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Email details tense meeting between police volunteer group and Spokane mayor

Following a tense meeting with Spokane Mayor David Condon, the director of a volunteer-driven community policing organization said he was uncomfortable around Condon because the mayor is “aggressive and angry and threatening.”

Patrick Striker, who has led the city’s Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, since April 2015, called Condon “an unstable, angry person with no clear direction, who does not communicate effectively, does not lead appropriately and is far more interested in placing blame than in solving problems in a healthy manner.”

In an interview Tuesday, Condon said he had a different impression from the March 30 meeting, but said he had called everyone involved to apologize.

“I apologized for my tone in the meeting, but my passion got ahead of me,” Condon said, adding that he supported the COPS program and has a “great relationship” with Striker and the program.

Still, the concerns made by Striker follow years of shifting roles and funding proposals for the program under Condon. In 2012, as part of the first budget Condon proposed, the contract between the city and COPS was transferred from the police department to the Community and Neighborhood Services Department. In response, the chairman of the COPS board, Jack Brucick, accused the city of “seeking to unilaterally alter the relationship between itself and COPS, without the necessary negotiations.” The program remained under police.

At the beginning of 2015, after the City Council restored $108,000 to the COPS budget, the program moved out of the Spokane Public Safety Building on the county campus, and lost its privilege to use the city’s computer network and vehicle fleet.

COPS is a nonprofit organization separate from the city of Spokane. It develops its own programs and hires its own staff but receives city funding. It currently employs four full-time and two part-time people, and has 250 volunteers. Currently, the city puts $350,000 toward the program.

Striker relayed his concerns about the March 30 meeting in an email to Councilwoman Karen Stratton, who sits on the COPS board of directors as the City Council’s liaison. The meeting was about the police department’s Youth Police Initiative and Spokane Police Activities League, but veered into food donations from Spokane Public Schools for the youth outreach programs and Condon’s opinions on COPS volunteers, according to Striker’s email.

The meeting also was attended by police Maj. Justin Lundgren, who runs the department’s Internal Affairs Division; Lt. Tracie Meidl, who manages the youth outreach programs; and Sarah Lynds, the department’s director of strategic initiatives. Condon’s assistant, Brandy Cote, and an unnamed city attorney were also present.

Lynds declined to comment for this article. Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, shared an email chain in which Lundgren, Meidl and Lynds said Striker’s “letter is disappointing and his feelings are not shared” by them.

Lundgren also disputed Striker’s recollection, saying he cast the meeting in overly dramatic terms.

Striker did not dispute what he wrote in the email, which was released by the city as part of a records request, but he suggested he may have been too harsh on Condon.

“I am very positive on our mayor. I am very positive on our city,” Striker said. “This meeting was uncomfortable for the four of us but I guess we can consider it an anomaly. The mayor has good direction in which he’s going with things. I am supportive of the mayor and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

Striker would not comment further on the meeting, but his email contradicts the description of the interchange as an “anomaly.”

Early in the email, Striker said he “had had some uncomfortable meetings with the mayor.” When Condon greeted him, Striker said he was relieved to find the mayor in a jovial mood. He wrote that he thought, “Geez, how sad is that that I’m having to gauge a meeting like this? What does that say about his leadership style that a grown man gets nervous to meet with him?” After speaking to Condon more, Striker said he thought, “Cool, he’s in a good mood. Maybe none of us have screwed up and no one’s in trouble.”

The mayor’s mood quickly shifted, Striker wrote. Condon was “very visibly angry” and the mayor said he was “very frustrated” to hear that the activities league may not happen this summer. Meidl told him it still was on, but Condon said he had heard it was canceled.

Lynds “chimed in that with the turmoil at the Chief level as of late, that things were a little chaotic,” Striker wrote. “The Mayor clearly did not want to hear that and would not address her.”

Conversation turned back to discussing whether the police department could “run money through” COPS to pay for “certain things like food and such” for the youth programs, Striker wrote. The police department cannot spend grant money on those things, but COPS can, Striker said in an interview, noting that proposal still was being discussed.

At the meeting, Striker said he was “happy to help out in any way I could.” When Condon criticized the price of the youth programs website, again Striker offered COPS services to design a new website.

Condon said he was “upset and concerned” that the department was not asking local businesses to support the youth programs, and then said he was “also angry” that when police solicited businesses for support, they did so in uniform. Again, Striker offered the services of his volunteers.

“The Mayor made a very inappropriate comment that we ‘should want to help. This will get younger volunteers and yours are all old,’” Striker wrote. “‘Your volunteers just want to sit around and do nothing all day, but younger volunteers might actually want to do something.’ I had a fleeting urge at that point to pick him up and throw him, but for the sake of professionalism I just remained silent and made some colorful insults at him in my head.”

The meeting ended and Striker said each of the participants walked out “with our tail between our legs.” Striker said Meidl’s hands were shaking and asked to “decompress” over a cup of coffee.

“Sarah and Justin also both were shaken up and clearly felt that none of their actions merited the tone and direction of this meeting. I would agree,” Striker wrote. “We talked at length, and after cheering each other up some, we went on our individual ways.”

Condon said Striker is wrong about the meeting.

“That was not my impression of the meeting,” Condon said. “I am very passionate about the program we were talking about, but I was also frustrated about the miscommunications I heard in the community that we weren’t going to fund this program.”

Condon said he was not dismissive of COPS volunteers wanting to “do nothing all day.”

“That’s not what I said,” Condon said, adding that he had heard from people who wanted to volunteer but had told him they wanted to “be kept busy.”

Brucick, chairman of the COPS board, supported Striker, but said politics and budgets can lead to “contentious periods of time.”

“I looked at the email, I was CC’d on the email. He’s an honorable and ethical person, and he wrote down his impressions of the meeting,” Brucick said. “I think we’ve moved forward. I believe we’ve dealt with it and moved on.”

Stratton, who also received the email, said she was “disappointed” the meeting had turned ugly, but didn’t fault Striker or Condon.

“Patrick has done such a good job. He is such a strong director. He just wanted somebody to know what happened in case it boiled over and COPS lost funding,” Stratton said, adding that she would “do everything in my power” to protect COPS funding.

Stratton also said the email was the first she had heard of any such behavior from Condon.

“I think that’s probably the first time that I’ve heard about such a negative interaction. I’ve always known him to professional and upbeat,” she said.

Condon, on the other hand, suggested Stratton had mishandled Striker’s email.

“I am disappointed in Councilwoman Stratton,” Condon said. “As a leader, we need to notify the employees that were there, if they felt it was inappropriate, they know where to bring their issues.”

Condon said he had “reached out to them and apologized for my tone,” and told them of the different ways they can make concerns known at the city, such as through the Human Resources Department.

“I would expect and hope that Councilwoman Stratton would do the same,” Condon said.

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