The City Council suspended rules at a briefing session this afternoon and voted unanimously to reject a tentative agreement approved by the mayor's bargaining team and the Spokane Police Guild.
The agreement did not authorize the Office of Police Ombudsman to open its own investigations, separate from the police department's Internal Affairs process, as oversight advocates have long called for. In February, voters overwhelmingly approved a City Charter amendment outlining that the ombudsman should be "totally independent" and able to "independently investigate any matter necessary to fulfill its duties." But the administration and council have clashed over just what independent investigations should look like. The city and guild's tentative agreement would have established a citizen commission to oversee the Office of Police Ombudsman, making final decisions on whether internal investigations with which the ombudsman was unsatisfied should be continued or reopened (that power currently belongs to the mayor).
Local oversight advocates at the Center for Justice as well as City Council members said that didn't go far enough. When they attempted to craft an ordinance outside the bargaining process to further empower the ombudsman, an attorney for the guild pushed back, saying such powers for the ombudsman were mandatory subjects of bargaining.
"[The administration should] go back to the bargaining table and re-bargain this with independent investigations in the TA, not in something we're playing with outside of it," says Council President Ben Stuckart. "We were getting a clear signal we just weren't going to get that [through an ordinance.]"
Stuckart says the council made the move today under a rule suspension instead of taking public testimony at a regularly scheduled council meeting because "we know how people feel."
"We all knew where we needed to go," he says. "Rather than have 20 people stand up and tell me to reject the TA I'd rather just do it. We did the right thing."
We've called City Spokesman Brian Coddington for comment, and will update this post when we hear back.
UPDATE: Here is full statement from Mayor Condon, sent out by Coddington.
MAYOR CONDON’S STATEMENT ON THE CITY COUNCIL’S REJECTION OF THE GUILD AGREEMENT
“We had hoped the City Council would embrace the important next step toward independent oversight at a cost the citizens could afford. We had negotiated an approach that provided independent oversight and allowed us to use the investigative information as part of discipline. Now we start over.
Lost in today’s rushed decision are body cameras, a critical oversight component, and the Police Ombudsman Commission. It is apparent we need to work with the City Council and the Police Guild to avoid binding arbitration and get for the citizens of the Spokane the protections and oversight they need.”
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