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City's top cop Sullivan resigns

After just 30 months on the job, Hillsboro Police Chief Carey Sullivan has decided to step away from his role as the city’s top law enforcement officer. His resignation is effective Saturday, March 9.Carey Sullivan

“I have reached the difficult decision to resign from my position with the city effective March 9 in order to pursue other interests,” Sullivan wrote in a March 2 resignation letter addressed to Hillsboro City Manager Michael Brown. “It has been my honor to serve the city of Hillsboro as its chief of police for the past two and a half years. My time at Hillsboro has been exciting and full of challenges, beginning with the controversy that surrounded the recruitment process when I was hired.”

Although Sullivan put his resignation notice in writing on Friday, the decision was not made public until Monday.

Brown said Sullivan’s resignation did not come as a complete surprise.

“I thought for a little while this might be coming,” Brown said late Monday afternoon. “We had a confidential discussion, and ultimately he made the decision to resign. I learned of it Friday. It was his personal decision. It was his call, and I respect it. He’s going to be missed.”

Sullivan met with his staff early Monday morning to share the news.

Lt. Mike Rouches, public information officer for the Hillsboro Police Department, said the resignation was unexpected.

“I was surprised. It seemed pretty quick,” said Rouches. “But we’re functioning just like yesterday and the day before.”

Mayor Jerry Willey said now that Sullivan has made his decision, the city needs to focus on handling the transition.

“This was a difficult but personal decision for Chief Sullivan, and I respect that. What we have to focus on now is moving forward,” said Willey. “Change in an organization of our size is inevitable, and managing change is part of our city manager’s responsibilities. What I want our citizens to know is that during the transition to a new chief, public safety services will not be affected. I am confident Michael will use a recruitment process that attracts the best and brightest in law enforcement. Hillsboro deserves no less.”

Tensions related to hiring

No reason was given for Sullivan’s departure. He will be out of the office on vacation leave this week, according to city officials.

However, the wording of Sullivan’s letter — he noted the “controversy that surrounded the recruitment process” related to his hiring in 2010 — points to possible tensions within the police department regarding the choice of Sullivan.

Sullivan, who was hired by then-City Manager Sarah Jo Chaplen, previously served as the police chief of Woodland, Calif., and came with nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience.

“I made a decision to conduct a national recruitment process open to both internal and external candidates,” Chaplen explained in a June 1, 2010 press release announcing the selection of Sullivan. “My goal has always been to fill this important position with the person who best fits the needs of our world-class police department and community. Chief Sullivan’s commitment to working closely with the community he serves, combined with his extensive law enforcement experience, complements the established values of our police department.”

In a Monday press release announcing Sullivan’s resignation, Brown said Sullivan “strove for professionalism and led with integrity” during his time at the helm of the Hillsboro Police Department.

“We wish him well in his future endeavors,” Brown added.

Union president happy

Not everyone expressed regret to learn of Sullivan’s departure. The resignation was welcomed by the president of the union representing the city’s rank-and-file police officers.

Hillsboro Police Officer Paul Hess and attorney Mark Makler said relations between Sullivan and the officers had become increasingly “strained” over time. They said some of the problems were the result of new policies and procedures adopted by Sullivan that they believed ran counter to the department’s traditional community policing approach.

“The department was growing more interested in process and numbers and less interested in the well-being of its employees,” said Hess, president of the Hillsboro Police Officers Association (HPOA).

“Before Sullivan, the police department practiced community policing. Sullivan said he wanted a patrol-oriented department, which doesn’t work in Hillsboro,” added Makler.

As proof of the growing strain, both Hess and Makler pointed to a lawsuit and two unfair labor practice complaints filed against the city of Hillsboro by the HPOA. The men declined to discuss them in detail because they have yet to be resolved. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in early April.

Hess and Makler said they did not know what role, if any, union actions played in Sullivan’s departure, adding that they are looking forward to working with interim Police Chief Ron Louie, who headed the department from 1992 to 2007 and has stepped in as interim chief in the wake of Sullivan’s departure.

They said both Louie and Lila Ashenbrenner, who succeeded him, had better relations with the community than Sullivan. Ashenbrenner retired in 2010 and was succeeded by Sullivan.

Cell phone snag

The lawsuit and complaints stem from an on-duty automobile accident by Officer David Morst in September 2012. Morst told Washington County Sheriff’s deputies who responded that he was distracted by his cell phone.

The Hillsboro Police Department initiated an internal affairs investigation into the accident, and demanded the phone. Morst declined to turn it over without being subpoenaed, citing privacy concerns. Morst and HPOA then went to court to prevent the department from obtaining the phone without a subpoena. They have so far obtained a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against the city from two Washington County Circuit Court judges.

In early December 2012, the department adopted a new policy requiring employees to turn over their cell phones under certain conditions without subpoenas. HPOA filed an unfair labor practice with the Employment Relations Board against the city on Feb. 1 for not negotiating the policy with the union as required by the current collective bargaining agreement.

HPOA filed a second unfair labor practice agreement two weeks later, charging that the city was refusing to reimburse Hess and two other department employees for time spent testifying under oath during a depositions request by the city for the lawsuit. The three had been subpoenaed by city attorneys.

Louie named interim chief

The city is already gearing up for the process of finding a new police chief. Louie, who was named to lead the police department on an interim basis as the city launches its search for a permanent replacement, started in his new role Monday.

“Bringing in Louie was part of my activities over the weekend,” Brown explained. “I gave him a call and he was excited to step up in an interim role. Louie met with the staff and everyone is handling it positively and professionally. Chief Louie already has the respect of the staff. He has a lot of experience, and I was pleased he was able to step in on a quick timeframe. He has a lot of credibility.”

“I’m a fan of Ron Louie,” said Rouches. “He and I think the same. He’s very innovative, very communicative.”

Rouches added that he believes city administrators have tried to keep the police department from talking about the resignation or about what might have gone wrong between Brown and Sullivan.

“City Hall has told us, ‘It’s ours to talk about, not yours,’” Rouches explained. “There were discussions between the city manager and the chief, but I don’t know what they were about.”

During his tenure, Sullivan established a Gang Violence Reduction Initiative, created a Professional Standards Unit and implemented a Crisis Intervention Team.

Fellow Police Chief Ken Summers of neighboring Cornelius said he was sad to hear of Sullivan’s resignation.

“I’m new here, but his reputation precedes him,” Summers said. “He is well thought of and a very intelligent man. It’s very unfortunate. But he’ll be fine whatever he does. He’ll land on his feet, and I’m confident the city of Hillsboro will also.”




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