Investigation into Spokane Valley councilmember closed due to difficulties

The City of Spokane Valley has recently concluded its investigation into Councilmember Al Merkel, finding that he engaged in berating and belittling behavior towards staff members, creating an environment of fear at city hall.

According to the findings of the investigation, the inquiry began in March after a complaint was made by a city employee regarding Merkel’s alleged “improper” communications and behavior. This complaint subsequently led to other employees expressing safety concerns about him.

Merkel consistently asserted his innocence throughout the proceedings, emphasizing that the city had failed to notify him of any wrongdoing on his part.

During a self-led press conference on Thursday, Merkel expressed his belief that the investigation was an effort to discredit him and impose consequences on the voters for electing him.

During the press conference, Merkel expressed her thoughts on the document, stating, “There’s a lot of things in this document that are obviously designed to paint me as being a bad person or a bully or a disrupter.” She acknowledged the lack of evidence to support these claims, emphasizing, “It’s very easy to say a lot without backing it up.” Merkel firmly asserted that she has been cleared of any legal wrongdoing, highlighting the hard truth beneath the superficial accusations.

The investigation involved interviewing a total of 22 witnesses, including 13 females and nine males. All the councilmembers, except Merkel, agreed to participate in the interviews. Merkel decided not to participate after his request to bring a supporter and record video of the meeting was denied by the investigator.

The investigation concluded that Merkel had violated the city’s governance manual by consistently displaying hostile behavior. However, there was no evidence to suggest that gender discrimination was a factor in this case.

According to a city release, witnesses have described their interactions with Merkel as belittling or berating. The investigation found these instances credible, although the report concluded that Merkel’s actions did not amount to gender discrimination because he treated both male and female staff members in a similar manner.

Witnesses have pointed out several instances where Merkel was said to have crossed the line, even before her election.

During the fall of 2023, while campaigning, Merkel decided to place signs in a roundabout and median. However, the city authorities claimed that this violated the rules as these areas were designated as traffic control devices. Frustrated by this response, Merkel took matters into her own hands and went directly to city hall to address the issue.

According to the investigation, Merkel was asked to remove the signs. However, he responded by raising his voice and becoming irate. Witnesses recall him yelling, even when someone attempted to calm the situation. Eventually, others intervened and pulled him into a nearby room, although his outbursts could still be heard from outside.

According to the investigation’s findings, Merkel was described as “confrontational” and “very loud and boisterous” by the witness.

After being elected, Merkel’s conduct persisted at City Hall. According to witnesses, it is not unusual for him to make his presence known upon entering the building, often proclaiming loudly that he is there to “stir things up,” “start a conflict,” or “create chaos,” as stated in the investigation.

Before attending a city council meeting, Merkel proclaimed, “I’ve come here to stir things up.” While some observers found his behavior to be unsettling and disrespectful, others were inclined to give Merkel the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that he may have been attempting to inject humor, as per the investigation’s conclusions.

In a separate incident, Merkel approached a fellow councilmember after a meeting, requesting a private conversation. However, once most of the attendees had departed, he unexpectedly positioned himself in front of the doorway, effectively trapping the councilmember. In an aggressive manner, Merkel began shouting directly into her face.

According to the investigation’s findings, she recounted, “I attempted to leave, but [Merkel] prevented me from doing so. He obstructed the doorway and persisted in shouting at me, causing me to become overwhelmed and mentally shut down.”

According to the councilmember, she mentioned to the investigator that whenever she attempted to approach the door, Merkel would deliberately position himself in between them.

According to the investigation’s findings, she explained that whenever she would attempt to back up, he would also back up in sync with her. Furthermore, she mentioned that if she tried to go around him, he would deliberately maneuver to prevent her from doing so.

According to the investigation’s findings, city hall employees started escorting the councilmember to her car after the incident, a practice that her husband also follows when he is present.

“It is evident now more than ever that this investigation has been nothing but the result of a councilmember and city bureaucrat’s failed attempt to undermine me. They have been scheming against me since before I took office, in an effort to deflect my legitimate concerns about the city’s business practices. Their motive is clear – to protect their own positions of power and authority,” stated Merkel on Thursday.

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