Planning director’s ouster disappoints
Staff ReportNovember 20th, 2014
Through a refreshingly intense focus on making city government more customer-friendly, financially sustainable, and outcome-driven, Spokane Mayor David Condon has been able to build broad support during his first three years in office.
We’ll see whether that popularity and his ability thus far to fend off liberal critics take a significant hit in the wake of the forced resignation of well-liked Planning Director Scott Chesney, which stirred up vocal criticism from some of Spokane’s most prominent developers.
Chesney also was popular with neighborhood groups—demonstrating a unique ability to gain trust among disparate community factions that sometimes are at odds with each other and with City Hall—which makes the mayor’s decision to send him packing even more perplexing, and disappointing.
Citing personnel confidentiality, neither Condon nor Jan Quintrall, head of the city’s Business and Development Services and Chesney’s superior who recommended the action taken by the mayor, were willing to talk about what led to Chesney’s ouster on Nov. 5.
Also, we weren’t able to reach Chesney, who had been appointed to the position just three years ago, to try to get his take on what left him suddenly unemployed.
However, several City Council members who had been briefed about the forced resignation after the fact made clear their belief that he did nothing egregious. All but one council member signed a letter of recommendation for Chesney in the wake of his departure.
In total, council members comments suggest that Condon and Quintrall believed Chesney’s job performance internally didn’t match the external reputation he had developed, and those perceived shortcomings might have had a cumulative effect.
They also, though, question the seeming abruptness of Condon’s action and whether some corrective measures short of forcing him to resign wouldn’t have been a better way to handle the matter, particularly given his positive accomplishments to date.
We’re left to ponder the same question.
For their part, Condon and Quintrall seem a bit stunned and mystified by the sharp negative reaction to Chesney’s forced departure. The mayor contends he’s orchestrated numerous other comparable staffing changes that didn’t create the furor this one did. The reasons for many, if not most, of those changes were clearer from a public-interest perspective.
Trying to look ahead, rather than dwell un-comfortably on the recent past, Condon notes that the city is preparing to update its comprehensive land-use plan, and says, “I think we’re at a critical time to make sure we have the right person to manage that.”
The city is conducting a national search to replace Chesney, and Condon says he’d like to see someone named by the end of the first quarter next year.
To be sure, we believe Condon’s accomplishments since taking office greatly overshadow his missteps, and we’ve commented in this space before about the strong leadership skills we believe he’s brought to City Hall. Hopefully, he’ll be wise enough to make a priority of mending the fences and restoring the trust damaged by this departure from that positive pattern.