A  rarity occurred at Monday night’s Hermiston City Council meeting:

The council’s chambers were packed. What is usually a room full of empty chairs was filled to capacity as citizenry filed in.

Most of them were there to see what — if anything — would happen to beleaguered Police Chief Dan Coulombe. Ironically, almost everyone had departed  before the decision was announced.

It wasn’t until after the council met in executive session for approximately an hour that members re-emerged to resume their public meeting. By then, just about everyone in the audience had headed home — and that’s when City Manager Ed Brookshier delivered the biggest news of the evening in what had already been a rather newsy night.

Brookshier announced that Coulombe would immediately be placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation requested by the Hermiston Police Association.

That, of course, still leaves all kinds of questions, but this morning, at least one thing is quite clear: Coulombe won’t be back in the saddle in Hermiston anytime soon.

The investigator agreed upon by the union and the city, former Hillsboro Police Chief  Ron Louie, won’t even be able to start the investigation until early October. Throw in at least another month (or two) for the investigation, and it means the Hermiston Police Department will be operating under the guidance of Lt. Jason Edmiston until at least November.

Emotions were clearly high at Monday’s meeting.

Three citizens offered their viewpoints of the situation. John Kirwan reminded council members of their responsibility to their constituents, Mitch Myers noted that the city “finds itself in an uncomfortable position” and Manuel Gutierrez urged the city to remember that there are always two sides to a coin.

For some city councils, three citizens stepping to the microphone is a slow night.

For Hermiston, it’s an onslaught of commentary.

But the night was far from over.

Coulombe’s attorney, George Anderson of Hermiston, then read a letter he had sent to City Attorney Gary Luisi earlier in the day. The letter questioned the veracity and validity of the letter sent from the Police Association demanding an investigation of Coulombe, called the union letter “character assassination” and offered Anderson’s personal endorsement of the chief.

(Anderson, however, while quite verbose during the council meeting, was equally abrupt afterward. Asked several times if he could see an equitable solution to the issue, Anderson would only say, “Read my letter.” Either Anderson was trying to channel George H.W. Bush, or the attorney fees clock stopped ticking when the meeting was adjourned.)

After Brookshier’s announcement, council president Jackie Myers pitched in with a written statement.

Myers said she was “very sad at the way this has all played out,” and recommended that the council in the future consider a yearly review of the department and an outside review every 3 to 5 years.

Brookshier’s announcement concerning Coulombe, by the way, overshadowed some rather important news about Hermiston’s attempt at attracting more industry to town. If Ed and the council manage to swing this one, it will be a move that will have a far larger impact than all the retail business they’ve been talking about for the last few months.

But it was the Coulombe situation that ruled the night.

The guess here?

I’m not sure Dan Coulombe will ever return — nor am I sure he wants to.

When situations such as this arise, you can’t turn the clock back. Even if the investigation exonerates Coulombe of everything he’s been charged with, his ability to effectively lead has already been greatly compromised.

Simply, it would be difficult — if not impossible — for him to return.

Somehow, Hermiston’s leaders must solve this situation, and do so quickly.

The investigation will not be cheap. Meanwhile, the council will be paying the chief of police to sit at home, waiting for the investigation to be completed. 

Hermiston residents will be footing the bill for it all.

Surely, some kind of resolution can be reached.

The city must move forward.

It will be up to city leaders to plot that direction and fully represent their constituency.

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