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Brown made right call in Sullivan departure

When personnel issues at government agencies make headlines, it’s rarely good news and it often means headaches for managers and elected officials, who are pressed to discuss things which — in the private sector — wouldn’t be anybody’s business. But, because they involve public money, they are everybody’s business.

That’s certainly the case with former Hillsboro Police Chief Carey Sullivan, whose sudden departure from the helm of the department March 9 took a lot of people by surprise.

Now, two weeks later, we’re inclined to believe City Manager Michael Brown, who earlier this week told Hillsboro Tribune Associate Editor Doug Burkhardt, “There is no scandal here.”

Rather, it seems that Sullivan, who’d been on the job less than three years, never really clicked with the rank and file and had become enmeshed in a battle with the local police union over the investigation of an officer involved in a job-related auto accident.

We don’t know the merits of the investigation, or the union’s legal claim (made to the state labor board) that Sullivan was over-reaching. We don’t know if Sullivan, as some suspect, was wary of a criminal case involving former officer Tim Cannon, in which his defense lawyers may argue that workplace stress could have played a role in his shootout with fellow officers at his Forest Grove home on Jan. 20.

And, we are not in a position to know the answer to the broader question: was Sullivan the right guy for the job?

But we do know that Brown, as the manager of an $88 million operation, has to have complete confidence in his top managers and make changes when he doesn’t. That said, we think Brown (who was hired after Sullivan) could have helped himself by outlining the terms of Sullivan’s resignation from the start. The $67,600 severance check Sullivan will get came to light only after some digging by our colleagues at The Oregonian. Adding that detail, along with the reason for it, in the initial announcement of Sullivan’s departure would have avoided the appearance that the city was secretly paying off Sullivan to make him go away.

Now that the specifics of Sullivan’s severance are known (see story on Page A8), people can judge for themselves whether it was fair or excessive. Compared to what often occurs in the private sector, the payout was fairly small. But, again, this money belongs to the public, not shareholders, so Brown may well face some second-guessing.

One thing that nearly everyone agrees Brown got right was his choice for a temporary replacement. Getting former chief Ron Louie to step in as interim chief was a huge coup. Louie, who served as chief from 1992 to 2007, was popular inside the force and in the community, and he will allow Brown plenty of time to find a suitable successor.

As Lt. Mike Rouches, the department’s longtime public information officer and its self-proclaimed evangelist, told Managing Editor Nancy Townsley last week, “everything’s going to be OK” as folks inside the cop shop adjust to a shift in leadership.

“It feels as if [Louie] never left,” Rouches said. Officers will depend on the interim chief’s experience and his “community policing-based” philosophy in the coming months, he added.

More so, they’ll remain connected to what Rouches termed their “touchstone”: core values of protecting and serving the public they all learned in police academy.




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