After two years of subcommittees and discussions and hard feelings, local bear man Steve Searles is officially back on the job and has exactly what he wanted: his badge back.

The Mammoth Lakes Town Council unanimously approved a contract with Searles for $55,000 a year. Searles will work as an independent contractor and the agreement will be reviewed at the end of every fiscal year, beginning with 2008/09, to determine whether the need for wildlife services continues.

The money, however, is not what Searles was ever after during this whole process, he says. Searles, who admits to admiring police officers and other men in uniform, just wanted the little piece of tin that made him somewhat like his heroes. Searles held his badge for the 12 years he worked for Mammoth, but it was taken away from him by Police Chief Randy Schienle two years ago, about the same time this whole affair began.

Councilmember Skip Harvey was concerned that Searles would be given such a badge on a whim, which other officers work years to obtain. However, Mayor Pro Tem Neil McCarroll explained that it was more a display badge and not an official police officer’s badge.

“Although, Searles did have the badge for the 12 years he worked for the Town, so he probably has earned a real badge,” Councilmember John Eastman added.

Harvey conceded to awarding the contract, badge included, but added that the community should realize that “starting malicious rumors about people doesn’t get you anywhere in this town.” He was referring to all of the mudslinging that has gone on throughout this entire process and directed Town Manager Rob Clark to remove employees or contractors who participate in this type of badmouthing in the future.

Searles’ contract starts March 1.

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