The Castle Rock City Council has defended their decision to consider a 12 percent pay increase for Police Chief Bob Heuer after receiving sharp criticisms regarding the issue during public comment.
Though the council had been anticipating a vote on the matter during their April 27 meeting, only three council members were present and the issue was tabled, as officials have said they feel input from every member of the council is needed to appropriately consider the increase. Though a motion had been made during their April 13 meeting to increase the chief's pay, it failed to pass after a tie vote Mayor Paul Helenberg was unable to break, according to fiscal policy.
When reaching the topic on their agenda April 27, the council simply tabled the issue and offered no further discussion until a member of the public voiced what he said were concerns Heuer and other city employees are attempting to take advantage of the taxpayers.
"There are so many people out there that are struggling, like the dickens, just to pay their water bill," said resident Bob Kurren, who directed his comments at Heuer. "As far as I'm concerned, you're trying to get wealthy off their backs... I'm sorry if I seem a little angry. I am angry."
Kurren, who has lived within Castle Rock for 15 years, said he does not believe Heuer has had a visible presence within the community and said he has not seen him out on patrol or assisting other officers. He was also critical of the department's policy of allowing Heuer to drive his patrol vehicle home, as Heuer is a resident of Kelso, and said only those living within the city should be allowed to do so.
Council Member Earl Queen defended Heuer's record, stating he felt Kurren had "berated" the chief and said, in his 40-plus years as a resident of the city, he believes Heuer has been "the best chief we've ever had."
"He does do patrol--I've rode in a car with him on patrol--and I just don't agree with you at all," said Queen, with Kurren having apologized for addressing Heuer and the council so informally.
Kurren also pointed out one of the council members, Lee Kessler, is a reserve officer for Heuer's department and said he believed Kessler should decline to have input on the issue to avoid a conflict of interest.
Kessler noted, as a reserve officer, he is not paid for his work and deferred to City Attorney Frank Randolph, who said state statute allows a city council to pass a resolution affirming no perceived conflict of interest for a member who serves within a police department, which Castle Rock passed Jan. 13, 2014, shortly after Kessler was sworn in.
Kessler also said, though serving as a reserve, he does not allow the department to dictate his approach to policy, stating he and Heuer have had their differences.
"There are times that I've disagreed with the chief," he said. "There are times that I've disagreed with other members of the department."
After asking further questions regarding department policy, and stating he does appreciate the dangerous work police officers are charged with, Kurren thanked the council for allowing him time to speak and took his seat.
As the topic of Heuer's potential raise had received expanded discussion, Helenberg mentioned he had conducted research thought the Association of Washington cities and found, among cities in similar size to Castle Rock (populations between 1,500 and 2,499), Heuer's salary, at $5,712 per month, is $13 less than the state average of $5,725 per month.
He also noted the city's other department heads, whose salaries have also been the topic of potential raises, compared differently to state averages, with Public Works Supervisor Dave Vrose being 1.2 percent above the average and City Clerk Ryana Covington being 11.9 percent below the average.
After the meeting, when following up with this newspaper, Kurren said these statistics do not show Castle Rock employees are underpaid or average, but rather illustrate the systemic problem of what he feels has been public servants paying themselves too much, stating, "I'd be happier than hell to make that kind of money."
He also said he feels, though Heuer's sergeant earns more than Heuer does when filling in as chief, a fact that touched off discussions about a raise, the disparity should be considered a "gratuity" for the extra time and effort to substitute in Heuer's position and not justification for a salary increase.
The council is expected to again discuss the issue during their May 11 meeting, during which time a decision could be expected if all five members of the council are present. Those who have so far opposed the increase have not voiced concerns over a greater salary for Heuer, but rather a desire to adjust his pay, and thus the budget, later this year during the council's regular budget cycle, instead of this time of the year.