Council should have known consequences of chief's pay

Before the City Council granted a retroactive raise to the retiring police chief, it had a responsibility to consider the effect on his pension.

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Chuck Fulton served Walla Walla for nearly three decades as the city's police chief. He spent more than four decades as an officer for the Walla Walla Police Department.

When he retired at the end of March, this community was clearly appreciative of his service and all he accomplished. His final act as chief was to oversee the construction of the new police station, which replaced the Police Department's century-old headquarters at City Hall.

Fulton took the lead in pushing for a new station and the respect he has garnered over the years was critical to persuading the community to support the bond election to build the station.

The new headquarters should have been his legacy.

Instead, Fulton has retired in controversy because six of the seven City Council members voted to give him a retroactive pay raise for three months that boosts his pension by $8,661 per year. The three-month raise of $2,642.01 caused Fulton's annual retirement benefit to jump from $92,486 to $101,147.

Ultimately, it's the taxpayers who are on the hook for the extra money, which could easily hit six figures in Fulton's lifetime.

What happened was wrong. The Council's attempt to do something nice for an excellent longtime employee was simply irresponsible.

This has absolutely nothing to do with whether Fulton deserved the extra pay. The fact is he was doing a job -- and doing it well -- for an agreed upon salary. The City Council should not be handing out public money as a parting gift.

What's even more disturbing is that Council members approved this raise without knowing whether it would boost Fulton's retirement benefit. The matter was discussed at the Council meeting, where it was pointed out by City Manager Nabiel Shawa that it was certainly possible this raise could count toward Fulton's pension. The Council members did not demand clarity before they voted.

Instead, the Council members' only concern seemed to be the impact on the city treasury. As long as this raise only cost the city $2,642.01, they (except for Council member Barbara Clark) were good with the plan. They apparently didn't give a hoot that state government was going to shell out tens of thousands of dollars in the future.

But state tax dollars are still our tax dollars. The expectation should be every penny, regardless of the level of government, is spent wisely.

Chief Fulton did nothing wrong. He didn't ask for the pay raise nor did he take action to receive the raise.

The error in judgment was made by the majority of Council.

Let's hope the Council members learn from the mess they created and, in the future, they must make every effort to be certain of the ramifications of every financial decision they make.

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