A panel of citizens tasked with enforcing the city’s ethics code unanimously cleared Mayor David Condon on Wednesday of dishonesty in his handling of the ouster of former Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub.
“When I look at the evidence that’s presented, I just do not see it supporting your complaint,” Kenneth Hall, a member of the city’s Ethics Commission, said to former City Council President Joe Shogan before the vote at City Hall.
The panel met in a closed hearing for about 40 minutes before voting to dismiss Shogan’s complaint, which alleged that Condon was dishonest in a meeting with the Spokane City Council the day before Straub was forced out of office. City Councilwoman Karen Stratton asked at that meeting in September 2015 if the ouster had anything to do with Monique Cotton, a former police spokeswoman who had been hurriedly transferred from Straub’s employ to the city’s Parks Department months before the decision. Condon answered no.
A subsequent release of public records, after Condon’s historic re-election to a second term, showed that Cotton had approached the mayor in April 2015 with allegations of sexual harassment against Straub but was unwilling to participate in an investigation into the matter. Condon, at the time of Straub’s dismissal and in testimony before the Ethics Commission last week, said it was letters from police brass expressing a lack of confidence in Straub, not Cotton’s complaints, that had inspired his decision to demand a resignation.
Two female members of the Ethics Commission found that Condon hadn’t lied to Stratton, but criticized his handling of Cotton’s allegations. After learning of the allegations and meeting with Straub, Condon chose to monitor the chief that summer, according to the findings of an independent investigator.
“I was very shocked about how the mayor handled it, and I was very shocked about this testimony during the hearing that he didn’t think there needed to be any further actions taken after the transfer of Ms. Cotton,” said Amina Fields, a local attorney serving on the panel.
“As a woman, I wouldn’t have felt safe under his leadership,” she added.
Fellow Commissioner Sarah O’Hare agreed, calling the mayor’s decision “disappointing, to say the very least.” Both said the answer to Stratton’s question did not rise to the level of dishonesty.
Shogan attended the hearing. Condon was not present, but Brian Coddington, a spokesman for the mayor, was. The mayor issued a statement Wednesday addressing the ruling, noting that city policies had changed as a result of the lessons learned during the Straub ouster, including the way the city handles sexual harassment complaints.
“Over the past three years, there has been considerable public discussion and debate, media attention, and third-party legal review of how we handle employee concerns and personnel matters,” Condon said in a statement. “That scrutiny has included a federal judge, a state judge, a former federal prosecutor who conducted an independent review, and the Ethics Commission – each time with the same result. While we have not been perfect, we have been open, honest, and forthright.
“While we have welcomed the scrutiny, it is time to move forward and focus on what has been learned to make sure employees feel comfortable and empowered to file a complaint if they so choose.”
Shogan said after the decision the Straub matter had cost the city, by his estimation, hundreds of thousands of dollars, pointing to a legal settlement with former city employee Nancy Goodspeed, who was replaced by Cotton in the Parks Department, and the decision to transfer Carly Cortright, who had worked in the police department under Straub, to a new position in the city’s 311 customer service department.
“I got what I wanted with the hearing,” Shogan said.
Shogan’s was the final outstanding ethics complaint before City Hall regarding the handling of the Straub ouster. A recall attempt shortly after the release of the investigative report in summer 2016 was dismissed by a judge for lack of evidence, and a lawsuit brought for violation of the state’s public records act as well as a complaint filed by the Spokane chapter of the National Organization of Women were settled, with changes to the city’s reporting requirements for harassment claims and revision to the city’s ethics code that defines the withholding of information as a punishable offense.
Straub’s wrongful termination lawsuit is set for oral argument before a panel of U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges in Seattle in June. His lawsuit was dismissed by a U.S. District judge in Spokane in 2016.
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