When City of Spokane Human Resources Director Amber Richards suddenly announced she was quitting last month, the city administration portrayed her decision as a mystery — though not necessarily a mystery they were trying to solve.
"Has she provided any sort of explanation to why she decided to resign?" the Inlander asked city spokesman Brian Coddington on June 30.
"She hasn't," Coddington told us, "and it's an unfortunate loss for the city."
Similarly, the Spokesman-Review wrote that Mayor Nadine Woodward said the same thing: That Richards did not indicate why she was leaving.
But behind the scenes, one person in particular has disputed this characterization: Richards herself.
City Councilwoman Karen Stratton says that she spoke with Richards and noted that according to the Woodward administration, Richards hadn't given a reason for leaving.
"And she said, 'No, I did give a reason,'" Stratton recalls Richards responding. "'And it was sent to administration when I decided I was leaving.''"
It left us with two questions: What reason, if any, did Richards give? And did the city administration do anything to understand more about what drove her from City Hall?
On June 28, she sent a short resignation email to Coddington, Woodward and City Administrator Johnnie Perkins suggesting her resignation came about because of ethical considerations.
"Good afternoon Mayor Woodward and Mr. Perkins, I can no longer perform the functions required of my position in good faith or with good conscience," Richards wrote. "As a matter of principle, I am resigning my position with the City of Spokane."
in good faith or with good conscience," Coddington says he had no additional information.
And that lack of clarity, he argues, is why his original denial last month was accurate.
"Your question that you've been asking about what that means, what the context of it is, would suggest there was no explanation given," Coddington says. "There's no context to this. There's no further information about it other than what she's indicated here."
"I'm looking at the email — 'June 28, 12:58.' As of that time, I believe they had a good understanding of why she was leaving," Beggs says. "I would say she appears to have provided an explanation... It's not detailing incidents or anything like that, [but] if I got an email like this, I would want to have an exit interview and debrief them."
Coddington confirmed that the Woodward administration didn't reach out to Richards to ask her any follow-up questions or to elaborate on the issues she alluded to in her letter.
"You know, people make individual decisions and those decisions are respected," Coddington says. "And people are given the space to do the things that they need to do."
"I would want to know what the challenge was with 'good conscience and good faith,'" Beggs says. "Is there something going on in your life and you can't do it? Or is there something we're not doing? That's what I would imagine someone would do."
Her resignation didn't happen in a vacuum. City Hall has over 180 vacancies — 8 percent of the workforce — and the departments handling the mayor's priorities of housing and homelessness have been particularly hard hit.
And so when the well-liked lead of the department tasked to handle employee concerns resigns as well, that raises a lot of questions.
He says her resignation letter was not suggesting that something in her personal life had made her unable to complete her daily workload. It was that she felt she couldn't ethically continue to work for the city.
Beggs says she was particularly critical about the way the administration had dealt with Alexander.
"That was the concern I heard most about from her, was how Cupid Alexander was treated," Beggs says. "But it was broader than that. Much broader than that."
Richards is not the first employee of Woodward to cite ethical concerns as the reason for her resignation. Back in 2019, when Woodward was running for mayor against then-City Council President Ben Stuckart, her campaign manager Abra Belke resigned and put out a similar statement as Richards.
"If your work is costing you your mental health and putting you in a position where you are asked to act contrary to your values, should you keep going?" she wrote, eventually concluding: "I didn't want my talents backing someone I now felt uncomfortable supporting."
Even with council members, Richards has been circumspect about what specifically drove her to resign.
At this time, Coddington says, the administration has not started the process to fill Alexander or Richards roles, focusing instead on trying to fill other vacant positions, such as planning services director. For now, the interim director of the department is Meghann Steinolfson, one of the HR employees who refused to talk to the independent investigator in 2016 during the fallout from former Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub's resignation.
"I just started chemotherapy and radiation therapy last week," Beggs says. "A complete suck."
Good afternoon Mayor Woodward and Mr. Perkins,
I can no longer perform the functions required of my position in good faith or with good conscience. As a matter of principle, I am resigning my position with the City of Spokane. My last day with the organization will be July 9th. I will work with my team to ensure a transition plan is in place and will otherwise be using leave time until the 9th.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have served the Spokane community over the past three years