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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Council members challenge mayor’s authority to name police chief without vote

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl listens to Mayor David Condon announce Meidl’s new appointment during a gathering, Aug. 1, 2016, at City Hall. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl listens to Mayor David Condon announce Meidl’s new appointment during a gathering, Aug. 1, 2016, at City Hall. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Mayor David Condon said Monday that he might not seek the Spokane City Council’s approval of his decision to promote Craig Meidl as the next police chief, a move that appears to contradict city law.

“He serves as the assistant chief now, and he will be moved into the position of full chief,” Condon said of Meidl at a news conference Monday morning. “We’ll be discussing with the council at a period in the future if that’s necessary.”

Council members pointed to the section of the city charter governing the mayor’s appointments, which grant Condon “the power to appoint and remove the administrative heads and assistant administrative heads in each department of the City government, provided the appointment of an administrative head shall be subject to the approval of the city council.”

In the city’s municipal code, the council is given authority to “confirm the appointment by the Mayor of the City Attorney, the City Clerk, and the administrative head in each department and division.” City Councilwoman Candace Mumm said she read the final portion of that ordinance to include the chief of police.

“I would fully expect him to bring the name forward for us to confirm,” Mumm said.

Last week, Condon said he’ll push forward with the nomination process of Laura McAloon, his pick to replace Nancy Isserlis as head of the city attorney’s office.

Brian Coddington, a spokesman for the mayor, repeated Condon’s statements from Monday morning when asked about the legal basis for waiting on a confirmation hearing for Miedl.

“The council’s made it quite clear in its belief, we must invest in people, and advance and promote them when they’re ready,” Coddington said. “This is one example of promoting somebody when they’re ready.”

Coddington said the mayor was open to discussing a future confirmation hearing for Miedl with the council. He did not provide legal justification for side-stepping the council.

Councilwoman Karen Stratton, who has been critical of Condon’s policies – particularly regarding appointments – said she wasn’t surprised by his announcement Monday.

“I would think that somewhere in his mind and in his administration’s mind, he would know that citizens deserve better,” Stratton said. “They deserve the checks and balances of a process we’re supposed to be involved in.”

Stratton said Condon’s endorsement of Meidl, that he was a “good fit” for the department and understood the political climate of Spokane, is also true of Capt. Brad Arleth, who applied for the job but was not among the finalists.

Councilman Mike Fagan, who’s been out of the country visiting family in recent weeks, attended Monday’s news conference and said he was surprised by Condon’s choice.

“The charter does say the mayor’s appointments do need to come before the council for confirmation,” Fagan said. “But it doesn’t say when that has to happen.”

Fagan said he was concerned about the cost of the lengthy interview process only to end with an internal candidate as the top choice for the job. He planned to sit down with the mayor in the next couple of days to talk about the appointment, he said.

City Council President Ben Stuckart, one of the mayor’s most vocal critics, declined to comment Monday on the legality of Condon’s delay of a confirmation hearing, but included a citation of the above ordinances in a text message.

“I’m confused about how the six-month process ended up here,” Stuckart said.

City Councilman Breean Beggs said he too read the city’s ordinances as requiring a confirmation vote by the council. The council could use its power of the purse if it believes Miedl’s promotion doesn’t follow the law, he said.

“Our primary control on such things is the budget. We get to approve whether the person who gets the chief position gets paid or not,” Beggs said. He had not consulted with other council members Monday.

City Councilwoman Amber Waldref echoed the statements of other council members who said Meidl had been responsive to their requests for information in the past and maintained a good working relationship with the council. But she said the public should have the same opportunity to vet Meidl and question him, which won’t be possible without a confirmation hearing.

“You’d want support of administrative and legislative branches for someone in this position,” Waldref said.

The council’s public opposition to the mayor has sharpened in recent weeks, and was significantly stoked by the release last week of an independent investigator’s report into the handling of the forced resignation of former police Chief Frank Straub and the release of public records in the aftermath. Top members of Condon’s staff were cited for delaying the release of embarrassing records until after the mayor’s re-election, a finding Condon, City Administrator Theresa Sanders and members of the city attorney’s office have denied.

The police chiefs who have been hired since significant changes to the charter in 1999 have all gone before the council for confirmation.

Straub’s hiring received a vote from the City Council, which unanimously confirmed him as Condon’s pick to lead the department in September 2012. Anne Kirkpatrick, the chief before Straub, also was brought before the council for a confirmation vote in July 2006.

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