Ben Stuckart, who serves as the current president of the Spokane City Council, is one of the most well-known names running for mayor in 2019.
On Tuesday afternoon, he sat down with KREM political reporter Casey Decker to discuss what he's learned in his role and what he would hope to accomplish as mayor.
Stuckart talked about his policies for homelessness, property crime and economic development, as well as his proposals for increasing density, diversity and environmentally-friendly policies.
The stand-out excerpts of the interview are featured in the above video.
Below is the longer transcript of the full interview, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.
It's the fourth in a series of interviews KREM is conducting with the five candidates for mayor.
The primary election is on Aug. 6
KREM is interviewing all of the major candidates in the Spokane Mayoral race. the final interview will air Wednesday at 11:00 p.m. Watch the previous interviews:
Questions from KREM are bold, while Stuckart's answers are below.
So I'll start with the question I'm asking every candidate first, which is what makes you uniquely qualified to be the next mayor of Spokane?
Well, the mayor of Spokane, in our strong mayor form of government, is head, the CEO of the city organization, which has an $800 million budget with 2000 employees. I've got experience running businesses for 13 years. I worked in the business world and I ended by working for TicketsWest and managing a three-state region that had 50 employees, and I doubled revenue from 13 million to 26 million while I was there. I was responsible for all aspects of that organization.
Then, I started a nonprofit. And when I started the nonprofit, it was just me and $20,000 in the bank. And after four years, we had 10 employees and a $500,000 budget.
And then for the last seven-and-a-half years, I've worked in city government, and I've really understood how the city departments work. I have relationships with people statewide and relationships with all the agencies in town.
And I think I'm the only candidate [that's] actually shown how you can use the levers of government. To increase the number of streets that we're paving. I've shown success. We've hired 52 new police officers. Crime is down in the first quarter of this year, just as it was last year.
We're at a record number of police officers. Public safety is a top priority of the city. We've seen economic revitalization in Sprague, the project that I led where we invested $18 million smartly in infrastructure, and we can replicate that throughout the city.
I think I'm the only candidate that can start on day one, take the successes that we've had and replicate those throughout the city.
How important is government experience in being able to lead the city?
I think specifically, if you want to lead the city of Spokane, knowledge of how the city of Spokane works is very important. I would argue that it's one of the most important things. You don't take over an organization as a CEO and then not have had management or leadership experience before.
And I think it gives me a leg up on my opponents that I understand who all the department managers are, all the division managers are. I know who the workers are at City Hall, and the street department, in the water department, and in the sewer department. And I think we're really ready to hit the ground running.
What would you say one of the main lessons you've learned from being council president that you want to apply to becoming mayor?
I think you need to listen to all viewpoints. You can't just stick yourself on one extreme or the other.
I'm reading Lincoln's "Team of Rivals" right now. And he really took all of the extreme and moderate Republicans back in the 1860s, put them on his cabinet so that he had a wide variety of viewpoints. And I think that's why a majority of the council members that I've served with, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, are supporting me, because they've seen that I can take different viewpoints and really try to come to good solutions for the city of Spokane.
How would you characterize the way that you've led the city council?
Passionate. I think I'm very passionate about the city. I'm passionate about economic development, passionate about public safety.
I've clashed at times with the mayor. But I think you'll see, if you look at Riverfront Park with the $65 million investment, the miles of streets paved with the street levy that the mayor and I did together, the joint city council and mayor strategic plan, the first strategic plan the city of Spokane has ever had, when that passion combines together with somebody else like the mayor who's passionate about Spokane, we get great things done, even if you disagree 4 or 5 percent of the time.
What would you say your number one accomplishment would be?
Sprague Avenue and the revitalization of Sprague. It was my only one original idea in the last seven-and-a-half years. Because I've been out listening and understanding for the last eight years, about the city of Spokane, and going to neighborhood meetings. And one of the things I hear is that people really want small business districts where they can walk out their door and walk to and shop.
And in working with the East Sprague Business Association, we thought up that money gets spread throughout the city, but if we take one area, and we chose that geographic area in between Hamilton and Altamont, and targeted $18 million from 24 different funding sources down there. And you can even go talk and look in the different media sources.
The Union Tavern that's opened down there, he's clear that the city's investment is why he invested in that. Or Rob Brewster and why he bought the McKinley School, is because the city invested in that infrastructure. And we've seen more new businesses there.
Over the past four years property values have risen more, median household incomes, the amount of money people make. But we've also invested in affordable housing in that area so that gentrification doesn't happen, and that people that have traditionally lived there don't get pushed out of their neighborhood. So, we've created a mixed income neighborhood that's on the rise. And we can do that all over Spokane.
What's something that you would hope to accomplish from the mayor's office that maybe you wouldn't have been able to accomplish from city council?
I believe we're in the midst of a complete housing crisis. We have a 1 percent vacancy rate on our multifamily units. We only have a one-month supply of single family homes for sale. And what that does is increase prices for everybody. We have examples of people in different areas and apartments in our town that rents have risen over 50 percent in one month, and that's not sustainable.
Think about if you're earning a minimum wage, and you're raising a child and your rent goes up from $600 or $700 a month to over $1,000 a month, you get pushed out of your home.
And we need to really talk about the Growth Management Act. And if it says we're not supposed to spread outward, cities have to spread up, and they have to densify, and have housing variety for people. And we have areas we've chosen and our comprehensive plan has never been adopted fully. We've chosen a strategy of these centers and corridors areas like the Monroe corridor, or Perry Street, or the Sprague Avenue corridor. But what we haven't done is put the housing variety near those corridors. And what happens if you don't do that is the small business districts, they may, like with an investment in the Monroe Street corridor, it may thrive for 10 years, but in 10 years, it's going to level off and it's going to decrease again.
Because you need the number of people that have to walk to those businesses, is what makes them successful. So not only is density going to help with our housing crisis, help with people's rent, keep people from living on the streets, what it's going to do is help those business districts. And we know too, that when you increase the density and you get more walkability, what you get is a safer environment as well. Sprague Avenue, where we actually have some density, and where we invested in that infrastructure, has seen a 30% decrease in property crime.
Is there any particular way you would hope as mayor to increase the density in the city?
Oh, absolutely. We need to be running and talking to all of these neighborhoods, and working on planning, but leading in that discussion, and where we want to go. And I think a strong mayor can lead that discussion for what we want our community to look like, and lead the discussion on how we haven't fully implemented the comprehensive plan.
And in order to really develop for the future, we're going to have to take those centers and corridors, those areas around Monroe, or Division Street still has single family homes to the west of there, or the single family homes down in the Perry Street neighborhood. Because if we don't, we're going to continue to see rents rise, and we're going continue to see the number of homeless people on our streets increase.
And that's the next thing I wanted to talk about. Homelessness is probably the number one issue in the city right now, if you talk to most voters. That and public safety.
Streets. Streets is very important to everybody, even though we're paving record number of miles, when you're out doorbelling you do hear about streets. And everybody knows a street in their neighborhood that needs to get repaired.
And even though we've doubled the number of residential dollars, from 2.5 million to 5 million that we're spending on residential, we need to really double that again, if we're going to get to all the neighborhoods around our city.
And I definitely will come back to that later. I do want to talk about first about homelessness. What would your main, number one thing be as mayor to attack the issue of homelessness?
There's two parts. I think first is the short term.
And what do we need to do in the short term? We need to open up all of our shelter system, and be 24 hours. But those shelters can't just be a bed, because that doesn't do somebody any good. It doesn't give them the opportunity to connect to services.
Whether it's housing, mental health services, addiction services, or family reunification services, those are the four main reasons that people are homeless, and that lack of income, which also goes back to housing. But you need to have somebody, a social worker or housing specialist, inside the shelter. And so if we're going to provide shelters, which we have to.
We have to provide low barrier shelters, or we can't enforce our current laws, the sit-and-lie law and the anti-camping law. If we don't have enough shelter beds, you can't enforce those laws; we have to have those.
But those have to include the services that connect people to the resources that will help them get off the streets. And they have to be open 24 hours a day, so you don't see them in businesses.
If you go to the Second and Division Starbucks, you'll see people in there, because Starbucks’s policy is that anybody can hang out. But they should actually have a place to be, and a place to connect to those services. That's in the short term
The long-term is affordable housing. And we've seen a massive crunch. Last year, in Spokane County, 800 people housing vouchers that couldn't find affordable housing. Now, if you think about that, some of those are couch surfing. But about half of those are living on our streets.
And our point-in-time count was 1,300 people living in our streets. We could take care of 400 of those if we could just find the means and the ways in order to build affordable housing.
Now, we've seen a massive decrease from the federal government. But this last legislative session, the legislature passed a couple bills, and the city of Spokane, myself, went over personally and worked on those bills in order to get them passed. And I hope by the end of this year, we'll be able to put another 10 million into affordable housing.
But you have to build more affordable housing, so the subsidy end, and you have to take care of our current shelter system in the short run in order to provide them avenues to get off the street.
So let's talk a little bit more about the shelter system, then. You're mentioning you want to have more services directly in the buildings. Would that be city employee services, or would that be something more like the EnVision Center, coordinating nonprofits to participate in the shelters at the city?
Yeah, the city doesn't provide – and I've seen some of these questions and people talking about other city’s a really inefficient provider of services – we don't provide any homeless services. We contract out with our nonprofits that are doing excellent, great work in the community, and just sometimes lack the resources in order to operate a shelter.
So we provide those funds in order to do that. Some of that's federal dollars, some of that’s city general fund dollars, and some of it’s state dollars, but we help those nonprofits operate. And there are great models out there that we can use to provide the services, to connect them.
SNAP has a program on outreach. Bob Peeler, a gentleman that's worked in homeless services for 38 years, he goes out to the camps and connects them with services, so that if their camp is getting removed, they can get those services and get off the streets. We need to be providing the similar services that SNAP does in outreach to homeless people, inside of the shelter system.
Some of your opponents have suggested some of these nonprofits are enabling. What's your take on that?
Well, I go back to if I'm in a boat, and somebody's drowning next to me on the outside of my boat, I pull them out of the water. That's the moral and right thing to do.
So, I don't understand what an enabling means. Now, if you're homeless, you need a roof over your head, if that's a temporary shelter, or a house. You're not going to get anywhere, whether it's with mental health issues, addiction issues, or finding a job, if you're not first housed. It's a housing first policy, it's what's work nationwide.
It's why Salt Lake City actually solved their chronically homeless problem. It’s why Sweden has solved their homeless problem, because they offer housing first. Because until your housed, you're not going to be able to deal with those other problems.
I don't understand what people mean when they say enabling, because you're providing somebody something that's so basic, and we need we need doing that. They need to have a shelter system. And even if we didn't talk about the moral issue of just pulling somebody out of the water, you don't require somebody to give their zip code, you don't require them to do something when somebody is drowning, you just pull them out of the water.
If we talk about nothing else, the Ninth Circuit has been crystal clear when dealing with Boise. And they have said that if you don't have no-barrier shelter space available – that means no barriers. When people say we're enabling somebody, they're saying we're giving them something without asking something in return. And if you don't provide those services that don't ask anything in return – they don't ask you to go through treatment or force you to go through treatment or force you to pray – those don't count towards what the Ninth Circuit has said. And they just upheld that by the full circuit. And it's not going to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
It’s pretty basic that you have to provide those no-barrier services, or you can't enforce the anti-camping law. So if we decided to take as a city a stance that we're only going to fund homeless services, where people are mandatorily doing drug treatment, or mandatorily doing something, or they mandatory have to pray, and that's what we're going to fund, then what you're going to see is a giant campground and Riverfront Park.
So no matter how much their heart is in it, I don't think they understand the situation. And I think that goes back to: I've been dealing with the city government, and what the laws are, and how the city operates, and what structures we’re under, and how things work for the last seven and a half years and listening to those nonprofits. And I think that's why I'm uniquely qualified to mayor.
Now, drug treatment, you're saying you wouldn't, obviously, want to make it mandatory because of the way the laws are. Would you still want to expand upon the existing drug treatment programs in any way to tackle addiction as well?
Oh yeah. We have some great small drug treatment programs in our community and great community-based organizations doing work. But we mean need many more beds.
And if you look at different systems, it's interesting because the mental health system is run by the state and by the county and the city doesn't really get to participate in the mental health system. It's all state and county run. We can help work with them and make sure we're connecting them to those services. But we don't have any say-so how that system runs.
The treatment and addiction services isn't really a structured system, like the mental health system. And so really we need more of it. And I don't know what the correct avenue is. And I don't know the answer to how we get more treatment beds, but we need them.
Let's talk about the long term solutions that you are proposing as well. What's the number one way that the city can provide more affordable housing to people who are on the street?
First we need to implement what the legislature passed this year, which is going to be about $11 million region-wide that we can put into affordable housing, hopefully by the end of this year. We're also looking at some loans section 108 loans that we can add to that pot of 11 million. And I think we might have captured asked me for a little over 10 million, and those would be no-interest loans that would be paid back over the next 20 years, and then that could recycle back out. That'll get us through about two to three years, I think, of building 100 to 150 units.
And then we need to look at: what are we going to do after that? Is it going to be something we work with the state on, so that we can get another tax rebate back? Or is that a local housing levy? We have, 26 different cities in the state of Washington have housing levies, which means they pay 0.01% sales tax increase. That would raise about $5 million in the city of Spokane. And that needs to be something we need to have a community conversation about.
But then we also need to just keep rents low, which is our complete lack of supply of market rate housing. I just read a study by [inaud.] from UCLA, and his discussion was about the Six Degrees of Housing, like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. And even if you build a high end condo, somebody moves into that, and then somebody moves in to their house. And so that affordable housing needs a subsidy in order to build it. But everything above that is really affected by our supply. And the mayor of Minneapolis, he talks about it in a way that, you can't just build affordable housing, you have to increase the supply as well.
And so what they did in Minneapolis was took single families zoning and allowed duplexes and triplex is in fourplexes in their single families zoning. What I'm saying is a little less radical than that. But we have to implement the comprehensive plan and put housing variety around our centers and corridor so that if you have a small business on Monroe, there are more people to visit your small business. And it'll also increase the supply of housing.
So that would amount to some degree of upzoning, though?
Yeah, absolutely. We have upzone around all our centers and corridors, or we're going to be having this same conversation in 10 years. And it's going to be more acute.
When we ask viewers “what’s the number one issue for you,” pretty much always we hear public safety and property crime. So what would be your number one solution to tackling property crime?
I think the first thing is we need to implement the public safety levy that I sponsored last spring. I was the prime sponsor and I got opposed by The Spokesman-Review, and I was opposed by the mayor. But as I'm out over the last seven and a half years, we've hired 52 new officers over the last five years, and that's not enough.
So, we put the public safety levy on, purposefully, because if the citizens thought public safety was still the most important priority, we need to catch up to where a city our size should be.
Even though those 52 officers that we've hired have decreased crime rate so far this year, 14%, I believe on property crime decrease. But the other 20 has to be implemented correctly. And to me, that means that a certain number of those officers have to go downtown and a certain number of those officers need to be dialed in, and either put in the neighborhood resource program, which are who really is out there responding to the citizens, and they need to be property crime investigators. So that's the first thing you need to do.
The second thing you need to do is really listen to those officers out on the street and make sure that our potted system where we have a south precinct and a north precinct and a downtown precinct is actually working and is the correct thing to do. I get complaints sometimes that those precincts don't have officers in them. But I want those officers out on the street.
Those officers should be out on the street. They shouldn't be sitting behind a desk, waiting for somebody to come to them, because we get calls. And then if they're not responding to the calls, then we get concerns about not responding.
But when I came into office in 2012, we didn't have body cameras, we had 52 less officers, confidence in our police department was at an all-time low. Our last survey that we did said citizens trust the police department, 87% of our citizens. So I think we're well on our way whether that's citizen oversight, or whether that's the number of police officers, and I’d just continue along the same tracking and implement the public safety levy, because we're on the right track.
You mentioned precincts, which reminds me of one of Nadine Woodward’s main proposals. She wants to move the Intermodal precinct closer to the heart of downtown. I'm curious what your thoughts are on that proposal, whether it be efficient?
I was concerned too, when they announced that they were moving it from the STA Plaza. But we were renting that space. And by moving it into a city facility over by the Intermodal, to me it made sense, because that means more cops on the street.
I always look at every proposal on how we're going to pay for it. I've headed budget negotiations for the city council and we're ultimately responsible for the city budget. And we balanced it every year and had surpluses the last four years. It's really important as a city to prepare for those downswings, too. So I'd want to know how we were going to pay for that.
But I’ve also been looking at hotspots downtown, and where crime is, and the biggest hotspot is two blocks from the Intermodal Center. So I'm not sure it’s the right idea, if the most current crime is happening near where your current precinct is, to move it. And what we didn't see when we moved it from one area of downtown to the other area is any increase in crime. So I don't think that that's really a strategy.
Another thing we've heard both from other candidates and from viewers is that right now property crime oftentimes simply just doesn't get investigated.
That's why we are going to have the extra officers through the public safety levy.
The chief got to decide, when we said we can afford to pass a public safety levy that will save 30 firefighter jobs and put 20 more police officers on the street, and he came back with a proposal. Part of that proposal was five new officers downtown. And then I believe it was four new property crimes investigators. And so that needs to be implemented, starting right away on January 1st.
Are there other ideas you have for tackling crime besides more cops?
Have you ever seen those doorbells that have the little video cameras? We're looking into how much those costs because I think that'd be something you could get every citizen.
Like a city program to subsidize those?
Yeah, I think you can hand those out through the COPS shops. I think it's a low cost, really great thing.
I would continue the Police Activity League, where they're connecting with the kids in the community. I think that's really important, that outreach is really important. And I believe beat cops are important, out there getting to know the community. You can't always be in a car, you need to be out walking the beat.
And now I’ll transition to the third issue that we're hearing all over the place, and it's on every candidate platform mostly as well, which is economic development. What's your main proposal for bringing more business to Spokane, improving the Spokane economy?
We talked about Sprague earlier, that's literally the most successful program in the city and what we're basing all of our targeted investment on. Which is how we target our money, on infrastructure, because the city is really good at infrastructure. And if you build it correctly, that actually attracts private business. We're not going to create jobs ourselves as a city. But if you create the right infrastructure, like we did on Sprague, we've seen over a dozen new businesses open there.
Or with the new streetscape on Monroe, that's another area where we've seen a dozen new businesses, and we've seen sales tax increase on the Monroe Street corridor. So we need to replicate that throughout the city. That's what’s most important for our neighborhood business districts. And then to create that density around them is going to help.
The thing I'm most proud of is I spent two years on the West Plains and creating economic development there. And so that's the first collaborative cooperative agreement between the city and the county where we're actually taking revenue from that area, putting it back into that geographic area in infrastructure, and we've already had two huge wins.
I was at the meeting where Amazon, the representatives came and said, if we don't finish this road project, we don't know if we can close the deal next week. So the Public Development Authority, that I helped create and spent two years working on, actually helped close that deal by putting a million dollars of the citizens’ dollars back into infrastructure, which let them start building.
Then now, Mullen Technologies, the electric car company that signed an intent to lease out there, has solely dealt with the Public Development Authority, our executive director and the board of directors. And that's another potential 860 jobs. And those would all be… some of these engineering jobs pay over $100,000 a year, so it'd be a boon to our economy. And we're seeing another business out on the West Plains.
It's really because we've taken the Public Development Authority, which is a little us tool in our toolbox, and we've replicated that now down in the University District, the bike pedestrian bridge there. That led to $50 million in Avista and their new catalyst project there, because of the investment. I'm on that board of directors, and have been proud to serve and work on those projects for the last four years. And what we need to do next is take a look at Northeast Spokane, that industrial area that's east of Market Street and replicate what we did on the West Plains up there.
So that's your main economic development policy as mayor, would be expanding on the PDA concept and doing more PDAs in more regions of Spokane.
Yeah, PDAs and then the small business districts and smartly building our infrastructure out there so we can help the small businesses.
What kind of infrastructure investment?
I think if you look at Perry Street, if you look at Sprague, and if you look at North Monroe, what has worked is creating a pedestrian friendly environment. That’s street trees, that's bump outs, that's more crosswalks. It's a safer environment where people actually want to stop their car, get out of their car, and go shop.
And the proofs in the pudding. 20 years ago, when I was in high school, 27 years ago when I was in high school, we used to go jogging. I went to LC and when we would go jogging, you really had to run as a group through Grant Park right by Perry Street. And now it's one of the rising communities in Spokane. And that started when they invested in trees, bump outs, and a pedestrian friendly environment. And then businesses started sprouting up.
And once you do that in an area, you can really turn it around. And we've seen that now in Sprague and we've seen it in Monroe. We all want to get outside, we don't want to drive. Most of the people I know don't want to drive everywhere they possibly go. It'd be great to walk out your front door, and in Spokane, always have an option within 10 minutes to go to either grocery store, a corner store, or a coffee shop. And we need to get back to that. We've really been working hard, but we can do a better.
Do you think infrastructure investment is going to be a more effective means of attracting more businesses then, say, reducing business taxes?
Well, I always go back to: we don't have very many business taxes. Our three main sources of revenue in the city of Spokane are the sales tax, the property tax, and the utility tax. And to decrease any of those, you really need to identify where you're going to cut.
We've done a great job over the last seven and a half years. And this is the mayor and council together. We said okay, our 20 year growth rate is 2.9%. And so we're going to hold our expense growth rate to 2.9%. And even in those great years, we had record years where we were growing at 5%. But instead of spending and increasing and hiring employees so that your costs are increasing in the future by that 5%, we held our spending growth to 2.9%. So it's a level.
And then you save money if you make more money during those good years, so that when you do have a bad year, which recessions happen, you then have reserves built up so that you don't have to lay off city employees. Because when you lay off city employees, service to the citizen suffers.
Is there any scenario in which you look to increase any of the taxes?
The one thing we do every year is take our 1% property tax increase. And we've done what I think is the most innovative thing. Instead of just taking the 1% and throwing it in the general fund, and that becomes another revenue source for the city, we match that with general fund and then use that for fire and police capital expenses. So, our fire trucks or police cars.
And before, when I got into office, the 2009 fire bond had just failed. And so all our trucks were getting very old. And hat was causing a crisis in our fire trucks, and how old they were, and constantly being repaired, and not being out in the community. And so this innovative way of taking the 1% but then using it for our actual capital costs has made it so we don't have to go out for a bond and actually ask people to pay an increased property tax. So it's one of the most innovative things I've seen while I've been at the city. Rick Romero and Gavin Cooley came up with that. And I think everybody's enthusiastic about that. And I think it's a much cheaper way for the citizens to actually pay for our capital.
You mentioned streets at the beginning of the interview. So I'm curious, what kinds of things are you hearing mostly specifically about streets on the campaign trail, from voters?
Oh, I think people would like us to go faster. And that's always the conundrum. When in an offseason we hear how bad the streets are, and then once construction season starts, you hear the cursing, because people are in construction.
And so there is a point I think. And we've probably reached that the last couple of years, as we set records for how many miles we're paving of arterials around Spokane. And then you start to get a deluge of people calling you and saying you're doing too much construction. And it'll rise every year. But you know, we're 34, 35 million on our materials right now. And we probably hit our peak without affecting commerce around the city.
But we do need to figure out our residential. Residential streets didn't get invested in for 45 years. And then when the street bond passed, it was mainly an arterial street bond. We didn't actually start spending money on our residential streets until 2009, when the council at the time passed the car tab fee, $20 per car tab, then put 2.5 million.
And then when the mayor and I passed the street levy… the citizens passed the street levy, but we lead it and went for it. What happened was, we were able to shift 2.5 million, so we got 5 million going into residential. But when you're out talking to people, they're pointing to their street and saying it's falling apart. And you know, it's expensive to replace the whole street. So once you've gotten behind by 40 years, it’s a long catch up.
What other issues that we haven't discussed or that you think maybe other candidates aren't really focusing on that you think are really important?
I think the environment’s extremely important. Global warming is real, global warming is happening, it's man made, and federal government is doing nothing. It's one of the largest threats we face as humanity right now. And I think the city of Spokane, by cleaning up our river, and really updating the sustainability plan, is in a position where we can lead. And we've been trying. And I think we can do even more. But it's really important to acknowledge those larger issues where the federal government's failing.
So would that entail any sort of like emissions regulations in the city? Any stricter regulations like that?
I think we'll talk about that, but those will all be individual decisions. But I don't think we're going to tell you “your car can only have a certain miles per gallon.” I think those are going to switch as the market switches.
But the city can lead. We have big landfills up north and landfills in the south that are unused land, that's just garbage covered by dirt right now. And we can put solar arrays on there and sell those to Avista. We can make sure city buildings are built to the highest standards. We can take the sustainability plan that was passed in 2009, and on day one make sustainability a cabinet level position, something that we all believe in, that needs to be a priority of the city.
And then I think we also, I don't think anybody's talking about this, but we're not a very diverse community. And the future is diverse and the future is multicultural. And we need to be a more inviting community.
I've been called in in the last seven and a half years when a large convention’s coming to town and they're having a problem. And I remember I sat with the Lutheran USA and they were going to bring 25,000 people to Spokane. They brought me in right at the very end. And they said well Ben, you know, what do you say to our membership who's 25% African American, and you walk down the streets of downtown, and maybe one in 10, one in 20 people looks like them?
We need to be more welcoming. And that's the future. And we need an Office of Civil Rights in the city of Spokane.
How would you make Spokane more welcoming to more diverse people?
One of the boards I'm on, a statewide board called Artists Trust, really does a good job with equity. And so it's become a question every board member asked with every decision we make. And that's because we're a diverse board and so the cabinet of the mayor of Spokane needs to be diverse. And it needs to be what you want Spokane to be. Everything isn't just about what Spokane is. It needs to be about what we want Spokane to be.
We want to be a community of diverse voices, of diverse nationalities, and diverse ideas. And your cabinet needs to look like that and one of those cabinet members needs to be the head of the Office of Civil Rights. It’s long past due.