Doug Clark: Trust zapped by Operation Lips-Zipped

January 13, 2013 - Updated: 6:39 a.m.

For the record, I have no interest in the list of individuals whose credit card charges were on file at any of the eight supposed houses of happy endings that were raided last summer by a police task force with apparently nothing better to do.

I’m an open-minded cynic.

The massage inclinations of our citizens or local officials are really no concern of mine.

Not to suggest that the aforementioned list contains the names of any councilmen, school board members, county commissioners, etc.

Call me naïve, but I have complete trust in our leaders.

I completely trust that any official patronizing a hot oil pleasure den will, in fact, be smart enough to pay with cash and avoid a paper trail.

Operation Red Light is much ado about nada.

If you want to talk law enforcement intrigue, I’m far more curious about Operation Lips-Zipped.

That’s the name I use to describe the cone of silence that has our city officials keeping mum about the mysterious discipline/demotion of former SPD golden boy Scott Stephens.

Remember Stephens?

Not long after assuming office last year, Spokane Mayor David Condon selected the veteran officer to fill the void left after then-Chief Anne Kirkpatrick couldn’t take it anymore.

Although the position was interim chief, many insiders thought Stephens had the right stuff and would get the gig permanently.

History is not always so predictable.

Condon developed his inexplicable man crush on Frank Straub, the dour-faced former Indianapolis director of public safety.

And that, as they say, was that.

Straub took over as chief.

Stephens moved to assistant chief.

All was relatively placid at the cop shop until a few days before Christmas, when Chief Straub placed Stephens on an indefinite administrative leave over some unnamed internal – not criminal – issue.

Then a day later, without referring to this leave, Straub announced a sweeping departmental reorganization that included Stephens’ demotion to captain.

Then came this blast of enlightenment from an SPD spokesmouth:

“We need to afford him the opportunity to let the matter run its course,” she said Jan. 4 after the Stephens story broke.

Opportunity to let the matter …

Huh?

We deserve a better explanation than this.

Yet everyone from the mayor on down is either keeping quiet, professing ignorance or brushing off what happened as some sort of routine personnel matter.

Unbelievable.

There’s nothing routine about this.

Stephens had the throne. Stephens lost the throne. Now Stephens has been mysteriously banished – long live the king!

Shakespeare wrote some pretty good plays that touched on similar themes.

Straub was brought in to rebuild the public’s confidence in the police department, and he’s hatched a plan to supposedly do just that.

But public confidence is not created by no-comments and a lack of details.

That just leads to speculation.

Was what happened to Stephens some sort of political spanking?

Did this have to do with Stephens being sore about not becoming chief or about his more recent demotion?

Does it have anything to do with Stephens not coming through on the mayor’s wish to improve relations between the SPD and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office?

Or is this an example of the Darth Vader management style that has been attributed to Straub by his critics back in Indiana?

Wish I could say.

Even Tim Burns, our intrepid police ombudsman, wimped out on this.

Our news story reported that Burns knew “Stephens was facing discipline last month but declined to comment further.”

Great job, Tim.

On the campaign trail last year, Condon used the “T” word every now and then to describe one of the virtues that he would be bringing to City Hall if elected mayor.

T as in transparency, I mean.

Mayor, I think we could use some of that now.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.


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