Two complaints against Spokane Mayor David Condon were dismissed Tuesday by the city’s Ethics Commission. Members tussled over the definition of “dishonesty” before ultimately deciding the complaints lacked significance and were not within the jurisdiction of the commission.
A third complaint filed by former City Council President Joe Shogan will proceed to a full commission hearing, likely in late February.
All three complaints accused Condon of failing to properly handle allegations of sexual harassment against former police Chief Frank Straub.
Straub has denied the accusations made by former police spokeswoman Monique Cotton.
Commission members agreed that the first two complaints, filed by Jamie Pendleton and Mara Spitzer, lacked evidence to back their accusations of “moral turpitude or dishonesty.”
The complaints stem from accusations made by Cotton in April. Instead of investigating those accusations, Condon transferred Cotton to the parks department and left Straub in charge for five months. When police leadership came to Condon with reports of explosive, inappropriate behavior from Straub, Condon forced Straub to resign.
City Hall has since been thrown into turmoil: Straub filed a $4 million claim against the city for a violation of due process; the mayor’s top administrator acknowledged she lied about the reasons behind Cotton’s transfer; and an outside investigation is under way.
Jim King, a local attorney who represents Condon, asked the commission to dismiss all complaints because they lack evidence and “don’t merit this type of scrutiny.”
The commission supported Shogan’s request for a full hearing, but not before he accused the members of overstepping the bounds of Tuesday’s hearing, which was to establish jurisdiction. Shogan said they were asking questions and gathering information about the complaint, not simply deciding if they could do such fact-finding.
Levi Liljenquist, a local attorney who sits on the commission, asked fellow members to dismiss Shogan’s complaint, as he did with Pendleton and Spitzer’s. Though he was supported by Troy Bruner, the commission’s chairman, the motion failed and Shogan was granted a full hearing.
After the hearing, Shogan criticized the commission for treating the jurisdictional hearing as a legal forum, and pointed to a request by Dennis Cronin, the commission’s newest member whose first meeting was Tuesday, to dismiss all complaints.
Early in the hearing, Cronin took issue with the lack of definitions in the city’s municipal code, specifically for the words “dishonesty” and “moral turpitude.” He noted that state case law also had no clear definitions for those words.
“I don’t know how we can determine jurisdiction without these definitions,” Cronin said, arguing that the commission should dismiss the complaints until the “code is clarified.”
“I think the citizens will be well-served if we have a definition that withstands scrutiny,” he said.
Bruner disagreed, saying the commission is not composed of lawyers and is not intended to be.
“I have grave concerns about that,” Bruner said, adding that most people understand the “common sense” definitions of the words. “That does not seem practical or in the interest of justice.”
No other members supported Cronin’s move to dismiss the complaints, but throughout the two and a half hour meeting he returned to his criticism of the lack of definition again and again.
Jurisdiction on a fourth complaint against Condon filed by the National Organization for Women and the Center for Justice will be discussed on Jan. 27.
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