Wednesday, May 3, 2017

With Condon's appointment of Michael Ormsby, the "elected city attorney" proposal appears dead for now

Posted By on Wed, May 3, 2017 at 1:42 PM

click to enlarge If Michael Ormsby (above) looks a bit like Washington state Rep. Timm Ormsby, there's a reason for that. They're brothers.
  • If Michael Ormsby (above) looks a bit like Washington state Rep. Timm Ormsby, there's a reason for that. They're brothers.

Today, Mayor David Condon appointed former U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby as Spokane's new city attorney. City Council President Ben Stuckart enthusiastically endorsed Ormsby, remarking that discussions over changing the city attorney role should be set aside for now.

In other words, we're a long way from last August.

Back then, the very position of city attorney was under fire from the Spokane City Council. An independent investigation had accused the former city attorney, Nancy Isserlis, of withholding explosive documents concerning former police chief Frank Straub from the public until after the 2015 election.  Isserlis fervently denied the allegations, but Stuckart was furious.

"That role shouldn't be acting to protect the mayor. They should be acting in the best interest of the citizens," Stuckart said back then. "Which to me would be releasing the goddamn documents."

Stuckart had also lambasted Condon's previous city attorney nominee, Laura McAloon, for her decision to call the investigator in the Straub case. The relationship between the two deteriorated so much that McAloon withdrew her name from consideration, calling Stuckart "toxic" and saying "I don’t work with bullies."

Stuckart told the Inlander he wanted to put a measure changing the city attorney to an elected position on the ballot this spring. That, he hoped, would address the problems that had plagued the city attorney position for years.

"Instead of being an appointment of the mayor, it would have true political independence and answer to the whole city," Stuckart said.

It never made the ballot. More than a month ago, Stuckart says, he concluded he didn't have the votes on the city council to change the city attorney to an elected position.

"I think we can set that conversation aside," Stuckart says, "Even if we switched the form of how the city attorney is chosen, this would be the number one person on my wish list... I think this is a win-win for the citizens and the city itself."

Stuckart says both he and the Mayor approached Ormsby, an Obama appointee, shortly after Donald Trump's election, when it appeared that he would likely be booted by the new Republican president. But back then, Stuckart says, Ormsby said that he'd have to talk to his higher-ups before even considering the job.

When Ormsby was officially booted from his U.S. Attorney job in March, Stuckart says, he and the mayor approached Ormsby again about taking the city attorney job.

The praise for Ormsby is bipartisan.

Last week, Councilman Mike Fagan tipped us off that Ormsby was "looking to get his foot in the door" as city attorney for Spokane. The conservative Fagan says he differs with Ormsby ideologically, but also credits Ormsby, in part, for keeping him interested in politics.

Ormsby graduated from North Central High School a class or two ahead of him, Fagan says, then immediately ran for the school board and won. Fagan's wife's family knew the Ormsbys as well.

"We kind of grew up together," Fagan says. "I’ve got the utmost respect for that guy."

But what about those issues back in August, about whether the city attorney represents the mayor, versus the interests of the council or the public? Stuckart says he doesn't think that will be a problem.

"I’ve had numerous conversations about that in the last two weeks," Stuckart says. "I’m confident he understands the problems in the past and is well aware of it."

And while city councilmembers have also weighed requiring council approval before starting or stopping legislation, Stuckart says he believes that Ormsby will be able to address the council's concerns.

"We had an issue in the past where the litigation was started and we found out about it in the press," Stuckart says. "That’s not going to be happening anymore."

Overall, it's another example of how much the relationship has changed between the mayor and the council president in the months since the two decided to move past the Straub scandal.

"That happens with certain issues," Stuckart says. "We start far apart and eventually we get to a goal at the end."




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