Report details major conflicts within city's government
Last updated 2/13/2014 at 11:46am
An investigative report issued by the city of Grand Coulee’s risk management firm details infighting between the chief of police and the mayor, charges and counter charges of nepotism and favoritism, micromanagement by the mayor and a breakdown in authority fueled by a lack of respect, personality conflicts, and an inability “to work together for the good of the city.”
The Star obtained a copy of the year-old report after it was referenced in a city council meeting last week.
At the Feb. 4 council meeting, Police Officer Sean Cook took issue with Mayor Chris Christopherson for what Cook called “inaction” over a number of issues he has with the city.
He started with information he gathered by attending the Civil Service Commission the night before where he stated that commission members had failed to grant military veteran points in the selection of candidates being forwarded to Chief Mel Hunt for consideration for an opening in the police department.
Cook asked what the mayor was going to do about it, then started in on a long list of complaints that were tied to the findings of what is called the “Key report” that he disagreed with and that he wanted action by the mayor to change.
The report was issued a year ago and addressed a number of issues, mainly dealing with the internal operation of the police department. The report was written by investigator Alan J. Key, and issued by Cities Insurance Association of Washington, the city’s risk management firm.
Mayor Christopherson, in an interview Sunday, called it a “flawed report.” And, Christopherson noted, the city’s law firm has also called it a “bad report.”
The mayor had discussed the report with Cook and said he intended to try to do something about its conclusions.
“However, I have decided, flawed or not, it is time that we start looking forward, not backward,” Christopherson said.
Cook took the mayor to task for not following through on suggesting changes and making corrections to the report. At the council meeting, referring to the report, Cook repeatedly asked the mayor why, and when he was going to respond to the various parts of the report with which Cook disagreed.
“The report is the report,” Christopherson stated. “The city is not going to order another. The people who drafted the report will have to live with it. I realize that this may cause some people to lawyer up.”
However, the mayor stated, “no one is going to lose their jobs over this report.”
The report details complaints filed by Cook and his wife picturing a “hostile work environment” born of bullying and intimidation and even “sexual harassment.” A complaint by Hunt also charged a hostile work environment under a mayor whose meddling in department affairs creates a fear of retribution among officers.
Cook had filed a dozen complaints with the city about how he was being treated within the police department, including that someone had changed one of his reports and that the department had failed to adequately investigate the pellet shooting of his K-9 police service dog. Cook also claimed that the police administration had harassed him deliberately to trigger reactions relating to his post traumatic stress disorder, for which he is being treated.
A “sexual harassment” charge stemmed from alleged remarks made concerning members of Cook’s family. That assertion was not upheld by the report, but caused Mayor Christopherson to organize a “sexual harassment” training class for all city employees. There have been no further accusations along these lines since the class was held.
A summary of the report states that Cook was often late writing his reports, and that he was thought by other officers to get special treatment by the mayor because the two were friends.
The report stated that officer Cook has been allowed to circumvent his police administration by going directly to the mayor.
In regard to the mayor, the report states that the mayor has gone outside the scope of his duties in regard to the micromanagement of the police department.
Ultimately, the report states, “several employees have been unwilling or unable to get along and work together for the good of the city. Others do not understand or respect the bounds of their specific roles within city government.”
Hunt also had filed complaints. He had charged that the mayor engaged in unlawful and inappropriate investigations regarding Hunt’s management of the police department. The chief, who was criticised for the hiring of his son, Adam Hunt, as a Grand Coulee police officer, charged that another city department manager had hired a temporary employee who was going with his daughter at the time.
In regard to the hiring of his son, Adam, the report stated that there was no evidence that Chief Hunt interfered with the hiring process, and that the hire was made by then mayor Tammara Byers. Christopherson was on the council at that time and raised no concerns. Adam Hunt was one of only two applicants and was declared at the time a “terrific” candidate who should be hired. His immediate supervisor was Sgt. John Tufts. Adam Hunt is now a deputy with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.
The mayor had questioned whether the chief had manipulated the testing process to allow his son to be hired as a police officer and whether he had given Officer Hunt special treatment.
The chief had countered and accused the mayor of accessing Civil Service Commission files, which would be illegal, Hunt claimed. Key wrote that the mayor had told him that he was searching the files “in an attempt to learn more about officer Hunt’s hiring procedure. “Interestingly, the mayor and others told me the secretary of the commission five years ago when officer Hunt was hired, was Mrs. Cook,” the investigator reported. “There was no evidence she expressed any concern at the time.”
During this part of the investigation, Key stated, “numerous witnesses who, other than officer Cook, were convinced Mayor Christopherson was deliberately engaging in intimidating and/or harassing behavior toward Chief Hunt.”
The report stated that Cook was often late in writing reports and failed to check his emails to keep up to date with what was going on. The report stated that at one time Cook had 106 unread emails. Failing to complete the writing of records suggested that Cook was violating “department directives and policies.” Cook had claimed that he was being singled out for discipline, but the report stated that there had only been one time that he was disciplined, further adding that “Chief Hunt and Sgt. Tufts have never deliberately targeted officer Cook.”
One of the report’s summary statements concluded: “Every witness other than the Cooks and Mayor Christopherson advised that the mayor’s actions have severely impacted Chief Hunt’s ability to manage the police department.”
Investigator Key stated: “It was clear to everyone I interviewed that there is a personality difference between Chief Hunt and Mayor Christopherson.”
But, Key noted in his report, “I found no evidence of any hostility or harassment based on any protected class.”
In regard to officer Cook, the report states: “Officer Cook has been allowed to circumvent his administration by going directly to Mayor Christopherson, his close personal friend, with complaints and information that may or may not be entirely true. Mayor Christopherson, rather than appropriately working with Chief Hunt, has initiated his own investigations, questioned the chief’s integrity and management skills, and allowed Officer Cook to be insubordinate. The proper channel for Officer Cook to express his concerns is through his chain of command or through the union, rather than the mayor.”
Mayor Christopherson stated that he wasn’t going to spend any of the city’s money for a new report. “Then someone who didn’t like that report would ask for another one,” he said.
“The city is going to move forward, not look backward,” he added.
Cook had stated that there were a number of inaccuracies in the report he would like to have cleared up and that was why he was asking the mayor to follow through and get changes and corrections made.