When Mayor Mary Verner made a point last week of explaining the process for selecting the city's Employee of the Month, she not only released the four-page set of rules, but the list of members on the selection committee.
Two members have indirect connections to the controversy surrounding the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.
Verner, responding to a Spokesman-Review opinion column that criticized the selection in December 2010 of Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, said last week that she does not pick the winners. Treppiedi was criticized by federal officials in 2009 for his handling of the city’s defense in a lawsuit brought by Zehm’s family. City attorneys responded that the concerns were "baseless" and accused them of trying to manage the civil case.
Treppiedi was recommended for the award by the city’s Employee Recognition Committee, Verner said. She acknowledged that she can override the committee’s recommendation, but said she never has. The rules for Employee of the Month were written in 2005.
At the time of Treppiedi’s selection, the 10-member Employee Recognition Committee, which is made up largely of representatives of city unions, included Spokane Police Guild President Ernie Wuthrich and Capt. Steve Braun.
Wuthrich responded to the Zehm scene but was not involved in the confrontation. Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks wrote in a notebook he kept about the case that one of the security videos shows Wuthrich pouring himself a soft drink from the Zip Trip’s soda fountain. A clerk declined to let Wuthrich pay for it. Nicks, who was the interim chief at the time, wrote that he met with Wuthrich about “the issue of not paying for his drink.”
“The only option that he thought he had was to pour out the pop or drink it,” Nicks wrote in his notes, which have been filed in the criminal case. “The matter was addressed with counseling.”
Braun’s son, Officer Steve Braun Jr., is one of the officers named in the lawsuit brought by Zehm's family and estate. He shocked Zehm with a Taser at the direction Thompson during the police confrontation, records say. Thompson faces federal charges of using excessive force and lying to investigators.
Last week, when presenting the award for the current Employee of the Month, Verner took time to outline the selection procedures and provided copies of the selection rules to the City Council because “there has been some information in the community regarding the Employee of the Month and how it is derived,” she told the council.
“She’s not saying (Treppiedi) did or didn’t deserve it. She’s just saying that it wasn’t her decision alone,” city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said last week. “This is largely a recognition of their peers. She respects the process of the committee’s work and the nominees that come up through the various departments and employees.”