Thursday, September 23, 2021

Mattawa interim police chief’s letter details strains

Staff Writer | September 15, 2021 1:05 AM

MATTAWA — Former Interim Mattawa Police Chief Mike Williams cited what he called a “toxic relationship” between the police department and some Mattawa city officials as one of the reasons for his resignation Friday, after which he agreed to stay until Sept. 17.

Williams was appointed as interim Mattawa police chief in April. He was to be interim chief until Jan. 31, 2022, under an agreement between Moses Lake and Mattawa city officials.

Williams’ letter of resignation was obtained by the Herald through a public records request Tuesday, which discussed his reasons for leaving.

In his letter to Celaya and the seven Mattawa City Council members, Williams wrote city officials were considering hiring a replacement interim chief, Granger Police Chief Steve Araguz.

“I can’t think of any legitimate reason why you would be looking at hiring another interim chief under what councilman Tony Acosta calls the ‘try before you buy’ philosophy, particularly when you have what appears to be a much more qualified candidate that has applied for the job. MPD needs stability, and another interim chief is the definition of instability,” Williams wrote.

“I believe you are repeating the same mistakes and cutting the same corners that have led to problem/unqualified chiefs in Mattawa for the last 25 years. This department will never take the next step forward in professionalism until you hire a high quality and experienced chief, and the council works with that chief to improve the agency. Unfortunately, excellence costs money,” he continued.

Williams also wrote he considered his tenure as Mattawa chief to be temporary.

“I have no problem being replaced as chief,” he wrote. “That has been my goal since I got here.”

He wrote the actions of some council members have complicated the relationship with the MPD.

“I have been committed to bringing the best to Mattawa, and showing you and the other council members what your department can be if you have dedicated and experienced leadership. Unfortunately, I have been unable to change the elected officials’ behavior that has led to a toxic relationship between some of the council and the police department. This has led to at least three officers in the department seeking alternate employment since I’ve been there (and that’s just the ones I know about),” Williams wrote.

“I volunteered to help you for three months to use my experience to stabilize your department and assist in the hiring of a new chief. I have stayed two months longer than I said I would, in the hope that I would be able to be a part of the change that Mattawa needs. However, every step of the way in the hiring process of the new chief, you have disregarded my advice and I don’t believe this time will be any different, as you have already entered negotiations with the city of Granger. In good conscience I can’t be part of this hiring process when the focus is not on hiring the best possible candidate,” Williams wrote.

Williams wrote that an incident at the Sept. 2 council meeting illustrated what he characterized as the difficult relationship between the department and the council. Acosta questioned Williams’ use of a city credit card, asking if the charge was valid.

Williams wrote his use of the card was valid and for department related travel expenses.

“I sent you (Celaya) the policy via email that showed it was proper the day before the council meeting. Katherine (Kenison, Mattawa city attorney) told you when we met before the council meeting the use of the card was proper and within policy,” Williams wrote.

“After Tony made his accusation in a public meeting, you made no attempt to correct his false allegation,” Williams wrote. “Making completely false allegations of wrongdoing by a police officer is a great way to ruin a career. I don’t know what Tony’s intentions were, but this was certainly bush league and unprofessional.”

Acosta had methods to contact Williams, he wrote, and could have asked him about it any time.

“In 26 years in law enforcement, I have never had an accusation of improper conduct like that made about me.”

Williams said he would help the new chief, when one is hired, with the transition.

Mattawa city officials had requested an extension to the original three-month agreement with Moses Lake for Williams to be interim chief, which expired in July. A revised agreement was approved by the Moses Lake City Council Aug. 10. Under the new agreement, Williams would have stayed on as interim chief through Jan. 31, 2022.

Celaya did not respond to a request for comment by press time.