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Doug Clark: Mayor should abandon his fix-is-in pick for chief, Craig Meidl

Doug Clark,columnist

Tuesday night found me parked in the West Central Community Center gymnasium to watch the latest episode of Spokane’s seemingly endless game show …

“Who Gets to be Police Chief?”

This round featured a special Q and A session for our latest contestants, so let’s get to know them now!

There’s …

John Bruce, police chief of Frisco, Texas,

Robert Lehner, police chief of Elk Grove, Calif.,

Dominic Rizzi Jr., police chief of Yakima,

And “Saluting” Craig Meidl – Spokane’s very own acting police chief and Mayor David Condon’s “the fix is in” selection.

As a member of the audience at this sparsely attended jamboree, I could have submitted a question for the candidates.

I didn’t. However, if I had it would’ve gone something like …

“How in hell does something as straightforward as hiring a stinking police chief become such a protracted, politically charged cluster (BLEEP)?”

I doubt the moderators would have aired such honesty, but that’s par for my course.

I’m used to having my advice ignored. It seems now like eons ago when I urged the original pool of 31 police chief flavors (that’s 31 applicants) to:

“RUN FOR YOUR BLOODY LIVES!!! ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE BADGE WEARERS WHO ENTER HERE!!”

If only they had listened.

Watching the West Central quiz show unfold, I felt particular empathy for contestants Lehner and Rizzi Jr.

This is their second sad attempt to win a date to the prom. They were the two finalists for the chief’s job this summer when everybody thought we were playing by honest rules.

Then – wham! – at the last second Mayor Conman pulled a fast one, whizzing on the agreed upon process and proclaiming All Hail New Chief Meidl!!

Never mind that Meidl didn’t apply.

Spokane’s City Hall of Mirrors continues to amaze.

The Meidl ambush set off a public firestorm of volcanic proportion. The City Council felt more betrayed than Angelina Jolie did after dumping hubby Brad. Or Jennifer Aniston did when Brad dumped her for Angelina.

Talk about karma.

Meidl was one of the four dozen SPD jerks who in 2011 saluted Karl Thompson in federal court as the disgraced ex-Spokane cop was led away to prison.

Thompson had been convicted for the 2006 bashing and Tasering of an innocent civilian named Otto Zehm, who later died, and for lying to investigators afterward. Look it up.

But, hey, time goes by. Wounds do heal, right?

And on Tuesday night, as I sat fidgeting in my front row chair, there came a moment in the proceedings when I thought to myself, “You know, maybe it’s time to cut Meidl a break.”

That moment was actually in the form of a question.

One of the moderators asked each panelist to elaborate on a failure they had experienced and what they learned from it.

OK. There it was, a nice fat slow ball thrown waist high and just waiting to be knocked over the centerfield fence.

This was Meidl’s moment to articulate, on camera and during the forum, something like …

“Failure? Yeah I know about that. About five years ago I got carried away by my emotions and false loyalties and foolishly saluted a felon who, as a police officer, had betrayed his oath and everything the badge we wear stands for.

“It was wrong. I was wrong. We were wrong. And I’m so sorry for the continued hurt and ill will towards my department that this irresponsible act has caused.”

I’ve heard all of Meidl’s variations about the salute and why he called Thompson an “innocent man who was found guilty” in an email to his cop cronies.

The near-apologies don’t wash, especially when Meidl has so much to gain from dancing around contrition right now.

Instead, Meidl used his forum moment to cite a self-demotion he took under the now-ousted Chief Frank Straub. Bureaucratic baloney.

I’ll say it again: Meidl is not worthy of the job.

The mayor’s probably not listening. The gutless City Council foolishly agreed to stick Meidl in this latest police chief go-round rather than vote to not confirm him.

Big mistake. Now Condon can re-annoint Meidl while claiming he fully observed the process.

If you ask me, the most impressive candidate of the bunch was Rizzi Jr. He came off as truly wanting the job. He’s from a huge law enforcement family. He’s a former Chicago cop who commanded the department’s robbery unit.

And while Meidl was using the word “phenomenal” to describe his workplace, Rizzi Jr. accurately assessed the public’s perception of the SPD culture as “poisonous.”

Plus, Rizzi Jr. had the best line of the night in admitting to being a Chicago White Sox fan.

“The worst team in baseball and it’s killing me,” he said. If he gets the job, Rizzi Jr. vowed to ask the White Sox to come play in Spokane because “I think there’s a minor league team here we can beat.”

Works for me.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.