In late September, investigator Ron Louie presented his findings of a review of the Hermiston Police Department and noted that the department had reached a “ morale tipping point.”

That tipping point resulted in retirement of Police Chief Dan Coulombe.

Six weeks later, we might be seeing another tipping point in the making —  only this time on a much larger scale.

Thursday evening, more than 20 people got together to discuss the process of instituting a recall of Hermiston’s mayor and city council members. When the meeting ended, it was clear they were ready to keep tipping.

To be honest, I don’t know how far the movement will get. Sometimes, these kinds of efforts take a few quick steps early but never really get legs for the long run.

This much, however, was clear after just one meeting:

These folks are serious. They’ve hired an attorney for guidance, they’ve done their preliminary homework and they’re not happy with the way they’ve seen their government work.

Thursday night’s meeting was an interesting cross-section of Hermiston. Retired folks, businessmen, ordinary citizens and even what might be termed “activisits” if we were in Portland or Eugene. Folks that may never have found themselves in the same room with one another under any other circumstance were drawn together by what appeared to be a single goal:

“We need to fix the government and city of Hermiston for the people,” one attendee said.

But while they are no doubt serious about their intentions, they also have lots of work to do if they’re ever going to get any farther than just discussions. There are still plenty of questions to be answered.

What they’ll find out quickly is this much: Recalls are messy. They are divisive. They require organization and teamwork. They are not always successful. They can cause scars that take years to heal.

And they are very, very public affairs — something that the Hermiston Government Reform Committee will discover if and when it takes the next step.

Right now, the HGRC is meeting in private. But the group plans to hold a public meeting in the near future, and that’s when it will get interesting. That’s when supporters of the movement will find themselves in the spotlight — a place that’s not comfortable for everyone, particularly those who have to do business with city officials on any kind of regular basis.

As for now, it will be interesting to see the reaction of city leaders. As word of the recall movement spreads around town, my guess is the mayor and city council will profess not to be worried. Mayor Bob Severson has already publicly chastised the “small group of agitators” in Hermiston, and council members have repeatedly stated at council meetings that they have heard no dissent from their constituents.

Which brings us back to Louie’s review of the police department.

After Louie released his findings, the mayor, city manager and council professed no knowledge of the problems within the department. To this day, they deny having ever having any inkling of the issue that exploded under their noses.

Thus, it would not be a surprise to hear them saying the same today — they have no idea that anyone in Hermiston might be unhappy with their performance.

In a recent open letter to the public, published on the city’s official website, Severson issued this challenge, “If the general public, who elects our council, is unsatisfied, they can come forward.”

My guess is that Mayor Bob may get his wish.

The general public may indeed come forward.

And we might just see another tipping point.

Know of something we need to be reporting? A piece of news you’d like to see in the Herald? Drop me a note at or call me at 541-564-4533.

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