Craig Meidl won’t be police chief without competing against candidates who applied for the job.
Spokane Mayor David Condon has agreed to put Meidl through the same vetting as other candidates following intense public scrutiny. The City Council unanimously voted Monday to withdraw Meidl’s confirmation vote pending the outcome of a new interview process that could last two months or more.
“Finding our next police chief is an important decision and we need to make sure our next chief will be the best possible fit for Spokane,” Condon said in a statement, echoing his endorsement of Meidl at a news conference announcing the appointment three weeks ago.
The agreement with the City Council was announced hours before the the vote on Meidl’s confirmation at the council’s meeting Monday night. The deal allows an 11-member selection panel to bring as many as four other top candidates back to Spokane to compete with Meidl for the job.
City Councilman Breean Beggs, who served on the selection panel, said he didn’t believe Meidl’s non-traditional appointment and the subsequent public outcry would hinder the city’s ability to attract applicants for another round of interviews.
“I think we’re going to get several people, based on my initial investigation,” Beggs said. He declined to say who might be interested, citing a confidentiality agreement.
Beggs said inviting previous applicants to try again would allow the public to scrutinize Meidl more fairly, by comparing him to other possible choices.
“Then it’s not personal,” Beggs said. “You compare him to other people. Then it’s so much more effective.”
City Council President Ben Stuckart had said publicly he would vote against Meidl after Condon skirted a lengthy public interview process and picked the 22-year department veteran. Meidl had not applied for the job, was not interviewed by 41 panelists who screened two outside finalists for the job and essentially leap-frogged Brad Arleth, a Spokane police captain who had gone through the vetting process.
“My argument has always been, if I had voted yes, regardless of what I think about Craig, I would have been affirming the fact that the process didn’t matter,” Stuckart said. “By the mayor agreeing to reopen the process, the citizens win.”
Several members of the Faith Alliance, a coalition of local religious leaders, sat in the front row of Monday night’s meeting. They said they felt slighted when Stuckart cited procedural rules not allowing them to speak in favor of Meidl’s appointment.
“What you witnessed tonight, was a political powerplay that just took place,” said Raphael Guillory, a professor of psychology at Eastern Washington University and Faith Alliance member.
Jim Andrews, one of the 41 interviewers who vetted finalists Dominic Rizzi Jr. and Robert Lehner, said those who supported Meidl’s appointment had been drowned out in recent weeks by those opposed to his candidacy.
“It would have been nice to be able to speak for him,” Andrews, president of American Ironworks & Erectors in Spokane Valley, said.
Andrews said Meidl had shown leadership in community-oriented policing and would have entered the office with a command staff already in place. He said he would serve on an interview panel again, if asked.
In a letter to Condon, Beggs and Councilwoman Lori Kinnear asked for additional time to reach out to semifinalists and see if they’re still interested in the job. Kinnear said Monday in she was requesting 60 days to reach out to former applicants and see if they still want to lead the department. Beggs said it may take less time than that.
Condon said in a statement Monday afternoon that finalists for the job would be picked from those who previously applied and would include Meidl. The city will not seek additional candidates at this time, Kinnear said.
Meidl appeared at two public forums over the past weeks to answer questions, many of which scrutinized his participation in a federal courtroom salute of Karl Thompson, the former Spokane Police officer convicted of civil rights violations in the 2006 death of Otto Zehm, and an email Meidl sent to 86 fellow Spokane police personnel in the hours after the conviction. Among other things, Meidl wrote, “An innocent man was found guilty.”
Meidl has said in recent weeks the email was meant to convey the opinions of a dejected department following Thompson’s conviction, not his personal feelings about the case. Meidl also said in an interview last week that he gave money to an account at the Spokane Law Enforcement Credit Union to support Thompson’s family.
The department has been without a permanent chief since Frank Straub’s forced resignation 11 months ago.
Meidl did not attend the meeting Monday and did not respond to a request for comment on whether he remains interested in navigating the new interview process.
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