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Scappoose is in shambles

The Scappoose City Council’s 5-1 vote to accept City Manager Jon Hanken’s resignation Friday is an unfortunate development, but is just one more blunder from a City Council that has overstepped its authority in its quest to protect its friend, Scappoose Police Chief Douglas Greisen.

Now we have learned that, prior to his resignation, Hanken requested and initiated a third investigation following the discovery of a bank deposit bag in a locked file in Greisen’s office. The contents of the bag included about $2,500 in cash, bank receipts from an unauthorized account, evidence from a 2011 criminal case and receipts for other purchases.

It’s too early to draw any conclusions from this discovery. There might be legitimate reasons for the chief to have managed an unauthorized bank account that some city officials estimate had as much as $28,000 pass through it over the last decade. But, then again, there might not be.

Fortunately, there is an independent investigation into the matter, an action we would expect to occur as the only responsible measure city officials should pursue when one of its officers is suspected of inappropriate behavior.

In an email exchange with Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge, City Councilor Barbara Hayden expresses her reservations about continuing with the investigation. She cites her concern the city is racking up exorbitant expenses on the numerous investigations it has in play, and instead recommends having Greisen simply explain to council the bank bag and its contents.

We disagree. Given the recent actions of the City Council and the ongoing complaints against Greisen, including that he retaliated against an officer for raising concerns about the chief’s behavior, it is better to have an outside agency explore these matters versus risk creating a venue that even further opens the City Council up for biased decision-making.

If there were savings to be had, it would have been to allow Hanken to follow through with his personnel decisions without the City Council’s interference. Instead, the City Council opted to pay Hanken out via one year’s severance, a figure totaling $110,000 in salary plus health and retirement benefits.

That saved the City Council from fielding yet another lawsuit, one we believe Hanken could very well have filed in response to the council’s creation of a hostile work environment.

The City Council’s actions we believe were the result of its frustration with Hanken’s unwillingness to bury complaints about Greisen. Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge, at this point the only standout on the council who seems to grasp his responsibility as an elected official, indicated the City Council wanted to fire Hanken last Friday because of his appearance on a KOIN 6 News television report into the chief’s current suspension. That broadcast is available online, and we recommend you watch it and draw your own conclusion.

For those who were not present at the Friday, Nov. 8, City Council meeting in which the council accepted Hanken’s resignation, it is also available for viewing online on the city’s website.

What is clear in that meeting is that city staff, both current and former, uniformly backed Hanken’s actions. Most compelling is that several former and current police officers with the Scappoose Police Department spoke favorably of Hanken and his willingness to pursue allegations that Greisen had abused his authority. Those officers admonished the city councilors, expressing disappointment with the council’s own retaliatory efforts against Hanken. As Scappoose Police Officer Dennis Viereck told the council, “If this department keeps going the way it’s going, my family and I are outta here. It’s embarrassing. We’re the laughing stock of this town and I’m ashamed to even look at some of you people.”

Indeed. And Viereck wasn’t alone. Former City Councilor Lisa Smith attempted to remind the council that it serves a legislative, not administrative, function. Unfortunately that lesson in the specifics of the Scappoose city charter seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

So what now? The city is absent a police chief and a city manager. If things keep going the way they have been going, it will soon be absent more police officers. Perhaps other staff members, several of whom expressed their concerns to the City Council on Friday night, will also leave. And then when it comes to recruiting new talent, either for the police department or other city positions, “Scappoose” will be synonymous with mud.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s time for the City Council — specifically councilors Jason Meshell, Mark Reed and Barbara Hayden — to go, too.