Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

Colfax panel reinstates Chief McNannay


July 11, 2019

After a two-hour session July 2 the Colfax Civil Service Commission voted 3-0 to reinstate Rick McNannay to the position of police chief. McNannay was ordered to return to duty Aug. 1 and will receive full pay.

McNanny has been out of his office since Oct. 10 of last year when he was placed on administrative leave with pay, and he was fired Jan. 17.

The board approved McNannay's motion for a summary judgment which was filed before the normal monthly civil service meeting.

The commissions' July 2 ruling scratches a July 28 hearing on McNannay's civil service appeal which had been expected to take up to five days.

The city board's ruling in favor of McNannay follows an announcement the previous week by Spokane Attorney Robert Dunn that they intend to file a notice of tort claim with the city as the first step in filing a $5.2 million civil suit for alleged damages sustained by McNannay.

Near the end of the session, Commission Chair Leslie Cloaninger pointed out the board's ruling was limited to addressing whether McNannay had committed perjury and had been dishonest, the two reasons cited for his firing Jan. 17.

She later asked Ronald Van Wirt, the Spokane attorney who represented the city, if he thought the commission would learn anything more during the actual appeal hearing that they hadn't already learned in last Tuesday's session, other commission sessions and pre-hearing filings from both sides.

Thick stacks of pre-hearing papers were in front of the commissioners who sat at the city council table. McNannay and his wife, city staffers and others filled most of the seats for the two-hour session.

Colfax Mayor Todd Vanek, who was on a family trip, and City Attorney John Kragt, monitored the session by phone.

Cloaninger called for a recess to deliberate after the commission heard 75 minutes of arguments from both sides. The commissioners returned after approximately 40 minutes of deliberation and announced their decision to accept McNannay's motion and ordered him to return to the chief's position Aug. 1 with full pay.

In arguing for the motion Spokane Attorney Alexandria Drake with the firm of Dunn & Black contended the city had failed to come up with information which supported McNannay's firing, which was announced at the Jan. 21 council meeting.

"There are no facts," Drake argued. "The evidence does not support action for just cause in good faith."

She argued McNannay was fired for political reasons which effectively ended a 25-year career as a police officer.

Drake contended the city's approach was "fatally flawed" when they called on their insurance company, Clear Risk Solutions, to investigate the alleged violations against the chief.

The city's main contention for firing the chief stemmed from his alleged failures to follow state requirements when hiring officers and then filing misleading report forms with the state commission. A report by a Clear Risk investigator was cited in the termination.

Van Wirt countered Drake's opening argument by pointing out the city had submitted 150 pages of documents and facts, which he contended would lead a reasonable person to believe McNannay should be fired for the reasons cited.

Commissioner John Kehne told Van Wirt late in the session he had difficulty dealing with evidence which showed Mayor Vanek had prepared critiques of McNannay's work, but never presented the information to the chief for some kind of performance review.

Van Wirt reported the mayor's critiques had been turned over to Clear Risk, located in Ephrata, but the information was never relayed to the Clear Risk investigator.

Another contested point brought up was the city's move to ban McNannay from returning to his office after he was placed on administrative leave last October. His attorney pointed out the ban left McNannay unable to confirm his recollection of the disputed hirings during the Clear Risk investigation.

Another point brought up by Cloaninger was the city continuing to cite McNannay's hiring practices involving an officer who had faced an allegation of domestic violence. Cloaninger pointed out the applicant is still a commissioned officer and is now serving on a police force elsewhere in the state.

The July 2 hearing opened with a request by Van Wirt for Cloaninger to step down for what he contended was a showing of bias at the June 4 commission session. He said Cloaninger's comments on the city's Clear Risk approach at the time indicated bias.

He also contended Cloaninger's mention that she has "to see these people in the grocery store" was an indicator of bias.

Commissioners Rob Aucutt and Kehne pointed out Cloaninger's grocery store comment had been part of a discussion at the prior session of what they face when having to deal with local cases which are placed before them in a small town setting.

Cloaninger at that point asked Aucutt and Kehne if either wanted to file a motion for her to step down, and both declined.

At the June 4 session, the commission faced a city request to drop the appeal because the city had sent McNannay notice to return to work as a patrol officer. The notice stated the city had determined its charge of perjury against McNannay was invalid, and that reduced level of required discipline from a dismissal to a reduction in rank from chief to patrol officer.

The commission at that time ruled the city's proposed actions after McNannay filed his appeal could not end the hearing process.


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