The political fallout of two reports with different conclusions on Mayor David Condon’s alleged involvement in a scheme to prevent the release of public records until after his re-election could land most heavily in the office of the city attorney.
City Council President Ben Stuckart and City Councilwoman Karen Stratton pledged to block one of Condon’s political appointees as a result of the report. That document emphasized the city attorney’s office role in delaying answers to the motives behind former police Chief Frank Straub’s forced resignation.
Stuckart and Stratton said Wednesday they could no longer support Laura McAloon as Condon’s appointee for city attorney, following the resignation of Nancy Isserlis this summer. Isserlis is cited in the investigation as one of three top Condon officials who delayed the release of public records until after Condon’s re-election.
“We’re going to be talking in the next coming month, very seriously, about putting a measure on the ballot in February to have an elected city attorney,” Stuckart said. “I think this report makes it absolutely clear that there’s conflicts of interest.”
Stratton stopped short of calling for Condon’s recall. But she said former Mayor Jim West “was recalled for a lot less than what was in this report.” West was voted out of office in 2005 after allegations that he had abused his position as mayor to solicit dates with young men.
Condon said Wednesday that he has a “strained relationship” with the Spokane City Council, but that the only way to rebuild it is to use the conclusions of the report and focus on improvements at City Hall, specifically in human relations and public record keeping.
“We will build trust back, project-by-project, but it definitely is strained,” Condon said.
The hostility between Condon and members of the progressive majority of the City Council reached a head Wednesday, when an early version of the report by investigator Kris Cappel was released that targeted Condon in addition to his top staff.
Condon accused political opponents of releasing the first version of Cappel’s report, which he repeatedly referred to as a “draft.” He said he received word that the Spokane chapter of the National Organization of Women, which has filed an ethics complaint against him for the handling of Straub’s departure, circulated the first copy of the report naming him and his spokesman Brian Coddington and created “false headlines.”
Rick Eichstaedt, the attorney representing NOW in its ethics complaint, said the report bolsters his group’s claim that Condon lied about having knowledge of a sexual harassment complaint against Straub during a news conference announcing the former chief’s departure.
“This report, pretty much, it has to conclude that he violated the ethics code,” Eichstaedt said.
While City Council members criticized McAloon on Wednesday for her role in the release of the second report, Condon said their fellow council member Breean Beggs has also raised concerns about the finding that Condon and his spokesman Brian Coddington “intentionally withheld information” leading to the November election.
“We couldn’t see anything that substantiated that,” Condon said Wednesday.
Cappel’s memo, released with the second report, makes it appear Beggs shared specific concerns about a section of the report dealing with the release of public records to The Spokesman-Review. She wrote, “I had a conversation with Councilmember Beggs after the Council received the report, and knew my findings on Issue 5 were very concerning to the Council.”
But Beggs disputes that. He said he called Cappel on Monday following an executive session of the council to inform her of their response to the report.
“I said they were appropriately concerned about the seriousness of the findings,” Beggs said. “There was no concern expressed about how she got there.”
Beggs said he believed Cappel’s assertion that the decision to alter some findings to omit Condon’s and Coddington’s names was hers alone.
“It rang true to me,” Beggs said.
Still, Beggs also is calling for an elected city attorney.
“It will be more effective for the city attorney to be elected so there’s no question they’re working for the citizens, and not a particular department or person,” Beggs said.
Condon said Wednesday he wasn’t pondering any personnel changes as a result of the report, and that he would continue to back McAloon in the confirmation process.
“This was not to result in discipline or retribution,” Condon said. “There have been, for a myriad of reasons, people that have left the city. There will be new people in positions. But, as we go forward, the focus is on those recommendations. How do we fix those?”
Stratton, Stuckart, Beggs and Councilwoman Lori Kinnear also stressed their attention was on protecting city employees from future harassment and empowering them to come forward with concerns.
“What we have in place right now is clearly not working,” Kinnear said.
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