The controversy over who should be the police chief of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department is not fading away. But for the benefit of the community, it's time to turn to other issues.
Leave it to a medical care provider to offer some sage advice. At last week's meeting of the White Salmon City Council, Steve Koontz, a physician's assistant who works at Mid-Columbia Family Health Center, put the issue in perspective. He pointed out that he hoped Sgt. Bruce Brending would be named police chief in 2004, but accepted the decision of then-Mayor Linda Jones, who hired Rich Cortese to be chief, and supported Cortese. Koontz said he also believed Mayor Roger Holen's decision to remove Cortese was unfair, but he extended his congratulations and support to Brending when he was named the Police Department's acting chief.
Good point. This decision is ultimately the sitting mayor's call. It was a raw deal for Cortese, but now that the Civil Service Board has ruled that Cortese has no standing for an appeal, it is time to try to heal the rift this controversy has created.
We don't want to see Bingen and White Salmon again have to try to set up their own police departments. We don't want to see citizens divided into two camps, for or against a mayor's choice to be police chief.
Both Brending and Cortese are good men and highly qualified as law enforcement officers. Both have paid their dues. Yet only one individual can be the police chief.
Mr. Cortese has every right to pursue his case via whatever avenue he feels is appropriate. The wheels of justice will turn. But our community is at a potentially shaky point. We have a strong Police Department, one that has provided 24-hour coverage to both communities for the past several years. Before the contract that provided for community police services, that was not always the case. We don't want to see the force torn apart, and we don't want to see the community continue to be divided. That will benefit no one.
Roger Holen won election fair and square in 2005. Right or wrong, this is one of the decisions the mayor gets to make. That's in the contract the two city councils agreed to. The council members of either city can ask for changes to the contract to give council members more say in hiring/firing decisions in the future, but that won't be retroactive to this case.
As a community, it's important that the two cities move forward from here. The local police chief will need the support of all of us.