In the last three years, the citizens of Lebanon have probably heard more about the inner workings of its police department and city management than it has in a while.
We have seen five different faces in the position of chief: Mike Healy, who retired in 2010 after 11 and a half years. Mike Schulte served as interim chief until Thor Dahle was recruited and hired from Minnesota. He left in June 2011, 10 months after accepting the job and five months after the assistant city manager/human resources manager, HR assistant and payroll specialist relocated to the justice center.
Schulte took the interim chief job again to help out in the department.
In March 2012, 13 people applied for the chief’s job, including Ben Silverman. After offering the job to Mark Daniel he accepted and then changed his mind and then to Jeffrey Chen, who was embroiled in controversy in his home department near Seattle, Silverman was offered the job and accepted.
Now Frank Stevenson fills the role as interim chief.
Meanwhile, the police department has faced many challenges, including a detective who was in a coma for about a month, an officer-involved shooting, culling turkeys, and the Teamsters’ local calling for the elimination of two city administrator positions.
Its building, which so impressed chief candidates in both the 2010 recruitment and in the one held in 2012, is now shared with administration who seem to be controlling promotions and mirco-managing how officers and staff work together.
We are incredulous that, in Silverman’s final evaluation with the city he served for 17 years, his “lack of decision making regarding staffing” is credited as causing low morale in the department.
“Overall, a fear of speaking to Assistant City Manager (Ginger) Allen regarding employment-related concerns was expressed by multiple employees throughout the city,” Renee Starr said in her investigation into the workplace environment of the justice center in September 2012.
She further said management employees in the justice center described Allen as “difficult, aggressive, and sometimes argumentative.”
Starr’s investigation showed distrust in both Allen and City Manager John Hitt.
If morale is low in the justice center and in the police department, we would argue that Starr’s report points to a more logical reason than Silverman, just six months into his first chief position, not immediately hiring and promoting people.
We would say the instability in the leadership position coupled with fear of retaliation — whether real or perceived — would cause a low morale amongst anyone, sworn officer or not.
In January 2011, the Teamsters joined ranks with members of Oregon American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, council 75, to call for the elimination of two administrator positions before accepting further layoffs or cuts in the unions’ ranks.
Some of the cost-cutting options presented to officers at that time included layoffs, not filling open positions, closing the jail and no longer prosecuting misdemeanors. In fact, according to the 2013 State of the Cities report by the League of Oregon Cities, Lebanon has stopped prosecuting misdemeanors.
It must take a toll on morale knowing that charges against bad guys may not even be followed through in court. Lebanon’s crime rate was below state average in 2009, for the first time in at least seven years. Since then, it has climbed steadily, from 411 to more than 500.
We find it unbelievable that one of the things Silverman was marked down on was because he took weeks to clean up the chief’s office so it would be presentable to the public and staff.
It was our understanding he never moved into the office that was built for Lebanon’s chief of police.
The office he occupied was in the back of the building, away from the tall bullet-proof windows that lined the chief’s office when Healy helped design the building.
Finally, Allen took Silverman’s gun, keys and car on or before Jan. 17. His “severance agreement” is dated Jan. 17. Hitt told the Lebanon Express that Silverman’s last day was Jan. 25.
This is just one of the many anomalies in the Silverman file and illustrates the complete lack of communication between employees and the public.
City management couldn’t decide when Silverman’s last day was.
We are hopeful that the city council has made finding a city manager a priority. We see it as absolutely the No. 1 job of the council right now, and hope whoever is hired will take whatever steps are necessary to clean out city hall and hire a permanent police chief.