SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane firefighter and Army veteran Shawn Poole may be a new face in the race for Spokane mayor to many voters, but he has already generated a sizable base of grassroots support and shown impressive fundraising results.
On Wednesday afternoon, he sat down with KREM political reporter Casey Decker to discuss his plan for Spokane, including his approach to homelessness, property crime, and economic development. He also spoke on infrastructure and his goal to significantly trim city spending.
The stand-out excerpts of the interview are featured in the video above.
Below is the longer transcript of the full interview, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.
It's the final installment in a series of interviews KREM has conducted with the five candidates for mayor over the past two weeks.
Questions from KREM are bold while Poole's answers are below.
So I'll start with the same question that I'm asking every candidate first, which is what makes you uniquely qualified to be Spokane’s next mayor?
Thirty years of leadership. I've had 30 years of leadership experience in the United States Army, both active and reserve, and that's one of those things that when you have 30 years of experience like that, and in an organization like the United States Army or the military, I think that makes you uniquely qualified to be a leader in city government.
And then after you were done with the US Army, you [joined] Spokane Fire.
Twenty-seven years, almost 27 years in Spokane fire.
And what would you say that you've learned from being with the fire department that you would want to apply to becoming mayor?
I would like to apply things like eliminating waste and abuse in city government. I've seen waste and abuse throughout my career. I think it's not fair to the taxpayers to have to bear the burden of some of these programs that we have, that are doing no good.
I'm a fiscal conservative, and I believe in taxpayer money being sacrosanct, and having the idea that there is a limited supply of taxpayer money. You have other people out there that think that there's an endless supply of taxpayer money. And that's the wrong attitude, in my opinion.
What are some examples of waste that you've seen in city government?
I think across the board, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that when you go to work for city government, and it could be Spokane, it could be city government, any USA town, that there are perks that come along with that. We see a lot of brand new city vehicles driving around, we see the latest and greatest iPhone 10s or whatever they have now, the latest and greatest laptops and big TV monitors and things like that. And can you do the same work, can you be as effective, with a five year old vehicle that doesn't cost as much money? Those are the types of things that I want to eliminate or at least reduce.
Does every city employee need a vehicle? And obviously, that's an exaggeration but there aren't perks that come along with city government. City government is about civil service. And in the true sense of civil service, you're giving back to the community that entrusted you to run that city. The majority of people in Spokane don't have a company car that they can rely on. They don't have a gas card or a gas account. They don't have a phone that's paid for by somebody else. Civil servants shouldn't either.
How would you approach that if you took office, what would be your first step to reducing waste?
It would be a monumental task initially. And in my simple way of thinking, the easiest way to do that would be to get your CFO, get some accountants, and then bring every department head in with their department budget, and just go line item by line item and make them justify every single expenditure.
I guarantee you, we can cut money out of out of the budget, just by doing that.
And would you be wanting to do with the money you save from that? Would you hope for that to go to new programs, or would you try to do tax cuts, or a combination of both?
I'm a big proponent of tax cuts. I always have been. In this day and age, people are just taxed beyond belief. And it continues. We continue to see tax increases every year. I don't think in the time that I've been here that I've seen a tax reduction. There may have been one; I don't know about it.
But tax savings throughout the city when you eliminate or reduce waste, I think is going to give you an opportunity to give the taxpayers back and forth tax cuts.
I want to talk about homelessness now. That's obviously one of the biggest issues in the city. What will be your first step to addressing the issue?
Enforce the law.
How do you mean?
We have sit-lie ordinances in place, we have panhandling ordinances in place, we have no-camping ordinances in place. And I think when you start doing things like that, you start to make it extremely uncomfortable to be chronically homeless in Spokane.
I started this campaign probably 15 months ago and from day one, I've said the same thing. There are there are different classes of homeless. There are homeless by circumstance, and they want to get back in to housing, they want transitional housing, they want help.
There's another class of homeless that I labeled as transients. They don't want help, they have become accustomed to living on the streets. That's the lifestyle that they choose. They like living that nomadic lifestyle. They don't like conforming to societal norms. And it's evident in what they do on a daily basis, not only in downtown Spokane, but throughout Spokane County. It's evident by the hypodermic needles that are prevalent in a lot of the parks in the city. It's evident by the defecation and urination, the total lack of respect for this very generous community and these very generous people that make up Spokane.
Do you think it's the mission of the city to make being homeless more uncomfortable?
I do think it's the mission of the city to make it extremely uncomfortable to be homeless in Spokane. Right now we are throwing a bunch of money and we have a bunch of programs set up for a vocal minority. We are forgetting about the silent majority.
You hear this, “We can't enforce these city ordinances because it criminalizes the homeless.” Well, what we've done is we've gone full circle, and now we are criminalizing the honest, hard-working, taxpaying businesses that are downtown, that are just trying to make a living for them and their families, by not enforcing these laws.
Doesn't every person still deserve some level of basic rights, food, shelter, that sort of thing?
They do deserve those things. But when you continually offer those things up to a subset of the homeless, and they continually turn you down, then I don't think they belong in Spokane.
We've heard similar proposals from other candidates as well, distinguishing between different classes of people who are homeless. And my question is, how do you make that determination? What's the mechanism for making that distinction?
When you start enforcing the law, when you make it extremely uncomfortable to be homeless in Spokane, I think that what you'll see is those people that are chronically homeless, the ones that live the nomadic lifestyle. ...Let's say if we’re going to feed you today, but we want you to give something in return, we want you to go pick up garbage, let's help beautify Spokane. When they continually turn you down, and say, “No, I'm not going to do that. I just want my food.”
If you go down that road, then I think what happens is, they will say, “wow, Spokane has gotten to a point where they're not as handout friendly as they used to be, so I'm going to go find another city to be homeless in.”
When I talked to Ben Stuckart yesterday, he mentioned that… [in] the Boise ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court, they stated that no-sit no-lie, camping ordinances, those legally can no longer be enforced unless there's barrier-free shelters for every person on the street. So if you create that level of accountability, where you say we need something in return from you in order to get the services, then you can no longer enforce those ordinances. Have you heard that argument?
I've heard that argument before. That’s something that is going to be litigated in court for a long time. I could say something similar about the ordinance that was passed here in Spokane, prohibiting Border Patrol from boarding Greyhound buses. That's something that potentially is going to be challenged in a court and it's going to be litigated for a long time.
If we do what's best for the majority of the people that want to live in the city, and want to have a safe city to live in, then, we can litigate for the next 50 years. And it may or may not ever be decided.
More accountability for people who are using services, what does that look like, practically speaking?
That looks like an investment back in Spokane. If you want help from us, and again, we have a very generous city, and very generous people in the city. If you want help from us, then invest back in us. Help us pick up garbage, we're going to provide things for you. But need a buy-in from you, we want you to have a sense of doing it yourself. You're helping yourself to get up off the streets.
We're not giving you a handout, we're giving you a hand up. When you have buy-in, I think you have a lot more will within yourself to pick yourself up off the street and get the help that you need.
I guess I'm still a little hung up on the logistical question of how the city can enforce that buy-in, especially if a lot of services are not coming from the city directly, but from nonprofits that the city contracts.
They can withhold money from those nonprofits that they donate to, or that they give money to. The city can hold some of these nonprofits accountable, who are providing these services for these chronically homeless – or as I call, transient – people that just want free stuff.
The other classes of homeless people you're referring to, the people who want to use help, do you have any programs that you plan to institute as mayor, any new ideas, for better helping those people?
Spokane, in their infinite wisdom, was one of 17 cities that was able to put up an EnVision Center, one stop community resource shop. I think that's great.
It kind of ties into the thing that's going on with the library right now. You have a lot of the homeless that go into the library to use the internet, and for good. To look for jobs, to look for housing, things like that. We can do something similar in this EnVision Center. And we can make it so that their first choice may not to go to be to go to the library and use those services, it may be it will be the EnVision Center to use those services.
You've got mental health counselors at the EnVision Center. You've got transitional housing folks at the EnVision Center. You've got all these resources available. And I'm not sure how many people in Spokane are aware of this center.
It's really hard when you're homeless to navigate the streets and navigate all the idiosyncracies that come along with being homeless. I talked to a gentleman, it took him two months to get an ID. And we're doing a disservice to him. If it takes that long to get an ID, a one stop shop where he can go, he can give his identity, the identity can be verified, and he can get his ID the same day, it's going to put them one step closer to being off the streets.
I'll transition now to one of the other big issues, one we hear probably the most from our viewers, and I'm sure it's very close to you as a firefighter, which is public safety. One specific subset of public safety that we hear the most about, probably, is property crime. Do you have any proposals you would like to enact as mayor for tackling property crime?
I want to hire potentially 30 more police officers.
If you look across the board, one of the safest places in the United States is in Times Square. And it's a lot to do with uniformed police officers walking the streets. They act as a deterrent. When you talk about property crime, you can tie some of that to the homeless or transient population, especially those that are addicted, whether it be alcohol or drugs. You see an uptick in property crime, because you have, and I don't want to be exclusive, it’s not only the homeless, but there are other nefarious people out there that that commit property crime. But you see an uptick when you have people in the community that are trying to feed a drug habit. They have to go commit a property crime, steal something, to sell it, to get money to feed their habit.
If you start addressing the homeless issue, and some of these people that are not good for Spokane, that are only here to do bad stuff, if they leave Spokane and find another handout-friendly city to go to, then I think you're going to see a decrease in property crime.
That's only one aspect. The second aspect is we need a robust property crimes division. And I'm not even going to talk about the court system, the whole catch-and-release thing that we have going on in Spokane. We're known as the catch-and-release capital of Washington State. So you address the homeless problem, you're going to see the reduction of property crime. You have actual police officers that can investigate property crime.
I can't imagine as a citizen, you get [victimized] by somebody breaking into your house and stealing your stuff, and then you get victimized again, because we don't have the resources to be able to investigate those types of things. And that's not fair to taxpayers.
So would those new resources come from something like this public safety levy?
They potentially could. I think we start at ground zero. I think that we, when we eliminate or reduce waste in city government, I think you'll see the ability to pay for a certain amount of police officers. I would ask anybody to do a public request and see how many departments across the City of Spokane were over budget in 2017 and 2018. And I think you probably be amazed.
A lot of the other candidates have mentioned drug treatment, because [as] you were talking about, drug addiction fuels a lot of the property crime. Would you support an expansion of Spokane drug treatment programs in order to prevent property crime?
Absolutely. That's a necessity. The problem that we have is that we do a decent job of drug and alcohol cessation programs, what we don't do so good at is once these people have completed these programs, they get released back into the same environment that they came from. Let's say somebody who's addicted to drugs, they get released back into the same drug environment that they came from. What do you think their chances of staying clean and sober going to be if they're going back into the same place they came from?
So we need to do a better job of addressing that. Maybe offer other places for them to relocate to. We need to work also on… some of these people either forgot how to be social, [or] they never learned how to be social. Can you imagine, being homeless and being addicted to drugs, the only thing, the only life is life on the streets? Now you're clean and sober. And you have to go back into society. And you have to function as an adult, you have to function as a member of society. If you don't have the tools to do that, then you're probably going to fall back on this addictive behavior. And we need to do a better job of that. We need to do a better job of addressing and getting these people ready to transition back into society.
As a firefighter, I'm sure you respond to a lot of medical calls for people who are addicted to drugs, people who are homeless, I'm curious what you've learned from being out there, responding to those types of calls, that you would want to apply to the policy of the city?
I can't think of anything that I would want to apply. I think the city is trying to do the best they can with addressing those types of issues. You see police officers carrying Narcan now, which I think is a good thing, because in some of these cases, it could mean it could be the difference between life and death. The city's trying to go to the bigger issue of the whole opioid crisis in America and things like that. It's one of those things you're never going to fully solve. But I think the city is doing a good job, at least right now addressing those issues.
The third main issue want to talk about was the economy, economic development. What are some of your ideas you would have for bringing more business to Spokane or just generally improving the economy here?
I think one of the things that you do is you start with cleaning up the city. You have to make it attractive for businesses to come to Spokane. Retention of those businesses in Spokane, I think, is vitally important.
I came up with an idea, I didn't reinvent the wheel, it’s somebody else's idea, but attracting small businesses to the downtown core. I kind of equate to downtown core is the epicenter. And when you have a vibrant, alive downtown, I think that emanates out into the rest of the city. Retaining small businesses downtown, number one, is difficult I think right now because of the homeless transient problem. And I don't think a day goes by when you don't see a story about a business moving out or threatening to move out, or business being vandalized, something like that. Retaining those small businesses in Spokane is vitally important. Attracting more small businesses downtown, I think, is vitally important.
I think you can attract small businesses downtown by incentivizing those small businesses. And let's say you’ve got a small businesses paying rent someplace, and they don't have a very profitable year. So the city can adjust that rent scale, and subsidize what they're not making in profits. They'll pay for that rent. Let's say the next year, they have a good year, or the next month, they have a good month, they can foot more of the bill with paying that rent on that property, and the city doesn't have to pay as much. That shows that the city cares about those small businesses. And it also shows those businesses that the more profitable you become, the more you stand on your own, the less the city has to be involved. The bigger you grow, the more employees you start to employ.
So that'd be something on the lines of basically the city offering small business loans?
It's similar to it. It wouldn't be like a startup loan or something like that. It would just be a subsidized rent type of program, again, based on profitability. Let's say a business makes $50,000 in a month and their rent’s $3,000. They can afford to pay that rent. Let's say they don't have a very profitable year, the city subsidizes a portion of the rent to keep them in the downtown core, to keep them in that building, to keep them engaged in the business that they're in.
Would you want to be continuing to expand on the Public Development Authority concept the city the council has been enacting?
That's kind of a slippery slope. We can grow exponentially. But until we start addressing some of the infrastructure issues that we have, it's going to be all for naught. I would ask anybody in Spokane to, during rush hour traffic, try and head eastbound on I-90. Start in Airway Heights, traffic is backed up all the way up to Sunset Hill. And it didn't used to be like that. This area up here (Eagle Ridge), there's a planned development across the street over there, another hundred houses, and you've only got one street – one lane one way, one lane the other way – to get in and out of there. The city needs to do something in conjunction with the county to start addressing these infrastructure issues.
Again, you can you can grow exponentially, as big as you want, but you have to widen our arterials, you have to make it more comfortable for people who are driving. We have, what, five main north-south arterials in Spokane, and we reduced one of them down to three lanes. I've driven it during rush hour, and it's extremely difficult to get through there in a timely manner. Once we address infrastructure issues, which I don't think we've done a good job of, then growing as good. But it has to be simultaneous with developing your infrastructure to be able to support that growth and the amount of people that that growth is going to bring.
How would you approach investing more in infrastructure? Do you have any specific proposal or is it more just a general thing: we need to spend more money on infrastructure?
It's a general thing. Like I said, there's a subdivision going over across Cedar. Cedar in the winter is horrible. There have been numerous accidents down where it meets Cheney-Spokane Road. One side is the county, one side is the city. And they can't come together on a potential fix for widening that road, and making it more accessible to get in some of these areas that are less populated than other areas, things like that.
And it's not just a city issue. It's a city-county issue, because it affects everybody throughout the city and the county. The county commissioners and the mayor and the city council need to sit down and develop a growth plan, develop a growth plan that includes infrastructure changes, predominately to support just the amount of automobile traffic that we're going to have, especially with Amazon coming out on the West Plains.
Look at the Amazon Fulfillment Center. Everybody's excited about this big giant warehouse that's being built. What have we done to improve frontage roads? What have we done to improve access roads? What have we done to improve those hard surfaces that people rely on to get to and from work? I haven't seen a whole lot of all of that going on.
Are there any other issues that we didn't talk about here? Or that you think other candidates aren't talking about enough that you'd like to bring up?
I think you've touched on most of them.
Roads, part of the infrastructure is roads, potholes. So guess what, everybody in the streets department who is authorized and trained to fix potholes is going to be out fixing potholes. That's going to be your priority. Every other beautification project, every other thing that is not a priority as far as the safety of these hard surfaces for the citizens Spokane, they're put on hold, and everybody's out fixing potholes. It's a real simplistic solution to a complex problem. But I think you'll see results. I think you'll see potholes getting fixed.
I take a real simplistic approach to problem-solving. We, as a society, do a really good job of identifying these multifaceted problems. But then we want to turn around and try and develop these multifaceted complex solutions for them. And I don't think you need to do that. I think you can start with the simplest solutions, and I think you'll see results.
View KREM's interview series with Spokane mayoral candidates below: