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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: City Hall probe losing significance

In early April, the news broke that several key people in the City Hall controversy that led to Police Chief Frank Straub’s firing had declined to speak with investigator Kris Cappel.

Cappel, who was hired to investigate and report what had occurred, broke her silence, issuing a statement urging patience. Yes, she acknowledged, several central figures had not participated or indicated that they would. But she drew no “adverse inferences” from that.

Mayor David Condon also counseled patience, noting that some key players like himself and City Administrator Theresa Sanders would be interviewed toward the end. He declined to compel any employees to participate, but he said it would be “very important” for then-City Attorney Nancy Isserlis to cooperate. Isserlis and Sanders delivered two letters to Straub on the day he was fired alleging misconduct and abusive behavior.

Seven weeks later, Isserlis has resigned and so has Erin Jacobsen, an assistant city attorney who was involved in the controversy. Isserlis has indicated she won’t meet with Cappel. Jacobsen has said she would cooperate if the city would “modify the process to ensure that I would not be violating the attorney-client privilege by doing so.”

City Councilman Breean Beggs has proposed a modification in the hopes that it would grant Cappel access to more information without violating attorney-client privilege. The plan involves hiring another attorney to provide an attorney-client shield. The City Council approved of the strategy, but the mayor is opposed, saying he’s concerned the privilege would be imperiled.

Condon declined to meet with the council to discuss the plan. Instead, he issued a news release blaming City Council President Ben Stuckart for pushing a political agenda. Stuckart fired back, saying he will not release money the city needs to defend itself against Straub’s civil suit unless the mayor agrees to modifying the investigation.

And that’s where we are today, nearly two months after being asked to be patient. The public’s patience has worn thin.

It’s clear the city will not be able to deliver on the promise of a complete and independent investigation. Even if the City Council plan were to go forward, key information could be withheld from the public. The Straub lawsuit – and the potential for others – has key players more concerned about liability than transparency.

Cappel’s report may end up connecting some dots, but in all likelihood key information won’t be revealed until the discovery process of the lawsuit. And if the Straub lawsuit is settled, the public may forever remain in the dark. We can appreciate the City Council’s bid to rescue this investigation, but that prospect looks dim.

It would appear the mayor made a mistake in meeting with then-police spokeswoman Monique Cotton and her attorney more than a year ago and agreeing to a transfer, raise and cover story instead of going through proper personnel channels.

No investigation is likely to disprove the perception that the mayor tried to contain the controversy surrounding the police chief he recruited. Was he right to fire the chief, and did he handle that properly? The results of the lawsuit may be the public’s best clue.

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