Mayor Woodward announces third-party review of city’s Community, Housing and Human Services department

SPOKANE, WASH – In a news conference that pledged transparency but lacked specific details, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and City Administrator Wes Crago Friday announced the city have asked the state auditor to review the city’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department.

That department handles homeless and housing programs for the city.

Mayor Woodward said conversations with current CHHS staff gave the city “pause” and the mayor asked for a third party to review.

She said Crago will be handling the inquiry on the city’s behalf.

When asked, though, about what the concerns were and who was named as a possible wrong-doer, Crago said he could not answer those questions. When asked if this was in relation to the contract given to Jewels Helping Hands to operate a shelter, which was controversial due to the criminal history of one of the Jewels operators, Crago said he wouldn’t comment on the scope. When 4 News Now asked if money was mishandled, Crago wouldn’t comment on that, either.

“This is inherently awkward,” Crago said, of not being able to answer questions related to the inquiry. He did say it does not impact anyone currently employed by the city’s CHHS Department, but would not say if it was in relation to Kelly Keenan, who stepped down from the department last fall.

Mayor Woodward said the questions about CHHS came to light within the past several days. She said those questions arose when CHHS staff was assuming new roles and familiarizing themselves with their work. Mayor Woodward said as soon as an issue was identified and a request for a third-party investigation was requested, she wanted the community to know.

“The community expects the city to be transparent,” Woodward said.

Mayor Woodward said funding for any current work done through the CHHS office will continue uninterrupted.

Crago said the city has asked the state auditor’s office to look into three questions about whether or not policies and practices were followed when evaluating resources. Also, whether or not there was real or perceived pressure when it came to choosing how to allocate money.

Money to whom? The city, again, would not be specific. When asked if it was related to the homeless shelters, Crago said they wanted to keep things as “broad as possible.”

Crago concluded the news conference by saying there is no time table set for this investigation, but that results and recommendations will be made public. Mayor Woodward said this has prompted conversations internally about work culture and process.

Crago and Mayor Woodward said repeatedly that the city staff did the right thing by raising the questions in the first place.

“We have a lot of work to do and it is critically important that we keep the focus on the people we serve, even if it means asking some tough questions of ourselves,” Woodward said. “The questions and fact-finding we are doing will improve our ability to deliver better results moving forward.”

Members of the Spokane City Council told 4 News Now they don’t any more about the investigation. They found out about the news conference Thursday and were not given any additional information about the accusations or the specifics of the staff concerns.