Four years ago Mayor David Condon swept into city hall aiming to instill a degree of business savvy and trim some fat from local government. The youngest of a large family of boys was now in a position to prove his quality, if not for himself certainly for his father and older brothers.
Mayor Condon was born connected to Spokane’s old money culture, and he was appropriately groomed via Cataldo and Gonzaga Prep. His family’s mansion on Sumner Avenue was amongst the largest on the street, and conveniently located next door to some of Spokane’s oldest money, otherwise known as Myrtle Woldson.
The fortunes made by tycoons in Spokane’s formative years still linger – William H. Cowles (publishing), James Brown (timber), Martin Woldson (rail & roads), and several more – like ghosts across the generations. Myrtle Woldson was the last of Spokane’s second generation old money – she inherited it directly from the man who made it – which lends all the more significance to her recent passing. These days, the fortunes of our founding fathers have been diluted into third and fourth generation buckets of money. Families grow, inheritances are dispersed, squabbles occur. But by the grace of his charm, Mayor Condon managed to get a cut of that old money, too. We shouldn’t begrudge him for inheriting one million dollars of old rail money from Myrtle, but the bequest illustrates what Mayor Condon is a product of, the values and perceptions instilled within him, the world by which he thrives. He may be the Boy Mayor, but make no mistake, he’s acting on behalf of old Spokane.
Given the opportunity, Condon will regale you with folksy stories of his youth – running Christmas tree stands and opening coffee shops – in an effort, I’m sure, to relate to Spokane’s commoners.
Upon his election in 2011, he had a clear agenda and he executed it swiftly and with deft. Condon established a series of work groups as cover to build his agenda. He hired tough-as-nails Theresa Sanders to play the role of bad-cop and strike fear into the hearts of city hall employees. His regime was all about results, kicking ass and taking names.
It was in these early days that Condon made the first in a long series of blunders. As we sit, the tally of Mayor Condon’s bad decisions is growing ever longer. Here’s a list of his most significant blunders.
Blunder 7: Hiring Tyler Whitney
Only last week, Mayor Condon hired 27 year-old Tyler Whitney, a fresh-faced attorney that worked on Condon’s election campaigns, to liaise with city council. I’m not sure what that means but I do know he is making about $90,000 annually to do it. Thus, Whitney makes $90,000 to talk with city council; Theresa Sanders makes about $130,000 to run city hall; and Brian Codington makes $91,000 to talk to the press. Seems to me there’s not a whole lot left for Mayor Condon to do. He does, however, make $168,000 doing it.
Blunder 6: The Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel is a roughly $135 million public/private partnership between the city, the Public Facilities District, and Walt Worthy. Mayor Condon pledged up to $3 million in incentives to help move the project along. Trouble is, he never bothered talking with city council about his intentions. When the bill came due, council ran Condon through the ringer, and rightfully so. In fact, the Grand Hotel transaction is a fine example of the Mayor’s overall lack of economic development expertise, as outlined in this post: How to Negotiate a Downtown Hotel Deal.
Blunder 5: Firing Scott Chesney
Chesney was the only person in city hall versed in economic development, best zoning practices, and real estate development. Because of his expertise, he won the trust and respect of the region’s development community. Egos are tough to assuage, however. Chesney’s boss, Jan Quintrall – one who did not win the trust and respect of the region’s development community – fired Chesney for hardly a reason other than she could. In the days following, Chesney bit his tongue and left city hall with grace. Condon stared down the development community and defended Quintrall’s decision. Later, during his re-election campaign, he ungracefully threw Chesney under the bus for mismanaging the Grand Hotel partnership.
Blunder 4: Hiring Jan Quintrall
In the first year of his first term, Mayor Condon hired the director of the local Better Business Bureau, Jan Quintrall, to run his planning and economic development division. Somehow Condon equated one’s ability to spot a Nigerian scam with one’s ability to build cities. So, without a lick of know-how, much less a college degree, and only her ego to guide her, Quintrall began recklessly flailing around city hall.
Over the course of three years the ever cascading newspaper stories that reported her poor judgement became too great for Condon to bear, not the least of which being her termination of Scott Chesney, and she was released under the guise of misspending a few dollars on lunches.
Blunder 3: Hiring Theresa Sanders
Every mayor needs a bad cop, and for David Condon, it’s Theresa Sanders. She’s the heavy. The intimidator. The enforcer. All generally good qualities in the high-stakes game of running a city. Trouble is, she doesn’t particularly respect public processes, transparency, open meetings, consensus building, public records, city council, neighborhood councils, the planning commission, and pretty much anyone who has ever disagreed with her in the history of time. The Inlander’s Daniel Walters recently published an in-depth analysis of Sanders that is well worth the read.
Blunder 2: Wheeling & Dealing Sexual Harassment Allegations
This is directly related to Blunder 1 but is symptomatic of an overall absence of sophisticated city management that has plagued Mayor Condon since the beginning. When it comes to allegations of sexual harassment, there are no back-room deals to be had, particularly when you’re the mayor. The Spokesman Review’s Nicholas Deshais has dug deep to unveil the sorted facts. His latest reporting outlines about 16-months of documented mismanagement.
Blunder 1: Hiring Frank Straub
Out of all of Condon’s blunders, Frank Straub is the square root of a potential recall against him. Hiring Straub as Chief of Police has led to more strife, ethics complaints, lawsuits, and potential lawsuits then all of the other blunders on this list combined. There are a lot of allegations regarding Mr. Straub’s actions during his tenure. It takes some kind of magic to pit two of the best private sector attorneys in the city against you, and against each other. In city government, scandals are quick to escalate but slow to resolve. But for hiring Frank Straub, Mayor Condon would be on firmer ground.
For Mayor David Condon, four years ago seems like an eternity. The fresh-faced Boy-Mayor tackled city hall with vigor. The choices he made, however, are now haunting both him and the citizens he serves. His hand-picked posse of professionals have cycled through city hall leaving scandal and lawsuits in their wake. The fruits of their decision making, of his decision making, have led Mayor Condon to personally hire his own attorney to defend against a series of ethics complaints all intended to be the first step toward recalling his election as mayor. Let’s face it, Condon is in the battle for his professional life, his credibility, his mark on Spokane, his legacy. The poetic tragedy for Mayor Condon is the monster that is challenging his legacy is one of his own making.
Cover photo from City of Spokane’s website.