Spokane City Councilwoman Kate Burke has received cease-and-desist demands from two law firms after she threatened to pull city funding from a local nonprofit that she believed was employing a “sexual predator.”
The letters, sent last month to Burke and others at City Hall on behalf of the individual and the nonprofit, flatly deny the allegation. An internal investigation conducted by the nonprofit, after retaining outside legal representation, found no evidence of wrongdoing by the man, who works as an instructor, the group’s director reported Tuesday.
Even so, an attorney representing the organization said Tuesday the man has voluntarily resigned his position. The attorney said the man maintains he did not engage in improper behavior and resigned to protect the organization’s relationship with the city.
The Spokesman-Review is not naming the nonprofit nor the individual involved because there have been no firsthand confirmations of the behavior Burke reported to the organization during a meeting at City Hall early last month. Records obtained also include a letter of support from multiple women who worked with the individual, calling him “professional, knowledgeable and motivating every day.”
“It has come to the attention of our client that you, and maybe others, are making false and defamatory statements about (the individual) in and among the Spokane City Council, and perhaps to a broader audience including media outlets,” reads a letter from the employee’s attorney, sent April 19.
The nonprofit also took steps to ensure the instructor was supervised in the classroom after the concerns were brought to them in early April, and had received no complaints about the employee prior to Burke’s statements.
In its cease-and-desist letter, the nonprofit alleges the source of Burke’s information is “a close friend” of the councilwoman who had “a failed relationship” with the instructor. The woman informed Burke of clients who’d been victims of “sexual misconduct” in the instructor’s work for another nonprofit.
Burke said she couldn’t talk about the case, citing the letters threatening legal action for defamation and review by the city’s Ethics Commission. Prior to her election, Burke publicly discussed her own harassment by a former city councilman.
The nonprofit, which received $30,000 in federal block grants through a city contract that expires this summer, received notification from Burke in late March that she had concerns “about the safety of others.”
According to a letter from the nonprofit to Burke and the city’s legal department, Burke met with representatives on April 5 and provided what is referred to as “a litany of wrongdoings” that were attributed “to statements being made to you by a variety of women.”
Burke provided a list of conditions and, according to that letter, threatened to withhold future city funding from the organization. In an email to the organization, Burke told members of the nonprofit to make clear in a conversation with the man that “if these claims are true (the nonprofit’s) funding from the City and other sources is in danger.”
The nonprofit said that after that meeting, Burke continued to tell people at City Hall that the organization was employing “a sexual predator.”
Several of Burke’s colleagues on the council, who also received the cease-and-desist letters, said they were concerned about the representations Spokane’s newest councilmember made to the organization on their behalf in that meeting.
“That kind of stuff makes me nervous when people are accused of something and there’s no hard evidence to back it up, they’re tried in the court of public opinion,” City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said.
City Councilwoman Karen Stratton, a relative of the contractor, said Burke came to her with concerns in mid-March, and was concerned that it apparently took several weeks for Burke to inform a supervisor at the nonprofit.
“I have never heard of a councilmember dictating to somebody how they were going to run their program after allegations surfaced with absolutely no proof, and absolutely no recorded complaints on file,” Stratton said.
Burke did notify several city departments, including the Neighborhood and Business Services division, which oversees the contracts for social services, said Dawn Kinder, director of that division. No violations of the city’s contract with the nonprofit were found, Kinder said.
City Council President Ben Stuckart, the subject of a bullying inquiry by Burke earlier this spring that was determined to be unfounded after a review by the city’s human resources department, said he believed any threats of pulled funding overstepped the bounds of what lawmakers are able to do.
“You can’t go out representing council on this issue, it doesn’t sign contracts, it is totally outside our place as council members,” Stuckart said. “It’s not the city’s job to vet which city contractors are hired by each recipient of CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) dollars. We have over 50 contracts a year. That’s up to those agencies.”
Stuckart said concerns about the contractor had reached beyond the walls of City Hall and into the community.
City councilmembers Kinnear, Stratton and Breean Beggs all said they’d want to know the outcome of all internal investigations into the complaint when the nonprofit’s contract comes up for renewal before the City Council.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.