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Fourth ethics complaint filed in Spokane sexual harassment controversy

A fourth ethics complaint has been lodged against Spokane Mayor David Condon for how he handled allegations of sexual harassment against former police Chief Frank Straub.

In their complaint, the local chapter of the National Organization for Women said Condon “failed in his responsibility to provide a safe work environment for the women of the Spokane Police Department and, by extension, all women who work for the city of Spokane.”

The Center for Justice is representing NOW in the complaint.

Sherry Jones, a local author who filed the complaint on behalf of the group, said Condon has refused to take responsibility for mishandling the allegations from the former police spokeswoman, Monique Cotton, who said that Straub had “grabbed her ass, tried to kiss her.” Straub denies the accusations of sexual harassment.

Instead of investigating the accusations, Condon transferred Cotton to the parks department and left Straub in charge for five months. When police leadership came to Condon with reports of explosive, inappropriate behavior from Straub, Condon forced Straub to resign. City Hall has since been thrown into turmoil as Straub filed a $4 million claim against the city for a violation of due process, and the mayor’s top administrator acknowledged she lied about the reasons behind Cotton’s transfer. An investigation into the matter is pending.

In a statement, Condon said the investigation will bring about any changes needed to city policy.

“The underlying series of events will be examined and considered as part of the joint independent inquiry process that is underway,” Condon said. “We need to let that process play out and learn from the lens of independent inquiry to make sure employees are treated fairly and appropriately.”

But Jones said the real issue is Condon’s inability to protect women employees at City Hall.

“The message went out to all departments at City Hall: The mayor doesn’t take accusations of sexual harassment or assault seriously,” Jones said. “He’s blaming Monique Cotton for his lack of due diligence in following city policy. That’s another example of victim blaming. We want him to take responsibility.”

At its most recent meeting, the Spokane Ethics Commission agreed to consolidate all complaints made against Condon in the matter that bar “acts of moral turpitude or dishonesty.”

Former City Council President Joe Shogan, businessman Jamie Pendleton and Mara Spitzer, a citizen, previously filed complaints against Condon.

Pendleton has been in the middle of controversy before, notably for naming a drink “Date Grape Kool-Aid” at his now-shuttered downtown bar, the Spokane Downtown Daiquiri Factory. He was evicted and the bar was closed after his landlord accused him of failing to pay rent. Pendleton also faces criminal credit card fraud charges in Idaho.

The ethics commission will discuss the complaints, and any others that may come in, on Jan. 13 and Jan. 27. Local attorney Jim King is representing Condon in the matter.

Sanders, Condon’s second in command, admitted to the ethics committee that she lied in the days leading up to Straub’s ouster. She was fined $75 and barred from speaking to the media about Straub. Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, also had a complaint lodged against him, but it was dismissed by the commission.

The complaint from NOW points out that “dishonesty” is not defined in the municipal code.

“Unless contrary legislative intent is indicated, words are given their ordinary, dictionary meaning,” the complaint says, referring to the Merriam-Webster definition of a “lack of honesty; the quality of being untruthful or deceitful.”

The complaint also refers to a September news conference where Condon was asked about allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment against Straub. Condon denied such accusations, but later said he was responding to questions about “official complaints.”

When records were released in November showing Condon knew of Cotton’s accusations against Straub, and shed light on his role in transferring Cotton to a different department, Condon said he was following city policy and attempting to appease Cotton, who had hired a lawyer to represent her.

The complaint from NOW also argues that Condon was dishonest about Cotton filling “an existing need” in the parks department. After Cotton brought her concerns to Condon and City Administrator Theresa Sanders, there were discussions to move her to the fire department, but fire officials rebuffed the effort. Instead, they told the city administration that they “would prefer to do recruitment for someone that was better suited for fire,” as Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer told The Spokesman-Review in August.

Cotton remains with the parks department, but park officials said they’ll be taking applications for Cotton’s job. Park board officials demanded an open hiring process when they learned Cotton’s position was permanent, but Leroy Eadie, the parks director, said that “was the plan all along.”

Nancy Goodspeed, the parks spokeswoman who was on medical leave for brain surgery when Cotton was transferred, is demanding up to $1 million from the city, accusing officials of age discrimination and of using her medical condition as an excuse to demote her and give her job away.

Rick Eichstaedt, executive director with the Center for Justice, said his group is representing NOW because previous ethics complaints failed to “adequately address the issue.”

“Normally the center doesn’t get involved in partisan politics, but we really see that the concerns NOW brings to the table need to be addressed,” he said, adding that the city “needs to deal with sexual harassment with top officials at the city, and not just deny and bury it.”

Jones, with NOW, said the group filed the complaint to “change the culture at City Hall” with an overhaul of the sexual harassment policy, and “thorough and comprehensive training” regarding sexual harassment.

“Starting with Mayor Condon, who obviously needs it,” Jones said of training. “Mayor Condon’s failure to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment and assault left the women of the police department in a potentially vulnerable position for five months, as they continued to work under former police Chief Straub.”

Though Jones said Condon did the “right thing” by transferring Cotton, but “let down the women of the city of Spokane” by not investigating her accusations.

“Women often don’t speak out because they are afraid, or they think they won’t be taken seriously. We really want to change the culture in Spokane City Hall that says sexual harassment is OK and not a big deal,” Jones said. “We want Mayor Condon to publicly acknowledge that he has let down the women of the city of Spokane, and we would like him to apologize. He needs to change his attitude and not blame the victim for his refusal to do the right thing for the women of Spokane.”

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