Acting on the advice of the city's attorney, the White Salmon City Council voted 4-1 to OK city funds to help pay legal expenses for Mayor Roger Holen, who is facing a recall campaign.
During the April 19 council meeting, city attorney Deborah Phillips advised council members that she believed Mayor Holen had acted within his legal rights in his removal of ex-Police Chief Rich Cortese in January. Further, she explained, that as the city's elected executive, the mayor was deserving of support from the city.
"There is no question in my mind, based on the facts and documentary evidence, that Mayor Holen exercised appropriate authority within his discretion," Phillips explained. "Mayor Holen was elected by the voters. Because he has the support of the voters, I wholeheartedly support the city providing legal representation to the mayor. Whether the city can afford it, of course, is an issue, but I think it's appropriate."
Council member Francis Gaddis made the motion to provide funds for Holen's legal defense.
Timi Keene then suggested placing a maximum expenditure of $2,000 on the amount of the mayor's legal support from the city, with Holen reserving the right to request further funding in the event of a legal appeal.
Councilor Brad Roberts pointed out that those who objected to approving the legal expense fund for the mayor should realize that a recall election by its very nature is going to be expensive to the city.
"The cost of a new election will far exceed what these [the mayor's] legal costs will be," explained Roberts.
The council then voted 4-1 to support the $2,000 fund for the mayor's legal help.
Before the vote was taken, Mike Zitur, a White Salmon resident and former owner of the Elkhorn Bar & Grill, urged the council not to approve the use of city funds for the mayor's defense.
"I have a real problem with asking the City Council and taxpayers to pay for your legal services," Zitur told Holen. "I ask the council members to vote your conscience. This is not something we should be spending our tax dollars on. Save our money for the community, and don't provide legal defense for someone who had a chance to remedy the situation and did not."
According to a spokesperson in the Klickitat County Auditor's Office, state RCWs stipulate that Klickitat County will be responsible to pay the cost of the election if the recall question goes before the voters. The cost to hold the special election was estimated to be between $8,000 and $10,000.
Richard Marx, who cast the lone dissenting vote against providing a fund for the mayor, said after the meeting that he did not support the decision of his fellow council members.
"He fired the police chief at his pleasure; he should have the pleasure of paying for his own defense," said Marx. "He can go get his tin cup and sunglasses and stand on the corner of Jewett and Main."
Marx said he didn't understand why the other councilors would even want to help defend the mayor.
"A month ago he was calling the City Council stupid and misguided, and now he asks us for $2,000 for his defense, and they go, `OK.' He vetoes our budget amendment and badmouths us in the newspaper, then we turn around and give him $2,000. It doesn't make sense."
Holen said he appreciated the council's decision.
"I'm grateful the White Salmon City Council, by a vote of 4-1 supports me," Holen said.