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David Condon’s handling of ouster of police Chief Frank Straub cast pall over relationship with City Council

Spokane Mayor David Condon, left, with City Council President Ben Stuckart, announce the resignation of Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub during a press conference, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, at Spokane City Hall. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Mayor David Condon, left, with City Council President Ben Stuckart, announce the resignation of Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub during a press conference, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, at Spokane City Hall. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

On the night of Nov. 4, 2014, Spokane Mayor David Condon partied in the backroom of O’Doherty’s Irish Grille with City Council President Ben Stuckart.

Condon was drinking a wheat beer and wearing a 40-year-old polyester tie emblazoned with the hexagonal symbol of Expo ’74. Stuckart was glued to his smartphone, refreshing the county’s elections page for the night’s first results.

A few minutes after 8 p.m., the room of city and park officials erupted. Voters had overwhelmingly approved ballot measures to remake Riverfront Park and fund street improvements for a decade.

Condon and Stuckart didn’t clasp hands and raise them in victory. But they should have. The conservative mayor and liberal council president had campaigned hand-in-hand for the measures. They raised money and held news conferences together. They were a team, championing Spokane.

Ten months later, on Sept. 22, 2015, the two were together again, standing before reporters who had been given eight minutes to rush to City Hall for a news conference about the forced resignation of police Chief Frank Straub. As Condon stiffly answered questions about Straub’s explosive behavior and allegations of misconduct, Stuckart stood silently by his side.

A lot happened between 2013 and 2016. A majority more in line with Condon’s political beliefs was swept off the City Council. Condon handily won re-election. The effort to stop pollutants from entering the Spokane River made significant gains, including by issuing its largest bond in history, a $200 million “green” bond. A crisis in the city’s business and development services department led to the firing of a popular planning director and resignation of the department head.

But these two events – the 2014 election and Straub – were turning points in Condon’s tenure at City Hall.

As Condon packs up his seventh-floor office, Riverfront Park nears the completion of a legacy-making transformation. The tired old park of Expo ’74 has been updated for the 21st century, with the new Skate Ribbon, renovated U.S. Pavilion and new home for the historic Looff Carrousel. The park’s restoration mirrors the revitalization of the rest of the city – in Kendall Yards, the South Perry District, East Sprague Avenue and beyond.

At the same time, Condon’s role in protecting Straub’s job – even as the chief was accused of misbehavior toward his spokeswoman and others – as well as withholding damaging public documents until after his re-election are a blot on his mayoralty.

Months after Condon had been told that Straub’s spokeswoman had accused him of improperly touching her and trying to kiss her, Condon and his top deputies – City Administrator Theresa Sanders and the mayor’s spokesman, Brian Coddington – denied knowing of any allegations of sexual misconduct.

That was not true. In April, after the accusations were brought to Sanders, she wrote of the “sexual harassment” that had left Straub’s spokeswoman “too distraught to come to City Hall.” At the time, Sanders wrote that “the mayor put the matter in my hands to investigate.”

The notes detailing the accusations and what was done to transfer the spokeswoman to another city department while giving her a $10,000 pay raise were known to Condon, Sanders, Coddington and City Attorney Nancy Isserlis as the mayor barreled toward an easy re-election.

Three weeks to the day after Condon won 63% of the vote, the city released a cache of documents detailing the accusations and the situation. Ethics complaints against Condon were filed. Stuckart said he had been “lied to” by Condon and Sanders. Condon, Stuckart and the City Council agreed to hire an independent investigator to look into the matter.

In July 2016, the investigator’s report came out. It affirmed what had been reported over the past year, including that Condon, Sanders, Coddington and Isserlis had “intentionally withheld” damaging information about Straub from the media and the public until after the mayor won re-election.

Condon may have survived the biggest crisis of his time in City Hall, but the damage done to his relationship with the City Council would never be repaired.

Nicholas Deshais was the City Hall reporter covering local politics from summer 2013 through summer 2016.

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