Special Reports

Investigation by State Patrol could be costly

The Tacoma City Council reluctantly agreed Tuesday to pay the Washington State Patrol up to $200,000 in overtime, travel and other costs to conduct an internal investigation of 32 city employees.

That's in addition to about $160,000 the city already paid the Patrol for a recently completed criminal investigation of the David Brame scandal.

Council members complained about the mounting expenses, but most said they had little choice but to sign off on the arrangement.

It isn't that they don't want the investigation to occur, they said, but they questioned why the city is being charged for it.

"It's troubling," said Councilman Rick Talbert. He compared it to the Tacoma Police Department submitting a bill to someone it investigated. "But I'm reluctant to withhold my vote because I believe the investigation needs to take place."

The council approved the agreement 7-2; Councilman Mike Lonergan and Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg voted "no."

The city already agreed to the investigation, though details of the contract haven't yet been approved.

Last month, Attorney General Christine Gregoire and State Patrol Chief Ronal Serpas met with city leaders shortly before a press conference to announce the results of the criminal investigation.

Though no criminal charges resulted, state investigators said they found evidence of possible violations of city and police rules, including overtime fraud, harassment, use of public equipment for private business, improper handling of evidence and lying.

City leaders agreed that the State Patrol should conduct the internal investigation to follow up on those issues. Lonergan suggested Tuesday that the city officials were "put on the spot" and had little choice but to agree to the second investigation.

In addition, he was especially upset about the city's bill for the completed criminal investigation, which he believes interfered with the city's own investigation.

The city's so-called administrative audit is being conducted by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs into city hiring, promotion and other policies as a result of the Brame scandal.

Lonergan pointed out during questioning of the city manager and city attorney that the City Council didn't have a chance to approve the earlier payments because city officials entered into an open-ended agreement without seeking the council's approval.

At the time, no one expected the bill to exceed $50,000 - the threshold at which city staff must receive City Council approval - said City Manager Jim Walton.

As the investigation dragged on and expenses rose, the city remained obligated to pay because it had entered into a contract, said City Attorney Robin Jenkinson.

But Councilman Kevin Phelps said the city shouldn't confuse the two investigations. He agreed that the bill for the criminal investigation was troubling, but said it's a done deal.

It makes sense for the State Patrol to move forward with the internal investigation, Phelps said.

State Patrol officials estimate that investigation will take two to three months.

Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542

jason.hagey@mail.tribnet.com

Investigation costs mount in Tacoma

City's share of completed criminal investigation: $160,000

City's share of follow-up internal investigation: Up to $200,000

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