We love Ron Rasmussen, but being police chief is not a popularity contest

 

Publisher’s perspective

 

When I first heard that Ephraim Police Chief Ron Rasmussen had been placed on administrative leave, my reaction was, “Oh no. Not Ron.”

I’ve known Ron Rasmussen for most of the 16-plus years I’ve owned the Messenger. Although he has not always returned my calls seeking information for police stories, he’s a heck of a nice guy and I’ve enjoyed working with him.

I remember thinking, “I can’t imagine Ron has done anything wrong.” I was relieved when Ephraim City Manager Brant Hanson told me that the administrative leave didn’t necessarily imply wrongdoing.

I thought, “They probably targeted him because he’s head of the police department and accountable for everything that goes on, even though he himself probably didn’t do anything wrong.” But it turned out the focus of the investigation was Rasmussen himself.

The reporting I and other Messenger staff members have done over the past three days has practically sent my head spinning on its axis.

I have been forced to conclude that as warm a person as he is, as much as he has done for youth, Snow College and average people in the community, Rasmussen has not been the best police chief.

That’s the dilemma of living in a small community. You get to know people, like them and love them. But that doesn’t mean a given friend or neighbor is a good public administrator, school superintendent or mayor, or runs their company ethically. How do you walk that line, especially if you are the publisher of the local newspaper?

Let me say a few things about the Rasmussen case.

For a police officer, failure to file incident reports is a serious matter. It means information gathered in the initial stages of investigation is not available for further investigation. It can mean prosecutors do not have information needed to decide whether to file charges, or what kind of charges apply.

Another problem with incomplete reports is that they can be a cover for failing to pursue a case and for letting potential suspects go. We have some strong evidence in this week’s paper suggesting that is what happened in a child sexual abuse case reported by a woman named Rachelle Adair. Rasmussen handled (or, based on evidence, failed to handle) the case.  (See article below).

I’m not an attorney, but I fear Adair might have grounds for a liability suit against the city.

I reject any suggestion that the three officers who resigned are simply disgruntled employees. I met with them. I talked with them. They were articulate, they remembered details, and they took care to make sure everything they said was factually accurate. They did not go into tirades criticizing their superiors.

It is significant that there were three of them: All three of were saying the same things about the police report issue and about Rasmussen’s work habits.

I do think the officers were perhaps inflexible in rejecting proposals from the city administration under which Rasmussen might have resigned and a new chief been appointed without an investigation.

The officers were convinced some of Rasmussen’s omissions were criminal and wanted to see charges filed. But even in pursuing justice, there’s a place for being practical, compassionate and going for the best outcome.

Meanwhile, in light of the information that has come out in the past week, I have to ask: Is Ron Rasmussen worth what Ephraim City is paying him? Our reporting shows he is one of the highest paid police chiefs in Utah in a city of comparable size to Ephraim.

As of July 1, his salary will be just under $89,000. The city is also contributing $23,000 to his 401K. That’s because, since he “retired in place” in 2010, the Utah State Retirement System is no longer requiring or accepting retirement contributions on his behalf.

So the city is putting $23,000, the amount it would have put into his URS account if he had not retired, into his 401K. The city is not legally obligated to make such a contribution.

Rasmussen’s total compensation from the city coffers, not counting benefits, comes to $112,000. With retirement pay, he’s getting just under $130,000.

No doubt, Ron Rasmussen is a popular person. He’s popular with me. But as police chief, he’s not in a popularity contest.

Recently, Utah Business magazine gave awards to top managers “who combine subject-matter expertise with a leadership philosophy that lifts up those around him.”

That sounds like a good job description for a police chief, one I hope Rasmussen will be able to live up to.