Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins received an email on Feb. 12 suggesting that then-City Manager Mike Jackson “would need to be put under control and quit hiding contracts and study findings” relating to the city’s police services with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
On Feb. 15, he forwarded it to City Councilmen Sam Wood, Ed Pace and Arne Woodard. He did not share it with the other three members of the City Council.
Together, Higgins, Wood, Pace and Woodard formed a council quorum and communication among them may have been a violation of the state Open Public Meetings Act.
Jackson was fired at a council meeting on Feb. 23.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he believed the email was evidence of a “clear violation of the Open Public Meetings Act” by the four-man council majority. He said Friday that he found the existence of the email – of which he was the main subject – “very disturbing.”
Councilman Bill Gothmann confirmed that he never saw the email.
“I was not included in the first exchange,” he said.
The other two councilmen who weren’t among the email recipients – Dean Grafos and Chuck Hafner – have since quit the council, saying they were routinely being excluded from council business.
The email originally was sent by retired Spokane County Undersheriff David Wiyrick, who has since applied for one of the open seats on the Spokane Valley City Council.
Wiyrick left the Sheriff’s Office in 2006 and contributed to Doug Orr’s campaign to unseat Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
In his email, Wiyrick also suggested that Spokane Valley hire “a public safety director for the Valley police department under the control of the city council and not Ozzie.”
He added, “Just my opinion and would need further study but I think this would be a good start to eventually forming a separate law enforcement police department.”
When Mayor Higgins forwarded the email to the three council members he wrote: “Certainly something to think about. Perhaps another way to skin our cat. Would require a significant contract change.”
The email was obtained through a public records request filed by The Spokesman-Review.
Wiyrick said he sent the email because someone at City Hall told him that Jackson signed the law enforcement contract with the Sheriff’s Office without approval by the City Council.
“I can’t recall who told me. It wasn’t anybody on the council so don’t pin it on them,” Wiyrick said.
The contract does have Jackson’s signature because he was the city manager when it took effect. But Jackson couldn’t sign a $17.5 million contract without first obtaining approval from the City Council.
Spokane Valley’s law enforcement contract with the Sheriff’s Office automatically renews every four years unless either party wants to change something. The contract has been available on the city’s website since it first took effect.
Pace said he recalls a similar comment about how Jackson was happy with the contract and would let it automatically renew. He said all of the city’s contracts should be continuously evaluated and none should renew automatically.
“Once I got on the council I made a big deal about that,” Pace said. “But it wasn’t just aimed at law enforcement. It’s aimed at all our contracts.”
Wiyrick, who has extensive law enforcement background, said no one on the council asked for his advice on the collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office.
“I just shared my opinion about how they could do things,” Wiyrick said.
Higgins maintains that Spokane Valley will keep the law enforcement contract with the Sheriff’s Office.
Pace suggested earlier this month that Spokane Valley should hire a police chief to oversee the Spokane Valley Police Department, while still contracting with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.
At the time, Knezovich called that idea “a deal breaker” and said he would not let a bureaucrat run part of the Sheriff’s Office.
Higgins said he probably should have read Wiyrick’s email more carefully before he forwarded it.
“Mr. Wiyrick unilaterally voiced his concerns about this legal contract,” Higgins said. “He thinks we ought to do something different with the sheriff’s contract. He feels compelled to comment from time to time.”
Higgins said the ongoing debate about the contract goes back to Hafner and Grafos, who brought it up during last year’s election.
“We are back again to the fact that there was an election last November,” Higgins said. “The folks who just resigned can’t seem to come to terms with the fact that they lost.”
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