Council unanimously rejects Police Guild contract

Published On: Nov 12 2013 06:41:25 PM PST   Updated On: Nov 12 2013 06:42:17 PM PST
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Spokane's city council is putting police department pay raises on hold until the Police Guild agrees to independent ombudsman investigations.

On Monday the city council, feeling the deal Mayor David Condon struck with the Police Guild was unacceptable, unanimously voted to reject a new, three-year labor agreement for rank and file officers when the council learned the ombudsman would still not have independent powers.

Condon thinks it his job and responsibility to negotiate a guild contract that delivers the promises of Proposition One, and that's independent non-police oversight over police actions.

When the mayor recently called a news conference to announce he had successfully negotiated a new guild contract it appeared a five-year battle over the ombudsman's power was over, but council members couldn't find the binding language they were looking for and the council felt the mayor came up short.

"Everybody I've talked to, whether I'm out doorbelling for candidates, whether I've been at public forums or neighborhood meetings, they all say it doesn't meet the test. It doesn't meet what the citizens want and voted for," City Council President Ben Stuckart said.

Last February voters passed Proposition One and so now even the city charter recognizes the need for the ombudsman's independent authority.

But just days before the council was scheduled to hold public hearings on the proposed contract the council rejected it.

"We just realized as a council, every single one of us, that we weren't going to get to a place, because of the language in the TA, where we could pass an ordinance that was bullet-proof that would give us independent investigatory authority," Stuckart said.

Stuckart said he thinks we have a good police department with great new leadership but says the Otto Zehm case showed him more accountability is still necessary.

"The citizens have said to the police, 'You have guns and you have the right to shoot them in certain situations but we the citizens want independent investigatory authority.' So we want some oversight that's independent of police as part of that guild contract," he said.

As he was swearing in five new police officers Tuesday, Police Chief Frank Straub described the contract vote down as a bump in the road versus a mountain. Guild president John Gately insists the ombudsman already enjoys independent authority.

"The ombudsman sits in on every single interview, on any complaint that comes in, he is allowed to ask any question he wants and at the end of the day he certifies whether or not  the investigation was thorough and complete," Gately said.

Gately went on to say that the ombudsman has certified every internal affairs investigation that's happened since the office was created.

So if that's the case then why did the city council feel the ombudsman didn't have enough authority in the new contract? Currently the ombudsman is working right alongside internal affairs, which conducts exhaustive investigations, but both the city council and at least 70 percent of local voters want some sort of free-standing ombudsman, which means its back to the negotiating table for the guild and the city.