February 10, 2009 in City

City begins ombudsman search

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The city of Spokane has begun the search for a police ombudsman, a position that got strong public support after several recent controversies, including the 2006 death of mentally disabled janitor Otto Zehm in a confrontation with police.

The job will pay $77,130 to $94,628 annually. The successful applicant will be appointed for a three-year term and can be reappointed to a second three years. The deadline to apply is Feb. 27.

“The person we choose will face many expectations from the community and should be prepared to get right to work,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said Tuesday in a press release.

The Spokane City Council approved an ordinance last fall to create the Office of Police Ombudsman. Police unions endorsed the ombudsman last June in a 121-4 vote after negotiations between the city and the Spokane Police Guild and at the urging of Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

Spokane has struggled to establish a new model for a civilian oversight body to replace an older panel of citizen volunteers that rarely met and had little power. The renewed push for independent oversight followed several recent incidents, including Zehm’s death in March 2006. The FBI is still investigating Zehm’s death.

Some citizen groups and the Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm, have criticized the ombudsman ordinance, saying it is too weak for effective police oversight and doesn’t give the ombudsman the powers recommended by Sam Pailca, Seattle’s former police oversight chief and an independent consultant hired by Kirkpatrick in 2007.

A five-member committee will oversee the selection. Two members were chosen by the city, one by the Police Guild, one by the Lieutenants & Captains Association and the fifth member by the other four.

The city’s choices for the committee include City Administrator Ted Danek and attorney Nancy Isslerlis of Winston & Cashatt. Police choices include Det. Ernie Wuthrich, Spokane Police Guild president and Capt. Steve Braun of the Lieutenants & Captains Association. They selected George Critchlow, associate professor at Gonzaga University Law School, as the fifth member.

The committee will recommend three candidates to Verner. Her choice is subject to council approval, but the ombudsman will report directly to her.

The ombudsman can’t be removed from office except for misconduct, incompetence or negligence.

The public will get a chance to ask questions of the three finalists in a series of public meetings before Verner makes her choice, the city said this week.


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