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Tuesday, May 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane planning director fired partly for ‘inability to lead’

Scott Chesney, Spokane’s planning director who was fired last month, lost his job not only due to his “inability to lead,” but also because he used city funds to buy a leather portfolio embossed with his name as well as personalized hard hats for his employees. Notes in Chesney’s personnel file written by his supervisor, Jan Quintrall, said his department “has been in the crosshairs all year,” and that Chesney had “failed in the leadership role.”

Quintrall also took aim at City Council members in her notes that became part of Chesney’s file. She referred to two of them, including Council President Ben Stuckart, as “arrogant” for questioning decisions within the planning department.

Chesney has since been hired by Columbia International Finance to help develop public-private projects in Washington. He said Wednesday he didn’t question Quintrall’s ability to fire him as an at-will employee. Still, he suggested that she didn’t understand the role of a planning director and his dismissal “reflects a difference in management style.”

On Wednesday, Quintrall renewed her criticisms of Chesney.

“His inability to lead the planning team to any measurable outcomes was a real concern,” said Quintrall, who leads the city’s Business and Development Services division.

The notes in Chesney’s file, which Quintrall used during her explanation to City Council members, laid out her case for Chesney’s dismissal. Concerns she had last year, she said, only “deepened” this year when she moved her office to Chesney’s department, where she was “working on shoring up and coaching Scott.”

What she saw on the third floor of City Hall was “eye opening,” she wrote. Bullet-pointed examples paint Chesney as indecisive and unorganized, and Quintrall wrote that “staff feared to challenge Scott, and for good reason.”

Chesney said he was open to management training that Quintrall offered him, but it never came.

“I think those were all fixable attributes but that coaching never happened,” he said. “The management of a department is a challenge for everyone, especially in a department as wide and diverse as the building and planning department. … I don’t know of any other department at the city that has as many different types of professionals.”

Quintrall also took aim at Chesney’s use of city funds, which has gotten Chesney into trouble before. Chesney admitted violating city policy in Surprise, Arizona, where he previously worked, by using city credit cards to buy alcohol for himself and staff. Chesney, who reimbursed the city for improper use of the card, disclosed the situation prior to his hiring in Spokane.

According to the letter, Chesney used Spokane city money to buy a personalized leather folder, books, newspaper subscriptions and a “number of staff lunches,” which “alarmed” Quintrall.

Chesney said he intended to reimburse the city for the portfolio purchase and said publications were meant for a library that had been budgeted for his department.

In October, Quintrall discovered that Chesney had spent $700 on 60 hard hats emblazoned with employees’ names.

“This is just another example of poor judgment on his part,” she wrote. “They are sitting in a box on the 3rd floor, never distributed.”

Chesney defended the purchase.

“After the (Davenport Grand) hotel walk-through, I told her I was going to buy those. I heard no objection,” Chesney said. “From the city side, some of our inspectors use them every day. … This is a way of reinforcing that we’re in the business of getting things built and you need to go out and see them.”

Quintrall’s notes also criticize all but one City Council member for publicly and positively acknowledging Chesney’s work at the city. She suggested that Councilwoman Amber Waldref had expressed concerns about Chesney to her previously and “came very close to calling Scott a liar.” She called Councilwoman Candace Mumm “arrogant.”

After Stuckart questioned Chesney’s ouster and told Quintrall that Chesney was “not the problem in planning,” she told him “not to go there.”

“The arrogance of that statement is simply amazing,” she wrote. “How could you have any idea about the inner workings of planning?”

On Wednesday, Quintrall said she “did not say any of those things to them” and only wrote them down.

“It felt good to get it off my chest. It was just more destruction and I’ve just had enough destruction over this process,” she said. “I’m not going to lambast them publicly.”

Regardless, Stuckart did not appreciate the comments.

“That’s a pretty disrespectful statement. I’m disappointed to hear that from a division head. I’m glad that’s only in notes and she didn’t say it to me,” Stuckart said, before reiterating his support for Chesney and calling his ouster “unacceptable.”

He dismissed the reasons for Chesney’s ouster.

“I don’t think it’s a problem if our planning staff and permitting staff have hard hats to go with the projects they’re working on,” he said, adding that Chesney couldn’t be blamed for wanting the personalized folder. “Is that going to get you fired? Looking nice for your clients?”

Also in Chesney’s personnel file were Quintrall’s official reviews of Chesney’s performance, which were generally positive but laced with concerns.

“He’s almost like reviewing two people,” she said. “There’s how he performs internally with the team he’s leading, and how he’s dealing with people in the community.”

Finally, Quintrall said she was “shocked” when prominent developers lined up behind Chesney when news came out that he was leaving the city.

“Many of those same developers … know that so much of the change was lead by Kris Becker,” said Quintrall, referring to the manager of the city’s Development Services Center. “I’ve talked to Ron Wells. I’ve seen Jim Frank. We shook hands and had pleasantries but didn’t really talk. Life goes on. You still have to get stuff done.”

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