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Eda Gets Dueling Letters From City

Mixed signals on priorities?

By JESSE BURKHARDT

The Enterprise

The Klickitat County Economic Development Authority (EDA) board is hearing from all sides in White Salmon as it finalizes prioritizing the grants communities will get in 2011.

The first letter reflected the vote of the White Salmon City Council, in December of 2010, in which the council set its EDA priorities. After the council action, an official letter from Mayor David Poucher -- dated Dec. 3, 2010 -- listed the three priorities for EDA funding the City Council had approved.

"Enclosed are the EDA proposals that were approved by the City Council at their most recent meeting of Dec. 1 in order of importance: 1) White Salmon Fire Department request for communications equipment for a total of $10,502.75; 2) Bingen-White Salmon Police Department request for communications equipment for a total of $4,114.82; 3) Bingen-White Salmon Police Department request for funds for the canine program for a total of $10,000," Poucher's letter read.

Not long after that, Bingen-White Salmon Police Sgt. Jim Andring sent a letter to the EDA board, on Police Department letterhead, that appeared to redefine the city's three priorities.

Andring's letter, dated Dec. 9, 2010, explained that he wanted to inform the EDA board members that "all Police Department members believe this (the K9 program) is higher priority than the No. 2 priority, which is two police radios ... We would sincerely appreciate any support you might be able to give so this program can be maintained."

Finally, a third letter -- on official "City of White Salmon" letterhead but not signed -- put yet another spin on the city's EDA requests.

The latest letter, dated Feb. 2, came under the heading "EDA grants for public safety/communications -- Clarification of our priority in applications." At the bottom of the one-page letter, the names of four of the five members of the White Salmon City Council were listed, but no one had signed the letter.

In essence, this letter called on the Klickitat County Economic Development Authority not to provide any funding for the city's police dog.

In one excerpt from the letter, the unidentified author informed the EDA board members that the "City Council officially voted 4-1 to defund the White Salmon K9 program, and we have no interest in re-funding or resurrecting it. We believe we made this clear at the Jan. 13 presentation meeting, but just want to be certain you have the official facts because your grant funds are limited and we value them."

The Feb. 2 letter took note of Andring's letter, and, in one excerpt, pointed out that Andring's letter was not valid.

"White Salmon City Council officially voted in December on the two priority application to the EDA: Priority No. 1 from the Fire Department, and Priority No. 2 from the Police Department, both for communications equipment," the letter read. "A third proposal that Officer Andring was attempting to promote for a K9 program was by default somehow submitted. The City Council did not endorse that proposal for many reasons."

The four council members whose names appeared on the letter included: Bob Landgren, Adrian Bradford, Rick Marx, and Mark Peppel. The name of the fifth council member, Anthony Coulter, did not appear on the letter.

The letter further criticized Sgt. Andring for his letter because it "was not authorized nor does it represent the official position of the City Council."

Ironically, White Salmon's city attorney, Ken Woodrich, indicated the same could apply to the unsigned Feb. 2 letter with the four council members' names on it.

"A single council member acting alone has no legal authority to bind the city," explained Woodrich.

Woodrich also pointed out that because the Feb. 2 letter was never voted on in a public session, it could be in violation of the state's "open meeting" laws -- if it was indeed sent by the four City Council members. However, Woodrich said that did not appear to be the situation.

"I was concerned by the implication in the letter that it was from more than two council members, and thus presumptively an `Open Public Meetings Act' violation, but I have been assured that is not the case," Woodrich explained.

Woodrich added that he was unsure who sent the letter.

"I don't have any confirmation yet on the authorship of that letter," Woodrich said on Monday. "The intent was to make sure the EDA was aware of the council action setting the other two (Fire Department/Police Department) projects as one and two in priority above the canine program. I spoke to two other council members listed on the letter who tell me they didn't take part in the letter or have prior knowledge of its content."

There was also a controversy regarding the apparently unauthorized use of formal city letterhead. However, Woodrich said the city has no official procedure on that.

"To the best of my knowledge, the city does not have a formal policy on the use of city letterhead, but it appears we are due for one," Woodrich said. "In this age of electronic letterhead embedded in Word documents, it's easy enough to create and use letterhead. The mayor and council need to decide when it's appropriate to use the city's letterhead and formalize it."

Despite the somewhat confusing signals from the city, the EDA board members voted unanimously last week to provide $5,000 in 2011 funding for the K9 program.

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