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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New deadline in works for harassment training agreed to following Condon ethics complaint

Spokane Mayor David Condon (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Mayor David Condon and his staff will get an extra year to revise City Hall’s sexual harassment policies and train more than 2,000 employees.

Sherry Jones, the member of Spokane’s chapter of the National Organization of Women who filed an ethics complaint against Condon in his handling of the ouster of former Police Chief Frank Straub, said she’s negotiating a timetable that would extend the deadline from the end of this year to the end of 2017. Jones said she’s encouraged by the recent work of new Human Resources Director Chris Cavanaugh and wanted to make sure her original deadline of Dec. 31 didn’t threaten the success of reforming the work environment at City Hall.

“We don’t want to rush it,” Jones said. “We want to get it right.”

To settle Jones’ ethics complaint, Condon agreed in September to include her and the organization on a task force to reform the city’s sexual harassment policies and address issues in gender pay equity and the diversity of the city’s workforce. That group has met twice, most recently last week, to develop an action plan.

Last month, Cavanaugh replaced Heather Lowe, the human resources director who oversaw the department during the Straub incident and resigned this summer. Cavanaugh said she’s updating Condon regularly on the work of the task force, which also includes members of the city’s Human Rights Commission.

Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, said Condon is “very close in the loop on what’s happening.”

Jones said she considered reopening her ethics complaint against Condon earlier this fall based on what she saw as a lack of progress, but has been heartened by recent efforts by Cavanaugh and others to refocus the work.

“The city has been in such a state of flux,” Jones said. “Chris Cavanaugh has been juggling different balls, doing all kinds of different things. We also were feeling at first like our concerns weren’t being taken seriously.”

Cavanaugh said her office has been plagued by unfilled vacancies. When she assumed office, the Human Resources department employed two analysts. That number will double in the new year.

The Spokane City Council already has endorsed revising the city’s sexual harassment policies based on the recommendations of Kris Cappel, a Seattle attorney who reviewed the administration’s handling of multiple complaints made against Straub, including by former police spokeswoman Monique Cotton. The council unanimously passed a resolution in September calling on Condon to implement changes outlined in Cappel’s report.

Cavanaugh presented some proposed policy changes to the task force, but Jones said they didn’t go far enough.

“The original draft is decades-old. I would like to see us go in and completely start from the beginning,” she said.

The delay in revising the sexual harassment policies will allow the work to be informed by the findings of a survey of city employees in development by Andrea Fallenstein, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Gonzaga University and a Human Rights Commission member, Jones said.

“We thought the survey was a really good first step,” she said. The survey is expected to be ready to administer after the group meets next month.

Jones and others also questioned Cavanaugh’s selection of the firm training city workers. Cavanaugh said she chose the firm, Archbright – a Spokane human resources consulting firm – based on their previous contracts with the city and the need to complete training by the end of the year.

Archbright employs Erin Jacobson, a former city attorney who received complaints about Straub and reviewed public records in the case. Jacobson refused to speak to Cappel, citing ethical concerns. Jones said using Jacobson’s new employer, without soliciting bids from other potential firms, would create the wrong impression.

“To me, it would seem very ironic to have the company that’s associated with the city employee that left so she wouldn’t have to testify (in the Straub investigation), to lead the sexual harassment for city employees,” Jones said.

As a result of Jones’ concerns and others expressed by the task force, Cavanaugh said she’ll be soliciting proposals from other firms.

Once a new sexual harassment policy is in place, Cavanaugh said it’s likely her office could internally handle a second round of training focused specifically on Spokane’s rules.

The task force also will consider gender pay equity and discrimination, following the release of a report in March that showed female employees at City Hall were being passed up for promotions and paid less than their male counterparts. The report contained a previous work climate survey that showed 1 in 3 women employees at City Hall reported some kind of bullying or harassment because of their gender.

Condon convened a task force to research and provide recommendations to the city to address those issues, resulting in a one-page list of recommendations that have not been acted on swiftly enough, said City Councilwoman Candace Mumm.

“It was my understanding that this was to be implemented sooner than it has been,” the councilwoman said.

Jones said she believed a working sexual harassment policy and implementation of the recommendations in the pay equity report should be completed by the end of April to allow time for training the rest of the year. Mumm said even that time frame seemed too long, given the efforts she and City Councilwoman Karen Stratton have been making for close to two years.

“We’re a major employer in the city of Spokane,” Mumm said. “We have a responsibility to implement this and educate our workforce. My hope is that it happens.”

John Lemus, chair of the Human Rights Commission and a member of the mayor’s task force, said he believed the administration was taking steps toward reform. He said in addition to the issues of harassment and pay equity the city also should explore recruiting from a wider pool of applicants with varied backgrounds.

“Since I’ve been chair of the commission, I’ve been able to meet with a lot of the folks working out of City Hall. There’s not a great chunk of diversity within City Hall,” Lemus said.

Jones said despite the rocky start, she believes the ethics settlement will effect change in the work environment at the city.

“We are making progress, and I feel extremely hopeful,” she said.