After a colorful and, at times, moving hearing, Frank Straub wins council approval to be Spokane’s next police chief.
By Tim Connor
In the wake of a surprisingly interesting and moving hearing Monday night, the Spokane City Council voted unanimously to approve Frank Straub to be the city’s Director of Law Enforcement. The hastily devised position was necessary because Straub is not yet fully certified to be a police officer in Washington, and thus not yet qualified to be a police chief under state law.
That asterisk did matter Monday night, and it did bring a bit of theater and some confusion to the proceedings. But what was most impressive was the manner in which Mayor David Condon and his team staged the testimony in support of the resolution approving Straub’s appointment. In addition to bringing a working Indianapolis police officer and the head of the union for Indianapolis firefighters to endorse Straub, the mayor brought two other potent voices from the city where Straub served until recently as the head of public safety.
One was Dennis Ryerson, the recently retired editor of the Indianapolis Star newspaper. The other was Spencer Moore, a retired police officer whose son, an Indianapolis police officer, was shot and killed in January of last year while on duty.
Ryerson’s testimony went to Straub’s effectiveness as a reformer and as a professional working in what Ryerson described as a “soup” of partisan political and union forces.
When Straub was appointed, Ryerson noted, the Indianapolis police force had been tainted by numerous scandals and performance issues.
“Frank is a very sober and serious guy,” Ryerson said. “He got to work and he made a difference.”
The rumblings about Straub’s manner and effectiveness, Ryerson said, were largely fueled by the city’s fierce political infighting, and that Straub nevertheless retained public support for the work he was doing.
“He knows the art of the possible when it comes to the most important thing that a community can provide,” Ryerson concluded, “and that is safety to all of us.”
Moore followed Ryerson and spoke to Straub’s heart. He described in moving detail how his introduction to Straub came in the dark house after his police officer son was shot, execution style, while on duty. He died three days later.
“During that time,” Moore said, “I cannot think of anybody who was more compassionate and caring than Frank was.”
Among other things, Moore said, Straub took charge of finding Moore’s wife who had left, just hours before her son was shot, to go on a tropical cruise with friends. She was located and quickly flown back to Indianapolis to be with her fatally wounded son.
“Now he doesn’t know this but I do know that out of his own personal pocket he paid for her air ticket back,” Moore told the very attentive Spokane council members. “This is the type of individual that I met and got to know and have since become a wonderful friend. The other point I want to make to you, at this time that my wife and I were going through this tragedy, Frank’s mother lay dying at home. We tried hard to convince him to go. We said we will take and make sure that everybody understands why you’re going to leave. He said, ‘no, this is where I belong right now. This is where my officer is and this is where I need to be.’”
Most of the testimony that followed was supportive of the resolution to approve Straub’s appointment. This included statements from the Center for Justice and from the Center’s former executive director, Spokane attorney Breean Beggs.
The first of two people to speak in opposition to the resolution was Rocky Treppiedi, the former assistant city attorney who was fired earlier this year in the wake of months of criticism about his handling of the Otto Zehm case.
Treppiedi made clear, from the start, that he didn’t oppose Straub personally, but was objecting to the process and the resolution that referenced a position—Director of Law Enforcement—that doesn’t exist under the city’s code. What’s in the City’s code, Treppiedi said, is the position of police chief, the position that Straub is not yet qualified to hold.
“We’re not splitting hairs with this,” Treppiedi told the council. “The state law, the City’s ordinance, the Washington state criminal justice training commission requires certain qualifications for a chief of police.”
Treppiedi’s objection did prompt a flurry of activity in the council chambers as the response to it required the efforts of City Attorney Nancy Isserlis, and Assistant City Attorneys Mike Piccolo and Mary Marumatsu.
But the first response to the issue came from Straub, just after he was introduced with yet another strong endorsement from the Mayor.
Straub matter-of-factly addressed the certification issue by noting, among other things, that even co-finalist Daniel Mahoney, a career police officer in San Francisco, would have faced a similar circumstance because Mahoney, like Straub, is from out of state and lacks Washington certification.
More to the point, Straub reminded the council and the public that he had been trained as a law enforcement officer; that his work for federal and state investigative agencies involved being certified. It’s just that the certification doesn’t automatically transfer to a new jurisdiction. Both he and City Attorney Isserlis noted that a packet of materials supporting his certification in Washington would be presented to a state board in Burien on Wednesday of this week. And the board is expected to render its decision the same day.
Councilman Mike Allen—who made clear he strongly supported Straub—nevertheless pressed on the question of just what Straub could do, and not do, pending his certification and eventual assignment as police chief.
That question was eventually answered by Marumatsu.
“Essentially, Mr. Straub will still be able to work with the department on matters of policy,” she said. “That [the lack of certification] will not impact his effectiveness.
“He would not have the powers of a commissioned police officer at this point,” she continued. “But that wouldn’t be necessarily what his duties would involve. He wouldn’t have the power to arrest within the state of Washington. But that’s not what we’ve call upon him to do at this stage in time.”
According to City spokeswoman Marlene Feist, Straub is expected to start his new job with the City on October 1st.
Disclosure note: Tim Connor, who wrote this article, also testified at the hearing on behalf of the Center for Justice in support of the resolution.