Spokane Mayor David Condon’s candidate to investigate the handling of personnel matters at City Hall has been pushed aside due to growing concerns from City Council members about the investigation’s independence.
Retired federal Judge Michael Hogan was named earlier this week by Condon to investigate the issue, but council members immediately criticized the pick. Council President Ben Stuckart questioned the independence of Hogan, noting that he had worked with the city under Condon previously.
After four days of backchannel discussions, the council and mayor’s office have agreed to an inquiry jointly approved and informed by representatives from the two branches of municipal government. A recommendation for a new investigator has been solicited from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The investigation will look into how Condon and his top officials handled accusations of sexual harassment against former police Chief Frank Straub, as well as the subsequent transfer of police spokeswoman Monique Cotton, who told Condon of the allegations in April.
“The council president and I agree that we need the lens of an independent inquiry to determine if mistakes were made and, if so, how we correct them,” Condon said in a statement. “We also agree that we need to learn from this to make sure employees are treated fairly and appropriately.”
Stuckart said the council could still use its subpoena power in support of the new investigator. He added that he wanted to “move as fast possible” on the inquiry.
“To me this is not a six-month process,” he said. “This is a get-moving-on-it-and-move.”
The parameters of the new investigation were hammered out by Councilman Mike Allen and Rick Romero, the city’s utilities director, and were designed to have more independence than Condon’s investigation and facilitate discussion between the council and mayor. According to the agreement, the city will create a joint coordination team, which will name an independent investigator, as well as provide insight and guidance to the investigator.
The scope of the inquiry will follow the parameters set out in a letter signed by all council members and sent to Condon Monday. The letter demanded details on why Condon’s top officials withheld information from council members and the media about allegations of a hostile work environment under Straub. The letter also asked for information about the delay in releasing public records surrounding the case, which were first sought in August by The Spokesman-Review.
According to a statement from the city, the investigation will look “into the process, policy and timelines associated with recent Spokane Police Division personnel movement and release of public records. This inquiry will also include an evaluation of the processes for all employee complaints and investigations.”
The joint team will be made up of four people. Two will be chosen by the mayor’s office, and two will be chosen by the council.
Stuckart said he would likely name Councilwoman Karen Stratton and Brian McClatchey, the council’s policy advisor, to the team, but would ask council members for their approval.
Stuckart said Friday he has “high respect for Judge Hogan,” but could not view his investigation as valid since he was chosen by Condon, with no feedback from the council.
Stuckart said Allen took the initiative to make the investigation more independent.
Allen is in the last month of his tenure on the city council, after deciding not to run for re-election this year. Romero, who worked with Allen at Eastern Washington University, was hired by former Mayor Mary Verner, but promoted to run the city’s largest department by Condon.
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