Seemingly mending a relationship at City Hall that has frayed through the summer, a visiting judge threw out a recall effort against Spokane’s mayor Tuesday.
Mayor David Condon, the City Council and the man who sought the mayor’s removal from office all said the dismissal should signal a renewed relationship between the city’s executive and legislative branches. That relationship was damaged by the forced departure of former police Chief Frank Straub, Condon’s explanations for the way complaints against the chief were handled, and the finding by an independent investigator that the administration delayed the release of records about Straub until after his historic re-election.
“We had done things legally, ethically and honestly, and the judge confirmed that,” Condon said.
David Green, the man who sought Condon’s removal from office, said Yakima Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson’s decision should provide some closure.
“I think having a court determine that the recall petition is not actionable, means that those issues should be off the table now and we should move forward,” Green said after the hearing.
Gibson said Green’s petition lacked the specific information needed to put to voters whether Condon should be removed from office based on his handling of the fallout following Straub’s departure. City Council members, some of whom called for resignations by the mayor’s top staff, were moving past the recall in the hours after Gibson’s decision.
“I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the mayor today, tomorrow, and into the future,” City Council President Ben Stuckart said in a prepared statement. “I am glad to have this behind us. It is time for us at City Hall to move on, repair our damaged relationships, and continue working for all the citizens of Spokane.”
In July, after the release of a report by attorney Kris Cappel that looked into the handling by Condon’s staff of complaints and public records requests, Stuckart said multiple members of the administration should “resign immediately.”
City Councilman Breean Beggs urged the city, in moving past the recall, to not overlook the shortcomings in policy and address them.
“It sounds like the petitioner and the mayor both want to move on, and I support doing so as long as the lessons learned are implemented and we improve our city government,” Beggs said.
Green, a local accountant who has a law degree but isn’t a practicing attorney, based most of his charges on the findings of the Cappel report. He sought a recall based on Condon’s public statements during the ouster of Straub, installing Craig Meidl as Straub’s replacement without City Council approval, and that his administration failed to release potentially damaging public records until after his re-election.
Gibson said Green hadn’t provided enough supporting documentation. “You believe the charges are true, because Ms. Cappel believes them to be true,” he said.
Condon, represented by local attorney Jim King, was not in the courtroom Tuesday. The mayor commissioned a telephone poll gauging public perception of the recall in the days leading to the courtroom decision, and he defended use of the poll Tuesday.
“It’s another way of understanding where the public is on particular issues that are in the media and are the talking points of your adversaries,” Condon said. “It’s good to understand that.”
Green filed Cappel’s report in support of his recall petition, but not the hundreds of pages of transcripts and exhibits that were publicly released to supplement her findings. Green told Gibson he didn’t believe those additional documents were publicly available and repeated that reasoning after Tuesday’s hearing, despite their availability on the city’s website.
“I’m not sure that it would have been helpful to submit,” he said. “My guess is, it would have been hundreds of more pages and just would have made the judge’s job more difficult.”
Gibson grilled Green on all the charges, though the judge said he was only throwing out the public records challenge based on the documentation in front of him.
“I want to make clear, I’m not making any decision on whether or not the petition would have been factually sufficient if the appendices and the exhibits and the transcripts had been included with the petition when it was filed,” the judge said.
Green said after the hearing he had no intention of appealing Gibson’s ruling to the Washington Supreme Court.
There’s no law prohibiting someone else from filing a recall petition against Condon, but Green said the community needs to heal following the ruling. He said people should cease taking “potshots” at Condon over the handling of the Straub dismissal.
City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said it was important the council and mayor recommit to working together.
“We need to be collaborative with the mayor, because that’s what citizens expect,” Kinnear said.
Election data show that recalls making the ballot have ended in the official being removed from office seven out of eight times over the past 13 years in the state.
Shannon Sullivan, who was part of both a successful recall effort against former Spokane Mayor Jim West and failed in court in an attempt to recall Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker, shook Green’s hand after the hearing Tuesday. She said she empathized with Green and thanked him for taking on the task of a recall.
“David put himself out there for the city, and I’m appreciative of that,” Sullivan said.
Gibson dismissed the charge that Condon was dishonest when, in response to a question posed at a news conference announcing Straub’s departure, he said there hadn’t been any complaints “lodged” against the police chief. He said it was unclear, based on the choice of the word “lodged,” if the mayor interpreted that to mean a formal complaint or what Monique Cotton, a spokeswoman in the department, raised in a meeting with her attorney and Condon months before Straub was forced out.
“I don’t know what was going on in his head,” Gibson said.
That charge will come before the city’s Ethics Commission later this month when Condon is expected to testify. The ability to call witnesses and introduce specific evidence makes that hearing much different from Tuesday’s courtroom decision, said Rick Eichstaedt, the attorney representing the Spokane chapter of the National Organization of Women in that ethics case.
“I’m not worried,” Eichstaedt said of the court’s decision Tuesday. “I certainly expect it to come up” at the Ethics Commission meeting.
Gibson also dismissed the charges Condon acted in defiance of the city’s charter and laws when he named Meidl police chief Aug. 1, saying the law isn’t clear on when the City Council would have to confirm appointments. City Councilwoman Karen Stratton has sponsored multiple ordinances the past several months to rein in what she sees as overuse of the mayor’s power to make political appointments outside the city’s civil service process. The council adopted those changes, which became law without Condon’s signature.
On Monday, the council passed by a 5-1 vote an ordinance establishing deadlines for mayoral appointments to come before council for confirmation. Under the new law, permanent political appointments must receive council confirmation within 30 days, while interim and acting appointments must be approved in 180 days. Councilman Mike Fagan voted against it.
“There is no timeline for when appointments can be made and approved,” Stratton said before the vote.
Condon said Tuesday he hadn’t read the latest version of the proposal, but continued his criticism of the council’s efforts to restrict his appointment authority.
“We weren’t necessarily fixing anything that had knowingly been a problem to this date,” Condon said.
Gibson dismissed Green’s last charge, that Condon ignored the city’s sexual harassment policy in dealing with Cotton’s complaint, saying the mayor’s actions were within his discretion as an elected official.
The City Council also has proposed changes to the city’s harassment policies as a result of Cappel’s report, and those are coming to a vote later this month.