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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In Straub controversy, Mayor David Condon says he was guided by city policy

Spokane Mayor David Condon is defending his actions in the lead-up and subsequent fallout from the hurried transfer of police spokeswoman Monique Cotton and forced resignation of police Chief Frank Straub earlier this year.

In a letter to the Spokane City Council sent Friday, Condon answered a number of questions the council asked him in regard to the personnel controversy engulfing City Hall, which began when Cotton demanded to be transferred due to Straub’s explosive behavior. She also said Straub “grabbed her ass, tried to kiss her.”

The letter, which was unanimously approved and signed by the council last week, demanded that Condon explain when he was aware of Straub’s alleged hostility toward his employees, why the mayor didn’t direct accusations of sexual harassment against Straub to the city’s human resources department and why the city took more than three months to release records requested by The Spokesman-Review.

But now that Condon has publicly answered those questions, those involved in the matter say they’ve agreed not to speak to the media about an investigation that has been officially endorsed by Condon and Council President Ben Stuckart.

“I haven’t reviewed the letter yet. I want the investigator to do his work,” Stuckart said, adding that he likely wouldn’t press the mayor on the answers because he didn’t want to influence the investigator, who has yet to be selected. “I want him to go into this clean. The mayor provided his answers. The investigator will review them.”

U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby recommended four people as potential investigators to Condon and Stuckart. Ormsby and city officials declined to provide those names.

Four other people have been named to a committee that will help guide the investigation, two each by the mayor and the council. Condon named Rick Romero, the city’s utilities director, and Laura McAloon, a private attorney. Councilwoman Karen Stratton and Brian McClatchey, the council’s policy director, will represent the council.

All four have agreed they won’t speak to the media about the investigation unless they unanimously agree on a statement, which would be sent out by the mayor’s spokesman, Brian Coddington.

In a letter to the council accompanying his answers to the questions, Condon said he wanted to “apologize to the community and City Council for any confusion that has been created by the way the events have unfolded.”

In his answers to the questions, Condon pointed to city policy, Cotton’s refusal to cooperate with any investigation and a heavy workload in the clerk’s office as reasons for the confusion.

Condon said Cotton first told him of the alleged sexual harassment in a private meeting at the office of her attorney, Bob Dunn.

“Ms. Cotton talked, in confidence, about behavior she believed constituted sexual harassment of her and was adamant that she did not want to make a formal complaint nor would she participate in any investigation,” he wrote.

Cotton’s unwillingness to cooperate in an investigation, as well as the city’s policy on sexual harassment, were the reasons for the lack of action on Cotton’s allegations, Condon said.

City policy states that harassment accusations “will ideally be resolved at the lowest appropriate level, informally and effectively.”

Since Cotton was unwilling to file a formal complaint or participate in a sexual harassment investigation, Condon argued that the city’s policy was followed.

“That is what occurred, but I welcome the independent inquiry to review the process and the policy,” Condon wrote.

Part of the city’s sexual harassment policy that Condon doesn’t cite says “when supervisors are notified of alleged sexual harassment, they shall immediately” document and report the incident, investigate the complaint, take appropriate corrective action, forward the results to the human resources department and provide official findings to the person who complained.

In an interview from late November, Coddington acknowledged there were interviews done following Cotton’s allegations but with few results.

“To my knowledge, there were no written reports or findings,” Coddington said, and there was “no discipline from it.”

Cotton’s refusal to lodge a formal complaint almost stopped any information from coming out of City Hall about the reasons for her transfer, Condon wrote in his answers.

While discussing the delay in the release of records, Condon said the city nearly didn’t make public the records that were released Nov. 24, which detailed and shed light on what happened at City Hall leading to Straub’s ouster.

The records “were not initially determined to be responsive” because the request used the word “complaint,” Condon wrote.

“Neither the Human Resources Department nor the Spokane Police Division had any record of ‘complaints’ by Ms. Cotton or against Mr. Straub,” Condon wrote. “To the best of our knowledge, no ‘complaint’ was ever filed by Ms. Cotton or against Mr. Straub.”