In today's paper, I reported on a scathing letter written by Patrick Striker, the director of the city's Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, that called Mayor David Condon "aggressive and angry and threatening."
Here's Striker's full email, unedited:
The Mayor’s assistant scheduled a meeting for 1pm on March, 30, 2016 to discuss the PAL and YPI programs, and how C.O.P.S. could fit into it.
On March 29th (the day before the meeting), at approx. 2:30pm, I called Lt Traci Meidl. I told her I was a little concerned about the meeting the next day as I had had some uncomfortable meetings with the Mayor. I told her I never get nervous to meet with anyone, but I do get nervous with him because I never know what to expect. Sometimes he’s polite and conversational, other times he’s pretty aggressive and angry and threatening. I told her the reason I was telling her this was simply because he had implied recently that our funding for next year might be quite minimal as he saw no value in our organization. I said then that my hope was that perhaps during the meeting she could make little comments like “the C.O.P.S. volunteers are so helpful” or “I don’t think we at SPD could do what we do without the C.O.P.S. shops,” things like that. She laughed, said that I was certainly not the only one uncomfortable around the mayor, and that she was more than happy to try and help us look good. I thanked her and we hung up.
I arrived at the Mayor’s office at 12:45pm the following day, and took a seat in the front lobby. At approx. 12:50pm, the Mayor came out of his office briefly and said something to the effect of, “Hey Mr C.O.P.S. man!” I laughed and said hello back, and thought to myself that it was nice to see him in a good mood, that maybe this would be an ok meeting. Then I thought, “Geez, how sad is that that I’m having to gauge a meeting like this? What does that say about his leadership style that a grown man gets nervous to meet with him?” I waited a few more minutes and Sara Lynds, Traci Meidl, and Justin Lundgren showed up. We all waited and the Mayor came over and laughed and joked with us and invited us back. I thought, “Cool, he’s in a good mood. Maybe none of us have screwed up and no one’s in trouble.”
We went into the conference room next to his office and he closed the door. His assistant (Brandy I think is her name) and a legal counsel person (unsure of the name. Maybe Hunt Whalen or someone?) were present as well. The Mayor’s demeanor changed entirely once the door closed. We all sat down. He said he was very frustrated. He wanted to know if SPD was going to have PAL this summer. The question was directed at Lt. Meidl, and the tone was very annoyed/angry/aggressive. I could see it caught Lt Meidl off-guard a little. She said that yes, as far as she knew they were still going to have it. The Mayor was very visibly angry and wanted to know why, then, was he hearing that people in the community didn’t know if SPD was going to have it or not? Lt Meidl said she didn’t know why that would be the case. She asked who said that they didn’t know? The Mayor said it didn’t matter but that he was very frustrated that SPD wasn’t moving forward with this. Sara Lynds chimed in that with the turmoil at the Chief level as of late, that things were a little chaotic. The Mayor clearly did not want to hear that and would not address her. Instead, he asked what was budgeted for these programs. Sara said something about there being $75k over three years. The numbers seemed to show that that wasn’t going to be enough. The Mayor was mad and said something about there being $10k “of MY damn money” involved (emphasis his), and that clearly bothered him. I didn’t like the tone of this meeting and where it was going, and so I chimed in and said that if there was a shortfall this year, that depending on the amount, I would be more than happy to approach my Board and see if we could pick up the slack. I told him these were great programs, that my organization was 100% supportive, and we would help any way we could. All I could think was to try and bail out the other three SPD folks in the room as the meeting was already getting uncomfortable.
He went back to the initial point of the meeting, which was to see if he could run money through C.O.P.S. Apparently, since some of this money is grant-funded, the police department can’t spend it on certain things like food and such. So, by giving the money to C.O.P.S. (which is allowable), we can then buy those things. He asked both Sara and the legal counsel if that was so, and both said yes, that is ok. I said that was fine on my end and that I was happy to help out any way I could. He then went back to Lt Meidl and Sara, acting very frustrated and saying that SPD should have been moving on this earlier, and chastised them over it. He looked at the line items, and was angry at some things. He wanted to know why there was a line item for $1200 for “website.” Lt Meidl informed him that that was a Straub thing, that Straub wanted to have “www.spokanepal.org” as opposed to simply having a site on the city website. The Mayor wanted to know why that cost $1200. Lt Meidl said she didn’t know, and once again noted that was a Straub thing, and not a decision she had anything to do with. The Mayor was clearly irritated with her. I jumped in and said that since C.O.P.S. just released our new website which was very user-friendly, that I was more than happy to offer our services. I said we could use the current PAL design page, or design a new one, and make it part of our site. I said since we have a contract with Phase3 for our website, we could use them to professionally design the page if needed (at no additional cost to us), and go that route. I said that would cut the $1200 off of the budget right there, and still provide an easy, user-friendly access to the site for the community.
Then the mayor said he was upset and concerned that SPD was not approaching businesses to get their support. However, he then noted he was also angry that when they do, that SPD is having police do it. He said there should not be a uniformed police officer ever talking to a business to get money. He wanted to know why they did it that way. Lt Meidl started to say that that was how Straub set it up, and I chimed in and once again said I would be happy to be of assistance (again, I kept jumping in to offer solutions because it was pretty painful to watch him treating Lt Meidl and Sara the way he was. I don’t know that he engaged Justin at any point. But the meeting was starting to feel out of control). I said that since I am not an officer, and getting donations from businesses is one of my strengths, that I could help with that as a solution to his problem. He was still clearly angry. I once again reiterated that my aim was for C.O.P.S. to help out any way we could, and I pledged the support of myself and my staff as much as we were able to help out. The Mayor made a very inappropriate comment that we “should want to help. This will get younger volunteers and yours are all old. Your volunteers just want to sit around and do nothing all day, but younger volunteers might actually want to do something.” I had a fleeting urge at that point to pick him up and throw him, but for the sake of professionalism I just remained silent and made some colorful insults at him in my head.
Then he brought up the food cost. Sara noted that the school district was able to donate that food, so that had not cost anything in the past. The mayor then made an angry, out-of-place comment about how the school district “had better donate the food since they throw away more than they give out anyhow.” It struck me as a very odd comment, and it made me uncomfortable.
He tasked SPD with charting out responsibilities between them, C.O.P.S., and the school district for who does what. Then the meeting ended.
The four of us left the meeting, I daresay each with our tail between our legs. We got in the elevator and pretty much stared at each other in shock. Lt Meidl said she would really like to “decompress” and wanted to know if we could talk about this meeting right then. She seemed as if she was about to cry, and her hands were trembling. We agreed, and we walked across the street to the mall. We got some coffee by Nordstrom’s and sat at a table. It was clear that each person was very bothered and uncomfortable with the meeting. Lt Meidl noted that she had never had a meeting like this, and she was visibly shaken. Sara and Justin also both were shaken up and clearly felt that none of their actions merited the tone and direction of this meeting. I would agree. We talked at length, and after cheering each other up some, we went on our individual ways.
My overall impression of the meeting was that it was quite unprofessional and, frankly, bizarre. No other word could describe it. It seemed to me that it was a very gross overreaction to a situation which needed no reaction whatsoever. There was nothing to react to on his end. His concern over whether or not PAL was going to happen would have been more appropriately directed at the new interim Chief, since that would be the Chief’s call to make. Or, if the Mayor felt that strongly about this program, he could have taken the time several months previously to inquire and make his position known, rather than failing to communicate his wishes appropriately and then lashing out at others who are not in a position to make changes. The Mayor, at least in my opinion (and I daresay the opinion of anyone in good taste), could/should have been far more sympathetic to the recognition that there has been a lot of change at SPD right now, resulting naturally in hesitation among staff until a new Chief is chosen. A good leader would have provided some direction and encouragement – he, instead, blew up and accused the staff of incompetence. And while a Mayor looking closely at line items certainly has merit and does provide accountability, his tone was not investigatory or explanatory, but entirely accusatory and angry. His entire tone of the meeting gave me impression there was no “win” to be had by any of us, and no answer would be correct or would suffice.
This meeting made myself, and the three others, very uncomfortable. My experience, as noted at the beginning of this account, has been one of very mixed emotions regarding our Mayor. Over time, I have become very nervous and uncomfortable around a person whose job theoretically should exist to serve the community and be a leader that makes us all better, acting as the embodiment of traits the community desires for the betterment of us all. My experience rather has been of an unstable, angry person with no clear direction who does not communicate effectively, does not lead appropriately, and is far more interested in placing blame than in solving problems in a healthy manner. I currently would not feel comfortable meeting with the Mayor alone (he is the only person in the City I would say that about) and I am dreading the follow up to this meeting, as I know the other three SPD members are as well.
Condon said he has apologized for his "tone," but stands behind what he said is his passion for the youth outreach programs. Striker has also shown some remorse for the email, saying, "I am very positive on our mayor. I am very positive on our city. This meeting was uncomfortable for the four of us but I guess we can consider it an anomaly. The mayor has good direction in which he’s going with things. I am supportive of the mayor and we’re going to keep moving forward."
And here is Maj. Justin Lundgren's response, which he emailed me:
On Friday, I received a copy of the notes Patrick Striker sent to the City Council relating to a meeting I attended on March 30th, 2016 with the Mayor. I received this as a courtesy from the City Clerk’s office because I was mentioned in the material being released.
I don’t agree with the letter as it was written by Patrick. I was disappointed by the emotional context he provided for the meeting and the way he portrayed Tracie, Sarah, and my thoughts. The meeting was held to plan for the future of two of SPD’s important community outreach programs, YPI and PAL. The programs have flourished under Tracie’s leadership and the efforts of her team and our community partners. As is frequently the case, budget constraints can frustrate the delivery of valuable programs. When we met the Mayor we were trying to develop a solution to funding these programs throughout the year and into the future. This was not our first meeting and it wasn’t our last as this issue has since been solved for the foreseeable future. I was disappointed at the conclusion of the March 30th meeting when we had not yet solved the problem we were facing, not because I was “shaken up” as Patrick offers. I certainly did not see anyone trembling or bursting into tears. I have attended several meetings with the Mayor and I have never seen him act in an aggressive or threatening manner toward anyone. I have spoken with Tracie and Sarah and both of them were as surprised as I was that Patrick had written this in a letter to a member of the City Council.
Lt. Tracie Miedl also sent me an email yesterday evening, saying, "I feel that Justin Lundgren's response accurately depicts my view of the meeting as well."