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Doug Clark: Ombudsman Lite still lacking in flavor

Sun., Dec. 15, 2013

It’s a big moment at City Hall on Monday night as members of the Spokane City Council plan to vote on Mayor David Condon’s proposed ordinance about independent police oversight.

Which essentially amounts to …

Knock. Knock.

Who’s there?

Police ombudsman.

Police ombudsman who?


Most right-thinking residents (those not peeking out of the mayor’s suit pocket) consider the Condon approach to be weak cheese.

If you haven’t been following this soap opera, you should know that the ombudsman was originally intended to be someone who could independently investigate citizen complaints of police abuse once all the bandages were removed.

The ombudsman movement stems from the 2006 death of Otto Zehm, who died after making the fatal mistake of attempting to buy some soda and a candy bar in a North Division convenience store.

Erroneously reported as an ATM thief, Zehm was beaten to a pulp and stun-gunned by this cop who decided that thuggery would be better than wasting a lot of time asking the man a few questions.

Seven years later, Spokane still doesn’t have a real ombudsman. This is mainly due to resistance from La Coppa Nostra, the city’s powerful organized crime cabal that is sometimes called the Police Guild.

Enter the Condon compromise.

Unfortunately for the mayor, most of the 80 people who showed up at a town hall meeting the other night were there to remind him that there’s a reason Spokane hasn’t had a two-term mayor since Riverside was a cow path.

One of the critics, Deb Conklin, went so far as to quote Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” saying:

“How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

I love Dylan. But with all due respect to Conklin, this is not the lyric I would’ve pulled out to describe the mayor’s waffling.

The line that pops into my noggin is the opening of “Positively 4th Street,” which goes:

“You’ve a got a lotta nerve to say that you’re my friend.”

What a lot of us find annoying is how far the mayor has strayed from the tough talk he used a couple of years ago, when he was out seducing the citizenry for votes.

Candidate Condon’s position back then was essentially …

“I’ll not only give the ombudsman real juice, but every now and then I’ll let him tie the worst Police Guild rascals to a tree for several days at a time.”

Then Condon won the election and came down with a case of ombudsmanesia.

Maybe several of the Police Guild’s larger members dropped by City Hall to educate the mayor on the ABCs of Spokane police relations.

Which are …

A. Don’t mess with the Police Guild.

B. Don’t even think about messing with the Police Guild.

C. When in doubt, consult A & B.

Whatever happened, Boy Mayor folded like a soft taco.

When his earlier attempt to have the ombudsman replaced with a new Keurig coffeemaker failed, Condon came up with Ombudsman Lite that the council must now vote on.

How that will turn out is anybody’s guess.

That said, Council President Ben Stuckart has indicated that he’d rather poke his eyes out with a sharpened pencil than go along with the mayor’s wimpishness.

If the ordinance fails, however, rumor has it that the Police Guild will back the mayor on an even simpler ombudsman ordinance.

Which is …

RULE 1 – For better transparency, the Spokane police ombudsman will get a corner office with lots of windows.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

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