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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: City Hall turmoil self-inflicted

A year ago at this time, Nancy Isserlis was the city attorney, Erin Jacobsen was an assistant city attorney, Heather Lowe was the director of Human Resources and Frank Straub was the police chief.

On the surface, Mayor David Condon was cruising to re-election, but undercurrents were tugging at him and his administration.

By the end of summer, a curious job transfer for the Spokane Police Department spokeswoman to the Parks Department would take on greater significance, and the management eruptions of the police chief would become unbearable.

Isserlis, Jacobsen, Lowe and Straub have all left. The City Hall-commissioned report that was to tell us what happened is being attacked by current and former City Hall officials. And the mayor continues to portray this entire mess as an impenetrable management conundrum in which he was the victim of his own good will.

His administration had plenty of warnings about Straub, but only conducted cursory inquiries. Rather than follow basic human resource practices when he learned of possible sexual harassment, the mayor agreed to meet with then-Police Department spokeswoman Monique Cotton and her attorney – an attorney with a special aptitude for draining city coffers. Cotton ended up with a new job and a pay raise. She later left town. The city ended up with a lawsuit, because the previous Parks spokeswoman, Nancy Goodspeed, was demoted upon her return from medical leave. Cotton was also paid much more than Goodspeed.

After the November election, the extent of this mess was revealed when the city finally completed a public records request from this newspaper that was submitted in late August. The mayor and City Council agreed to an investigation. Community volunteers were brought in to steer it. The public was urged to be patient. Honor the process, we were told.

Then the investigator’s report was released, and the process devolved into a morass of he said/she said.

All the while, a separate process was underway to find a new police chief. Community volunteers again were enlisted. The process was lengthy. The public was urged to be patient. Finalists were named and brought to town.

Then, suddenly, the mayor named Assistant Chief Craig Meidl to the top spot. Regardless of whether that was the right choice, aborting the process won’t sit well – certainly not with volunteers who put in a lot of time. Why would anyone want to take on such a chore again?

The Police Department has made significant headway in reforming its practices after the Otto Zehm tragedy, and that fact is underappreciated. Meidl must now persuade the public he is a reformer who is willing to continue the work to change the culture, even though he carries baggage from the Otto Zehm case.

It doesn’t help that he was selected outside a process that was designed to be transparent and responsive to the community.