Editorial: Calm prevails in police search
Wed., Aug. 24, 2016
Rather than accelerate the game of chicken between the mayor’s office and City Council, cooler heads devised a compromise that puts the city on a smoother path to naming a new police chief.
Now Craig Meidl, the mayor’s controversial choice for police chief three weeks ago, will be vetted like the other candidates. Meidl was chosen after a lengthy process that identified three candidates. One candidate dropped out and the other two traveled to Spokane and were questioned at public forums.
They were Robert Lehner, the 61-year-old chief of police in Elk Grove, California, and Yakima police Chief Dominic Rizzi Jr., 54.
Apparently, no consensus emerged from the visits. Council President Ben Stuckart called for more interviews.
Then Mayor David Condon suddenly named Meidl, the assistant chief, calling him “the best fit.” Furthermore, he said the appointment need not go through the City Council for confirmation. He clarified that statement to say it need not go to the council immediately.
The decision drew sustained public criticism from people wondering why the mayor was failing to honor the selection process. People who volunteered to participate were undercut and cast aside.
Lt. Dave McCabe summed up much of the community sentiment, saying at the time, “I can’t believe that the mayor chose somebody who has said for many months he did not want the job,” adding: “He didn’t apply for the job and he didn’t go through the same process that the other chief candidates went through.”
Meidl was put in the awkward position of attending hastily assembled public forums, where he was peppered with questions about his actions in the Otto Zehm case and his reasons for not applying for the job in the first place.
The mayor’s defiance was puzzling, and he was never able to build the political support he needed. The council was poised to vote Monday night on Meidl’s confirmation, and it was shaping up to be a tumultuous evening.
Fortunately, a compromise was forged between the mayor and two council members, Lori Kinnear and Breean Beggs, who asked for more time to bring in candidates. The mayor agreed to that and to putting Meidl through the same vetting process.
Crisis averted, for now.
The question now is how many applicants will want to commit to a process that has been short-circuited before. Beggs appears to be confident that the 11-person search commission can produce multiple finalists.
Let’s hope so. because this long-running melodrama needs a credible final act. The city desperately needs a chief who can claim broad support, so that he or she can begin their tenure free from controversy.
For all his faults, former Chief Frank Straub was able to shepherd through some needed police reforms in the wake of the Zehm tragedy. The community needs to regain that momentum.
If nothing else, this controversy should prove to city leaders that the community’s desire for a different type of police department hasn’t waned.
That’s why the process mattered, and why it’s good to see it back on track.
To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”
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