Spokane

Ombudsman commission potentially crippled by Dolezal misconduct investigation

Long after Rachel Dolezal's spotlight has dimmed on the national news, her actions will still be felt at Spokane's City Hall, where the controversy has crippled operations in Spokane's Office of the Police Ombudsman, where three commission members – including Dolezal – are under investigation for misconduct.

There are only five members of the commission, so if the city council votes to remove Dolezal and two other people from their posts the commission will have to take a time out from its very important police oversight duties.

In February 2012 Spokane voters passed Proposition 1, which called for an independent commission of citizens who had the power to review reports of police misconduct. Back then, Police Chief Frank Straub said the formation of the new ombudsman commission would prevent police coverups in the future.

"I think this resolves the Otto Zehm issue, that we won't have these things hang in space and time forever and ever, that the ombudsman and the commission can move the process very quickly," Straub said at the time.

That commission would be led by a rapidly rising star in the local civil rights movement: Rachel Dolezal. But seemingly no one at city hall knew the commission chair was pretending to be someone she really wasn't. The thought that a woman who lied about her ethnic background was also reporting to the Department of Justice about police reforms has rattled nerves at city hall.

"There have been some statements about ethnicity but what's really as the heart of the matter is truthfulness, integrity and transparency," Brian Coddington with the City of Spokane said.

To make matters even worse, Dolezal and two other members of the commission have been accused of misconduct just at a time when they are supposed to be picking a new ombudsman to lead their office.

"We've done an initial round of interviewing, there's another round of interviewing going on right now and we believe we're going to have three good candidates to the ombudsman commission which will ultimately make the hiring of the ombudsman," Coddington said.

It's still not clear how the commission could hire a new ombudsman if the majority of them are asked or told to step down and, by design, only the city council has the authority to do that.

A whistleblower investigation involving some other members of the ombudsman commission is now complete and local attorneys hired by the city to investigate the misconduct claims have briefed the council on their findings.

Their report expected to be made public later this week.

While its not clear yet what will happen when that report is release, officials are not waiting on Dolezal. The city's Human Rights Commission issued a letter to Dolezal during an emergency meeting Tuesday evening asking that she step down from her position. The commission also drafted a resolution asking her to step down from her role as the chair of the ombudsman commission.

The full text of the letter, submitted by Human Rights Commission chair Blaine Stum, is below.

Greetings Rachel,

The Human Rights Commission just finished a special meeting convened to address what we believe is a potential crisis of legitimacy for the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission.

We have always aligned ourselves with the OPO because we believe it's mission and duties are vital to the well-being of the City. We do not challenge your commitment to these same values, but given the current circumstances we believe it would be in the best interest of the OPO Commission if you resign from your position as Chair.

As you well know, to be an effective oversight body requires a certain level of trust and credibility. While we do not aim to judge the validity of allegations brought against you, we believe that the resulting controversy, as well as ongoing whistleblower and ethics investigations, damage your ability to be an effective Chair or Commissioner.

We wish you the best in whatever life brings you after this, and hope that you will be able to find peace and solace.

Thanks,

Blaine


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