Tensions surface at Grand Coulee city hall 


Last updated 3/20/2024 at 10:59am

It started out with an abrupt retirement announcement from the Public Works director — and didn’t get much easier from there at last night’s Grand Coulee council meeting. 

By the end of the evening one council member and two police officers — including an applicant for the police chief opening — were directly questioning the mayor’s decision to not hire any current candidates for that position. 

The unusually tense meeting happened on a night with an already packed agenda covering a road reconstruction project, in-town speed limits, several vacancies at city hall and a possible new lease on life for Department of Justice public safety grant funds the city declined last year. (These stories will be covered in next week’s issue of The Star.)

Public Works director resigns effective May 31

“I’ve got a long letter here for the mayor and council,” said Public Works Director Dennis Francis as he began his department report at the top of the meeting. Francis then went on to illustrate instances where, in his estimation, local leaders have not been willing to consult with front-line staff when making decisions, such as the purchase of a chipper for spring cleanup.

“Through our prior administration, the city lost valuable employees,” Francis said. “This made me do some soul searching also, on whether I wanted to continue. My job can be high stress, and at times requires immediate decisions. I’m expected to provide for the city 24/7.

“Lately I have realized I do have a choice,” he continued. “I have seen changes in direction from the new mayor. And although his intentions are good…the recent decision to put the deputy clerk as lead for street projects is yet another slap in my face.”

Francis also claimed “the current administration feels we should consolidate,” and warned that “the level of utility service to our citizens will suffer greatly due to inferior infrastructure in our neighboring communities.”

“I’ve put in my time of 32 years and have decided it is time for me to be free,” he said. 

Eylar thanked Francis without offering further comment on the unexpected resignation, which adds to the list of job openings in city hall. It wasn’t three minutes before he found himself again fielding another staff complaint, this time from one of his police officers.

Mayor questioned on police chief

hiring delay

“We need leadership,” said Officer Blake Martin. “The longer we go without leadership, the worse it’s gonna get over there,” referring to the department.

Martin, who is also an Electric City council member, later in the meeting said the police need at least an interim leader while the search for a chief continues. 

“Quite frankly, we’re not even sure, if one of us is sick, like puking, who we’re supposed to call in sick to,” Martin said. “We have no clue.” 

(Officers should call the mayor in such an instance, Eylar clarified.)

Eylar told the council the status of the police chief position is “currently in flux.”

“There is some negotiation taking place,” Eylar said of moving forward with an interim department lead. “I’m not at liberty to divulge anything with that, but…it is a high priority. It needs to be filled, because the longer it’s vacant, the more the void becomes apparent.”

Councilmember Tom Poplawski questioned whether Eylar was legally allowed to decline to select one of the three applicants forwarded by the city’s Civil Service Commission, and the council agreed to raise the question with the city attorney.

“Our civil service code…says here that the Civil Service Commission will select the top three applicants,” Poplawski said. “So the Civil Service Commission did their job, and gave the city three names.”

He went on to say the language specifies that the mayor “will” select a final applicant from the names forwarded.

“I don’t want to get in trouble with the civil service, or union, or anybody else,” Poplawski said.

Police Depart.

tensions boil over

in final moments 

After a nearly two-hour council meeting which included a previously unannounced executive session regarding potential litigation, Mayor Eylar asked if any members of the public had any final comments before the meeting was adjourned.

At that point, off-duty Grand Coulee police officer Levi Johnson openly challenged Eylar to explain what skills were lacking in the three police chief finalists, one of whom was Johnson himself.

Eylar cited an “overall lack of leadership skills in all three backgrounds.”

Johnson asked him to elaborate, which Eylar declined, with Johnson then pressing the mayor: “Well, I’m sure people want to know.”

“That may be,” Eylar said. “But it’s not going to be a discussion at this point.” 

Martin said “the day to day of the department’s simply not getting done.”

“A lot of us don’t understand the extent of what [retired police chief John Tufts] did here, paperwork-wise, administratively, so on and so forth,” Martin said. “We need somebody that’s a guiding hand that does that sort of stuff. Even if it’s just an interim capability.”

“Very good,” Eylar said, and adjourned the third council meeting of his term.


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