Clarkston Mayor Monika Lawrence defended recent city salary increases and put Asotin County on notice about its plans to build a new jail near Fair and 14th streets.

The proposed jail site is not a slam dunk, she said.

At the beginning of Monday night’s Clarkston City Council meeting, the mayor read a statement in response to a Jan. 5 Lewiston Tribune article about Asotin County Commissioner Brian Shinn’s comments on the city’s 5 percent raises for four department heads.

Lawrence said Asotin County has no authority over the city of Clarkston’s government, the city’s budget process was well publicized, and no residents from the community, including Shinn, asked any questions or objected to the raises during budget workshops, public hearings and meetings.

“Instead, Mr. Shinn’s interest only seemed to be piqued once the county received a letter from our city attorney pointing out the waste of time and money involved in the county’s intended purchase of land within the city to build a jail, on a lot that does not qualify for building a jail because of zoning, and doing so in violation of our contract with the county and, more importantly, in violation of the state constitution,” Lawrence said.

“In response to our attorney’s letter, the commission complains about the city budget. Next, it is worth noting that, despite the fact that we have not even received a formal request for a zone change, it is not a given that the county will be granted a zone change which would preclude them from building the jail in their now chosen location. The county has responded that it is their intent to spend nearly $2 million to buy property that likely won’t be able to be used for the jail, and which the jail fund cannot be used to purchase.”

Asotin County officials have said they are moving forward with buying private property near 14th Street and Port Drive for a new jail. However, the city will have to approve zoning changes and a conditional-use permit before any construction on the $13.7 million project begins. The mayor indicated those changes may not be as simple as they sound on paper.

Her remarks were sparked by Shinn’s comments at the first commission meeting of the year, and an email saying the county was going through with the purchase of the land within Clarkston’s city limits.

Shinn briefly discussed the city’s budget during committee reports Jan. 4. He noted the 5 percent raises for Clarkston’s police chief, fire chief, city clerk and public works director were more than any county employee received during the upheaval of the pandemic. The city’s four department heads are now making $99,225 apiece.

Lawrence countered, saying the city officials have brought in millions of dollars in grants, are careful stewards of public funds, and manage capable and effective departments.

“They have historically been underpaid, and yet because of their careful management of funds, the city budget has been responsible and kept to a minimum,” Lawrence said. “We have lived within our budget and fulfilled the needs of the city. The same cannot be said for some of those who are (leveling) criticism at the city now.”

The mayor said the three commissioners are paid a combined total of about $180,618 in salaries and benefits, including insurance benefits and pensions. In comparison, the city pays its seven councilors and one mayor a total of $36,211 in salary and benefits, Lawrence said.

The city is transparent and provides ample budget information on its website, Lawrence said. Her complete statement can be found with this story at www.lmtribune.com.

In other city business, Councilor Skate Pierce was unanimously selected as mayor pro-tem for 2021.

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

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The full statement from Clarkston Mayor Monika Lawrence to Asotin County can be found with this story at lmtribune.com.