'Nancy's Decision'

Budget cuts put SFCC's Pullman campus in peril; plus, another high-profile resignation at City Hall

click to enlarge Nancy Isserlis is quitting her job as Spokane city attorney.
Nancy Isserlis is quitting her job as Spokane city attorney.

Cost-Cutting Consequences

With Community Colleges of Spokane facing budget cuts of up to 10 percent, the future of the PULLMAN BRANCH of Spokane Falls Community College is in doubt.

The SFCC branch in Pullman offers courses for students who would like to complete a two-year transfer degree. It serves an average of 175 students per quarter, with 15 faculty members and four staff members.

But right now, while budget details are being determined over the next few weeks, SFCC is not processing applications for new students. SFCC President Janet Gullickson says that students already taking courses in Pullman will continue to be served, but whether the branch will stay open beyond that is less certain.

"We don't know," Gullickson says. "Everything is on the table in terms of what we have to do to make up our budget."

CCS Chancellor Christine Johnson offers a slightly different outlook. She says there will be services in Whitman County, "but we're looking at doing it in a way we can afford to do it." She didn't explain exactly what that means, though it's possible that the school could find a different location or offer more online classes.

Community Colleges of Spokane has experienced a 30 percent reduction in state funding since 2009, Johnson says, and also had to contribute $1.7 million after the state settled a class action lawsuit. There also have been glitches in the rollout of a new software system called ctcLink. All of that has contributed to an $8 million deficit for CCS.

No final budget decisions will be made until June.

"The real story is not whether we [at the Pullman branch] close or stay open," Gullickson says. "The real story is we don't have enough money to operate." (WILSON CRISCIONE)

Isserlis Departing

A little more than a month after Assistant City Attorney Erin Jacobson announced her resignation from the city of Spokane, her boss — City Attorney NANCY ISSERLIS — has followed suit.

"This is her decision. She decided to resign," city spokesman Brian Coddington says. "This was completely Nancy's decision."

In a short resignation letter Monday, Isserlis did not mention the whirlwind of litigation, scrutiny and independent investigation surrounding the termination of former Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub, who had named Isserlis in his $4 million claim against the city.

Isserlis and other city attorneys have refused to speak with the investigator in the Straub investigation. Even if the mayor decided to order her to participate, Isserlis' pending departure removes any leverage he'd have.

Asked if Isserlis' resignation was related to the concerns over attorney-client privilege in the Straub investigation, Coddington declined to get specific.

"She's just looking to move on," Coddington says. "This was just something she decided the time was right."

When Mayor David Condon hired Isserlis, one of her first decisions was to fire Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, who took heat from federal prosecutors for his handling of the case of Otto Zehm, the mentally disabled janitor who died after being beaten by police in 2006.

Councilmember Breean Beggs, who squared off against the city in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Zehm's family in 2009, says that Isserlis shifted the city away from Treppiedi's strategy of spending money to fight every legal claim tooth and nail. Instead, Isserlis was willing to settle valid claims quickly, saving the city money in the long run.

When Isserlis became city attorney in 2012, she said she hoped the city would be able to move on from the two big controversies of the time.

"I think the police accountability and the ombudsman issues, at least for the time being, [are] going to be front and center. I think I can do my part in helping this community heal," Isserlis said back then, adding, "I can't make it heal."

As Isserlis leaves, however, unresolved police accountability and ombudsman issues remain front and center. (DANIEL WALTERS)

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About The Authors

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...