The Spokane City Council will vet Mayor David Condon’s pick for police chief, though the mayor didn’t ask them to.
The City Council plans to consider Police Chief Craig Meidl’s appointment at their scheduled meeting Aug. 22. Before then, Meidl has agreed to take part in a pair of community forums that are being finalized, City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said Thursday.
“I told him it might be brutal, quite frankly,” Kinnear said. Meidl apologized this week for taking part in a federal courtroom salute of former officer Karl Thompson, who was convicted of civil rights violations in the beating death of Otto Zehm in 2006.
Meidl’s surprise appointment as chief on Monday followed a six-month-long selection process that produced two different finalists. City Council members had said they wanted Condon to invite more candidates to Spokane to participate in public interviews. Condon named Meidl and said he wouldn’t immediately seek the council’s approval. The city’s laws and charter indicate council approval is necessary.
Kinnear, chairwoman of the city’s Public Safety Committee, said the public forums and timetable for considering the appointment were made independently of Condon.
“We’re going to take the bull by the horns,” Kinnear said, stressing the Aug. 22 meeting will be to consider Meidl’s appointment, not necessarily to approve it.
In an email, Condon’s spokesman Brian Coddington indicated the office was on board with the public interview process.
“This is a great opportunity for Chief Meidl and the community to get to know each other,” Coddington wrote in the email.
The city charter grants the mayor “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.” City ordinances give the council the 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 Council President Ben Stuckart said the council has the authority to initiate the confirmation process if the mayor does not.
“There’s nothing that says we can’t,” Stuckart said.
This will be the first time since major overhauls to the city charter in 2000 that the council will initiate the confirmation process. Mayor Dennis Hession forwarded a resolution to the council to confirm Anne Kirkpatrick as police chief in July 2006. Condon forwarded a similar resolution to confirm Straub to the council in September 2012.
Liz Moore, president of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, in an email Thursday urged council members to use the input from the public forums in making their choices. She said the Condon administration’s process, which included convening an advisory committee and holding an hour-long discussion with two finalists who were not chosen, amounted to “theater.”
“I want to see a commitment from every single council member that this is not a dog and pony show,” Moore said.
Moore said she had concerns about the two-week turnaround council members had given themselves to make a decision and that it might be difficult to attract members of the public for forums during the summer months.
The resolution the council will vote on, drafted by Kinnear, will be to approve the appointment.
The City Council has not said what, if any, action it would take if council members vote against confirming Meidl, who has said he wants the council to confirm his appointment. City Councilman Breean Beggs hinted the panel could use its budget power and refuse to fund the position.
It’s also unclear what the status of the chief would be if the council votes not to confirm his appointment. The mayor’s office did not comment on that potential outcome Thursday.
Stuckart said the law is clear about the council’s authority on Meidl’s hiring. He didn’t believe it would be possible for Condon to name Meidl as a chief indefinitely without bringing him before the council for confirmation, saying if that were true, the mayor could name any member of his cabinet and wait out the confirmation process.
“If the council doesn’t confirm him, he’s not the chief,” Stuckart said.
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