In Mattawa, an empty agency and no rush to fill it

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MATTAWA — For months Mattawa has been without a single commissioner on the town’s Civil Service Commission, which oversees all hiring, firing and promotional decisions in the town’s police department.

The commission is supposed to serve as a buffer between elected officials and the public employees they hire, fire or promote, ensuring some level of objectivity in the positions held by civil servants. But the three-seat commission, which requires at least two commissioners to function, has had fewer than two members for more than six months, rendering it inoperative.

This is despite the fact that there is a sufficient number of applicants for the commission to function if they were appointed to the office, and appointments are at the discretion of the town’s mayor, Scott Hyndman. Though anyone who is a U.S. citizen, registered to vote and a resident of the town for at least three years qualifies for the position, critics have suggested that the mayor is stonewalling a candidate for the commission, Jesse Chiprez, for unknown reasons.

When Police Chief Joe Harris joined the Mattawa Police Department, every seat on the commission was filled, but since then Harris has seen each seat vacated, one after the other. Local resident Tony Acosta resigned in May, leaving only one commissioner left. That last commissioner resigned in September to move to Alaska, and the commission is now devoid of members.

This has left the small Mattawa police force unable to manage any gaps in the police force, an outsized problem when a single officer can account for as much as a third of the overall manpower for the department. With one position already vacant and another officer pregnant and due for maternity leave, Harris said the department might soon only have two officers on the road.

Chiprez originally submitted a letter of intent to the mayor in the spring of this year, and submitted another at a city council meeting in early October, but still has yet to hear from Hyndman. Acosta, who has submitted a letter of intent to rejoin the commission, has said that it seems Hyndman lacks a sense of urgency. Acosta said that the lack of response to Chiprez’ application has been particularly frustrating, given the lack of other applicants.

After attending a recent city council meeting, Chiprez said that the mayor was approached about Chiprez’ application, and that the exchange felt tense. At one point, Chiprez said that the mayor responded to questions from a city council member about the delay by simply saying, “that’s my decision,” and cutting off further conversation.

For his part, Hyndman said that he had been unable to vet Chiprez because Hyndman didn’t have contact information for the applicant and Chiprez was out of the country for several weeks after Hyndman was given that information. While Hyndman said that he planned on approving Acosta’s application, saying that, “I wish he had never left,” he declined to say whether he would approve Chiprez’.

Regarding the delay, Hyndman said that there was “a background there,” but declined to elaborate. He denied that the reasons were personal, despite allegations to the contrary.

Chiprez said that while he hopes to be put on the commission, he simply wants to receive a response so the city can move forward.

“Are there other people who’ve submitted a letter of interest and haven’t received a call?” Chiprez said. “My feelings aren’t going to be hurt if I get told they have a better candidate, but it’s an important deal in the community.”

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