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City-hired investigator finds no racial discrimination following resignation of top Spokane city official

An investigator hired by the city of Spokane determined that City Administrator Johnnie Perkins, right, did not racially discriminate against the city’s former top housing official, Cupid Alexander, left. Alexander filed a $322,797 tort claim outlining his alleged mistreatment by the city on Aug. 4.  (Courtesy photos)
An investigator hired by the city of Spokane determined that City Administrator Johnnie Perkins, right, did not racially discriminate against the city’s former top housing official, Cupid Alexander, left. Alexander filed a $322,797 tort claim outlining his alleged mistreatment by the city on Aug. 4. (Courtesy photos)

An investigator hired by the city of Spokane has determined that City Administrator Johnnie Perkins did not racially discriminate against former top housing official Cupid Alexander.

Attorney Kathleen Haggard found that the “preponderance of the evidence does not support the allegation” that Perkins or the city acted against Alexander, the city’s only Black division leader, due to his race.

In an interview with the investigator, Alexander described the city as a “train wreck” and said “no one there knows what they are doing.” He warned the investigator that city officials would lie to her.

Alexander aired allegations of mistreatment and racial discrimination following his abrupt resignation in June.

Alexander did not return an email requesting comment on Wednesday.

The city responded to Alexander’s allegations by tapping Haggard to conduct an investigation, the results of which were obtained Tuesday by The Spokesman-Review through a public records request.

Haggard interviewed Perkins, Alexander and several others as part of the investigation. Alexander’s name is redacted from the copy obtained by The Spokesman-Review, but context makes it clear when he is referenced. Other witnesses’ names also are redacted.

It is unclear if Haggard interviewed any witnesses who are people of color, or any people of color who have previously worked with Perkins.

The investigator determined there was little proof of racial motivation behind Perkins’ treatment of Alexander, but found issues with the behavior of both .

“The evidence overwhelmingly shows that the often unproductive, combative discussions between (Alexander) and Perkins were a two-way street,” Haggard wrote.

Kiantha Duncan, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, said the way racial discrimination allegations are investigated is not just an issue in Spokane. Across the country, organizations and institutions rarely find probable cause for discrimination.

“We are always in the position to have to prove that we have been discriminated against or been made to feel uncomfortable,” Duncan said. “It puts us in a tailspin of making people that are discriminated against have to prove it.”

But meeting that high bar can be a challenge.

“Things like microaggressions are very difficult to prove,” Duncan said.

Perkins has not commented publicly on the issue.

Alexander filed a $322,797 tort claim on August 4 outlining his alleged mistreatment by the city . It remains an open matter, according to city spokesman Brian Coddington.

Among many issues it raises with the city’s treatment of Alexander, the claim accused Perkins of targeting Alexander and treating him “more harshly than his colleagues.”

“No one can or should be expected to endure the treatment Mr. Alexander received and he had no choice but to resign,” Natasha Hill, Alexander’s attorney, wrote in the claim.

Alexander’s arrival

Alexander was a key hire for Mayor Nadine Woodward in 2019, who brought him in to lead the new Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services Division. The creation of the division was the result of the administration’s restructuring of City Hall, and its purview includes Woodward’s top issues, including homelessness.

Alexander came to Spokane from Portland, where he was an adviser to Mayor Ted Wheeler.

A few months later, Woodward hired Perkins, the city of San Diego’s former deputy chief operating officer. He filled the post vacated by former City Administrator Wes Crago, who left abruptly and quietly after less than a year on the job in 2020.

Early exit

Alexander’s resignation was only the beginning of the turmoil.

Although he intended to stay on for several weeks through July, Perkins and the administration effectively forced him out by the end of the week after a tense meeting hours after he submitted his resignation .

Alexander questioned whether anyone else had received similar treatment, and wrote in an email to Perkins that “as the lone Black employee, I’m tired of this treatment.”

“I’m unsure of why I’m being treated like this – I assume it’s race – but I request fairness is done,” Alexander wrote.

Despite forcing him out by the end of the week, the city initially attempted to force Alexander to use paid time off through July 30 rather than placing him on paid administrative leave. The decision left Alexander with less time to cash out when he left. Alexander questioned why he was forced to use paid time off but other people who had recently resigned were not.

Perkins explained to the investigator that forcing Alexander out before the end of July was because his presence was potentially volatile and “it was better to rip off the Band-Aid.”

Haggard found the city’s reasoning for forcing Alexander to quickly leave credible and not racially motivated. She described the way it initially forced Alexander to use paid time off as “regrettable,” but credited the administration for acknowledging its mistake and remedying it.

Butting heads

Alexander’s resignation was the culmination of a rapidly building tension documented by those who spoke to the investigator.

According to witnesses interviewed for the investigation, the relationship between Alexander and Perkins quickly soured after the latter’s hiring, often resulting in uncomfortable confrontations for others in the room.

They described leaders with two distinct styles, with Alexander delving into the depths of policy and Perkins often interrupting people in order to get straight to the point.

“The witnesses said (Alexander) was not alone in being interrupted by Perkins, and both said Perkins routinely interrupts them as well,” Haggard wrote, noting that the witnesses found that Perkins’ interruptions appeared to bother Alexander more than others.

Alexander pushed back against the administration in several key moments earlier this year.

He accused the administration of forcing him to withhold the results of the annual census of Spokane’s homeless population from the Spokane City Council and the public. Woodward, according to the investigation, wanted to ensure there was “context” provided with the raw numbers, leading to a weekslong delay before their release.

Alexander flagged the city’s involvement in the redevelopment of the historic Ridpath Hotel as “ill advised.” He voiced frustration that the city will likely never see a return on its investment and suggested the developers had defaulted on their agreement with the city.

Alexander also repeatedly questioned the city’s extension of the Guardians Foundation’s contract to operate the city-owned Cannon Street homeless shelter into the summer without issuing a new request for proposals. Other administration officials thought an attorney’s legal opinion was sufficient, but Alexander warned in an email that “legality is not the issue. Process and precedence is.”

Alexander felt he was retaliated against for his stances. He claimed that he was “iced out” of meetings with top administration officials but, other than a request for a monthly one-on-one meeting with Woodward that was denied, Haggard found Alexander was not excluded from key discussions. Alexander also expressed frustration that his policy proposals were ignored and that he was given work outside the scope of his job.

“The evidence does not support the allegation that the city asked (Alexander) to engage in unethical or questionably legal practices, or retaliated against him when he refused,” Haggard wrote.

‘Racist city’

The investigation documents Alexander’s experience as a Black man in Spokane, which he described as a “white, racist city” that is “redneck, conservative, masking racism.”

He told the investigator that he had, on two occasions during his short time in Spokane, been called a racial slur from a person in a passing vehicle while walking on a city street. He also took issue with media coverage of his resignation, noting that his photograph was used while Perkins’ was not.

“Most people I talked to described Spokane as a friendly, welcoming place,” Haggard wrote, though it is unclear if she interviewed any people of color.

Alexander directly accused Perkins of making a comment rooted in a racial stereotype when Perkins said his son thought Alexander looked “athletic.”

“You said your ‘son’ said I looked athletic and asked if I played sports – which had nothing to do with our conversation; and was stereotyping me in every possible way imaginable,” Alexander wrote in an email to Perkins.

But Haggard found Perkins’ recollection of the comment credible, and wrote “even if the remark had been made as alleged by (Alexander), it was not clearly meant to be a racist stereotype, as ‘looking athletic’ is not unique to a particular race.”

The future

The city of Spokane has yet to replace Alexander, whose resignation was one in a wave of departures in the Community, Housing and Human Services Department, which is within the NHHS division.

It didn’t take Alexander long to land on his feet. The city of Austin, Texas, announced in July that he would serve as the assistant director of its Housing and Planning Department.

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