Richard Cortese, a lieutenant with the Clyde Hill Police Department near Bellevue, has been hired to be the new chief of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department.
White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones, who made the decision to hire Cortese, announced the selection on June 2. Jones praised Cortese's qualifications.
"Mr. Cortese possesses skills in both small community policing and a large city environment," Jones said. "He is very community oriented and comes with the attitude we're looking for."
Cortese, who is scheduled to begin his duties as chief on June 21, will fill the vacancy left by the recent retirement of Police Chief Ned Kindler. Kindler served as chief in White Salmon for 24 years.
Cortese, 48, grew up in Vancouver. He began his career with the White Salmon Police Department in 1978, where he served until 1980. He then hired on as an officer with the Bingen Police Department, and he served there from 1980-1987.
His parents live in Camas.
Cortese said he is looking forward to returning to the community.
"I always have liked the countryside, the weather, the people," Cortese said. "I really like small towns. I'm excited to have the chance to come back and meet all the new people. I have a lot of good memories from there. It was always a lot of fun."
He added that he left the area in the late 1980s because he wanted to go back to school and get his college degree. He earned a degree in criminal justice from Central Washington University.
Clyde Hill, where Cortese currently works, is a small town of about 3,000 people. He has worked as a lieutenant there for five years; before that he was a sergeant with the Arlington Police Department.
"I've always been a cop," explained Cortese. "It's been in my blood ever since I was a kid. This is what I do."
Cortese said his current duties include supervising the department's eight patrol officers and two reserves; working on the budget; and occasionally patrolling.
Jones said Cortese will have a high-profile role in the community.
"He will be a very visible police chief," Jones explained. "Don't be surprised to see him walking down the streets of White Salmon and Bingen and talking with merchants and community members."
Cortese was chosen over the other finalist, Sgt. Bruce Brending of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department. Brending has served with the department for the past 17 years.
The hiring of Cortese was not unanimously supported, however.
"That was not my preference," said Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel. "Essentially, we have a very good department. I was not looking for major change. Ned [Kindler] has done a good job; we don't need a shakeup. Bruce was qualified, and I feel we should be promoting from within."
The contract that provides for joint policing between the two communities stipulates that the city of White Salmon makes the ultimate decision in choosing who will be hired to be the police chief. Bingen's mayor participates in the interviews and offers advice and opinions, but the mayor of White Salmon makes the final call.
Prigel said he was concerned about what the move could mean for the morale of the patrol officers currently on staff.
"I am concerned it will hurt the morale of the officers. If they feel there is no opportunity for advancement, they may start looking elsewhere," he explained. "We don't want to fall into a revolving door syndrome. My preference was that Bruce be selected."
Prigel made it clear, however, that he would be able to work with Cortese.
"I don't want to diminish Cortese's qualifications," Prigel explained. "He will do a good job."
Kindler said he was surprised to hear that Mayor Prigel did not concur with the selection of the police chief.
"He should have some say. It affects them as much as anybody," Kindler said.
Kindler added that he has known Cortese for many years.
"He was hired for White Salmon when I went to the Police Academy back in 1978, and we've been friends since then," Kindler said. "I'm in a bad position. Rich is a friend, and Bruce is a friend too. Bruce has been here 17 years, and worked hard for it."
Jones acknowledged that the choice between the final two candidates was difficult.
"This decision was of course not an easy one," she explained. "Both applicants are qualified, and when it came right down to decision making, I had to go with my gut feeling. I'm anxious for him to get started. We don't want to be too long without a chief."
Jones added that Brending will serve as acting chief until Cortese arrives on June 21.
Brending said he would do all he could to help Cortese.
"I'm here to support the new chief," Brending said. "We'll try to do everything we can to make the transition as smooth as possible for him."
Now that the decision has been made, Kindler urged support for the new chief.
"I hope people support Rich and give him a chance," Kindler said. "He deserves that. He is a good person."