My View: Falls lacks leadership skills to steer Gresham government
We have all been impacted by the images and experiences of the last several weeks. Gresham police officers and staff have experienced pride in our long commitment to professionalism, self-doubt in searching for our own culpability in a system that too often leads to tragic, unaddressed outcomes, and emerged resolute there is more to be done to continue reforming ourselves.
Events nationally and here at home should make it clear to everyone: it's too important to too many peoples' lives. We must maximize our chances for success.
It is critical to have the right leadership in place to see this work through. The impending retirement of City Manager Erik Kvarsten creates a void that must be filled.
During the June 10 emergency business meeting of the Gresham City Council, I watched Councilor Eddy Morales push forward Corey Falls, and other councilors suggest Steve Fancher for the interim city manager position.
Morales brought up and emphasized Falls' race as a major factor in his qualification. The video archive on the city website is missing the beginning of the meeting when this occurs. Morales got upset when most of the councilors did not immediately agree to install Falls to the position. Morales resorted to labeling their noncompliance as racism and sexism, which, by the meaning of words, labeled the councilors racists.
Words are powerful, but particularly now.
When we must pull together, name calling and bullying those who disagree with us is not conducive to solutions. I admire the passion and fire. But being willfully blind to the reality that another person might do or say something for their own reasons, and then to label them with only the reasons you can see; that's entirely destructive. We all do it sometimes, but it creates avoidable barriers to cooperation and understanding.
Gresham's city councilors cannot be afraid to examine with diligence a candidate's "executive and administrative" qualifications as required by city charter. I am confident they will. The residents of Gresham must be informed, must be aware and must not succumb to the idea of a singular narrative.
Corey Falls was brought to the city in a noncompetitive process for a newly created Director of Police Services and 21st Century Policing position immediately after losing out to recently retired Robin Sells for chief of police.
Our understanding is Falls admitted he received a written promise to take over as chief when/if Sells was gone. The City Council should find out.
Our understanding is Falls was hired by the city without a required background investigation — as defined by the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training — because Falls requested one not be done. The City Council should find out.
During his tenure with this title, Falls admitted he didn't understand his job description and never successfully clarified it. The average officers' experience is he produced no tangible work product impactful to them, despite a chief-level salary. He made promises and commitments he did not keep or fulfill. He worked on a crime mapping project that he touted as a great way to let officers know what we already knew: where crime occurs. This project never came to fruition.
Through an unknown process he was then made Deputy City Manager/Director of Public Safety, now supervising Chief Sells. Then he changed his own title to Superintendent of Public Safety.
As a long-time law enforcement official and senior leadership member of a committee to bring equity to the city, he should have been perfectly placed to foresee potential resistance points for the police department and enact strategies to mitigate them. He did not.
The creation of the program did not adhere to its own inclusion principles and members of the police department were not meaningfully invited or involved. On one occasion a member did attend a meeting and was told his voice wasn't welcome.
Falls' actions and inactions created hurt, resistance and derailed the project upon rollout. In the aftermath, Falls claimed he wasn't aware of key details and didn't really oversee things. Some question his statements and, either way, it was a clear failure of leadership.
The Gresham Police Officers' Association had never felt compelled to conduct a vote of no confidence, but after years of perceived waste of salary money in an understaffed department, failures to produce useful work product and the destructive nature of the equity rollout, the membership demanded one. With near unanimous consent, our officers and employees, including every member of color, made clear they had no faith Falls can lead this organization.
The issue is, and always has been, competency and leadership. I will not allow this to be twisted and labeled as involving race. Our police demographics reflect the community we serve with exceptions of Hispanic and female officers, which we are actively improving. The GPOA has been the loudest and longest advocates for more diversity in our ranks.
It finally began to change under the leadership of Chief Sells, and whoever the new chief of police is, that person must carry on her legacy. We welcome and desire people of color in all our positions, including leadership.
I recognize there may be a push to minimize or dismiss the opinions of the "police" at this time. But our police family tries hard to do the right thing, examine our deficiencies, improve our training and accountability, and exercise true professionalism.
We fall short, as everyone does, but the measurables of extremely low rates of bias, use of force and overall complaints, a progressive training curriculum, commitment to body worn cameras, the results of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission report indicating Gresham Police was the only department with no evidence of racial or ethnic disparity in traffic or pedestrian stops, demonstrate our commitment. Please do not dismiss our fervent desire to continue being part of the solution our community demands.
In Gresham, when the outcome of the change upon us is so vital to the strength of our community fabric, Corey Falls is not the right person to lead this particular organization.
Matt Fagan is president of the Gresham Police Officers' Association.
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