Spokane’s elected officials want ‘more flexibility’ in reopening economy

"We're not the Puget Sound"

SPOKANE, Wash – Spokane County’s elected officials want more flexibility when it comes to reopening businesses and getting people back to work, but they said Wednesday they plan to work within Governor Inslee’s guidelines to do so.

The mayors of Spokane and Spokane Valley joined Spokane County Commissioner Al French at a county COVID response briefing Wednesday morning.

While initially making it sound like the county and cities would go on their own schedule, the elected officials clarified that they would work within Governor Inslee’s guidelines.

Gov. Inslee addressed the state Tuesday night and while he did talk about a plan to reopen the state, he gave no specifics on a timeline other than the May 4th date on which the current Stay Home order is set to expire. He did say some elements of the economy will be able to open before that date and others will not be able to open until after that date has passed.

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Spokane County’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said he supports the three steps Governor Inslee laid out Tuesday, which include: protecting the health and safety of all people, guided by data and science; facilitating a safe start and transition to economic recovery; and supporting all people, paying close attention to those disproportionately affected (communities of color, those experiencing homelessness, etc.)

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward has had conversations with Gov. Inslee about the unique needs of Spokane County and more rural parts of Eastern Washington. Wednesday, Mayor Woodward said, “We are looking for more clarity from our governor on what his plan is to open up our economy. A lot of people in Spokane and Spokane County still feel frustrated. We’ve got now three paycheck periods that people have missed and we’re hearing all the time that people are looking forward to getting back to work.”

Woodward said she’s working with county commissioners and the mayors of the towns and cities within Spokane County to determine how best to reopen the economy here.

RELATED: Spokane County Commissioners ask Inslee to consider lifting ban on single-family home construction

“We feel we are in a position to be more flexible in how we open up our economy in Spokane especially. Our economy is based on small businesses, they are the bloodline of our workforce and we have many industries that have been out of work and those percentages continue to climb,” Mayor Woodward said.

“What we would do, what that plan would look like, it would be based on universal criteria, it would be very orderly, very methodical and it would be in phases,” Mayor Woodward said. “We are working collaboratively on what that looks like right now.”

READ: Elected officials in eastern Washington pushing for ‘slow reopening’ of economy

Woodward said she feels like the curve has been flattening and that the number of cases have been leveling off in Spokane County. She said “We are in a good place to start having the discussion about what that looks like to open our businesses again.”

She pointed to the more rural nature of much of our region, our proximity to Idaho and also the rate of new cases for reasons to have more serious conversations about lifting some restrictions.

Spokane County Commissioner Al French says it’s good news that the governor was talking about reopening the economy. “The bad news,” French said, “was that there wasn’t much specificity. So that’s very frustrating.”

Governor Inslee scheduled a 2:30 news conference Wednesday to talk more about his plan to reopen the state.

“We are not the Puget Sound,” French said. “To have us measured or benchmarked based on the success or failures in the Puget Sound area is not fair to this region and the citizens. We are very anxious to get the citizens back to work.”

When asked whether or not the mayors intend to push the governor to open sooner, Mayor Woodward said, “Those conversations continue to happen, yes.” She said it would happen in phases with measured points of “where we want to be.”

Woodward did say it wouldn’t happen today and it won’t happen tomorrow, but that the conversations continue on how to get businesses open again and get people back to work.

Some Washington counties and elected officials have chosen not to follow Governor Inslee’s orders. Chelan and Douglas Counties, for example, initially announced they would allow home construction to resume. Gov. Inslee’s office sent a notice to those counties that they were in violation of the law.

Franklin County Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday, rejecting the Stay Home order, saying it would not be enforced against churches and small businesses that reopen responsibly.

RELATED: ‘This isn’t about politics’: Gov. Inslee defends stay-home order amid Olympia protests

READ: Local mayors ask Gov. Inslee to consider making residential construction essential