Upheaval in West Richland spoils mayor's first week

It didn't even take a day before West Richland's new mayor was in serious need of some damage control.

In fact, Mayor Donna Noski entangled herself in controversy before she was officially sworn in a week ago.

By the time she took the oath, news already had spread all over town about her housecleaning at city hall that left the city administrator and police chief looking for new jobs.

Oddly, Noski's rough start illustrates both the right and wrong way for a public official to launch major initiatives.

It's tough to find much wrong with the way she handled plans to oust city administrator Dave Weiser and take over the duties herself.

We're not enamored with the move. Part of the reason we recommended voters support Noski's opponent in the last election was our concern that her proposal would eliminate a valuable check on the mayor's power.

But Noski, who has served on the city council and as interim city administrator, was perfectly transparent about her plan.

She campaigned on the notion she'd do the work and save taxpayers the expense of an administrator. This year's budget for the position is $137,700, including salary and benefits.

Our arguments against the move failed to convince many West Richland voters. Noski won easily with nearly 56 percent of the vote.

We can't fault the new mayor for viewing her victory as a mandate and moving forward with plans to run West Richland's day-to-day operations.

And if she'd stopped there, critics -- including the editorial board -- would have to admit that Noski was merely delivering on her campaign promise.

But during her first hours on the job, the mayor also asked Police Chief Layne Erdman to resign. The sudden move and weak explanations damaged her standing with at least a portion of the public and some council members.

Public safety is a critical function of any local government, and everyone in West Richland has a stake in decisions that affect police operations.

Noski's belated comments -- that she wants to see the police department go in a new direction -- fell short of the explanation that West Richland voters deserve.

What new direction? Why isn't Erdman the right person to lead the transition? What's the hurry? Legitimate questions, all unanswered so far.

That's not the sort of leadership Noski promised before the election.

One alert Herald reader dredged up some of Noski's campaign literature and posted excerpts on the Herald's website. That was a good move worth repeating.

During the election, Noski promised voters "open and continuous forms of communication and feedback" and to be "truthful and candid."

"And finally, I will act with inclusiveness, decisiveness, and transparency in serving the citizens of West Richland," Noski wrote.

That sounds like a winning formula for building public trust in a municipal administration. Voters just need to see Noski put the elements she promised into practice.