Saturday, July 4, 2009

City lacks communication to EPD says Humboldt County grand jury

Allison White/The Times-Standard
Posted: 07/03/2009 01:30:13 AM PDT

The Humboldt County Grand Jury cited a lack of communication and direction from city officials as the continual cause of tension in the Eureka Police Department, according to its report released on Thursday.

The grand jury report states it looked into complaints against Eureka Police Chief Garr Nielsen brought by two unidentified “local citizens.”

Various complaints against Nielsen were investigated and the grand jury found them to be without merit, or otherwise addressed or corrected. The complaints included seeking and receiving improper compensation for expenses, official misconduct including misuse of city property, illegal hiring practices and abuse of authority.

The grand jury also reported that it could not substantiate an allegation of inappropriate sharing of information.

”Everyone involved in the current conflict has a shared responsibility for (the tension's) cause and seeking ongoing resolution,” according to the grand jury report.

It mentions the City Council, EPD, Nielsen and City Manager David Tyson as needing to increase direction and communication.

Eureka Councilman Larry Glass' initial reaction to the report was to brainstorm ideas on how to resolve this reported lack of direction.

”Maybe it's time for a kind of task force made up of some EPD people, some council members and also from other departments so there is better communication ...,” Glass said. “I certainly want to be involved in the resolution of the conflict.”

The grand jury report says the department's tensions began with the rapid changes Nielsen made within EPD, how those changes were implemented and how some employees responded to them.

This relationship with the some of the department was showcased last year when the Eureka City Council renewed Nielsen's contract -- many EPD employees shared their grievances with Nielsen, claiming he was vindictive and retaliatory.

Nielsen said he was unable to comment on the report due to direction from the city manager.

From within the police department, Detective Todd Wilcox said although some of the grand jury statements were accurate observations, they may have missed the point.

”The grand jury seems to think there's rabble-rousers in the department, a few people who don't like change,” he said. “I certainly don't know if they're wrong but I don't necessarily agree with them.”

However, communication has improved within the department in the last six months and most people aren't trying to cause trouble.

”There's an accurate observation somewhere in there that most of us just come to work to get their jobs done and hopefully to get some satisfaction from that,” he said. “Isn't that the point?”

Although communication may have improved lately, Tyson agrees with the report that more direction is needed for the department and for Nielsen.

”The council and I do take some responsibility for not giving him proper direction in the beginning,” he said. “I, for one, had some assumptions about his skill sets and how he went about things may have gone over well elsewhere but because of the issues here it went differently.”

Tyson said he does think that Nielsen has been doing what he was hired to do -- work toward much-needed changes.

”He certainly has gone about making some of those changes and working toward making improvements the city wants,” he said. “I agree the road hasn't always been the smoothest.”

Contact Allison White at 441-0506 or

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