As the last months of the Condon administration are ebbing away, there's been one high-profile departure after another. That includes Parks Director Leroy Eadie, Community Housing and Health Services Director Dawn Kinder, Finance Director Tim Dunivant, Assistant Fire Chief Trisha Wolford, and Communications Director Brian Coddington.
This week, you can add another name to the list: public safety spokeswoman Michele Anderson. In a phone call, Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer confirmed that Anderson had left the city. He says she's taking a job with a school district in Arizona. Before joining the city of Spokane, Anderson was a communications manager for a school district in Reno. She was not immediately available for comment this afternoon.
Schaeffer says that, after Coddington left the city a year ago, the workload was spread to the city's remaining communications staff.
"When Brian left, she really got dumped on," Schaeffer says. "Her and [city spokeswoman Marlene Feist] both."
Anderson has faced down that sort of challenge before. She was a public information officer position with the city of Reno, when a round of layoffs effectively left her as the only spokesperson for a city larger than Spokane.
The staff shortage in the city of Spokane department got even worse about a month ago, when Julie Happy, communications manager for neighborhood & business services, left the city to become the spokeswoman for the Spokane Valley Fire Department.
"Michele actually recommended the job to me," Happy says. "So I applied and it was a good move."
Happy says she's enjoyed the more focused role of being the spokeswoman for a single department, instead of needing to handle communication for multiple sectors of the city, including the department that handles the "challenging area" of homelessness. And at the Valley fire department, she says, her bosses and co-workers are unified.
"I feel like here at the fire department, they all align," Happy says. "They’re all moving in the same direction. I enjoy that collaboration."
Ask if she intended that comment to be a contrast to the city of Spokane, Happy politely declined to answer.
"If the focus would be transparency and open government, it would simple," Schaeffer says. "It would be an easy job."
Instead, he says "everyone is banging heads. The council is against the mayor’s office. ... The mayor’s office is against the media."
On top of that add the convoluted back-and-forth and confusion over the region's transition to an integrated fire-dispatch system. Even being in the middle of it, Schaeffer suggests, it can be hard to untangle everything that's going on.
"When the lawsuits start and people start getting deposed, then I think we’ll start getting some answers," Schaeffer says.
(In a followup call, Schaeffer elaborated on the challenging environment:
“Outside sources, different layers of government, different branches of government, all in a complex web, being pushed by politics,” says Schaeffer. “Right now this is the most dysfunctionally political time I’ve ever seen it.”)
In some cases, the city has opted to leave positions vacant until after the new mayor takes office in January. In the case of Happy and Anderson, however, the city is in the process of hiring replacements.
A LinkedIn post went live yesterday encouraging applicants to apply for the "Public Safety Division Communications Manager" position.
"The ideal candidate will have a strong background in media and public relations with an emphasis in the public safety field," the job description says. "The ability to handle multiple projects in a fast-paced environment and rely upon critical thinking and problem-solving expertise is essential to success in this role."
The city will start reviewing applications on July 22. For now, Schaeffer says, he'll be handling inquiries about the fire department himself.