For the second time in as many years, the Spokane Police Department is paying the salary of an employee who has left the department for another city job, raising questions and causing concern among members of the city’s park board and the City Council.
A spokeswoman for Spokane’s Parks and Recreation Department is paid nearly $90,000 by the Spokane Police Department, about $10,000 more than she made in 2014 as the police spokeswoman. Next year, she is scheduled to earn $96,000.
Monique Cotton was hired by police Chief Frank Straub in 2013 to lead the department’s communications and marketing strategy, a role she maintained until May when she was transferred from police to parks – a decision park board members were informed of only after the decision was made even though the board controls park spending and is charged with managing the department.
City Councilwoman Karen Stratton opposes the use of money earmarked for police to pay for Cotton’s parks position.
“In my mind, I can’t justify it. Period,” she said, adding that police department money should be spent on policing. “When you look at the car thefts and the robberies, not to mention the homeless youth and the families that need assistance, there’s no justification for it.”
Council President Ben Stuckart also questions the transfer.
“I think it’s really peculiar that she got a pay raise and she’s still paid by police,” Stuckart said.
Calls seeking comment from Straub, City Administrator Theresa Sanders and Marlene Feist, a city spokeswoman, were not returned. Mayor David Condon also could not be reached for comment.
Cotton’s move supplied the parks department with two spokespersons. Nancy Goodspeed, the department’s community affairs coordinator, has worked for the city for about eight years. Goodspeed, who was paid $62,352 in 2014, was on medical leave until this week, when she returned part time.
With Goodspeed’s return, Cotton’s role at the parks department, and the source of her salary, is raising questions among park board members, who last week discussed whether her position should be made permanent in coming budget talks.
Chris Wright, the president of the park board who is married to Stratton, described Cotton as “on loan” from the police department, but said there were discussions with the city administration to make her position permanent.
Wright said Cotton’s transfer “didn’t come out of nowhere” because the parks department anticipated needing a new communications strategy following the passage of last year’s $64 million Riverfront Park bond. He added that the park board was not part of the discussion to bring Cotton over, and if her position is made permanent the board likely would ask for an open hiring process.
“The park board’s position is it should be open to public participation,” Wright said, noting that it was still unclear why Cotton’s salary is paid through the police budget. “The detail on that is something the board is waiting for.”
This is not the first time the police department has paid the salary of a position in another department. Carly Cortright was paid her annual salary of $82,494 by the police department for 15 months after leaving her position as the police business services director in October 2013 to work as the director of the 311 project, a customer service program under the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services.
Wright said Cotton’s transfer has made the park board revisit issues that first were raised when Condon reorganized the parks department, creating eight positions that are exempt from civil service rules, which are meant to insulate employees from the political process. Cotton’s position is exempt and she is not protected by a labor union.
“We didn’t want these positions to be filled with a lot of political appointees. It was meant to bring more accountability to top positions, which has occurred,” Wright said, noting that the administration has generally kept the park board informed of decisions that affect it. “The administration has been very good about including us in the conversation about hiring for exempt positions.” Park board member Ken Van Voorhis agreed with Wright that hiring should be conducted through a public process.
“I think all positions should be open. We have to follow the same policies, whether it be for temp-seasonal or any other position,” he said.
Van Voorhis said he “wasn’t aware” of Cotton’s transfer until it happened, which he suggested was appropriate.
“The park staff is all employees of the mayor. That’s all up to him,” he said. “We manage the budget, and we manage the policies.”
Cotton’s pay, large compared to Goodspeed’s, is in line with other city spokespersons.
In 2013, Cotton made $68,239. Last year, she made $80,900 with the police department, which was increased to about $90,000 when she moved to parks.
Brian Coddington, the city’s communications director, makes $94,961. Marlene Feist, who was the city’s main spokeswoman before becoming the utilities spokeswoman, made $90,135 in 2014.
Teresa Fuller, a police officer who has taken on Cotton’s role at the police department, made $108,435 in 2014.
Stratton said she didn’t blame Cotton, but rather people above her at the city.
“This isn’t about Monique. It’s really about the higher-level decisions that were made,” she said, noting that the City Council was not informed of the decision to transfer Cotton to parks. “There was a decision made somewhere, between the police chief, the mayor and the parks.”
City Councilman Mike Allen, who is the council’s liaison to the park board, said he was “not a fan” of the police department paying Cotton’s salary and that the park board was told of Cotton’s transfer “only a week or two” before it occurred.
He does, however, approve of Cotton’s work.
“I think Monique is one of our most effective communication strategists in the city,” he said. “What she did both with police and now in parks really significantly increased the amount of information the city gets out. I think she’s done a fantastic job.”
Allen agreed with Wright that a decision had to be made about the roles of Cotton and Goodspeed in the department, as the board heads toward budget discussions.
“I think Monique has raised the level of the communication capability of the parks department,” he said. “I don’t know how we can have two communications strategists in a department that size.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.