Fed up with city administrator, Selah police chief retires early

Rick Hayes Ycso
Courtesy: Yakima County Sheriff's Office

SELAH, Wash. — When the now-former police chief of Selah suddenly retired last month, he sent a letter to the mayor saying he could no longer deal with the city administrator.

According to the letter, the Aug. 31 early retirement of former chief Richard Hayes was sparked by an ongoing conflict between Selah city leadership and its police force — a conflict revolving around City Administrator Donald Wayman.

“While I had many wonderful and positive years working for the city, the last few years have not been as positive or joyous,” said Hayes, who served as a police officer in Selah for more than 27 years and as the police chief for the past eight years.

In the letter, Hayes said the city administrator’s management style and the way he treats employees not only set in motion his departure, but the resignation of a fellow officer and gave rise to several more police and city employees looking for work elsewhere.

The letter criticizes Mayor Sherry Raymond’s decisions regarding Wayman and her lack of action regarding complaints made about him.”I told you that [Wayman] micro-manages to the point I no longer felt like I was an effective leader within the police department and that I felt he was using the police department as a tool in this conflict over chalk art,” Hayes said, referring to a July 31 conversation with the mayor.

Mayor Raymond did not respond Thursday to KAPP-KVEW’s requests for comment.

Controversial chalk art policies draw public criticism

The existing issues between Wayman and the police department came to a head this summer, as Selah residents took to the streets to protest the killing of George Floyd and voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

After one such protest, Wayman drew public criticism after making controversial remarks about the BLM movement, saying the march sounded like “Communist indoctrination” and that BLM is “based on neo-Marxism.”

When previously asked about his comments, Wayman told KAPP-KVEW: “My personal opinion about the Black Lives Matter movement is my opinion only; it doesn’t represent the city. I will, of course, stand by my opinion but it does not represent the city.”

As the national outcry over Floyd’s death continued, a Selah family decided to express their support by creating a BLM chalk art piece on the dead-end street in front of their house.

Within days, city staff were sent to pressure-wash the chalk off the street. The family enlisted friends and neighbors to repeatedly recreate the artwork, which was washed away every time.

The city eventually announced that chalk art on streets, sidewalks and other city property was considered graffiti and as such, was illegal under the city’s municipal code.

“We don’t believe city property is the appropriate place for expressing your artistic tendencies or political beliefs,” Wayman previously told KAPP-KVEW.

Later, city officials told the family they could face up to a year in jail or up to a $5,000 fine if they continued to draw chalk on their street in support of Black Lives Matter.

Selah police union speaks out against Wayman, city chalk art policy

Teamsters Local Union 760 — the Selah Police Department union — published a letter July 31 telling the mayor that the city’s chalk art policy was negatively affecting the usually strong relationship between police officers and Selah residents and making the officers’ jobs more difficult.

“The actions and provocations by the city administrator concerning protesters have inflamed a volatile situations which we fear places the citizenry and officers at risk,” union representative Dave Simmons said in the letter.

Simmons told KAPP-KVEW that Wayman had gone as far as to direct police officers to arrest people creating chalk art — an order the union said it found “deeply concerning.”

Selah residents, the police union and Hayes — in his letter to the mayor — have all voiced a belief that the chalk art policy is directed at political speech Wayman disagrees with, specifically support of the BLM movement.

Simmons said that until recently, Selah residents could and did express a variety of viewpoints using chalk art as a mode of communication — without interference from the city.

“Now, however, the city has directed police officers to take action against those who use chalk art in support of a particular political view under the theory that such an act now constitutes a criminal act,” Simmons said in the letter.

Simmons said officers voiced their concerns to the union that targeting purveyors of political speech at the direction of the city would be a violation of the citizens’ constitutional rights to free speech — something the police department is adamant about protecting.

“Whether that message is something they agree with or not, officers believe they have an absolute duty to defend people’s rights,” Simmons said.

When officers declined to make arrests, Wayman reportedly asked them to find and identify individuals creating the chalk art — a direction Simmons said officer still believe to be unconstitutional.

Simmons said individual police officers can be held liable for a constitutional violation in the line of duty; that’s why he asked the city to provide police officers with proof that its orders were within the bounds of the Constitution.

“Given the gravity of the moment, I ask that you give this matter your immediate attention,” Simmons said.

Former chief says low morale sparked departure, despite city’s claims

Hayes said when city officials announced the police chief’s retirement and the resignation of Ofc. Nick Singletary last month, they didn’t disclose to the public that both departures were sparked by issues with the city administrator.

“Instead of telling people the real reason we were leaving, the city started telling people that it was something that I had been thinking about doing and that it was not a surprise,” Hayes said, adding that he was offended by the explanations.

Hayes said the city announced Singletary was leaving to pursue a career in education, but failed to mention that the timing of his departure was in response to Wayman’s treatment of the police department.

“[Singletary] said that the straw that pushed him towards that goal was city policies being pushed by you and Mr. Wayman,” Hayes said.

Simmons said he’s heard from other officers that are considering leaving the police department for similar reasons. Hayes said he’s had officers’ wives tell him they are encouraging their husbands to retire or look for jobs elsewhere.

In his letter to the mayor, Hayes said it’s likely more city employees will leave soon, not just those at the police department. He said he’s spoken with other department heads in the city that share his concerns about city administration.

“Morale is extremely low,” Simmons said. “They’re going to lose those employees because the officers and employees don’t like being put in a position that they’re currently in.”

At least three more city employees have recently left or announced they’d soon be leaving, though it’s unclear as to whether their departures are based on similar reasons.

“My fear is that the loss of employees is going to increase,” Hayes said.

Former chief says city ‘steamrolled’ search for his replacement 

In his letter to the mayor, Hayes criticized the city’s search for his replacement, saying that the city had charged forward to find an outside hire despite the fact they already had an agreed-upon succession plan in place.

Hayes said over the past seven years, he’s groomed Deputy Chief Eric Steen to take over when he leaves. He said Steen has sat beside him on all major decisions and through every budget process, and has all the training required by law for him to become chief.

“The whole idea was if I was to die on the job and not give any notice, the deputy chief could step right in and do my job,” Hayes said.

Hayes said the mayor and city council previously approved the succession plan, which was set in place to ensure an easy transition of leadership. Instead, Hayes said the city moved forward with its own search for a new chief, one that did not involve Steen taking over.

When asked about this change of plans at an Aug. 25 council meeting, Raymond said she didn’t want to be accused of favoritism by promoting someone from within the department, which is why she decided to open up the selection process.

“I didn’t feel that it was a good idea for Don or I to choose a chief because that chief would not be given a chance because people would think that we picked him,” Raymond said.

In his letter, Hayes described the mayor’s answer as “laughable,” pointing to the fact that the city is promoting the current deputy fire chief from within, having him take over from Selah Fire Chief Gary Hanna when he retires next year.

“To say that you didn’t want to appear to show favoritism by filling my spot from within, but don’t feel that way in filling the fire chief’s position from within, makes no sense,” Hayes said.

At the meeting, city officials said the situation with the fire chief’s replacement is different due to the involvement of the fire commission and isn’t comparable to the replacement of the police chief.

In just over a month, the City of Selah advertised the police chief position, talked with potential candidates, screened them through a five-person selection committee and voted to make a formal offer to the incoming chief.

“The recruitment of my replacement is being steam rolled forward at a pace that is going to be disastrous,” Hayes said.

Wayman said five candidates applied, with one dropping out before the selection process, leaving four to be examined by the selection committee. He said the mayor also sat in on the testing and questioning of the candidates.

The committee included Wayman as the chairman, community member Bill Harris, Yakima police Capt. Jay Seely, former council member and retired Washington State Patrol trooper John Tierney and council member Cliff Peterson.

Wayman said the panel voted unanimously to select Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission program manager Daniel Christman. The names of the other candidates were not disclosed.

“It was competitive, but Mr. Christman was our choice,” Wayman said. “He has a great background, great set of qualifications.”

Christman previously served as second-in-command at the Sunnyside Police Department and has served in law enforcement leadership roles since 1997. Christman should begin his tenure as police chief between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15, pending a background check, polygraph test and reference checks.

Public, police call for independent investigation of Wayman

While city officials have said they’re conducting an internal investigation into complaints against Wayman, the police union and the public have urged the city to allow for an independent, external investigation.

Simmons said part of that request has to do with Wayman’s high-up position within the city, which places him under the mayor’s direction but with almost the entire city staff reporting to him .

According to Simmons, that means whomever is conducting the internal investigation likely reports to Wayman and no matter their intentions, may not feel comfortable investigating someone who holds authority over them — making an external investigation necessary.

City officials have reportedly refused, saying that the internal investigation they’re conducting is enough. Simmons said the city did say they might be willing to open an external investigation if the police department employees who complained about Wayman to the union would come forward and name themselves publicly.

Simmons said that’s unlikely, as many of the complainants wanted the union to represent their concerns out of fear that Wayman might retaliate against them if he knew their names.

In his letter to the mayor, Hayes alleged something of that nature had already happened after Wayman somehow found out the name of a police department employee who complained to the city’s human resources department about him.

Later, during a discussion about what positions could be cut withing the police department to make room in the budget for hiring new officers, Hayes said Wayman asked the deputy chief if they “really needed” several positions — one of which belonged to the complainant.

“In my opinion, this reeks of retaliation, since the employee that made the complaint is one of the positions he asked about,” Hayes said.

Residents, former police chief call for mayor to remove Wayman

“Why is Mr. Wayman still employed by the City of Selah?” Hayes said. “Firing him without cause would be the most economical way to sever his employment.”

In his letter to the mayor, Hayes called on the mayor — who is responsible for the hiring and removal of the city administrator — to fire Wayman from his position in the city.

“In our conversation you agreed that you needed to do something about Mr. Wayman and told me at least three times, ‘I get it,'” Hayes said of the mayor. “Employees have complained about conduct of Mr. Wayman toward them and others … Nothing was done.”

Selah residents have held protests calling for Wayman’s firing and have sent in public comments to be read at council meetings asking the mayor to do something about his actions and rhetoric toward BLM supporters.

Wayman’s opponents have created a “Fire Donald Wayman” website dedicated to presenting the case for his removal, as well as a timeline of relevant issues that have come up throughout his career in Selah.

The website directs concerned community members to contact their local officials and sign an online petition to remove Wayman from his position. The petition had garnered more than 3,200 signatures as of Thursday evening.

Despite public outcry, Raymond has refused to remove Wayman from his position. She previously published a proclamation in support of Wayman after his remarks about the BLM movement.

“Mr. Wayman continues to have my full support as our city administrator,” Raymond said. “His personal political views are his own. He is entitled to his opinions, no different than how each rally attendee is entitled to his or her own opinions.”

Raymond has continued her support of Wayman, including a “strongly-worded” letter read at a July 28 council meeting, in which she addressed by name community members who have voiced criticism of Wayman or the city.

“You people know who you are. None of you will ever hold any sway on matters of policy as long as I’m mayor,” Raymond said. “None of you know anything about justice. You are just spewing and spreading hate among our city’s citizens.”

Raymond’s response to requests for the investigation and removal of Wayman has left citizens wondering what comes next. Selah resident Maxwell Clark voiced his concerns by submitting a public comment, which was read at Tuesday’s meeting:

“I am frustrated that the SPD is being ignored when they ask that chalk not be considered graffiti. I am frustrated that the voices of Selah citizens have been suppressed. I am frustrated that Selah citizens protesting for positive change have been labeled as violent and bad actors. I am frustrated that Donald Wayman is still being employed by the City of Selah despite the public outcry and negative image he is creating. I am frustrated that nothing is changing. I don’t want to be frustrated any longer. Please listen to the people you are supposed to be serving.”