Spokane City Administrator Theresa Sanders said Wednesday she takes responsibility for the decision to transfer a police department spokeswoman to the parks department, a move that raised questions among some park board and City Council members.
Monique Cotton left her position as the Spokane Police Department’s spokeswoman in May to join the parks department, but her salary is still funded through the police budget.
As a police spokeswoman, Cotton earned $80,900 in 2014. With parks, she was given a nearly $10,000 pay increase for a salary of $90,000, which is scheduled to rise to $96,000 in 2016.
Sanders called the pay increase an “enticement.”
She acknowledged the decision likely came as a surprise to park board members.
“That’s the way I work. I move quick,” said Sanders, noting that she spoke with parks Director Leroy Eadie before moving Cotton. She said the pay increase was necessary to convince Cotton.
“It’s mostly an enticement. I was bringing her into an uncertain environment,” said Sanders, noting that Cotton is not protected by a union.
Sanders said the decision to move Cotton came as part of a larger city endeavor to “tell the story” of Riverfront Park, which will undergo a vast transformation in coming years as part of the $64 million park bond passed by voters last year.
Shar Lichty, who has mounted an underdog challenge to Spokane Mayor David Condon’s re-election bid, called the move “shady,” and said it came at the expense of public safety. She also called for greater transparency in City Hall.
Lichty, who came in a distant second to Condon in this month’s primary election, said the position’s salary would be “better used to hire another police officer.”
“It should raise questions to the public,” she said. “It just does not make sense. Why isn’t council more aware of what’s going on? What are they hiding? What’s the real story behind it?”
Condon told Mike Fitzsimmons on KXLY radio that Cotton was needed in parks because Nancy Goodspeed, another parks spokeswoman, “is going through a significant medical issue that is chronic. … We needed an immediate communications person in that position.”
Park board members say they were informed of the move only after the decision was made, even though the board controls park spending and is charged with managing the department. City Council members did not know of the move until Cotton already was working in the parks department.
“It is glaring that there’s a lack of transparency coming from that administration,” Lichty said. “I think whenever there’s lack of transparency, people should be asking questions.”
Attempts made to reach Condon on Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful, but he emailed a statement to The Spokesman-Review Wednesday evening.
“Ms. Cotton is a talented communications professional who does great work for the City,” the statement said. “She is filling a critical need in our Parks Department during a time we need additional public engagement with our citizens.”
Lichty dismissed Sanders’ taking responsibility for Cotton’s transfer, raise and source of her salary. She said all decisions and their repercussions belonged to Condon.
“It happened under his supposed leadership. He’s the one in charge of City Hall,” she said.
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