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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: City Hall probe must be transparent

Editorial

In December, the Spokane City Council outlined “minimum requirements and expectations” of an investigation into the removal of police Chief Frank Straub and the controversy involving former police spokeswoman Monique Cotton.

The probe was to be “thorough, independent, and unimpeachable” to “regain the trust and confidence in our city’s processes.”

But a letter sent last Monday by Assistant City Attorney Pat Dalton urged key officials to remain mum about a private meeting that took place the day before Straub was forced out.

Plus, discord has broken out among the four citizen representatives who were chosen to shape the parameters of the investigation. On one side, there is concern that transparency would lead to more lawsuits. The other side says there can be no credible investigation if key officials take a vow of silence.

We know that parties involved in this controversy have agreed not to talk to the media about the investigation. But Dalton’s letter and the debate among the citizen representatives raises the concern that key players could stonewall an investigator.

The public is not going to accept an incomplete investigation, so if that’s the plan, the city ought to call off this charade now. There will be no plaudits for heading off lawsuits.

In a December editorial, we urged the four representatives not to “range too far afield” in establishing the scope of the investigation. But we added: “While the four representatives have an oversight role, they should not try to control the narrative or squelch information.”

Dalton sent the letter to City Council members, City Hall leaders and Parks Department officials who attended the private meeting. It suggests they would be breaking the law if they divulged what was discussed.

But the meeting is key to understanding what occurred at the time. And, if all of those officials are off-limits, who is left for investigators to question?

If lawsuits are the paramount concern, just how deep does this scandal go and how many others would be implicated?

Council President Ben Stuckart wants meeting attendees to talk to the investigator. The City Council took a vote in December to waive attorney-client privilege so its members could do so.

In 2014, Stuckart was fined by the Ethics Commission for improperly divulging an email. At the time, City Attorney Nancy Isserlis said he could do that only if a majority of the council voted for a waiver.

Now, Dalton seems to be contradicting that legal point.

The city must do everything in its power to place the truth above all other concerns. Public trust has been badly eroded, and a compromised investigation won’t restore credibility.

Mayor David Condon has said he wants a credible investigation, but that can’t occur if key players won’t talk.

Transparency is the only answer.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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