Former Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan has withdrawn his ethics complaint against Mayor David Condon, saying a “cone of silence is settling over the city and the City Council.”
Shogan’s complaint, which alleged that Condon was dishonest when dealing with sexual harassment accusations against former police Chief Frank Straub and Straub’s eventual firing, was one of two remaining before the city’s Ethics Commission. Three other complaints against Condon have been dismissed by the commission.
“I haven’t been able to get the information I need to pursue this,” Shogan said. “I’m not going to bang my head against a wall and pursue something when I can’t get the right information I need.”
The remaining complaint, filed by the local chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Center for Justice, will be partly heard next week.
Sherry Jones, who runs the local chapter of NOW, said she will see her complaint through to the end but has serious concerns about the city’s ethics board, saying it has turned into a “court of law.”
“If you’re an ordinary person who can’t afford a powerful attorney, why even bother filing a complaint?” Jones said. “It’s become a twist on the kangaroo court. Instead of prosecuting defendants on trumped-up charges, this has become the kind of court where public officials who are the target of complaints automatically win – if they hire a powerful enough attorney.”
City Hall has been engulfed by problems in the aftermath of the forced resignation of Straub in September. He had been accused of sexually harassing the police spokeswoman, Monique Cotton, and of abusive management by others in police leadership. Cotton was hurriedly transferred to the parks department, something she demanded with the backing of an attorney. City officials denied for months any troubles between Straub and Cotton, though the mayor knew of the allegations in April.
Last week, the city’s legal department warned Council President Ben Stuckart and others that they could face criminal charges if they disclose information from a private meeting of council members and other city leaders held the day before Straub was fired, potentially preventing them from providing testimony to city committees charged with investigating mismanagement in Condon’s administration.
Jim King, who is representing Condon before the ethics committee, dismissed Jones’ concerns.
“The complaints are a little bit hollow coming from them because they are represented,” King said of NOW, referring to Rick Eichstaedt at the Center for Justice. “The Ethics Commission has a reasonably well thought-out policies manual. … We’re trying to comply with what their policies and procedures are.”
King is regarded as one of the most successful and influential lawyers in Spokane and has dealt with high-profile cases in the past.
He successfully defended Morning Star Boys’ Ranch against allegations of sex abuse in cases brought by former residents of the ranch.
In 2003, King was one of three finalists for a federal judgeship, but lost out to Lonny Suko when George W. Bush appointed him.
King represented the Spokane Parking Public Development Authority, which oversaw the River Park Square parking garage before Cowles Co. took over full ownership of the garage. Cowles Co. owns The Spokesman-Review.
King also has done legal work for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
Eichstaedt, executive director at the Center for Justice, echoed Jones by saying the goal of the ethics board should not be to “force people who have concerns to hire an attorney.”
“It certainly has turned into a forum where it would be difficult, if not impossible, to navigate without the help of an attorney,” Eichstaedt said. “I think part of it is the commission doesn’t really have clear procedures.”
Eichstaedt pointed to the back-and-forth discussions he, King and ethics commission members have had about the board’s “jurisdiction” over NOW’s complaint. After unanimously agreeing the board had jurisdiction to hear the complaint, King asked the board to reconsider. It voted 3-3 to reconsider jurisdiction, which should have been a stalemate, reverting to its previous vote approving jurisdiction. But next week, commission members will again discuss if they have jurisdiction over NOW’s complaint.
“I do have concerns with the policies,” Eichstaedt said. “At this point, there should be a hearing, there should be witnesses and the board should be determining whether the allegations are true. It’s not really clear what they’re doing right now.”
Troy Bruner, the commission’s chairman, did not return a call seeking comment.
Shogan, who withdrew his complaint in part based on the confusion coming from the ethics committee, said he agrees with Jones that the board is turning into something impenetrable by someone who is not a lawyer.
Still, Shogan is an attorney and he said he “intends to refile” his complaint after the release of findings by an investigation looking into recent turmoil in the police department and City Hall.
“If the investigation doesn’t address the concerns of the mayor’s dishonesty, I intend to refile,” Shogan said.
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