The city has hired a private attorney to investigate allegations of racial discrimination against City Administrator Johnnie Perkins.
Kathleen Haggard, an attorney at the Bothell-based law firm Haggard and Ganson, will aim to determine whether a top city official was treated differently than his peers because he is Black.
Mayor Nadine Woodward ordered the third-party investigation after Cupid Alexander, the city’s director of Neighborhoods, Housing and Human Services, surmised that he was treated differently than his peers because of his race.
In emails he later shared with Spokane City Council members, Alexander also documented how he felt stereotyped by Johnnie Perkins, the city administrator hired by Woodward in April, during their short time working together.
Alexander, a former adviser to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, worked for the city for less than a year before resigning and was the only Black division leader.
The city is following its standard procedure for investigating allegations in which there is the potential for a conflict of interest, according to city spokesman Brian Coddington.
Haggard was referred by an employment firm, Coddington said. She specializes in employment law and has conducted one other investigation on the city’s behalf. The city conducts an average of 28 human resources investigations a year, according to Coddington, a few of which are referred to outside investigators to avoid a conflict of interest.
“Because of the level of the two parties involved, it’s going to the third party to maintain impartiality,” Coddington said.
The city’s human resources and legal departments will play only a supporting role in the investigation, Coddington said, such as contacting witnesses to be interviewed.
The results of the investigation will be provided to Alexander, Perkins and their supervisor – Woodward – who will determine whether to take punitive action.
Details of the investigation will not be made entirely public. It will be subject to public records requests, but redacted where necessary in accordance with the law, Coddington said.
Meanwhile, emails and documents related to Alexander’s tenure and resignation with the city will not be released to The Spokesman-Review and others who have requested them, according to the Spokane City Clerk’s Office, which cited the open investigation.
The goal is to have the investigation done in about 30 days, but it could take longer depending on the availability of the investigator and witnesses, Coddington said.
This week, three members of the Spokane City Council – Karen Stratton, Lori Kinnear and Betsy Wilkerson – sent Woodward a letter demanding the investigation abide by certain conditions.
The three asked that the City Council be asked for approval of any contract for an outside investigator – in this case, Haggard will be paid $20,000 – regardless of whether it meets the $50,000 threshold that requires the council’s approval by law. The administration will not request the council’s approval of the contract.
Council members also asked “the entire record of the investigation” be posted on the city’s website when it is complete. The council members also asked that the investigator have no record of working on the city’s behalf, a condition Haggard does not meet.
“If, in the final report, it is determined that discrimination or bullying did occur, we would request an additional investigation into HR policy/practices related to these two areas as well as an improvement plan from the HR Department,” the letter states.
On Thursday, Stratton told The Spokesman-Review that the details of the investigation should be made public because taxpayers have the right to know how the city treats its employees. Alexander could file a legal claim against the city, she noted, which would have financial repercussions.
“This is a really serious issue and the fact that they are not open to making the results of the investigation at the get-go is concerning,” Stratton said. “I would like to see what their scope is going to be, because they can set the scope to completely gloss over it as well.”
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