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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Council debates ombudsman appeal

Arbitrator’s decision spurs clash of proposals

The Spokane City Council appears headed for a showdown over whether to appeal a decision limiting the powers of the city’s police ombudsman.

The mention of a proposed ordinance accepting the decision of an arbitrator and rolling back the investigative powers approved last year showed a sharply divided council Monday afternoon. The hearing on the ordinance is at least two weeks away.

Council President Joe Shogan has proposed the ordinance to accept arbitrator Mike Baker’s decision that the city had to negotiate new ombudsman powers with the police union. If the ordinance passes, the ombudsman could sit in on police investigations of officer complaints, but not conduct independent interviews or investigations.

Councilman Richard Rush said he planned to introduce a separate ordinance that calls for the city to appeal Baker’s decision to a personnel board, a body which the arbitrator said has the statutory authority to make the call.

“I think an appeal is probably warranted,” Rush said.

Shogan countered that anyone who wants to appeal the decision should come up with the $25,000 that some attorneys estimate an appeal would cost. Courts don’t usually overturn arbitrators’ decisions, he added.

“I read state law a little differently,” Rush said. That prompted Shogan, who is an attorney, to question the legal knowledge of Rush, who is not.

Councilman Steve Corker said he thought the city should listen to its own attorneys rather than “be influenced by the Center for Justice.” That local organization is urging the council to appeal Baker’s decision.

Councilmen Jon Snyder and Bob Apple said they would like another executive session with attorneys to discuss options.

Shogan said they could have more study sessions, but they’ll still have to figure out how the city would pay for an appeal: “When you’re digging a hole … sometimes you have to decide to stop digging. We can’t seem to get to that point.”

Shogan’s ordinance is scheduled to be introduced Monday, with a hearing and possible vote on Aug. 15.