Council grants police leadership civil service protections

The Bonney Lake City Council Tuesday night approved a change to the city’s code to make the police chief position fall under civil service protection.

The change only applies to police leadership positions for those who come up through the ranks in the city and is designed to offer a measure of job security to the chief, a position that was “at will” and at the pleasure of the mayor.

The council passed the ordinance 4-1 with only Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman opposed. Council members Donn Lewis and Jim Rackley were excused from the meeting.

Mayor Neil Johnson proposed the change at the request of Interim Chief Dana Powers, whom he plans to name as the city’s permanent chief. Because the police chief was an at-will position, Powers worried that a new mayor could fire her for any reason before she reached retirement and asked to retain civil service protection, which police officer sin non-leadership positions are granted.

Unlike “at will” employees, an employee covered by civil service has certain job protections, particularly that the employee may only be removed, suspended or fired “for cause” and then only after a written accusation.

Civil service employees may then submit a request from the civil service commission for an investigation to determine if the employment action was “for just cause.”

Swatman was firm in stating that his opposition to the ordinance had nothing to do with Powers, whom he called an “outstanding candidate,” or Johnson, but said he believed the mayor is a “unitary authority” that is elected and held accountable for their actions, such as staffing, by the citizens.

Swatman said he would have preferred an employment agreement or contract, like the one extended to the city administrator, to provide the job security for the incoming chief.

Council woman Katrina Minton-Davis, who was undecided during the council’s workshop discussion on the matter, said she ultimately decided to vote for the change because of the clause that the civil service protection only applies to those in leadership who have come up through the city ranks and have presumably shown their commitment to the city.

Councillman Tom Watson also spoke on the change calling it a “great ordinance.”

I’m glad we are doing this,” he said.

The change clears the way for Powers to be named the city’s next Police Chief in the near future.