City manager offers to take paid leave

In the wake of the murder-suicide of the city’s police chief and his wife, beleaguered Tacoma City Manager Ray Corpuz offered Monday to take a paid administrative leave from his post.

Corpuz promoted David Brame to police chief in late 2001, despite indications the 44-year-old veteran of the force was unfit for duty. Brame’s personnel file included a failed psychological evaluation dating from the time of his hire in 1981. Brame was promoted through the ranks despite a woman’s credible accusation that he raped her in 1988. Two of the city’s Human Resources advisors urged that Brame turn in his gun just one day before the shootings.

On April 26, Brame shot his estranged wife in the head before turning the gun on himself. David Brame died later that day. Crystal Brame, 35, died Saturday.

The Tacoma City Council voted 6-3 Saturday against forcing Corpuz to take a paid leave pending an investigation by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. The vote brought sharp criticism from domestic violence advocates and members of the community.

“However, upon personal reflection, I feel that stepping down temporarily is the right thing to do for our community,” Corpuz,56, said in a press release. “We need to focus on rebuilding the public’s trust in the City of Tacoma and maintain the integrity of the investigative process.”

Mayor Bill Baarsma was supportive of the move.

“He (Corpuz) has been a longtime friend and a dedicated public servant for the City of Tacoma,” Baarsma said during a half-hour press conference Monday, “and as he said to me, he said, ‘Bill, I need to do the right thing,’ and indeed he has.”

Baarsma, along with council members Mike Lonergan and Bill Evans, Saturday voted in favor of putting Corpuz on paid leave.

“I’m pleased the city manager has agreed with our feelings on this matter,” Baarsma said.

Council members Bil Moss, Kevin Phelps, Rick Talbert, Sharon McGavick, Doug Miller and Connie Ladenburg voted against temporarily removing Corpuz.

Baarsma, himself under a great deal of stress over the Brame scandal, said he has no plans to ask for a leave of absence for himself or otherwise step down.

Baarsma rebuked suggestions that a rift in the council regarding Corpuz’s status would hamstring his ability to lead.

“I intend to reach out and work with my colleagues,” he said. “I hold no ill will.”

Baarsma also rejected the notion that he pressured Corpuz into hiring Brame, noting that although he knew the Brames, he had no social relationship with David Brame and that Brame didn’t list him as a reference when he was up for the job of Tacoma Police Chief.

Brame was a student in Baarsma’s public administration class at the University of Puget Sound, where Baarsma taught for 33 years.

“I admit that over the past several days I have been emotional,” Baarsma said. “It’s been incredibly stressful for me.”

Baarsma declared Friday, May 9, as a city-wide “Day of Mourning,” urging churches, synagogues and mosques to open their doors for citizens to pray and express their grief over the death of Crystal Brame.

The mayor proposed that city employees direct all complaints of sexual harassment and domestic abuse to Tacoma’s Human Resources director for review and investigation.

Baarsma also proposed that citizens and domestic violence prevention groups like Women for Justice work with the mayor’s office to create a city-wide “Crystal Clear Act” task force to provide further protection for abuse victims.

Public Works Director William Pugh will serve as acting city manager until he, or someone else, is appointed acting city manager at tonight’s City Council meeting. Corpuz’s request for paid administrative leave will also be on the agenda.