Prosser is without 3 of its top officials

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldOctober 24, 2012 

PROSSER -- The recent resignation of Prosser's interim city administrator has left this Lower Valley city without three of its top officials.

Cathleen Koch, who has been filling in as Prosser's finance director and interim city administrator, has taken a position with the city of Richland. She will be replacing Ron Musson, who retired. She will start her new job Nov. 5.

Prosser also is without a police chief and has been recruiting candidates with help from the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs.

"We had four finalists for police chief and had settled on two candidates, but during follow-up negotiations they dropped themselves out of the running," said Mayor Paul Warden.

But he hopes the city will hire a new police chief soon.

"We actually have another candidate to bring for the department heads and council to meet and interview," he said.

Warden, Koch and other city staff discussed several options to replace Koch at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Options included having the mayor take over the duties of city administrator, in addition to serving as mayor -- either as an interim position or until his term as mayor is over in 2015.

"In order to have him do that, we'd need to pay him a living wage," said Councilman Morgan Everett.

As mayor, Warden makes $500 a month and works full-time as a corrections officer in Oregon. He would need to quit his job to work full time for the city.

"If it was an interim position and we hired a full-time city administrator, by law we can't reduce his pay until the end of his term," said Mayor Pro Tem Randy Taylor. "In that case, we'd be paying two high salaries and I'm not sure the city can afford that."

After almost an hour of discussion, the council voted to hold a special meeting to further discuss it on Oct. 30.

"Next Tuesday we'll just have to cut the mustard and make a decision because Cathleen will only be with us until Nov. 2," said Taylor.

Warden told the council he's confident he can do the job as city administrator. Koch agreed, saying, "In the past months I've worked closely with Paul and find him a very charismatic leader who has the ability to influence people. He has the willingness, drive and ambition to do what it takes to be successful."

Koch has been serving as interim city administrator since Charlie Bush left at the end of June. At that time she was serving as deputy city administrator but, even when Bush was here, he had been mentoring her, said Warden.

"Already she had been doing a lot of the day to day running of the city," the mayor said.

The mayor, who makes all appointments to city positions with the council's blessing, said he had planned to make her position as city administrator permanent.

"But Richland swooped her up," he said.

Richland City Manager Cindy Johnson spoke highly of Koch's skills in a news release.

"Cathleen is very well respected in her field, comes highly recommended and I am excited to have her bring a different dimension to the city."

That excitement has touched Koch too. After working for Prosser for eight years, she said, "Leaving Prosser is sad in some ways but very exciting in others. I'm excited about the opportunities I'll have at Richland."

She'll be doing some of the same duties at Richland that she's done at Prosser -- overseeing overall operations, budgets and staff.

"But I'll also be taking on fleet management and overseeing the warehouse which will be new," she said.

Warden said, "It's tough to see her go. She's been very much a wonderful leader and friend and I've enjoyed working with her."

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