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Civil Service Rules May Again Cover Police Chief Job

Personnel committee writes memorandum

There appears to be strong support to again place the position of police chief of Bingen-White Salmon Police Department under Civil Service Commission rules.

A memorandum from the chairs of the White Salmon City Council's personnel committee, Timi Keene, and its police committee, Francis Gaddis, called for a change in how the police chief position is structured.

"It is the recommendation of the personnel committee and the police committee that the White Salmon City Council consider rescinding the exemption of the position of police chief from the White Salmon Civil Service Commission rules," read an excerpt from a memo dated April 13.

Gaddis said he believes the chief should be assured of having Civil Service protection.

"When they make that commitment to do that duty, they normally have to move their family to the community and go ahead and sell their home," Gaddis explained. "It's quite a commitment, especially with the high cost of housing and moving and disrupting their family if they have a family, and moving children out of schools and into another school. I'm a family-oriented person."

For many years, the police chief was covered under Civil Service Commission policies, but the White Salmon City Council voted to change that two years ago after Rich Cortese was hired.

Gaddis said he is not sure why the change was made two years ago.

"The mayor at that time would not allow the police committee to be in on the situation," Gaddis said.

Members of the Bingen City Council have requested that the police chief be placed under Civil Service. The Bingen council's police committee recently recommended that this change be suggested to the city of White Salmon, which ultimately decides how the contract will be worded.

Bingen contracts with the city of White Salmon for its police services. The agreement provides that White Salmon's mayor has the power to hire the police chief, with consultation with Bingen's mayor.

Bingen council member Betty Barnes said she was pleased to see the White Salmon City Council considering adopting this revision to the contract.

"This was one of the things our police committee recommended to our council, and it was really the biggest concern I saw on the committee's list -- that and having more input from our mayor," Barnes said. "I think they heard our concerns."

Gaddis said it was a reasonable request, and he agreed with it.

"I think the chief should be assured of that [Civil Service protection] when they make that commitment," Gaddis explained. "The committee feels the chief's position should go back to where it was before."

Barnes added, however, that she wants to ensure that the Civil Service Commission holds regular monthly meeting.

"This change would really address a lot of our concerns, as long as the Civil Service Commission operates the way it should," Barnes said. "The RCW is pretty clear that they are supposed to meet once a month. If they're not going to meet, at least post it a couple days beforehand that there is no business to cover."

Gaddis and Keene also suggested that the police chief position be opened to qualified applicants.

"Our committees are reviewing the job description of the police chief and will suggest amendments, as appropriate, to guide the commission in making recommendations to the council as to the most qualified candidates for the police chief position," read a recommendation presented to the White Salmon City Council during its April 19 meeting. "Further, our committees recommend that the mayor initiate the process of advertising the police chief position so that eligible candidates may be considered by the White Salmon Civil Service Commission as soon as feasible."

Sgt. Bruce Brending has been serving as acting police chief since January, when White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen put Police Chief Rich Cortese on "administrative leave" pending his termination on April 15.

Holen said he supported the move to place the police chief's position back under the Civil Service Commission.

"It provides a buffer between the two cities and is sort of a third-person arbitration," Holen said. "I certainly don't have a problem with it. Both police committees have recommended this. White Salmon needs to take very seriously the recommendations of the police committee of Bingen on that as well as other matters."

Holen pointed out that the change, if approved by the White Salmon City Council, will be in effect before the city hires its next police chief.

Ironically, had the police chief been covered under Civil Service Commission policies, it would not have been so easy for Holen to remove Cortese as police chief.

"It will no longer be an at-will position," Holen said. "The only way to terminate somebody is for cause. That protection is inherent under Civil Service rules."

Holen said he hopes to have the police chief opening advertised by mid-May, and said the chief's position will be open to all qualified applicants.

"Hopefully we'll have a stack of resumes to review. The Civil Service Commission will cull it down to four or five, and we'll interview those and get recommendations from Civil Service on who to hire," Holen explained. "The Civil Service will provide a list of qualified candidates, ranked as to who they believe would be most qualified."

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