Hours after the city planning director was forced out of his job on Wednesday, one of Spokane’s premier developers publicly called on the mayor to hire him back.
Jim Frank, president of Greenstone Corp., which is developing Kendall Yards, sent an email to numerous city and business leaders Wednesday evening after hearing that Scott Chesney, Spokane’s planning director since 2011, abruptly left the city.
He urged the email’s recipients to lobby Mayor David Condon to bring Chesney back.
“I hope that this decision can be reversed. This is an enormous loss to the community. Scott has pressed hard for change in the culture at the city. He demanded accountability not only from his staff but from other departments,” Frank wrote. “I simply cannot stand still and allow this to happen.”
Chesney did not respond to calls for comment, but he did give a brief statement in a text message.
“I resigned due to the mayor’s loss of confidence in me,” Chesney wrote. “I respect his choice.”
Frank wasn’t the only prominent developer to disagree with Chesney’s departure. Ron Wells, who is redeveloping the Ridpath Hotel, called Chesney “transformative.”
“My experience with Scott Chesney has been nothing less than extraordinary. He has been nothing short of a stellar professional and a completely transformative leader,” he said. “His fingerprints are on many, many, many successful results.”
Wells gave Chesney credit for working with Walt and Karen Worthy to make their new Grand Hotel Spokane “more welcoming” by opening up the south facade of the building, and “completely changing the character of that development … in an everlastingly positive way.”
Chesney enjoyed strong support among liberals and conservatives on Spokane City Council. Council members expressed surprise and concern about his departure Wednesday as news leaked.
“Every interaction I’ve had with Scott has been extremely positive,” Councilman Mike Fagan said. “A lot of our neighborhoods in District 1 were enamored with Scott. If somebody called him, boom, he’s just like me, he’s in your face. He’s just one of them kind of guys. He was great. He was great to deal with.”
Chesney’s supervisor, Jan Quintrall, director of the city’s Business and Development Services Division, said she could not comment on his departure.
In a statement, Quintrall said, “We appreciate Scott’s service to the citizens of this community and his contributions to the city.”
Heather Lowe, the city’s human resources director, also would not comment, saying the issue was an “open personnel matter.”
City planner Louis Meuler has been appointed interim planning director while the city performs a national search for Chesney’s replacement.
Council President Ben Stuckart, who heard about the matter in a terse email from Quintrall, said he was “very upset for the city. This is a loss.”
He said he was unsure why Chesney was let go.
“I’m upset and I don’t know a single developer who would disagree with me,” he said. “Scott was moving the city in the right direction.”
Councilman Mike Allen said he didn’t know why Chesney was forced out of the position.
“I was a fan of Scott Chesney. He came into an environment where the answers had historically been no. He found ways to say yes,” Allen said. “Every time I’ve dealt with him, he’s been solid.”
Chesney was hired by Mayor Mary Verner in 2011. Before that, he was the director of planning and development for El Mirage, Arizona. Chesney was the top choice of an advisory committee of Spokane planning staff. His starting salary was $98,554 a year, and he earned $102,502 in 2013.
When he was hired, Chesney had worked in redevelopment planning and implementation for 20 years, in part as the director of community development in Surprise, Arizona, and as principal for his own urban planning consulting firm, Chesney & Associates.
Chesney made headlines after he admitted violating Surprise, Arizona, city policy by using city credit cards to buy alcohol for himself and staff and failed to provide itemized receipts for reimbursement, the Arizona Republic reported after Chesney resigned in November 2007. He told the paper that he bought drinks with a city credit card to reward staff for hard work.
Chesney, who reimbursed the city for improper use of the card, said the purchases were “very occasional occurrences,” the newspaper reported. Spokane officials said Chesney disclosed the situation prior to his hiring.
Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, former Plan Commission president, said Chesney was admired by big and small developers.
“I hope that we can get him back,” she said.
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