December 17, 2013 in City

City Council votes to delay ombudsman discussion

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

Efforts to define an expanded role for an independent Spokane police ombudsman are going to continue for seven more weeks.

The Spokane City Council voted to defer consideration of an ombudsman ordinance and a proposed labor contract between the city and Spokane Police Guild until Feb. 3.

The two issues are linked because disciplinary investigations through the department’s internal affairs office are considered working conditions and a matter for the bargaining table.

Mayor David Condon and the City Council have been working for months to bring greater investigative independence to the ombudsman, but the issue has been stalled over the level of disciplinary authority that the independent investigation would have.

Voters last February voted with a 69 percent approval to establish greater independence in the ombudsman’s office.

The debate since then has revolved around what that independence would involve.

Condon and police Chief Frank Straub are arguing that giving the ombudsman authority to do independent investigations, but leaving disciplinary decisions with the chief and mayor, satisfies the voters’ call for independence.

Councilman Mike Fagan said, “The TA (tentative contract agreement) does not meet the specifications of the people.”

At a town hall meeting last week, numerous citizens criticized the latest proposal, but council members Monday said that all sides remain open to continued negotiations.

Under the latest plan, the ombudsman would participate in internal investigations and subsequently report findings to an unpaid citizen board appointed by the mayor and Spokane City Council. If the board finds the internal investigation was insufficient, the board can call for additional investigation or the introduction of a third party to conduct a separate investigation.

In November, the council rejected the proposed police contract because it did not allow for enough independence by the ombudsman.

Straub warned that rejecting the proposed contract would send negotiations to a state arbitrator, who could order larger salary increases than the 2 percent annual increases called for in the proposed agreement.

The decisions to delay the ombudsman ordinance and police contract were made on two voice votes. The city clerk this morning confirmed that the vote to defer the ordinance passed 5-2 with council members Nancy McLaughlin and Jon Snyder voting no. The vote to defer the contract passed 4-3 with McLaughlin, Snyder and Councilman Mike Fagan voting no.


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