The agenda item looked harmless enough: "An ordinance of the city to accept donations to the city." But it turned out to be the beginning of another combative session that focused on the police dog.
By the end of the sometimes bitter meeting, White Salmon Mayor David Poucher realized the deck was stacked against keeping the Police Department's K9 program, and he decided he would have to pull the plug.
The March 2 agenda item was geared toward Mayor Poucher's proposal to attempt to obtain sufficient donations from the public to maintain the police dog program. But the ordinance would equally apply to donations for any city operation, such as the swimming pool fund, the Fire Department, or any other municipal function.
The city's attorney, Ken Woodrich, had requested a formal structure for city residents who want to make donations to the city "to be applied to city services and to assist in the operation of city government" to ensure compliance with legal requirements and to ensure donated money would go for its intended use.
Woodrich said he believed the ordinance was necessary and would be beneficial to the city.
"The city needs to be able to accept donations," Woodrich said. "This would give the ground rules for how to accept donations: the size, type, and how the city can process them."
Poucher pointed out that the ordinance would provide more oversight of any donations that come in.
"There would be two sets of eyes watching the money coming in and going out. It's a double check," Poucher said.
However, council member Adrian Bradford said he was concerned the private donations could be used to undercut the wishes of the City Council.
"I would want some language in the ordinance to make sure it is not used to circumvent decisions officially made by the council," Bradford said. "Unless it's written properly, it could circumvent what the City Council has voted against. For example, we defunded the police dog in October."
Bradford went on to explain that the council had decided it did not want the city to have a K9 program, pointing out that the decision was not solely about the costs of the program.
"The other reason is, it's a liability for the city to have a biting dog. We don't want a biting dog program, and we don't want to see an ordinance like this circumvent that," Bradford said.
At that point, Mayor Poucher reminded Bradford that the City Council controls the budget, but the mayor controls the day-to-day operations of the city.
"That's what I'm afraid of, that you may try to circumvent the official will of the council," Bradford said.
Council member Anthony Coulter sought to clarify what he believed the council had voted on last October.
"The City Council voted to defund the dog program," Coulter said. "If the dog program exists with money not from the city, that doesn't circumvent that vote."
However, Bradford was adamant that the police dog program was a liability to the city, regardless of who paid for it.
"This was a biting dog program, and that is one of many reasons why the City Council wanted to get rid of the dog," he said. "Private money should not be allowed to do things contrary to the wishes of the council."
Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes, who attended the March 2 meeting, took issue with Bradford's characterization of the dog.
"It's not an attack or biting dog," Barnes said. "It's a tool to help protect people."
Bingen contracts with White Salmon for police services, and Barnes and the Bingen City Council have expressed an interest in maintaining the K9 program.
Poucher said he wanted to see what the citizens thought about the police dog by allowing the city to raise funds for the K9 program until June 1.
"If the public doesn't want the dog, we won't be able to raise the money," Poucher said. "We'll cancel it on June 1 if we can't fund it."
Council member Bob Landgren said he was one of the original council members who voted for the police dog program, but now feels he was misled, adding that he was not sure he could trust the numbers coming out of the Police Department.
"Some of the deception to the council was unethical as far as I'm concerned," Landgren said.
Landgren said, for example, that recently the dog was credited with locating illegal drugs in a vehicle.
"We were shown the evidence and were told it was seized by the dog -- but come to find out, it wasn't seized by the dog," Landgren said. "Why is the council being misled? What are the real cost figures? We're going to need a new vehicle for the dog, and the stated costs don't include four years down the road when we need a new dog and it's going to cost $75,000 for a new dog and training."
Barnes urged the council to be patient and give the K9 program a chance.
"Give us and the new police chief a chance to see if there is funding for this program," Barnes said.
Poucher questioned why the council would not allow the public to fund the dog.
"Allow the citizens you serve the chance to donate the money. Why are you afraid of the public?" Poucher said.
Council member Mark Peppel rejected Poucher's analysis.
"We're not afraid of the public," Peppel said. "The dog issue is dead. Costs were hidden. No one knew about the overtime to care for the dog."
In the end, the council members decided to table the ordinance about private donations until there could be a clear resolution of the dog issue.
"The dog issue needs to go away," Peppel said. "It costs extra overtime we're not able to afford. Let's get the Police Department straight before we give them all the bells and whistles. We don't even have a police chief yet. Why are we wasting time taking about the dog? We need to control expenses. It's frustrating to sit here and argue about a dog."
The day after the meeting, Mayor Poucher said he had come to a decision that the police dog would have to go.
"I've gone ahead and terminated the K9 program after what happened last night," Poucher explained. "I'm disappointed the council members didn't give us a chance to let the citizens support the dog, but we have to move on. There's too much on our plate. We need to be focused on other projects. We can spin our wheels on this, but obviously this is something they are strongly against."
Poucher said he thought the loss of the dog would hurt the community and the Police Department's overall operations.
"I talked to Tony (Domish, the city's public safety director) and asked him to break it to the officers," Poucher said. "I think the community lost on this one. The dope dealers and people who want to flee are the winners."
With the decision made to terminate the K9 program, the council will now have to address how to dispose of the dog. Poucher said he would ask the council to "surplus" the dog.
"Hopefully we can find an agency wanting the dog. As highly trained as the dog is, there won't be any problem finding an agency to take him," Poucher said.