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Resigning Women 

HR director is the third female staffer to leave City Hall since April; plus, a plan to halt coal and oil trains in Spokane

click to enlarge A local physician is working to stop oil trains from passing through Spokane because he thinks they're unsafe to the public.
  • A local physician is working to stop oil trains from passing through Spokane because he thinks they're unsafe to the public.

LOWE GOES

Spokane Assistant City Attorney Erin Jacobson resigned in April. City Attorney Nancy Isserlis followed suit in May, announcing her resignation effective July 1.

Now add another key member of Mayor David Condon's leadership team to the pile of resignations: Human Resources Director HEATHER LOWE. All three were listed as witnesses who independent investigator Kris Cappel wanted to interview about the circumstances surrounding the ouster of Police Chief Frank Straub. Internal notes from police leadership convey that they had shared their concerns about Straub's management style with Lowe long before his firing, but their concerns did not spark an investigation. Lowe, unlike Jacobson or Isserlis, had agreed to be interviewed by the investigator.

Lowe was resigning because she'd been recruited by a city in Southern California, city spokesman Brian Coddington said, though he didn't have clearance to say which one.

"Her recruitment by another city speaks highly of the work she has done for Spokane," Mayor David Condon said in a statement, praising how Lowe had "worked with its labor groups to make government more innovative, improved training and, in partnership with Civil Service, advanced new recruitment initiatives to grow diversity."

In her resignation letter dated June 2, but received by the city on Tuesday last week, Lowe praised Condon.

"Your leadership, specifically your empowerment of your executive team, has been a wonderful environment to grow, learn and succeed," Lowe wrote.

Lately, Lowe was swarmed with controversies on all sides, including over how her department had handled the visa paperwork for the police ombudsman the city had intended to hire. Her department also had been under fire from Blaine Stum, until recently a legislative aide for former Councilman Jon Synder and current Councilman Breean Beggs. In recent months, Stum gathered nearly 700 pages of public records and the sum of nearly five years of harassment probes, then sent Condon a lengthy, case-by-case analysis highlighting what he saw as delayed responses, spotty recordkeeping and investigations that only scratched the surface.

"I guess the primary, overarching thing that concerned me was that there was no real consistency," Stum says. (DANIEL WALTERS)

BRAKE MAN

A local physician has beat members of the Spokane City Council in initiating an untested legal strategy intended to stop trains carrying FOSSIL FUELS from passing through the city.

On June 10, Gunnar Holmquist, a family physician based in Spokane, filed a one-page ballot initiative with the city clerk. If passed by voters in the November 2017 general election, it would add new language to the city charter declaring that the citizens of Spokane have a right to "public safety" and "a healthy climate unaffected by fossil fuels." To those ends, the initiative would ban transporting coal or crude oil by rail within city limits.

The initiative contains a section stating that if the city fails to enforce the ban or if a court doesn't uphold it, then citizens can act "through nonviolent direct action" without being arrested.

Holmquist says that after last summer's record heat and wildfires, he got involved with a group called Direct Action Spokane. When the idea of pushing an initiative was brought up, he says he volunteered to sponsor it.

According to Holmquist, the initiative was written with input from the Climate Disobedience Center and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit law firm that in the past has supported controversial ballot measures sponsored by Envision Spokane. Holmquist says there's a good chance the initiative will be struck down in court, but he hopes it'll inspire similar efforts elsewhere.

"It's a matter of if, not when, judges decide they're not going to go along with tradition," he says.

Currently, the city council is crafting an ordinance that would make it illegal to transport coal or oil by train through Spokane. Councilman Breean Beggs says the ordinance will be carefully crafted to survive a legal challenge. He also says that the ordinance will be subject to a public vote, which he says could send a message nationwide. (JAKE THOMAS)

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