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Mattawa discusses hiring new police chief

by Rachal Pinkerton, For the Columbia Basin Herald
| June 9, 2021 1:00 AM

MATTAWA — The Mattawa City Council discussed on Thursday replacing former chief of police Joe Harris, who was fired in April for reasons undisclosed by the city.

Moses Lake Police Capt. Mike Williams, who is filling the position of Mattawa police chief for 90 days, suggested using Prothman, a company recently used by Grant County Fire District 8 to hire its new fire chief.

“The advantage of using a network is that they have a much wider net for qualified candidates,” Williams said.

Williams and City Attorney Katherine Kenison said there were two different service options with Prothman the city could choose from, one which includes having Prothman involved in the process from start to finish. The other option only has the company involved in finding qualified candidates.

The difference between the two options is approximately $11,000. Williams estimated if the city went with the full service option, it would cost $25,000, once all travel costs and other expenses were paid. Without the add-ons, the service costs $17,000. For the candidate search only, the city would have to pay $6,000, with the possibility of additional expenses.

Several council members expressed they liked the idea of accessing a wider pool of candidates than the city has had in the past. Mayor Maggie Celaya said she liked the idea of using Prothman because of how it involved the community in the decision making process.

But the council stopped short of deciding on whether to use Prothman until it could figure out how to pay for it.

“We need to review our budget,” said council member Tony Acosta. “$25,000 may not seem like much, but it is when your pockets aren’t that deep.”

Council member Vicente Acosta agreed, saying while it is important to look at the finances, the city also needed professionals and hiring the wrong person could be a costly mistake.

Williams wrote up a job description for the next chief, which the council approved, but no hiring timeline was discussed.

Williams said the police chief is the first line for officer issues and discipline.

“You need to have a chief who is engaged in the community,” Williams said. “Our chief (Kevin Fuhr, Moses Lake Police Department) goes out, helps other officers and builds rapport. Your chief needs to be focused 75/25 on administrative tasks and needs to be able to handle any calls that come in. They need to let the sergeant and officers handle the patrol side of things.”

Included in the job description is a line stating the new police chief “serves at the will of the mayor and is terminable within the bounds prescribed by law and city code.” Previously, Mattawa police chiefs have been subject to civil service rules. But in a city council meeting on May 20, the council voted to remove future police chiefs from civil service protection.

The removal was submitted to council by Kenison who said she submitted an ordinance for the same purpose in 2010, but the council at the time rejected it. According to Kenison, a city of Mattawa’s size could legally do without ramifications from the state, and other towns had done so long ago.

“The hiring process is not through civil service,” Kenison said. “Discipline and termination are not through civil services. They don’t have the right to an appeal.”

Kenison said since the city was in-between police chiefs, it was an “ideal time” to change the way things were done.