Outgoing Vancouver Police Chief Cliff Cook to get $106k severance

Chief Cliff Cook's contract allowed for 180 days severance

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Vancouver PD Chief Cliff Cook's employment contract

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Outgoing Vancouver Police Chief Cliff Cook will take the better part of a year’s pay — about $106,000 — with him when he leaves his position Sept. 1.

According to Cook’s contract, he gets six months worth of severance pay and benefits after his departure, at a value of about $80,000, City Manager Eric Holmes said Wednesday. Added to that is about $26,000 in unused leave payouts, to which all city employees are entitled when they leave, Holmes said. Cook, 57, earned $138,420 last year.

Cook’s resignation was announced July 13 and was described as a “mutual decision” between the city manager and the five-year police chief that the department needed “fresh leadership.”

Holmes said that the severance is “consistent with the terms of employment laid out at his original point of hire.” The agreement also releases both Cook and the city from any future claims.

Such severance agreements are common among top municipal figures: Former Ridgefield City Manager George Fox got $247,500 in severance when he left the city in July 2006; former Washougal Finance Director Jeffrey Bivens got $45,835 when he was fired in December 2009.

Still, Holmes replied that he had “no comment” about whether it is justified to provide a half-year’s worth of compensation to someone who may not be performing to standards.

Cook's contract stipulates he can only be fired for just cause including but not limited to "dishonesty or willful misconduct including but not limited to fraud, embezzlement, theft, criminal conduct, misfeasance or malfeasance, or any act of moral turpitude."

Instead, Holmes and Cook had an “ongoing discussion about the future, and reached a conclusion it was time for a change of leadership,” the city manager said.

The city’s police department has for years been marred by tension between the rank-and-file union members and top brass. Much of it began before Cook’s arrival in 2007 from Fort Worth, Texas, but in 2010, the Vancouver Police Guild passed a vote of no confidence against Cook. Cook was also brought in to pass a levy to support the expansion of Vancouver’s police — instead, he was forced into cutbacks and layoffs as the economy worsened.

One sign that Cook’s time may have been short: His latest two-year contract, approved by former City Manager Pat McDonnell, expired June 30; Holmes extended it for just two months, to Aug. 30. Cook’s resignation is effective Sept. 1.

Interviews are underway for an interim replacement, Holmes said.

“I’m looking for somebody who can bring a fresh perspective to the organization and to me, and who does not have long term interests in permanent appointment,” Holmes said. “I’m also looking for someone who can provide not only stability but an assessment of our strengths and weaknesses.”

Holmes said there will be a nationwide search for Cook’s replacement.

“As we go through the search, I want to engage the department and engage the community about what kind of leader we want,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s somebody who understands the environment we work in, in Washington state,” adding that means they have a grasp of both labor and taxing structures here.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall; andrea.damewood@columbian.com.