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Mayor’s top staff rebut claims of dishonesty during ouster of former Police Chief Frank Straub

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 28, 2015

Mayor David Condon’s top administrator, along with his spokesman, say an ethics complaint alleging they lied in the days leading up to former police Chief Frank Straub’s forced resignation is frivolous and politically motivated.

City Administrator Theresa Sanders and spokesman Brian Coddington penned individual letters to the city’s Ethics Commission condemning mayoral candidate Shar Lichty’s complaints, filed Oct. 11. They also defended their answers given to Spokesman-Review reporter Nicholas Deshais in the weeks and hours before Straub was forced out of office Sept. 22.

“By Ms. Lichty’s own admission, her allegations were politically motivated and the engineered media briefing to announce her intentions was to generate media attention for her campaign,” wrote Sanders, citing multiple media reports and referencing a news conference that occurred outside City Hall immediately after Lichty filed the complaint.

The Ethics Commission is scheduled to hold its first hearing on the complaints Nov. 11, eight days after Tuesday’s general election.

Lichty alleges Sanders denied knowing about any hostilities between Monique Cotton, a former Spokane police spokeswoman, and Straub when Sanders moved Cotton to the city’s Parks Department in May. In a later interview, Sanders acknowledged she knew of problems between the two.

In her letter to the Ethics Committee, Sanders said she should have said nothing when asked about the reason for Cotton’s transfer.

“Mostly, I regret ever having discussed the matter with the media as I needn’t have, shouldn’t have, and certainly will not in the future,” Sanders wrote.

Coddington also accused Lichty of playing politics by saying he lied when asked in the hours before the announcement of Straub’s ouster about the chief’s job status.

A news release from City Hall announcing Straub’s resignation was issued at 4:37 p.m. Three hours earlier, when asked about Straub’s potential ouster, Coddington denied the information.

“I have not heard that,” he said at the time. “I don’t believe that’s accurate.”

In his response, Coddington accused Lichty of engineering media attention by telling outlets she was filing before doing so. Lichty also failed to investigate her claims independently, Coddington said.

“Had Ms. Lichty taken the time to do any independent due diligence she would have learned that the allegations have no basis in fact,” Coddington wrote, saying that her main source of information, in addition to The Spokesman-Review, was a claim filed by Straub against the city for $4 million alleging a lack of due process in his firing.

Lichty said Wednesday that Coddington and Sanders’ responses deflected blame by focusing on the timing of the complaint, rather than rebutting her allegations of dishonesty.

“They should be responding to the charges I brought against them, rather than bringing more charges against me,” Lichty said.

Coddington’s letter provides a line-by-line rebuttal of Lichty’s allegations, describing Straub’s job situation as fluid the day his ouster was announced.

“The conversation evolved rapidly that afternoon and the situation had changed by late afternoon,” Coddington wrote.

Lichty said the timing of the complaint may have been political, but she felt compelled to lodge it because Condon’s employees “misled the public via the media.”

“Filing this complaint is not necessarily something that will help me (politically),” Lichty said. “It could also hurt me. It could go either way.”

The Ethics Commission will first rule whether Lichty’s complaint was appropriately filed, then on the merits of her allegations, according to the city’s code of ethics.

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