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A question of fairness

Editorial for Jan. 26, 2006

To use a sports analogy, the mayor of a small city is like the general manager of a football team. And as general manager, the mayor has the authority -- for better or worse -- to bring in his own coach.

In White Salmon's case, the "coach" is the police chief, and Mayor Roger Holen has decided that the new police chief will be Bruce Brending, an experienced officer who has served the local Police Department since 1989.

Brending has been sergeant of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department since 2000, and served under longtime Police Chief Ned Kindler, who retired in May 2004. Linda Jones, who was mayor of White Salmon at that time, went through a hiring process and conducted interviews for the job of police chief. Although Brending was one of the finalists, Jones hired Rich Cortese, who was serving as a police lieutenant in the Seattle area.

Brending has served with distinction here in White Salmon, and it's to his credit that he maintained a professional attitude when Mayor Jones offered the job to Cortese. Although very disappointed at being passed over, Brending did not let it affect his work as a police officer, or his relationship with the new chief. Further, Brending is an experienced paramedic who serves with Skyline Ambulance. That training is a huge plus for an emergency official.

That said, however, there is a fairness issue involved here. Cortese, who has nearly 28 years of law enforcement experience (including previous service in White Salmon and Bingen), had the rug pulled out from under him. Cortese left a good job and came to White Salmon in good faith. He bought a house in Bingen, and was a couple years away from qualifying for full retirement benefits. And the mayors of White Salmon and Bingen, who oversee his work, have publicly stated that they have found no fault with Cortese's performance as police chief.

Cortese has his flaws, as we all do. But he's a good cop and a good man. It's not fair to cut him loose when, by all accounts, he hasn't failed to do his job.

Barring any malfeasance or misconduct on an employee's part, the city needs to take care of those it hires -- especially in a case where a highly qualified person invested so much to serve in White Salmon.

Here's an idea: Even if the mayor has the right to select who he wants as his police chief, why fire Cortese? He has roots in the community and wants to serve. At the least, the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department should offer him a job as a police lieutenant, or something similar. For example, the Goldendale Police Department, which is about the same size as the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, has a lieutenant's position.

With the local police force currently short by two officers, it would be wise and efficient to keep Cortese here for two practical reasons: A) the city would save the cost of sending a rookie to the Police Academy (approximately $25,000-$30,000); and B) Cortese is already here and available to serve right now. He's highly experienced, and it's foolish to simply boot such as asset away. Besides, Cortese likes this community to the point that he took a pay cut to relocate here. And since he is going to be paid for the next three months anyway, why not give him a job to do rather than just have that money and investment going out the window?

Maybe Cortese will prefer to move on if he's not going to be chief, but he should be given the option. Both Brending and Cortese are valuable professionals. Brending worked effectively under Cortese while Cortese was police chief, and there's no reason to believe Cortese wouldn't ably serve under Brending as well.

The way this situation has been handled could make it difficult to get other qualified professionals to come to White Salmon. Who will want to take a chance on working here if they believe they may be out after the next election for mayor?



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