Granite Falls awaits mayor’s decision on police chief

  • Thu May 6th, 2010 8:28pm
  • News

By Jackson Holtz, Herald Writer

GRANITE FALLS — Mayor Haroon Saleem is expected to decide as early as today whether to pursue an investigation into Police Chief Tony Domish.

Domish was placed on paid leave April 23. A Snohomish County sheriff’s lieutenant has been filling in as interim chief, and sheriff’s officials were asked to look into the police chief and his six-man department.

No formal investigation has been launched, sheriff’s officials said.

It’s still unclear why Domish was removed from his post and why the sheriff’s office is involved.

Saleem and Domish both declined comment Thursday.

Officials with Teamsters Local 763, the union representing the police department, said a grievance has been filed with the state labor board.

Anthony Murrietta, a union spokesman, said Saleem told him more details would be released today.

Many people in Granite Falls are upset. About 700 people in the town of around 3,000 signed a petition supporting Domish.

“It’s kind of a limbo situation as long as this is looming,” Councilman Matt Hartman said Thursday. “It’s tying up people and time and money.”

Saleem told the Lake Stevens Journal newspaper that Domish had missed meetings and hadn’t kept the mayor informed about his schedule.

The mayor last month told The Herald he was also angry that local media knew before he did about an April 16 drug sweep.

City documents dispute Saleem’s claim.

“I have spoken to the mayor about the press release for this,” Domish wrote in a March 16 e-mail to the city council, several weeks before the arrests. The e-mail was released through public disclosure to a resident who shared it with The Herald.

A week after the drug arrests Saleem asked Sheriff John Lovick to look into Domish and the department he’s led since June 2006.

“We met with city officials and they shared with us their concerns and possible issues,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

Officials reviewed the issues and met with the mayor earlier this week to discus the city’s options.

“At this point, the city hasn’t asked us to investigate anything specific,” Hover said. It’s now up to the city to decide what to do next.

Lt. Rick Hawkins, who has served as police chief in Darrington and Sultan, continues to serve as Granite Falls’ interim chief. The city won’t be asked to pay for Hawkins’ time for the first 90 days, undersheriff Tom Davis said.

The sheriff’s office has offered free service before. It is responsible for providing continuity of law enforcement services to all the county’s citizens, Davis said.

“We will continue to work with city staff and the citizens, to assist in any way we can,” Davis said.

Meanwhile, the ongoing investigation into illegal drug sales in Granite Falls is in the hands of the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force.

Cmdr. Pat Slack said his detectives are working to wrap things up quickly.

Bickering between the police chief and Saleem was known in town months before Saleem became mayor. The owner of the Timberline Cafe, Saleem won 60 percent of about 800 votes cast in November’s election.

Before the election, the chief had accused the bar of overserving customers and putting drunks on the road. Saleem denied the allegations and defended his business.

In mid-December, Saleem and Domish met and announced they’d ironed out their differences.

Days before the mayor took office the city council voted to extend Domish’s contract through 2014, including a 12-month severance package.

“Please I urge you, do not shove this down my throat because I will not accept it,” Saleem said at the time.

Some people believe the mayor now is exerting his authority to hire and fire city employees.

“I wouldn’t say the mayor has the full backing of the council,” councilwoman Elizabeth Adams said.

Even if the mayor fired Domish, the city would still have to contend with the police union. The chief is a member of the union.

“They haven’t even given him a warning letter,” said Murrietta, the union representative. “Right now I believe the chief has been wronged.”

Debbie Taylor is a former councilwoman and the president of the Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce. She said the controversy over the police department needs swift resolution.

“Now we’re in a town divided. We’re in a community divided,” she said.

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, jholtz@heraldnet.com.