Another. Add HR Director Amber Richards to the growing list of Spokane City leaders who have left in recent months. She informed the city on Monday that she would resign effective July 9.
City spokesman Brian Coddington said the mayor had not asked Richards to resign.
âIt’s an unfortunate loss for the city,â Coddington said. Prior to assuming the post of director of human resources, Richards had served as director of the city’s civil service department.
âShe had a great passion for employee development and retention and also pursued equity issues,â said Coddington. “She also played a huge role in the logistical role of the Emergency Operations Center at the onset of COVID.”
Richards is Woodward’s second human resources manager in less than two years. His first choice, Tom Bartridge, resigned in March 2020 after three months on the job. (A request for public documents by the Interior did not submit any letter of resignation or any complaint, formal or informal, filed against him.)
When asked if Richards provided an explanation for his decision to quit, Coddington said no. Richards could not be reached for comment.
Councilor Karen Stratton, meanwhile, praised Richards’ work with the city.
âShe did a good job. No one had any issues. What worried me was the HR staff who worked under her direction,â Stratton said. “All I heard was that she was a very compassionate and fair leader.”
And that’s a big deal. Stratton, herself a former city employee, has long been a sound box for disgruntled employees unhappy with their working environment.
âOver the past few years, I have had concerns about our human resources department,â Stratton said.
During Mayor David Condon’s administration, Stratton repeatedly objected to the way Human Resources treated their own employees. First of all, she was a fiery critic of Heather Lowe, Director of Human Resources at Condon. Lowe resigned in 2016, leaving behind a mess of scandal, controversies, and botched investigations.
Lowe’s successor, Chris Cavanaugh, led a tighter ship, but Stratton was, on the contrary, even more vocal in his criticism. Cavanaugh has been extremely hated by a few employees in her department, with few ultimately unfounded complaints against her alleging discrimination, intimidation and retaliation. They also complained to Stratton.
But if there were any objections to Bartridge or Richards, no one told Stratton about it.
“When [Richards] took over HR, the challenge was to change a culture of negativity. No consideration was given to employee morale … She entered a culture that was really not very employee friendly.Stratton said. âAmber came in as the kind of person who was ready to sit down and stay calm, talk and get to know people, find their strength and develop that department.
When Wes Crago resigned as city administrator last September (neither Coddington nor Woodward would say if the mayor asked him to step down), he was keen to personally congratulate Richards on the way she had handled his situation.
âI want to thank you again for being such a pro in a difficult situation today,â Crago wrote on September 23. “It was very helpful and I appreciate it.”
September 22, the day before Crago told Richards he would take “this opportunity to resign”, records show Richards had confidentially contacted an advisory group about “information on the cost and process of hiring a city administrator.”
But it took six months to bring in Crago’s ultimate replacement, Johnnie Perkins. Perkins is now under investigation over charges raised in the resignation of another city employee, director of outreach services Cupid Alexander.
But Woodward doesn’t think the string of recent resignations represents a trend. She points to the pandemic as a determining factor.
âWe have an issue where people are tired and fatigued. We have had a lot of our employees and division heads working around the clock, for months at the start of COVID, and still doing their jobs,â said Woodward. “And I think we’ve gotten to the point 15-16 months late where people are tense. They are stressed. They are tired.”
In particular, she says she wants to bring stability to the community housing and social services department, which oversees issues like homelessness, but which currently has seven vacant positions.
âI want the organization to be healthy again,â says Woodward. “I want to give people time to take care of themselves.”