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Mabton mayor dodges police supervision questions

MABTON - Questions posed by fellow councilmen, audience members and police officers that should have prompted routine answers from Mabton Mayor Velva Herrera instead sparked a heated, childish debate at last night's regularly scheduled Mabton City Council meeting.

Herrera was asked by Mabton resident Maria Rose what the status was on the hiring of a new police department head.

When Mabton Council approved the city budget late last year, the police chief position was eliminated. At the time, council members Angel Reyna and Mario Martinez pointed to an existing ordinance that called for a chief of operations in the police department, as well as a public safety administrator. The councilmen informed the mayor of city policy which outlines the qualifications for the chief of operations position and said that only one officer on the Mabton force currently qualifies: Officer Anthony Russell. They also noted that the person appointed to the position must be approved by council.

When Rose asked Herrera the question, her response was, "I haven't done anything about it because I've been working with the auditors."

Councilman Reyna asked why that is. "I want to make sure you follow policy," he said to the mayor.

Things rapidly went downhill from there, with Herrera refusing to answer questions and threatening to adjourn the meeting if questioning persisted.

Reyna persisted, saying that only Russell qualified for the position. He also told Herrera that he was concerned about her practices. "This is a liability issue. There is only one person that qualifies. My concern is you're going to circumvent the process."

Mabton Officer T.J. Orth jumped into the fray and asked Herrera, "Why is it that people are secretly getting sent to administrative first level supervision training?"

Herrera responded to the officer, "Who invited you to this meeting?"

Herrera told those present that Officer Carl Ramirez was sent to the training. When questioned about the cost of the training, Herrera said it is free.

Russell then told the mayor that the cost of the training is free only to a person that is a supervisor, otherwise it costs $300. "You don't have to pay tuition on the class if the person is promoted," Russell said. The mayor denied this.

Herrera was then asked by Reyna if Ramirez has been promoted to chief of operations. She stated he has not.

Councilwoman Vera Zavala was concerned with whether or not the city is operating legally without a chief of operations. No one had a definitive answer for that.

Orth asked why equipment accounts were put in Ramirez's name, and why he is now listed as the Mabton contact for the Yakima County Sheriff's office.

Herrera responded sarcastically, "Why? Did you want it in your name?"

Martinez asked Herrera, "Is it your intent to make Carl Ramirez chief of operations?"

She responded, "I refuse to answer that."

Reyna noted that if she does appoint Ramirez, it will not be following the city's policies, past or present, or the ordinance.

And, added Russell, "It doesn't follow the city's collective bargaining agreement with the union."

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