Ex-Spokane mayor escorted from Pasco City Council meeting

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldAugust 19, 2013 

A former Spokane mayor was escorted out of Monday's Pasco City Council meeting by the city's police chief after refusing to stop speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting.

John Talbott questioned bonuses the council has awarded City Manager Gary Crutchfield, as well as $50,000 in merit pay increases that are given at Crutchfield's discretion to other employees.

Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins asked Talbott to "be as concise as possible."

"It's going to take a while," Talbott said, asking Watkins to show him a law that limits public speaking to less than three minutes, a rule the council traditionally follows.

Watkins asked Talbott to wrap up within a minute.

"Would you excuse me, I'm going to continue, and when you want to shut me up, you can ask the chief of police to come and escort me out," Talbott said.

Talbott, who was elected Spokane mayor in 1997 and served for one term, continued talking after Watkins asked that his microphone be cut a minute later. Watkins then asked police Chief Bob Metzger to remove him.

"I came down here on behalf of the citizens of (Pasco) to keep them from getting raped and pillaged by this council," Talbott told the chief after being told he had to leave.

Talbott agreed to leave the council chambers after Metzger threatened to arrest him.

"Thank you, Mr., what was your name, Watkins," Talbott said while leaving with Metzger.

After being thrown out, Talbott told the Herald that wasn't what he had planned.

"I expected that they would give me the courtesy of letting me finish going over this," he said, pointing to a list of city official's salaries.

After the meeting, Watkins said the council gives merit awards to Crutchfield, who wasn't at the meeting, for specific actions that save the city more money than he is given.

"They're one-time things, and they've varied depending on the year and the particular item," he said.

The $50,000 in employee bonuses is given for achievements like good driving, attendance and safety, Watkins said.

"They're not what you think of as a bonus that's just at the whim of the council or city manager," he said. "They are performance things."

The bonuses are not necessary, Talbot said.

"If you look at the job description of these people, they're just doing their job," he said. "These are managers making $100,000 a year on average getting merit pay increases in a city the size of Pasco -- where the majority of people are at the poverty level."

Several council members spoke up in support of Watkins later in the meeting.

"I think when somebody has concerns, they should come prepared to give the concise details," Councilman Saul Martinez said. "Nobody likes to see what happened tonight, but we need to maintain order."

But Councilman Tom Larsen said the city shouldn't limit speakers unless it has a firm time limit in place.

"I think we're not a country like they have in Europe or Asia," he said. "We can listen to people as long as they want to speak."

Watkins said he plans to reach out to Talbott about what happened, while Talbott said he plans to come back to the council's Aug. 26 meeting to continue with his remarks.

In other business Monday, the council voted to take federal gas tax money out of two future projects in the Road 68 area in order to help fund one that is a bigger priority.

The decision moves $351,176 to a project that will add a dual right-turn lane at the southbound Road 68 entrance ramp onto Interstate 182. It had previously been designated for a widening of Road 68 south of the freeway, as well as extending Chapel Hill Boulevard west of Road 68.

The two projects that are losing money weren't planned until 2017, while construction of the dual-turn lane is designated for 2016. Public works director Ahmad Qayoumi said the freeway entrance, which has a total budget of around $600,000, could actually be funded and under construction by late 2014.

Roger Lenk, a resident of the unincorporated area surrounded by the city, sent an email to city council members last week expressing concerns about the maps the city used in its council information packet.

He said that in December, the city supplied a detailed map of the area involved with the Chapel Hill project to the state public lands commissioners that gave detailed information on the site, including plans for a 707-lot subdivision, 528-unit apartment complex and 592,700-square-foot commercial development.

But Lenk, co-founder of the group Citizens for Lifestyle Preservation, said the maps provided to council members only showed a "rudimentary" red line drawn over crop circles where the Chapel Hill Boulevard extension is planned, with no detail about future development plans at the site, which is now owned by the state Department of Natural Resources.

"A member of the public may wonder why an engineering firm was engaged on March 18, 2013, as the preliminary design and details appear to already be in place," Lenk wrote, who also questioned why council members weren't provided the more detailed map.

Lenk helped organize petitions that put items on the November Pasco city ballot that would change the city to a mayor-council form of government from its current city manager government, as well as eliminating two recent annexations.

Assistant City Manager Stan Strebel, who was filling in for Crutchfield, said he hadn't seen the letter, but said the maps are not meant to go into great detail.

"The maps aren't intended to do anything other than help council learn the general project," he said.

Qayoumi said the Chapel Hill project is being held up by negotiations with the Department of Natural Resources.

Also Monday:

w The council approved contracts for survey and design work for a one-way couplet on Lewis and Clark streets between Second and 10th avenues.

The streets, with Lewis Street heading east and Clark Street heading west, will be made one way as part of the Lewis Street overpass project. The design is being paid for with $187,000 in federal funds.

w The council denied a street vacation request for right-of-way near Pasco-Kahlotus highway and Commercial Avenue.

w Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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