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In case ombudsman pick falls through, Spokane officials search for plan B

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 9, 2015

Even in a best-case scenario, Spokane is unlikely to have a new ombudsman start work before January – a year after the city’s first ombudsman left.

And because the finalist selected last week, Raheel Humayun, is a Canadian who will need a work visa, Spokane’s ombudsman commission is pushing for an interim ombudsman to be named.

The commission unanimously picked Humayun, a Canadian government oversight investigator, as ombudsman last week. He still is negotiating a job offer.

An interim ombudsman would be able to fill in until Humayun can take office, and would make sure the vacancy doesn’t persist if he declines the job or can’t get a visa, ombudsman commission chairwoman Deb Conklin said.

By city ordinance, applications for both permanent and interim police ombudsman are screened by a five-member selection committee, which forwards three finalists to the ombudsman commission. The commission gets the final say on any hire.

Ombudsman commissioners and city officials, including Mayor David Condon, have said the long vacancy in the ombudsman office suggests the hiring process needs to be revisited.

Condon said last week he supports a search for an interim ombudsman who could fill in before the permanent selection arrives and even when the permanent ombudsman is on vacation or away at training.

Commissioners have asked the City Council to appoint ombudsman commissioner Scott Richter to a new search committee. Condon appointed former Mayor Dennis Hession to the committee last week. The Spokane Police Guild has appointed John Griffin, while the Lieutenants and Captains Association has appointed Lt. Justin Lundgren. A fifth member will be appointed by the other four.

Conklin is optimistic that a new search committee will be able to name interim finalists quickly, since the city still has applications on file from when the position was advertised earlier this year.

“The search committee should be able to do some kind of screening and come up with a candidate in a month or less,” she said.

The initial search committee never forwarded the commission finalists for an interim ombudsman, a decision ombudsman commissioners have repeatedly criticized in public meetings.

City Attorney Nancy Isserlis, who chaired the previous search committee, has said no qualified candidates applied for the interim job and that the search committee opted to focus on getting a permanent ombudsman in place as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile Breean Beggs, the commission’s attorney, is negotiating with Humayun. Beggs said Humayun remains interested in the job, but he’s still working out a salary and other details. The pay range for the position is $82,634 to $101,375.

If Humayun accepts an offer, the city will apply for a special visa under the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows Canadian citizens who fall under particular job categories to work in the U.S. without having to be part of a quota system. Beggs estimated the city would be able to apply for the visa and receive an answer within 60 days of Humayun accepting a job.

The potential hitch is whether a police oversight job fits into any of the categories that qualify for a visa.

“There’s no category for police ombudsman,” Beggs said.

Humayun would also be eligible for another type of visa that would require him to apply in April 2016 to start work no earlier than October 2016. About half of the applicants for that visa are selected in the lottery.

Commissioners made Humayun’s job offer contingent on him getting a visa within 75 days, saying last week that they’d want to consider other candidates if he’s not able to get a special visa.

Conklin said she has no reason to think Humayun won’t accept the job and is hopeful he’ll be able to get a visa.

“I’m so looking forward to having him in place,” she said.

Staff writer Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.

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