The unexpected decision to place Oregon police Chief Thomas Gulch on administrative leave was made after an internal investigation determined his leadership was fostering low morale in the department and the situation would unlikely improve under his charge, city council members said.
Councilman Jerry Peach said a review of the department that began at least two months ago focused on the command style of Chief Gulch and was conducted by city Administrator Ken Filipiak and Paul Goldberg, law director.
"There were problems that the administration was unaware of," said Mr. Peach. "It centered around morale problems."
Councilman Mike Seferian said administrators began looking into the department after hearing complaints from officers. He said he asked to be kept informed of their progress because he was then council president. "I didn't want to be kept in the dark," he explained.
"Quite frankly, I thought it was years overdue," Mr. Seferian said of the chief's removal. "I was aware of how unhappy everyone was to come to work."
Chief Gulch was removed from the $77,000-a-year position and placed on paid administrative leave Friday afternoon after a report on the findings of Mr. Filipiak and Mr. Goldberg was given to Mayor Marge Brown, Mr. Peach said.
Sgt. Rick Stager, a 25-year veteran of the department, was named interim chief. It was unclear whether Chief Gulch would be reassigned or terminated and how long he would remain on paid leave.
The appointment and firing of the police chief, like other key positions in the city, rests solely with the mayor, and the approval for any changes doesn't go through council.
Chief Gulch couldn't be reached for comment last night.
Yesterday, Mayor Brown, Mr. Filipiak, and Mr. Goldberg remained tight-lipped about the abrupt change in the leadership of the 46-officer Oregon Police Department.
"There is no situation. It is over and done, and I am not making any comment. This is a personnel issue," Mrs. Brown said.
Mr. Seferian said he believed a breakdown in communications between Chief Gulch and the officers was creating a deteriorating relationship, and the department under his command was a "ticking time bomb" likely to explode at any time.
"With that type of atmosphere, how long can that go on before something happens? Something had to be done or something might have happened," he said.
Mr. Seferian said the police department was in good hands with the appointment of Sergeant Stager.
"He couldn't be a better choice," he said.
Councilman Jim Seaman said he also believed that communication between Chief Gulch and the rank-and-file was the central issue to low morale in the department.
"It was an ongoing, festering problem," he said. "When officers did something positive for the community, they did not receive the appreciation that they deserved. On the other hand, when there was a minor problem, excessive criticism may have been employed."
During last night's council meeting, Councilman Bill Myers asked Mrs. Brown why he had to learn about the personnel move involving one of the city's highest profile positions through a phone call late Saturday from Councilman Michael Sheehy.
"Is this the normal protocol for the city when they are getting ready to make a change?" he asked.
The mayor told the councilman that she believed the notice given to him by Mr. Sheehy was sufficient.
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