Editorial: Dispute over police vehicle buy is moot; it’s time to move on

A CONTROVERSIAL CAR — Bingen-White Salmon Police Department Chief Tracy Wyckoff stands next to the department’s brand-new 2013 4WD Ford Police Interceptor (essentially a heavily modified Ford Explorer). The car is currently the subject of a dispute between the cities of Bingen and White Salmon over which municipality will get to own the vehicle once their interlocal law enforcement agreement expires at the end of next year.

Bingen’s ongoing dispute of White Salmon’s purchase of a new vehicle for the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department (B-WSPD) is a sign of how much the leaders of Bingen mistrust their White Salmon counterparts, and vice versa. Add to this the latest development in the saga, which comes as no surprise: the parties cannot agree on a mediator to help them resolve their differences. White Salmon wants to use a non-profit legal aid outfit at no cost to either city (outside of city attorney fees, that is). Bingen wishes to retain the services of a retired Clark County judge. Meanwhile, city attorneys continue to exchange lengthy letters restating each city’s position, adding costs to the respective budgets that neither party anticipated. All this uproar over a police vehicle purchase that White Salmon had programmed into its 2013 budget for all to see — including Bingen officials, who got a review copy, and didn’t protest the budget entry until it was too late. White Salmon, for its part, hearing no objection from Bingen, believed it had its sister city’s tacit understanding and blessing, and took steps to acquire said police vehicle for the B-WSPD, at no cost to Bingen. The vehicle is now in service on the streets of White Salmon and Bingen.

Another indisputable fact in this squabble over a police rig is that the issue is moot. Bingen foreclosed on pursuing other remedies when it failed to protest the purchase in the time allowed under the police interlocal agreement (ILA, also referred to scathingly as “the sweetheart deal”) that expires in 2014. Now, Bingen wants to use the ILA to compel White Salmon to do something it is not legally obligated to do. Bingen wants White Salmon to somehow forget these facts and instead is urging White Salmon to stick to the merits of Bingen’s legal opinion and follow the spirit of the ILA, not all the legalese that’s been causing injury to White Salmon’s ability to manage and protect its resources and finances as it sees fit. It appears, in White Salmon’s case, the spirit ain’t willing because Bingen’s position doesn’t have a legal footstool to stand on, and Bingen knows this.

Bingen leaders must be hoping beyond hope that White Salmon can be cowed one more time into doing things Bingen’s way. We don’t think White Salmon leaders will cave this time, though; we think there’s a majority on the City Council that’s tired of Bingen’s bullying tactics and is itching for a fight that will leave White Salmon in a stronger position when it comes to managing its resources, and without worry what Bingen thinks about its spending.

White Salmon and Bingen formed the B-WSPD in 2004 under the ILA many in White Salmon City Hall now loath. In 2004, White Salmon needed a financial partner to help pay for its police department, and Bingen needed police coverage, so both cities signed on the dotted line. White Salmon, however, got more than it bargained for. Instead of a financial partner, White Salmon has gotten a co-managing director that must work to constrain White Salmon’s spending on police in order to control its own police expenditures. It’s a crazy mess that can only be cleaned up by replacing the current police ILA with one that properly redefines the boundaries of the relationship, financially and otherwise, in more realistic terms. Renegotiation is Bingen’s only real shot at a fair agreement for governing the management of White Salmon’s police force, the name B-WSPD not-withstanding. If it waits until next year, Bingen will have no bargaining power at all, and White Salmon knows that too. SB

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