Three Spokane public interest organizations who’ve been deeply involved in pushing Spokane city government toward independent oversight of its police department are calling upon the City Council and Mayor Mary Verner to maintain the independence of Spokane’s Office of Police Ombudsman.

In response to an arbitrator’s July 11, 2011 ruling—ordering the City to rescind its July 2010 ordinance (C-34609)—the City Council is scheduled to vote tonight to comply with the arbitrator’s ruling and repeal the ordinance.

“Just because the City has dug itself into a deep hole doesn’t mean it should give up,” the groups argue in their letter. “To repeal the ordinance will only deepen public frustration and undermine the City’s efforts to secure a collective bargaining agreement with the Guild that removes the union’s opposition to a credibly independent Ombudsman.”

The groups’ letter (attached) is highly critical of the City’s “painfully inept mishandling of the defense of the 2010 ordinance that brings us to this juncture.” Although the groups do not dispute a recent determination by David Gedrose of the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) that the City made a mistake and misled PERC when it sought to arbitrate the dispute with the Spokane Police Guild, neither do the groups believe that the City’s errors absolve PERC of its legal duty to review the 2010 ordinance on its merits—something it has not done.

“What’s deeply frustrating about the place the City finds itself in,” says Center for Justice Communications Director Tim Connor, “is that the City so badly botched its defense of the ordinance that PERC never actually reached the heart of the legal issue: Did the City have the legal authority to give the Ombudsman powers of independence or not? We think the law is clear that the 2010 ordinance is legal. But the law also says that only PERC or a state court have the authority to rule on that question. And neither have done so yet.”

The groups’ letter calls on the city council and Mayor Mary Verner to appeal the arbitration ruling while it negotiates a new contract with the Spokane Police Guild.