Members of the White Salmon City Council said they wanted to let the public know where they stand regarding the upcoming mayoral recall election.
With that objective in mind, the council voted to approve a formal resolution supporting Mayor Roger Holen's January decision to terminate Police Chief Rich Cortese.
It was the firing of Cortese that led a group of citizens to start the recall campaign against Holen.
The text of the resolution, passed 4-1 by the council during its Aug.2 meeting, stated as follows:
"The White Salmon City Council resolves as follows: 1) All qualified voters of the city of White Salmon are urged to vote in the recall election scheduled for Aug. 15; and 2) We reaffirm the communications and decisions made by the White Salmon City Council previously cited at three separate regular council meetings, that Mayor Roger Holen acted according to applicable laws and standards in his decision and subsequent action to terminate the police chief, Richard Cortese."
The author of the resolution, council member Timi Keene, said she drew up the measure at the request of a local citizen, Jack Barrett. However, Barrett, who requested in July that the council take a stand on the recall, stated during the July 20 council meeting that he does not reside within the White Salmon city limits. That in itself brought objections from some at the Aug. 2 meeting.
Council member Richard Marx was one of those who objected.
"I find it amazing this resolution was requested by someone who doesn't live in the city limits," Marx said.
Council member Brad Roberts responded by pointing out that Barrett was not the only one who wanted the council to take a stand against the recall.
"Many people asked for it," Roberts explained.
Councilor Timi Keene said where a citizen lives did not enter into the decision to draw up the resolution.
"Anyone could have come before us and requested we have a resolution. It just so happened that Admiral Barrett made that request," Keene explained. "People on both sides of this issue, inside and outside the city limits, have spoken with the council."
Mike Zitur, one of the organizers of the recall campaign, said he could not understand why the council was considering the resolution.
"You said at the last meeting you're in agreement with Mayor Holen. Why does there have to be a resolution?"
He added that he saw a double standard in the council's responsiveness to its citizens.
"I'm surprised someone who lives outside the city limits came request this and the council agrees to do this -- yet many citizens come up and don't get an answer," Zitur said. "I find it disheartening you're responding to someone who is not even served by our Bingen-White Salmon police force."
Roberts said he believed the resolution was necessary.
"What generated this discussion was, we hired the mayor with the specific duty to hire and fire the police chief," Roberts explained. "I find it incomprehensible to recall a mayor over this."
Councilor Susan Benedict said she backed the mayor's move as well.
"He consulted all of us, and we were all in agreement with what was going on," Benedict said. "It was not his decision alone."
Francis Gaddis, serving a mayor pro tem during the debate, also supported the mayor's move regarding the police chief.
"I asked the mayor if he would accept this position," Gaddis said. "If you want to blame anybody, blame me."
Before the vote on the resolution was taken, the council took comments from the public.
Jim Herman, a White Salmon resident who served as a City Council member for about 12 years, said administrators often have to make personnel decisions that the public may not have all the facts about.
"There are many decisions the council needs to make based on information not shared with the public," Herman said. "One time we had to let an employee go, and got a lot of flak for that. But we were not able to share the reasons for the dismissal. One, because it's privileged information, and two, it's not necessarily any of the public's business. This crap going on is not helpful to the city."
Pat Baumgarden was just as adamant that the mayor was out of line in firing Cortese.
"It's not the fact Roger fired Rich, it's the reason," Baumgarden said. "He said he wanted Brending to be chief. Brending was not eligible to serve. We had a good Police Department before all this crap happened. The city is being torn apart. I've never seen such a mess as we are in now, and it's all because of this."
Herb Hardin, a citizen who lives outside the city limits, reminded the council that he too had called for a resolution opposing the mayor's recall at the July 20 council meeting. Hardin said he resented being told he had no right to make requests to the council simply because he lived outside the city's official boundaries.
"That doesn't mean I'm not affected by what goes on here. I live here, shop here, and this is my home. And I am a user of the White Salmon water supply," Hardin explained.
Hardin questioned where the recall effort would lead, especially given that the council members appeared to support Holen's action in firing the former police chief.
"If the council supports the mayor and you're going to recall the mayor, you ought to recall the council," Hardin said, with applause breaking out in the room. "I don't agree with Holen's decision [to fire Cortese], but I don't think that decision warrants a recall, as poor as it was."
However, Colleen Connolly reminded the council that the judge hearing the case believed there were sufficient grounds for a recall.
"Why are you debating this? It's been hammered down by a judge. Do you think the judge didn't go over the case thoroughly enough?" Connolly asked.
"The judge said there are grounds to have a recall. He didn't say Roger was guilty of anything," Roberts responded. "This is just a resolution. It has no effect on what the voters decide."
"Then why do it?" Connolly questioned.
"Maybe we have information that can't be shared because it's an employment issue," Roberts said. "If people want to know what we think, this is our answer."
Keene stressed that the resolution was not geared to urge people to vote a certain way.
"The bottom line is, the resolution, first, encourages everyone to vote; and second, the council is reaffirming it concurs with the mayor's decision in terminating the police chief."
Sandy Dickey asked why the city was spending time and money on the resolution when council members had already stated their support of Holen.
Keene said it was because it was requested by the public.
"Well, the public has requested the reinstatement of Rich Cortese, and nothing was ever done about that," Dickey replied. "That's why people are so upset. We don't feel our questions have been answered."
Holen's attorney in the recall case, Teunis Wyers, said the council needed to listen to all the citizens.
"I applaud you for listening to people who are not voters in the city. You're leaders in this community and need to listen to people with comments, regardless of where the city limits are," Wyers said. "People have a right to offer input, but they don't have a right to heckle you. You need to step on the people in the back who are behaving like 5th-graders, with catcalling and grumbling and rude remarks."
Another of the recall organizers, Bob Landgren, said Holen could have avoided the recall if he had only been more open with the public.
"He never mentioned the police chief when he ran for office," Landgren noted. "If you're making a decision like that, talk to us. In January, I asked the mayor to get together with citizens. It's sad. This could have been avoided."
Barrett urged everyone to come together after the recall election was over.
"I plead with all of you, let's get together and work together and not fight on every issue," Barrett said.
After taking comments from the public, the council voted 4-1 to support the resolution. Roberts, Keene, Benedict, and Gaddis voted in favor, with Marx in opposition.