As new students join the Gonzaga community each fall, they bring new voices to represent, to be heard and to instill change.
Representing these voices on the Spokane City Council are Kate Burke and Mike Fagan.
Both emphasize their commitment to being accessible resources to their constituents, including GU students, to discuss community needs.
“I would encourage them to always reach out to their elected officials because they’re really, really attainable here,” Burke said. “Most of them will just meet up with you for coffee, which doesn’t happen in a lot of places so that’s a really cool opportunity.”
Fagan openly welcomes anyone to sit and speak with him regarding any want, wish or concern in or outside the city.
“I am a council member that likes to make a point to go visit a resident or business owner within 48 to 72 hours of receiving any complaint or meeting request,” Fagan said. “If there is a complaint I would be able to meet with them face to face and see the angst, and really see how the problem was created.”
Committing herself as a “bridge-builder,” Burke said she aspires to connect residents to the correct resources as an overall approach to resolving issues affecting Spokane.
“I would say one of the biggest things I learned was the worst thing that would happen if you ask someone for help is that they would say no,” Burke said. “But the best thing that would happen is you get a new resource or connection in the community. I say ask for help, ask for support, ask for answers, and that way you’re really able to get involved.”
City Council President and GU alumnus Ben Stuckart recommended students become involved with their representatives by attending neighborhood council meetings and by reaching out.
“Weigh in and email your representative whenever you have concerns or questions. If they cannot answer they will send you to the right place,” Stuckart said in an email. “Do not think that any issue is too small.”
For the new voices to make lasting change within Spokane, Burke said that GU students should register to vote upon arriving to campus.
“For at least the four years that they’re here they have an impact on the future of this community,” Burke said. “It’s really important to get the voice of the voters at GU in there as well because you are a part of our community.”
Over the past few decades, Fagan has observed a lack of emphasis in civics in the educational institution, an issue he is hoping to resolve by partnering with Spokane Public Schools.
“We are reaping the results of removing this kind of informational education from our education institutions,” Fagan said. “We have been seeing very low voter turnout and I think that a lot of that has to do with that people are oblivious, people don’t want to vote because they know nothing about it or the candidates. We’ve got to figure out a way about reinvigorating this thing called civic involvement.”
Both natives of Spokane, Burke and Fagan’s backgrounds also both begin with service.
After spending time away from Spokane in the Army and in a career in electronics, Fagan and his high school sweetheart moved back to Spokane.
Fagan dove into neighborhood leadership with the Bemiss Neighborhood Council, Hillyard Neighborhood Council and lastly the Whitman Neighborhood Council.
As a self-dubbed insider to Spokane communities, Fagan’s next step was to run for City Council. Ten years ago, Fagan unsuccessfully ran against Amber Waldref, but won the seat at his next opportunity. He has now served as a City Council member for six-and-a-half years, currently in the middle of his second term.
“There is definitely a steep learning curve when you initially get in and on the City Council,” Fagan said. “You do what you can to hit the ground running. And that is exactly what City Council member Burke is doing, hitting the ground running, dealing with constituent issues and at the same time, going through a very, very steep learning curve.”
After completing her education at Spokane Falls Community College, Burke volunteered as an AmeriCorps VISTA member where she worked to bring fresh produce into local food banks and relished in the sense of community the experience granted her.
This led her to start the Spokane Edible Tree Project. The nonprofit works to find fruit and nuts that have not been fully harvested and donate it to local food banks.
Burke then became the legislative assistant for State Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane. Soon after she ran for a seat on the City Council which she won. Her term expires in 2021.
With her victory, Burke also won the title as the youngest woman on the Spokane City Council which she said has come with challenges.
Her colleagues are 20 to 25 years older than her. She said she struggles to find common ground in approach.
“The generation of women before us, they were really taught to put their head down and get things done and not to worry about other people,” Burke said. “But I feel like our generation from their generation was taught to be loud, have your voice be heard and we keep being told that. So whenever I do it I think it’s a little bit of a shock to everybody that I do have such a loud voice and I am going to very vocal about it.”
Burke views her role as a City Council member as a platform to create significant change by listening to her constituents and being engaged.
“I think our generation has really decided that we want leaders that are elected that are going to stand up for us and really be there for us and I feel like I have really taken that role very seriously,” Burke said.
Burke and Fagan’s varying experiences allow them to evaluate new and evergreen city issues with unique perspectives as they work together representing District 1.
“With her experience at the state level and my experience in the neighborhood and on the council, we can coach each other and sit down and plays devil’s advocate,” Fagan said.
Fagan is the lone conservative voice on the council of seven and is often pegged as the “anti-tax guy,” he said.
Voters Want More Choices, a political action advocacy organization co-directed by Fagan, has put forward multiple state-level tax initiatives that Fagan said would save taxpayers across Washington state upward of over $40 billion according to the Office of Financial Management, Fagan said.
“It’s by virtue of the fact that we are dealing with constituent issues — their wants, wishes and concerns we have recognized students’ programs that we were not open to in the past as actually being effective now, and those are the kinds of things that may have softened my stance on being an anti-tax guy.”
For students at GU, or at any educational level, Fagan said he has found and revalued resources that address student financial issues such as food and housing insecurity.
One of council member Burke’s primary issues is one plaguing campuses around the country: sexual assault.
Like other campuses, sexual assault and domestic violence continue to affect the GU campus and Burke hopes to provide victims with resources that are often gone unutilized to receive help.
“I would like students to know about Lutheran Community Services and YWCA,” Burke said. “Lutheran Community Services has a hotline you can call 24 hours and someone real will answer the phone every time.”
“That’s an amazing resource in case you’re going through something that’s tragic and need some support.”
Other issues that City Council is working on that directly affect the GU area is infrastructure to make North Cincinnati Street, which runs through campus, a road geared toward cyclists and pedestrians rather than cars. While cars can still use the road, it deters car traffic as there will be a higher presence of foot and bike traffic. Construction for the greenway will begin in 2020.
Construction for the new Central City Line, a rapid transit bus with a 6-mile loop, will begin next year.
“I think the most exciting thing in the near future is the Central City Line that will connect Browne’s Addition, downtown all the way to the Community College,” President Stuckart said. “It will travel through the heart of Gonzaga and students should make sure they are advocating for a system that meets their needs.”
Arcelia Martin is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @arcelitamartin.