Council blew it in raising police chief's pay retroactively

Retiring Police Chief Chuck Fulton did an outstanding job, but the Council went too far in raising his pay as a gift.

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Chuck Fulton was an outstanding police chief for this city for nearly three decades. Fulton's service and dedication -- 28 years as chief and 42 on the police force -- are worthy of the community's gratitude.

But a majority of the members of the Walla Walla City Council let emotion and their admiration for Fulton cloud their judgment when they granted him a three-month retroactive raise of $2,642 as a parting gift for his service.

The money is not theirs to give away. It's the taxpayers'. Decisions on pay should be based on sound business practices.

The city of Walla Walla, like all local governments in Washington state, has been financially pinched with the downturn of the economy. It's been forced to cut positions and reduce employee hours.

The city's tight budget makes the decision, approved by a 6-1 vote, even more disturbing.

Council member Barbara Clark was the lone voice of reason on this matter. Clark said she believes the Council was overstepping its bounds in establishing the salary rate for the police chief.

"I see this as a management decision rather than a Council decision. I feel uncomfortable for the Council to make a decision, for Council to set salaries," Clark said.

Unfortunately, Clark's solid reasoning was lost in the euphoria of rewarding Fulton.

We certainly understand Council member Jerry Cummins' motivation to grant Fulton a raise. After all, the newly hired police chief started with a higher salary than Fulton's salary. The raise, retroactive to Jan. 1, matched Police Chief Scott Bieber's pay of $123,350 per year.

"I believe the city of Walla Walla has an issue that needs to be resolved this evening," Cummins said as he made his to motion to increase Fulton's salary.

The salary disparity is a legitimate concern. However, that could have -- should have -- been handled by setting the salary for the new chief lower or even at Fulton's then annual salary of $112,788.

Walla Walla has had two police chiefs in the past 60 years -- Fulton and Bert Watts. It's a great job that would have had plenty of excellent applicants for Fulton's salary or less. Chief Bieber might have even taken the job.

The cost to the public will likely be more than the $2,642 for the three months of extra pay. It is likely this raise will boost Fulton's pension.

And while this money does come from a dedicated pension fund, meaning it won't be directly taken from the city's budget, it is nevertheless public money.

The City Council has acted irresponsibly in this case. The blame for this falls to the Council, not Fulton.

The Council's decision should not tarnish Fulton's outstanding legacy of service to this community for 42 years.

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