Auburn promotes Pierson to top cop

Leaders give sendoff to retiring police chief and City attorney, name new chief

Newly-appointed Auburn Police Chief William Pierson talks about his role as Mayor Nancy Backus listens during Monday’s announcement at City Hall. COURTESY PHOTO

Newly-appointed Auburn Police Chief William Pierson talks about his role as Mayor Nancy Backus listens during Monday’s announcement at City Hall. COURTESY PHOTO

Auburn’s leaders gave a heart-felt sendoff to two retiring department heads — Police Chief Bob Lee and City Attorney Dan Heid – at Monday’s City Council meeting.

And in the case of its chief of police, the City continued a long-established tradition of filling the void by placing at the head of the police department one of its own who had come up through the ranks — Cmdr. William Pierson.

Mayor Nancy Backus led the tributes.

“Bob has been nothing short of a tremendous leader in this city,” Backus said. “He has led with dignity, with grace, with compassion, and also holding the officers in our department accountable at all times. He is a servant leader at all times.

“There have been numerous times his family has gone above and beyond, so that we in the city of Auburn have had the leadership of such a good man,” Backus said.

Then Backus, struggling to keep tears in check, added, “When you have a friend you’re not going to be seeing on a daily basis, it’s a little tough to take.”

“We can call each other,” Lee consoled.

Lee began his career with the APD on June 1, 1981 as a patrolman. In 1987 the department made him field-training officer. In 1988 he became a police detective, in 1990 he was promoted to sergeant and member of the SWAT team, and from there to lieutenant, assistant chief, deputy police chief, and in 2010 police chief.

For Pierson, it all adds up to a big pair of shiny shoes to fill.

“This is a huge honor,” Pierson said. “I didn’t think about it a lot, but I do know that the guy you honored tonight, he’s been wanting this to happen,” Pierson, momentarily overcome by the moment, said of Lee.

“I appreciate the council for all your work, supporting me and being this for me, and then (the mayor) having the wherewithal to give me such a great honor. It doesn’t come lightly, and it’s very important, and I know that it comes with a huge responsibility, and I totally get that,” Pierson said.

“…We’ve hired some of the best talent, I think, in the last eight years, 67 new officers, and they’re all top notch. Very proud of that group,” Pierson said.

Pierson officially becomes chief on Saturday.

A farewell to Heid

As for Heid, Backus began by recalling her anticipation of “sitting down and doing a little light reading” on her first official day in office.

But Heid, she noted, was right behind her when the thought flashed in her mind, and he had other plans.

“He said, ‘Mayor, we need to talk.’ And it’s kind of been like that ever since, hasn’t it, Dan?” Backus asked.

“I just won’t shut up,” Heid said, drawing laughter.

Then, on a more serious note, Backus said of Heid:

“You have kept us out of trouble as much as we can possibly be kept out of it. You have provided guidance that will serve us well for many years. And when it comes to public meetings, I will remember that you have put the fear of God into me about having an illegal public meeting. I will not violate that. I will always remind people of what Dan has said about making sure we have no string meetings, no chain meetings, no serial meetings, flat out, no meetings that we are not supposed to have,” Backus said.

Heid has been Auburn’s attorney for more than 16 years.

The City has already chosen Heid’s replacement – present Port Townsend City Attorney Steven Gross, who served Auburn as its assistant city attorney from November 2008 to July 2014.

Before coming to Auburn, Gross was a senior assistant city attorney for the City of Tacoma, and before that he was deputy legal council for the Pierce County Council from November 2003 to October 2006.

Heid’s retirement caps a legal career spent entirely in the public sector. Before coming to Auburn, he was city attorney for the then-new City of Lakewood, and before that he was attorney in turn for the cities of SeaTac and the Eastern Washington cities of Sunnyside and Toppenish. Prior to that, Heid was an assistant city attorney for the City of Chehalis, and fresh out of law school he was deputy prosecuting attorney for Lewis County.

He graduated from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego in 1975. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

“I’ve enjoyed very much what I’ve done,” Heid said. “I’ve worked with some terrific people, and I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of things I can say of, ‘Hey, I can account for what I was doing that day.’

“That doesn’t mean everything goes the way you want. Sometimes the City gets sued, and you’d rather it had not done that. But if something doesn’t go the way you want it to, that doesn’t take away from the fact that you put your effort in, and you appreciated the opportunity to make a difference.”

Heid and his wife of 45 years, Cheryl, have a constellation of kids and grandkids, and none of them here, he said, so they plan to hit the road and see more of them in the days to come.

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