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CCSO proposal gets little traction with majority of Scappoose city council.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Joel HaugenFive years ago, after the tumultuous exit of the police chief and citing budget concerns, Clatskanie dissolved its police department and contracted with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office to cover the city.

Now, some in Scappoose want to follow suit.

Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley said last year his office could provide law enforcement services for the city at a lower cost, saving the city roughly $250,000 each year.

But few in Scappoose city leadership seem interested in the proposal.

Councilor Joel Haugen said he thought the proposal at least warranted a work session with city councilors, the Sheriff's Office, and the union representing Scappoose police officers.

"I'm assuming it's dead," Haugen said of the proposal in late December, "which, from my perspective, is unfortunate."

Mayor Scott Burge told the Spotlight the county's proposal didn't seem feasible to him.PMG FILE PHOTO - Megan Greisen

"They don't have the capacity, so really, it's a non-starter," Burge said.

Bringing Scappoose into the coverage area would increase the size of the Sheriff's Office's enforcement staffing by roughly 50%.

Though the Sheriff's Office was able to bring Clatskanie into its coverage area, Scappoose's population is more than four times larger than Clatskanie — and about one-third the size, by population, of the current coverage area of the Sheriff's Office — meaning it would require a much larger expansion.

Pixley hasn't made a formal proposal to the city, although in past months, he has discussed the idea to varying degrees with Burge, Haugen and Councilor Pete McHugh.

"If the sheriff is interested in pitching some plan, anyone is able to attend a meeting," Council President Megan Greisen said. "I'm always open to options."

But, Greisen added, city councilors committed months earlier to begin the recruitment process for a {obj:59588:police chief recruitment}.

The Scappoose Police Department has seen rapid turnover in recent years.

Last August, the Scappoose Police Officers Guild issued a vote of no confidence in then-Chief Norm Miller's leadership, leading to his resignation. Even the most senior members of the department have been on the job for less than two years, and the department is still trying to fill multiple vacant roles including patrol officer and lieutenant.

At a Nov. 15 meeting of the Scappoose City Council, Haugen said he had met with Pixley earlier that day to hear about the proposal.

"This might be a good time to do a timeout and look at, and actually dive into, communities where this has worked successfully," Haugen said at the meeting.

McHugh agreed it was worth considering.

"To me, it'd be doing a disservice to our community and our citizens if we didn't at least take a look at it," McHugh said at that meeting.

Greisen disagreed, calling out Haugen at a later meeting for his Nov. 15 remarks.

"It makes us look like we're confused about what we want when we have councilors speaking out of turn," Greisen said, referring to the police chief recruitment process.

Though the Columbia County Sheriff's Office has had less public controversy than Scappoose as of late, Greisen said she hasn't seen enough evidence to back up the assumption that the local law enforcement would function better under the county's authority.

Greisen said the conversation could continue once the department has hired a chief, but she argued Scappoose shouldn't pause its efforts to recruit a permanent successor to Miller.

"We need to hold on the course of what we've committed to do here," Greisen said.

If the Sheriff's Office absorbed the department, all Scappoose officers would retain their jobs, at least in theory. Instead of being employed by the city government, they would become county employees, working for the Sheriff's Office.

But Greisen noted, "Some people like to come in, and they like to clean house. And I would imagine that that is a very vulnerable and scary feeling for the people that we employ and that we trust. To sit up here and have conversations without involving the people that actually do the work is unfortunate. It's actually a little bit cruel."

Dan Thenell, an attorney for the Scappoose Police Officers Guild, said the guild had no comment on the proposal to bring Scappoose under the aegis of the Sheriff's Office.

However, Christine Rouches, who was previously the union representative but no longer works in Scappoose, told the Spotlight she thinks the proposal is "a wonderful idea and something that is desperately needed."

The Scappoose Police Department is currently budgeted for a police chief, lieutenant, two sergeants, seven officers and an office administrator, totaling 12 employees.

The Sheriff's Office proposal suggests one lieutenant, one clerk, and eight deputies, totaling 10 employees.

Though the sheriff's standard pay range for deputies is lower than the city's — starting at $23 per hour for county deputies, compared to $26 for Scappoose police officers — the sheriff's proposal includes personnel costs far above the minimums for either agency.

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