SPOKANE, Wash. (CN) - The National Organization of Women has filed an ethics complaint against Spokane mayor David Condon, accusing him of covering up sexual harassment complaints against the city's former police chief.
The Center for Justice filed the complaint on NOW's behalf on Dec. 22, citing Condon's failure to investigate complaints of sexual harassment, in violation of the city's municipal code.
NOW's complaint highlights an ongoing controversy within the city of Spokane that started earlier this year with an unofficial complaint by Spokane Police employee Monique Cotton. Cotton told a fellow employee that former police chief Frank Straub berated her during a meeting using "sexually charged language" and tried to "forcibly kiss" her in a separate incident.
Cotton expressed her concerns in April, but said she did not want "an investigation" into the claims and that she had not "filed a claim," according to records from the city of Spokane.
In response, Condon attempted to move Cotton from the police department to another city entity - eventually offering her a job that included a pay raise in the Parks and Recreation Department. Cotton accepted the position as public relations manager of that department in May 2015.
During the time when Cotton expressed her sexual harassment concerns about Straub, other employees also complained about his behavior, leading to disciplinary meetings between Condon and Straub regarding Straub's "management style," according to city records. Straub was asked to resign in September 2015.
Condon told the Spokane City Council that Straub's resignation came because he had created a "hostile work environment." When asked about the sexual harassment complaints, Condon responded in a Dec. 11 letter to councilmembers that Cotton's informal complaint was resolved at the "lowest appropriate level, informally and effectively" per city policy.
After filing his resignation letter with the Spokane on Oct. 6, Straub filed a $4 million wrongful termination suit against the city. Straub had served as police chief for the city of 210,000 since 2012.
Condon began his second term as mayor on Wednesday.
While Cotton never filed a formal complaint against Straub, NOW said they filed the ethics violations complaint against Condon because he denied that there was ever any sexual harassment issues related to Straub.
"When a supervisor receives a report of sexual harassment, official or not, the supervisor's responsibility extends not just to the victim, but to all his or her employees," Spokane NOW spokeswoman Sherry Jones said. "While we at Spokane Area NOW sympathize with Ms. Cotton's reluctance to go public with a matter that must have felt very personal to her, the city's sexual harassment policy clearly states that all reports of sexual harassment are to be investigated, and turned over to the city's human resources department. Mayor Condon failed to follow city policy in this matter and, in his letter to city council explaining his actions, blamed the victim for his lack of due diligence."
Jones said she hopes the ethics complaint will spark further reform on the topic of sexual harassment within the city of Spokane.
"We want the mayor to admit that he made mistakes, to apologize, and to undergo thorough sexual harassment training. We want that training, which we understand has been dormant, revived and required for all city employees, including elected officials, frequently and regularly. We also want an overhaul of the city's sexual harassment policy with language that is forceful and that clearly states the seriousness of the crime," Jones said.
In response to the ethics complaint, Condon and Spokane City Councilman Ben Stuckart have agreed to hire an independent investigator to address the recent personnel concerns.
According to city communication manager Julie Happy, former federal prosecutor Kris Cappel has been selected from seven candidates for approval by the city council to conduct the investigation.
If approved, Cappel will investigate personnel issues as well as timelines related to public records requests associated with the Spokane Police Department personnel issues.
The city council will consider whether to approve Cappel at its Jan. 4 meeting.
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