Fired Forks police chief won't receive severance; city begins search for new chief
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Acting Police Chief Lloyd Lee works at his desk Tuesday at Forks City Hall. A search for a permanent replacement for fired Chief Mike Powell is under way. -- Photo by Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS -- As an at-will employee who did not have a contract, ousted Police Chief Mike Powell will not receive a severance package, Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon said Tuesday.

"He will get the usual stuff that everyone else would receive," said Monohon, who as the city's chief executive since Jan. 1 fired Powell on Monday.

"That includes his unused vacation and sick time, but we haven't calculated all that yet."

Monohon said the Police Department needed new leadership when he dismissed Powell, who had been chief since 2001.

Although he declined to give more specific reasons for Powell's firing, the mayor said more information will be forthcoming in "the next couple of days."

When dismissed, Powell was set to earn $77,000 in 2010.

Acting chief

Deputy Chief Lloyd Lee has been appointed as acting chief.

Forks operates on a "strong mayor" form of government in which the mayor acts as the city manager and has hiring and firing authority.

The mayor position is officially part time and earns $1 a year.

Monohon said once he draws up the requirements for the police chief job and considers the overall structure of the department, the position will be posted and the city will recruit a new chief.

"It will be publicly posted, and we will be looking for someone to come in for the job," Monohon said.

Powell was hired in February 2001 by then-Mayor Phil Arbeiter.

Phone calls to Powell's cell phone Monday and Tuesday were not returned.

Powell had been at the center of small-town controversy after three Forks Police Department employees were fired in February 2008.

3 fired in 2008

Police Sgt. Tom Scott -- who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last November -- Sgt. JoElle Munger and Communications Officer Deanna Dematteis were fired effective Feb. 29, 2008.

Scott on Tuesday said he was happy to hear of Powell's firing.

"It has been something that has been needed for a long time," Scott said.

"Good for you, Mr. Mayor. Thank you.

"I was out of town when a friend of mine called to tell me, and I was actually very surprised.

"I don't know if [Powell] did something new, or if it was because of all of the bad leadership in the past."

In early 2007, former Mayor Nedra Reed received complaints from internal staff and anonymous letters and e-mails about Powell's conduct.

After hearing the complaints, Reed ordered two investigations in 2007, then a third investigation carried out by the Association of Washington Cities to look into the conduct of the three dismissed employees.

Multiple meetings

In multiple meetings throughout April 2007, Scott, Dematteis and Munger urged Reed to fire Powell.

In May 2007, Munger filed a sexual harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which determined that her claim didn't rise to the level of sexual harassment.

After the investigation, Powell was counseled on his conduct, and all city employees were given mandatory training. Reed instructed employees to "cease and desist" with complaints against Powell.

The three officers fired in 2008 had continued to seek ways to have Powell ousted.

After the firings, Scott, Dematteis and Powell's ex-wife Karleen Powell filed an unsuccessful recall petition against Reed.

Legal fees defending against the recall and the unsuccessful lawsuits by the three employees cost the city more than $300,000.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 12. 2010 11:45PM
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