This is the Life: Creston mayors don’t create distrust found elsewhere

Advance publisher Lorne Eckersley reflects on scandal at Spokane, Wash., city hall involving cozy deals and outright lies...

On the weekend, we made our first trip since the spring to Coeur d’Alene so that we could take in a bit of musical theatre at the Modern Theatre. With the drop in value of the Canadian dollar against U.S. currency, these trips are much more costly than they were only a year or so ago.

As I often do, I picked up a free copy of Inlander, a very good weekly publication, and it didn’t take long before an article grabbed my interest. In it, I learned of a growing scandal at Spokane city hall as revelations about cozy deals and outright lies begin to emerge.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago since I read another story in the Inlander about a then-new police chief who had been hired out of Indianapolis to clean up some serious problems in the Spokane police department. I don’t recall reading it in that story, but in the current issue we learn that the new chief was hired by the mayor, despite “the objections of a law enforcement advisory panel” back in 2012.

Last spring, in the run-up to municipal elections, the mayor got a call from a lawyer who represented a senior staff member of the police department. The mayor was told that the staff member, a female, was accusing the police chief of sexual misconduct, but she wanted to avoid the humiliation of going public with the issue. Instead, she wanted a transfer to a different department, one that would include a pay raise and promotion.

The mayor acquiesced, knowing full well that a scandal involving the guy he had hired wouldn’t help his re-election chances. Spokane, after all, had not re-elected a mayor to a second term in 42 years.

What followed was a classic coverup involving plenty of deception and the whole story didn’t begin to emerge until a few months ago. At about the same time that various media were beginning to dig a little deeper into the hitherto hidden story, separate groups from within the police department wrote the mayor accusing the police chief of being “a foul-mouthed tyrant who yelled at subordinates.”

When the police chief was finally forced to resign in September, an Inlander reporter asked if any sexual harassment complaints had been “lodged” against him and the mayor said no.

“(Mayor) Condon now says that he didn’t intend to mislead with his answer, and spokesman Brian Coddington says that Condon’s answer was truthful because the mayor was referring to formal complaints,” according to the Inlander story, written by Mitch Ryals and Jake Thomas. A few days later, Coddington tried to deter the Inlander from pursuing the story and even called the newspaper’s publisher to complain about the questioning.

So now Spokane has a mayor who went out of his way to hire a police chief against recommendations, and then to cover up a messy situation. It has a former police chief who has filed a $4 million legal claim alleging his due process rights were violated. It has a senior city staff member who got a pay raise and promotion (and her legal fees paid for) because she didn’t go through the legal process after she was harassed.

I couldn’t help but feel ill when I read a quote from the president of Spokane’s council, Ben Stuckart, who told the Inlander, “Going forward, I don’t know how I trust a single thing anybody says. How do I as an elected official in the city of Spokane trust a single thing anybody says? I just don’t know. … I’ve been lied to numerous times, and I think the public has been lied to for months.”

Sadly, these stories are becoming more and more common, and I can’t believe it is only because it is harder and harder to keep secrets in this age of cell phones and social media. Canadian towns and cities aren’t spared either, so this isn’t just a problem tied to the U.S. But once again I am reminded of how lucky we are here in Creston. We aren’t perfect, far from it. But in my time here I have known and watched mayors Slam Salvador, Lela Irvine, Don Leben, Joe Snopek and Ron Toyota, and if anyone told me that any of them had told outright lies to the public or the media, or had personally gained from their positions, I would be amazed. I haven’t agreed with everything that any of those mayors did, but I don’t recall ever having felt I couldn’t trust them.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

Creston Valley Advance