark has taken their hacks at Fagan for this error in judgment.

For the business community, however, it's important to determine now how badly this well-publicized insult will affect our efforts in Olympia to get support for the North Spokane Corridor, the four-year medical school, and other important initiatives. When on the record, business leaders can say it won't have any effect, but they must analyze it closely to see what can be done to make sure these catalytic efforts move forward without distraction.

Because the timing couldn't be worse. Inslee is six weeks into his first term after having defeated a strong candidate in Republican Rob McKenna. If the state's track record of electing Democrats holds true, Inslee could be leading the state beyond the next four years.

He doesn't have any significant ties to Eastern Washington, unlike his predecessor Christine Gregoire, who graduated from Gonzaga University's School of Law and formally announced her candidacy for governor at a press conference held in Spokane.

Now is the time that Spokane leaders should be building a relationship with Inslee and making sure he understands Spokane's relevance in the state's economy. To that end, I know some are working tirelessly.

But their task has been made more difficult by the statement to which one of Spokane's leaders put his name. It's not just an insult. It couples two of the worst things a person can be called: a liar and a person who is willing to fulfill others' desires for money. Of course, whore was used metaphorically and was used to describe a man, but it remains destructive, divisive, and even in this context, demeaning to women.

This letter that Fagan put his name to doesn't have anything to do with leading our community. Political fundraising, in general, often requires tactics that run counter to consensus building and figuratively reaching across the aisle. It's all about hitting a raw nerve that compels as many like-minded people as possible to cut checks. I get that.

I also understand that none of the city council members is buying mansions on Rockwood Boulevard with their council salaries. They have to shoehorn in other endeavors while leading the city. It's a reality, for better or for worse.

But leadership must come first for our elected officials—every time the opportunity to lead presents itself. A few times lately, they haven't risen to that challenge.

I've brought this up before and I'll make this the last time, but it sticks in my craw that Mayor David Condon and the city council failed to fund library operations fully and made the citizens vote to keep a couple of branches open. They'll be able to boast on the campaign trail that they didn't raise taxes, but the reality is they sloughed the job off on the citizens rather than making the right decision.

In the city of Spokane Valley, the council flipped a coin recently to decide between two candidates for an unexpectedly vacated council position, rather than deliberating harder to get the right person for the job. As it stands, there's a 50-50 chance they got it right.

And now there's this letter.

Fagan has been a good council member, and the mayor and council in general are doing a lot of great things. If you look at leadership of the community as a whole, from the mayor's office to Greater Spokane Incorporated to Visit Spokane, it's difficult to find an apparent weak link.

But that just makes this kind of toe stubbing all the more frustrating, and it makes the job of those trying to build relationships in Olympia that much more difficult.

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