Long months after being terminated from his job as police chief for the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, Rich Cortese said he was glad to be back to work for the community.
"It feels good to be working again," Cortese said on Monday. "I'm trying to reconnect with a lot of people I got to know previously, and make new contacts. I want to try and see what the city's needs are and how to help them out."
On the evening of May 7, the White Salmon City Council voted to ratify the final version of Cortese's employment contract, and officially hired him as the city's new director of public safety.
Following that vote, Mayor David Poucher asked for action on an official apology to Cortese from the city of White Salmon.
"I find that to be appropriate," responded City Council member Richard Marx.
Marx then read the statement of apology, which essentially recapped the history of the controversial case: "Whereas, Richard Cortese was employed as the chief of police of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department from the period June 16, 2004, through April 15, 2006, and whereas Mr. Cortese's employment was terminated by the city in a manner that reflected poorly on Mr. Cortese and demonstrated callous disregard for his rights and feelings," read the text of the formal apology, "and whereas the parties have agreed on terms to dismiss and settle the lawsuit relating to this termination, and the city wishes to acknowledge Mr. Cortese's service and formally apologize to him for the events of the termination; Now, therefore be it resolved that the city of White Salmon, by and through its mayor and council, expresses its apology to Richard Cortese for the unfortunate and unjustified manner of his termination from employment as chief of police, and thank him for his service to the people of White Salmon during his employment."
Following the public reading by Marx, the city's attorney, Ken Woodrich, carried a copy of the apology resolution and handed it to Cortese, who was present at the council meeting.
Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Bruce Brending, who attended the council session, offered congratulations to Cortese.
"I'd like to welcome Rich back, and back to law enforcement," Brending said. "I look forward to working with him."
According to Cortese's employment contract, he will serve as director of public safety for 20 months: from May 1, 2008, through Jan. 31, 2010.
The city will pay Cortese a base salary of $5,833 per month to start. His salary will increase to $6,000 per month on June 19, 2008; and will increase again to $6,166 per month as of June 19, 2009. In addition, Cortese will be entitled to 42 days of combined vacation or sick pay per year.
A summary of the city of White Salmon's job description for the director of public safety position reads as follows: "The director of public safety is a commissioned law enforcement officer employed on a full-time, fully compensated basis to enforce the criminal laws of the state of Washington, and whose job duties substantially involve both police and fire duties. The director of public safety also administers the programs and personnel of a public safety department. The position is created by ordinance."
Cortese said specifics of his duties would be fleshed out as needs dictated, but he mentioned one area he intended to focus on.
"The mayor wants to try to work on an emergency preparedness plan," Cortese said.
After the council's May 7 vote on the employment contract, Woodrich said the final tweaking of the contract that had briefly held up the deal was relatively minor.
"I'm happy to note that the only changes had to do with requirements from the Washington Department of Retirement Systems, to make sure the amount of LEOFF 2 compensation was separately stated and not included in the lump sum part of the settlement," explained Woodrich.
Woodrich advised the council members that the resolution was basically a ratification of the signed employment documents.
"We wanted to get Rich back as soon as we could, so everything was signed in my office yesterday [Tuesday, May 6]," Woodrich explained.
The vote to approve the final employment agreement was 3-1 in favor. Voting to approve were council members Richard Marx, Brad Roberts, and Bob Landgren.
Council member Timi Keene voted against the agreement.
The vote on the formal apology by the city was approved with an identical vote: Marx, Roberts, and Landgren supported the apology; Keene voted against it.
After the public apology was read, Cortese's attorney, Bill Eling, addressed the council members.
"I just want to say thank you," Eling said. "There is not a lot that compels people to do the right thing, and I think you did the right thing. One thing too often left out is common decency. I've spent two and a half years as Rich's lawyer, and 40 years as his friend. I respect him for his decency and integrity, and I think you all demonstrated the same thing."
Cortese's first day on the job -- following the council's final ratification of the formal settlement agreement and employment agreement -- was May 8.
"I think it's a good thing it was settled," said Betty Barnes, a member of the Bingen City Council. "We know who our police chief is. The right thing was done with Rich, and everything can move forward."
Cortese said he was relieved the long legal process was finally over.
"That was really frustrating. I'm just glad it's behind me," Cortese said. "I just want to be a good benefit to the city."
Cortese also commented on the recent incident at Hi-School Pharmacy, when an alleged shoplifter pushed a security guard and fled from the store after being confronted. No police officer was on duty at the time due to a shortage of officers, and store employees said they were concerned the incident could have escalated as a result. Cortese said he would be available to respond to calls and lend assistance as needed.
"I want to try to help out as much as I can," he said.