Mattawa looks to the legislature to make filling agency easier

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To combat the difficulties Mattawa has had filling its Civil Service Commission, the town is deploying municipal lawyer Katherine Kenison to lobby the legislature to simplify the process during the upcoming legislative session.

Mattawa has struggled to fill the commission, a government agency which oversees hiring, firing and promotions in local police and fire departments, and is meant as a buffer between these processes and the elected officials who oversee civil employees. Were the mayor or police chief attempt to hire or fire a police officer without the commission’s input, it would be a misdemeanor offense.

Now, down one officer and another about to earn maternity leave, the town may soon find itself unable to keep its police force fully staffed.

The three-seat commission has had insufficient members to fulfill its duties on and off for the better part of a year, and although there are two applicants currently awaiting approval by the mayor, there is currently no one serving in the agency. Even when there are a sufficient number of applicants, the churn of commissioners means a regular loss of needed expertise, Kenison said.

To make it easier to recruit and retain commissioners, Kenison wants the legislature to reduce the qualification that applicants must be a resident for three years to one year, and to also allow towns in the same county to merge commissions. This would widen the applicant pool, Kenison said, meaning vacancies could likely be filled sooner.

Kenison said that she has pitched the idea to local legislators and doesn’t expect too much pushback from the legislature. She said she’d be surprised if there wasn’t at least a reduction in the residency requirement, but worries that revisiting a law from almost a century ago could tempt lawmakers to complicate a simple bill with “friendly amendments”--which may cause as many problems for small towns as they fix.

The legislative session begins Jan. 14, and any modifications to existing law likely wouldn’t come into effect before late July, 90 days after the session ends.

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