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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Flashing incident prompts commission change

County’s civil service panel will gain two members

An encounter that involved a sheriff’s detective flashing a barista at a drive-up coffee stand has led to a new state law that Spokane County will use to expand the volunteer panel that overturned the detective’s firing.

It took nearly three years, an act of the Legislature and a signature from Gov. Chris Gregoire to get from the flashing to the expansion. But county commissioners said Tuesday they will probably increase the board from three to five members this summer.

Sheriff’s Detective Joseph Mastel was fired in June 2006 after exposing himself to a barista at the On Alert coffee stand in Airway Heights. He was off duty at the time and said he had a “flirtatious relationship” with the woman, who was about 30 years younger. The woman said she was taken by surprise and felt violated by his actions.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich fired Mastel. But after Mastel received a deferred sentence for an indecent exposure charge from a municipal judge in Airway Heights, he appealed to the three-member Civil Service Commission to get his job back. He told the board he took some responsibility, but not full responsibility, for the incident and was under “extreme stress” on the job and at home when it happened.

Before the commission could rule, however, one member recused himself from the case because he’d had a conversation with a county prosecutor handling Mastel’s case. That left the commission with just two members to handle the appeal; they decided to change Mastel’s dismissal to a one-year unpaid suspension that allowed him to collect some of his unused sick time and retire.

County commissioners said they disagreed with the decision but couldn’t appeal it. They looked for ways to change the board, but state law sets the number of members at three.

State Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, a sponsor of the legislation, said a bill to expand the Civil Service Commission to five members sailed through the House unanimously two years in a row, but it passed the Senate for the first time this year. Gregoire signed it last week.

The flashing incident was never specifically mentioned when county officials lobbied for the change, Ormsby said. Instead, they stressed the need for a more diverse commission.

But Knezovich said the Mastel incident was the catalyst for change. He said the county never wants to get in the position again where a recusal knocks out one-third of the board before an important decision. He said he’ll stay out of the selection for the new members to avoid suggestions of favoritism.

County board Chairman Todd Mielke said Tuesday that advertisements would appear soon for two more members and that an ordinance to expand the commission will be unveiled soon after the state law takes effect July 1.

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