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Spokane human rights code changes become law without mayor’s signature

UPDATED: Mon., April 24, 2017

FILE - Mayor David Condon, right, gave an update about the City of Spokane’s financial condition and ongoing constructin projects during a speech to the Spokane City Council. In this photo from 2016, City Council President Ben Stuckart is shown at left. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Mayor David Condon, right, gave an update about the City of Spokane’s financial condition and ongoing constructin projects during a speech to the Spokane City Council. In this photo from 2016, City Council President Ben Stuckart is shown at left. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Citing concerns about the cost of processing complaints and creating “an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy,” Mayor David Condon returned Spokane’s new human rights code to the City Council without his signature.

In a letter sent to City Council President Ben Stuckart on Friday, Condon said he agreed with the intent of the legislation. But the protections for renters accepting housing vouchers could stifle a state agency’s review of complaints and shift the burden back to City Hall. And that would require the hiring of a new investigator – a cost that is not in the current budget. Condon also wrote that the investigator would not have the same authority as those with the state.

“The City has no legal authority or jurisdiction to enforce discrimination allegations,” Condon wrote in the letter. “It is a disservice to our citizens to create a false expectation the City can offer relief to acts of discrimination not under the City’s authority.”

City Councilwoman Karen Stratton, the lead sponsor of the legislation, said Monday that concerns about cost were not brought up in conversations with representatives of Condon’s administration, including City Administrator Theresa Sanders, prior to passage of the new law. Stratton said it was “disappointing” the law would take effect without Condon’s signature.

“We went through 26 or 27 drafts, and were told we’re not going to get any pushback,” Stratton said. “This never came up.”

Sanders said Monday that the mayor’s request for potential costs was standard for any legislation.

“This is typical of anytime we add administrative overhead to any program, or programs, is you have to assess what’s the cost of the program,” she said.

Landlords raised concerns to the City Council about the ordinance, which changes the city’s definition of discrimination to include “the use or eligibility for the use of housing choice or other subsidy program or alternative source of income.” City Councilwoman Amber Waldref successfully moved for that portion of the law to not be enforced until July 1.

Condon wrote the inclusion of this provision would likely cause the Washington Human Rights Commission, which currently processes complaints, to return those claims to the city for review because the definition differs from the protections in state law. There was no estimate of the cost for processing these complaints included with the bill, leaving it unclear how much the city would be on the hook for processing the claims, Condon said.

Stratton said no fiscal estimate was prepared because the city hadn’t been tracking the number of complaints, and she believed she’d come to an understanding with Sanders and others that any money for handling complaints would be included in the budget next year. The city’s Human Rights Commission will look at how many complaints are received and determine if additional staffing is needed moving forward, she said.

Stratton said she hadn’t discussed the legislation directly with the mayor prior to passage. Questioned about Condon’s position on the protections for renters accepting subsidies, spokesman Brian Coddington referred to the letter and the mayor’s stated concerns about paying for mediation, saying the issue was “part of the overall cost discussion.”

Condon’s decision not to sign the ordinance means it takes effect without his approval. Had the mayor vetoed the ordinance, the City Council would need just five votes to override his action and the law would have taken effect anyway. Six council members voted in favor of the ordinance, which passed March 27. City Councilman Mike Fagan, echoing the concerns of landlords and the prohibition on police officers questioning suspects about immigration status, was the lone vote against.

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