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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Council may fight ombudsman move

Resolution would ask mayor to reverse dismissal

The Spokane City Council appears ready to challenge Mayor David Condon’s decision to dismiss the city’s first police ombudsman.

Tim Burns, who helped pioneer Spokane’s still-fledgling police oversight program, was informed on Monday by City Administrator Theresa Sanders that his three-year contract would not be renewed. His last day is Oct. 31, though he’ll be using up vacation for the last month.

Council President Ben Stuckart said Friday that he is sponsoring a resolution requesting that Condon keep Burns on as ombudsman at least until a new police oversight system is in place. He hopes to win at least five votes to move the proposal forward so a decision can be made on Monday.

“If he’s gone in six weeks, we’ve got a huge gap as a community – I’d say for a minimum of six months,” Stuckart said. “We can’t afford to have a gap.”

City Council members, both Democratic- and Republican-leaning, this week expressed surprise with Burns’ dismissal and have praised his ability to be impartial.

“He has worked really hard to build trust on both sides,” said Councilman Jon Snyder.

The city’s ombudsman law doesn’t appear to allow for the ombudsman to serve shorter than a three-year period. The rules say the mayor appoints, with council consent, a police ombudsman to a three-year contract with the option for a three-year renewal.

Snyder said the law might have to be changed in order to allow Burns or anyone else to be appointed to the position for a shorter term.

Sanders said this week that Condon was uncomfortable offering Burns a new contract because he and other leaders are planning to strengthen the oversight system and the job description for the position likely will change. Many on the council, however, hope that Burns is considered for the revamped position.

How it will change won’t be known until the Spokane Police Guild, which has fought the city in the past few years when officials proposed stricter oversight, agrees to any changes.

Burns said he is willing to serve as the ombudsman until someone else is chosen and noted that he had offered to serve until the end of the year – an offer that Condon rejected. He said he also is interested in a renewal of the three-year contract.

Keeping the spot vacant, he said, potentially will force the city to “take steps backward.”

“I see this as like running a relay race,” Burns said. “It’s time to hand the baton to the second runner, but there isn’t a second runner.”

He was picked to be the city’s first ombudsman in June 2009 by then-Mayor Mary Verner.

“I would certainly say it’s going to be a rebuilding situation,” he said. “By 2013, the mayor is either going to be putting feathers in his cap or nails in his coffin, politically. While I don’t necessarily agree with his choice, he’s the mayor.”

Reporter Thomas Clouse contributed to this report.