A decision on the final ethics complaint remaining against Spokane Mayor David Condon in relation to former police Chief Frank Straub’s ouster was deferred until after Ethics Commission members meet in a confidential “executive session” to discuss the complaint’s merits.
Though the commission’s acting attorney, Milton Rowland, said such a meeting was lawful, the lawyer representing the group that filed the complaint said he would investigate whether the commission can discuss such matters behind closed doors.
Rick Eichstaedt, who represents the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, said it was unclear whether state law allowed the commission to secretly discuss or make decisions regarding NOW’s complaint, which says that Condon “failed in his responsibility to provide a safe work environment for the women of the Spokane Police Department and, by extension, all women who work for the city of Spokane.”
Sherry Jones, a local author who filed the complaint on behalf of the group, said Condon has refused to take responsibility for mishandling the allegations from former police spokeswoman Monique Cotton, who said Straub had “grabbed her ass, tried to kiss her.” Straub denies the accusations of sexual harassment and is suing the city; the suit was dismissed but is under appeal.
Instead of investigating the 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. An investigative report into the matter is expected July 15.
Before the commission meeting adjourned with no decision, members spent nearly two hours hearing from Eichstaedt and Jim King, who represents Condon. At issue was a Sept. 22 news conference and a Dec. 11 letter Condon sent to City Council members at which NOW alleges Condon was dishonest.
At the news event, Condon was asked if there were any sexual harassment complaints lodged against Straub, and Condon said, “No.” The letter said that Cotton was transferred to “fill an existing need” in the parks department.
King attempted to persuade the commission to dismiss NOW’s complaint, saying Condon “did not make a dishonest statement, as is defined or should be defined.”
Eichstaedt said it was clear Condon was being “deceitful” by not being completely honest, even if it “probably wasn’t a lie.”
“NOW, and I imagine a whole lot of other citizens, expects honest and transparent government,” Eichstaedt said. “There was something other than the truth being told.”
Near the meeting’s end, the commission’s chairman, Troy Bruner, asked Eichstaedt if it was “somewhat ironic” that NOW is focused on Cotton, who attempted to keep from public view her accusations about Straub’s inappropriate groping. Bruner asked if Condon was “honoring” Cotton’s request.
Eichstaedt called Bruner’s question “very much left field” and said Condon should have investigated Cotton’s other allegations about Straub’s behavior and inappropriate sexual language, an investigation she said she would participate in. He added that Condon had left Straub in charge of a department with many women in it, potentially putting them at risk of harassment.
“It’s very imperative that NOW and others speak up,” he said.
The four members present at the meeting – Bruner, Dennis Cronin, Levi Liljenquist and Tyler Wasson – agreed that more information was needed, and suggested the upcoming report from Kris Cappel would be helpful, as would hearing directly from Condon.
“It would be good to hear from the mayor,” Liljenquist said. “Testimony from him would helpful.”
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