Banning city council approves employment contract for Bainbridge Island’s police chief

Bainbridge Island Police Chief Matthew Hamner has a new job.

The city council in Banning, California approved a three-year employment contract for Hamner at its meeting Tuesday night.

But it didn’t come without controversy: Most of the residents who spoke out about the high salary for Hamner in the contract — starting at $190,857 a year — would lead to the city of Banning’s bankruptcy.

Hamner, who declined to comment about the contract in an interview with the Review earlier this week, has already signed the new employment agreement.

Banning City Manager Doug Schulze told the Banning council Tuesday that Hamner was ready to take the job.

“He has agreed to the terms,” Schulze said.

Councilman David Happe said citizens have told them they wanted greater safety in town, and that the department had been relying on interim chiefs and officers nearing retirement.

“This is a bold move for the council to do this,” Happe said.

“This is over the allotted budget,” he said, but added that it was an investment in Banning, safety and the betterment of the community and its reputation.

“I’ve been asked by the voters to do something along these lines,” Happe said, and asked his fellow council members for a unanimous vote.

Banning Councilwoman Daniela Andrade agreed, and said it was hiring “one of the best.”

“We definitely need this,” she said.

Banning Councilman Don Peterson, however, raised concerns about the proposed salary, annual salary increases, a proposed advance in vacation days, and $18,000 toward relocation costs.

The actual salary package including benefits will be $220,857, Peterson said.

The councilman also noted that Hamner’s contract calls for 96 hours of sick leave annually, with the right to cash in 96 hours of sick leave each year.

“Now he gets a $13,000 bonus,” Peterson added.

He also questioned why the city was paying for two trips for Hamner and his family to visit Banning, as well as the relocation financing. (Hamner has made two visits to California to hunt for a house, city officials said.)

“By the time this thing is all said and done … that’s $37,500. Now we’re up to $267,500,” Peterson said.

He then cited a long list of statistics that compared Banning to Bainbridge Island, including population diversity, home values, family income, poverty rates and more.

He wondered why a city that could afford to pay the chief more money, such as Bainbridge Island, wouldn’t, while Banning, which couldn’t, was going to.

Hamner was going to be paid $70,000 more than Banning’s recent interim chief, Peterson added.

“We’re going way overboard,” noting the city was running a $200,000 deficit.

“This is a small town that is poverty ridden. What is this council thinking? I am beside myself. And it’s not about the individual,” Peterson said, adding that Hamner was well qualified.

Even so, it was an example of the city being run financially into the ground.

“If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it,” he said, and warned the city would end up in bankruptcy.

Citizens who testified before the vote called the contract “ridiculous” and said the city was “giving away the farm” with the contract, said the arrangement was a deal between Schulze and “his best friend,” and agreed that the contract amount would be a financial stretch for the city.

“I don’t think we need someone who walks on water like this guy,” said one citizen, who said the city should have hired somebody closer to Banning.

“This is ridiculous for our community,” another added. “It is a sin for us to give away money we don’t have.”

The contract was approved on a 4-1 vote.

Hamner is following former Bainbridge city manager to the town of roughly 30,000 in Riverside County, Calif. Schulze was hired as Banning’s new city manager last year, and last fall, Schulze asked Hamner if he was interested in taking the police chief job in Banning.

Under the terms of the contract with Banning, Hamner will get an annual salary of $190,857. The salary amounts to a $14,000 increase over what the city of Banning previously paid for the top step in the chief’s compensation package.

Hamner begins working for the city of Banning on Feb. 11, according to the contract.

The move isn’t a complete surprise; Hamner announced in November that he had a potential job prospect in Banning, known as “Stagecoach Town, USA,” given Schulze’s move to California.

Hamner took over as chief of the island’s police force in 2013. He signed a new employment contract with the city of Bainbridge Island in May 2018.

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