In a letter to City Council members, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said she had instructed police to adopt the five recommendations outlined in a police ombudsman report following disclosures that Police Chief Craig Meidl gave his political allies "special access" to police reports and strategies.
Woodward's letter comes three months after the ombudsman finished investigating the relationship between Meidl and a group of property owners led by Chud Wendle, who runs the Hutton Settlement nonprofit and owns several downtown commercial properties.
Emails between Meidl, Wendle and Wendle's business allies — which the Inlander published online last Friday — show a relationship that, while not violating department policies, does raise questions about the preferential treatment of people aligned with the police chief.
The property owners' group has long argued that Spokane's progressive politicians and statewide laws are failing the city and letting crime run unchecked. They'll frequently ask the chief for data on vagrancy, crime and homelessness to support their argument. In several cases, Meidl directed staff to compile data for the property owners or asked that they not share the information he gave them because it wasn't ready for public release.
Progressives on the City Council are upset about the relationship. Council member Betsy Wilkerson, who recently announced a run for City Council president, described it as "behind-the-curtain activity" and "discrimination."
In her letter to council members on Monday — which was not released publicly but shared with the Inlander by a council member — Woodward didn't condemn the relationship.
"My review of the report and subsequent conversations with the chief lead me to conclude that he was seeking to engage a group in the ongoing community dialogue about policing that had been heavily affected by the rise in crime throughout the downtown core," Woodward wrote.
Lisa Brown, who is running against Woodward in this year's mayoral election, calls the relationship "concerning." She says she wants to see the police department leadership serve the entire city — not just the "well-connected, most powerful people in the community.
"For the police department to have that relationship that builds community trust, the information has gotta be widely disseminated," Brown says. "Not just special reports going to one group that's been attacking council members, I think that doesn't look fair to most people."
The chief defended the relationship in his interview with the ombudsman, arguing that he and the property owners have a mutual interest in creating a safer downtown.
In an email last week, Wendle said the group was asking the chief for information as part of their mission to make Spokane the "safest and cleanest city," and that the group has also met with other stakeholders as part of their efforts. ♦