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Town takes sides in Domish, Saleem standoff

Published on Mon, May 3, 2010 by BY PAM STEVENS | MANAGING EDITOR

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Hundreds gathered in front of City Hall Monday, April 26 to express their opinions on the paid administrative
leave of Police Chief Tony Domish.

After a decade of the stigma of being known as a “meth town”, the city of Granite Falls seems be taking on another type of stigma – that of a town where small town politics rules.

On April 16, the Granite Falls Police along with the Snohomish County Regional Drug Task Force arrested several people after a lengthy investigation.

“This has been a two year investigation,” Granite Falls Police Chief Tony Domish said. “We were purchasing controlled substances using undercover officers and confidential informants.”

Seven people were arrested including past Granite Falls mayor Floyd “Butch” DeRosia who held the mayoral seat for two years until he resigned in 2003. DeRosia was placed in the Snohomish County Jail and released on a $20,000 bond the next day. Allegedly, DeRosia sold marijuana to an undercover police officer.

Police received search warrants on four homes and at least one vehicle. Methamphetamines, prescription drugs and marijuana was found along with two firearms, which were found inside the vehicle.

A week after the arrests, Mayor Haroon Saleem placed Domish on paid administrative leave while the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department completes an investigation.

Rella Morris, far right,  who was the Mayor of Granite Falls for eight years holds up signs that say “Get Domish Out.” Morris is clear about her support of current Granite Falls Mayor Haroon Saleem’s choice to put Police Chief Tony Domish on paid administrative leave.

“The Sheriff’s Department is in the process of completing an investigation of various issues that have been alleged to have occurred,” the mayor said in a statement. “This is a personnel issue and an ongoing investigation.”
Saleem made the decision after Domish allegedly contacted the press and not letting Saleem know, before making some of the arrests.

“I am absolutely 100 percent for getting rid of the illicit drugs and drug dealers in the community,” Saleem said. “My issue is that we did not need that kind of media attention especially looking at the past 10 or 11 years now with the article in Rolling Stone magazine and Oprah.”

Accusations of DeRosia and Saleem having a close friendship and DeRosia even being Saleem’s Campaign Manager have surfaced. The mayor vehemently denies those accusations.

“I did not put up a penny for Mr. DeRosia’s bail,” he said. “I was not involved directly or indirectly. I do not have any close ties with him (DeRosia). It has also been said that he was my campaign manager – that is absolutely false. He was actually a backer of mayoral candidate Paul Lutz.”

Saleem does concede that DeRosia is a frequent patron at the Timberline Café, Saleem’s business, which is also where DeRosia’s arrest took place in front of news cameras.

Since the mayor’s decision to place Domish on leave, the town has been littered with people from both sides.
“In Chapter 7.2.2. of the police manual it clearly states the chief will inform the mayor of any substantial police activity and I was not informed of the drug bust,” Saleem said. “He has also missed numerous council meetings that is required that he attend.”

Saleem also stated that on one occasion Domish went to his old city of Tieton to testify for some employees who had recently been dismissed by the city.
“He (Domish) didn’t show up for work and didn’t inform me that he was not going to be to work,” Saleem explained. “I just couldn’t wait any longer. I have spent countless hours with him (Domish) and he has undermined my authority and he hasn’t been working with me for over a month. My job is to protect the city and its citizens.”

Jessica Gollischewski, right, Granite Falls High School student, holds a sign supporting suspended Police Chief Tony Domish. Gollischewski along with her mother Regina believe Domish should be reinstated because of the work he does for the children of Granite Falls.

Saleem does make it clear that the investigation is out of his hands and he will wait to see what happens when it is complete.

“If he (Domish) is resolved of any wrongdoing he will be absolved of that, but there is something to this, it really needs to be looked at.”

Domish supporters, including City Councilmember Elizabeth Adams, have even been asking citizens to sign a petition to recall the mayor.
Several citizens have complained that kids and teens were signing the petitions and that they were even at the middle and high schools.

When the Granite Falls School District heard of the alleged petitions, they had them removed.
“I don’t know that they were there for the kids to sign, they were in the schools but we pulled them immediately,” Granite Falls School District spokesperson Kathy Grant said.
If the allegations regarding kids signing the petitions are true, they can only be used informally, according to the Office of the Secretary of State.

“If it is a formal recall petition, they have to be registered voters,” David Ammons, Communications Director for the Office of the Secretary of State said.

Assistant Director of Elections for the State of Washington and attorney Katie Blinn went even further.
“It has to go before a Superior Court Judge before collecting signatures,” Blinn explained. “’We don’t like your decisions’ is not sufficient for a recall.”

Former Mayor Rella Morris sees Domish’s tactics as insubordination.
“Saleem wants the Chief to do his job and do it right,” Morris said. “I have 'heard' that the Chief has refused to produce paperwork that the Mayor has requested from him - I'd call that insubordination.  The Mayor is boss to the Chief, so why would the Chief withhold anything?”

Over 100 people showed up in front of City Hall last Monday, each of them drawing a line in the sand as to which side they were on.

When Granite Falls city councilmember Josh Golston voiced his opinion about Domish’s administrative leave at the community rally, Saleem responded with “City councilmembers are not permitted to speak about this matter.” Golston responded with “we are here as community members, not city councilmembers.”

Granite Falls citizen Shannon Ford was also at the rally, in support of the mayor’s decision. Ford’s 16-year-old son was picked up by Granite Falls Police in February while walking home from a party intoxicated. Ford’s husband picked their son up at the police station that night and thought the incident was over.
Ford talked to KIRO 7 news at the rally on Monday, two days later she received a summons in the mail for her son to appear in court.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this issue would have been dropped after we picked-up our son,” Ford explains. “My son has had no other problems with the police.”

Debbie and Rick, who chose to keep their last name private because of a current investigation, were accused and arrested during the April 16 drug bust for allegedly selling drugs to members of the Granite Falls Police Department.

During the drug bust their home, which they have rented for seven years, was on one of the news channels. Because of this they were asked to move.
According to Debbie and Rick, they have been given urine analysis for drugs and they have passed them all without any trace of drugs in their system. 

Child Protective Services took away their 11-year-old son while the investigation is being completed, he is now staying with their sister-in-law.

“ I am okay with jumping through hoops, which is what we have been doing. I just want my son back,” Debbie said. “ We are not druggies, we took the tests to prove that.”

Granite Falls city councilmember Matt Hartman worries about the long-term effects this will have on the city.
“It is incredibly unfortunate that we are where we are. The city went through some turmoil seven years ago with the resignation of a mayor and it was extremely upsetting to the city,” Hartman explained. “Very little positive comes out of it and it takes a long time to get back to normal. Those two are the primary figureheads of our town and when they are at odds to this extreme, something’s got to give and I can’t picture a scenario that is positive to the city. No matter what the ending there is still going to be fallout for a long time – that could be years. With every decision I make my primary consideration is what’s best for the citizens of Granite Falls. Into that decision I try to incorporate as much public input as possible.”

Councilmember Tom FitzGerald is waiting to see results fromthe investigation before making in conclusions.
"I'm waiting for to find out about the results of the investigation before I take any action or give out personal opinions. It's premature to take sides or make comments without knowing all of the facts," FitzGerald said. "I was excited to see the actions taken to rid the drugs and dealers from town and I want to thank our officers for their time and effort. I'd like to see a media policy come before council in the wake of these events so that in the future we don't get caught without knowledge of what's happening in our town, or have the media used as a tool to attempt to sway public opinion."

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department is investigating Domish and the police department for other reasons also.

Currently, Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Hawkins is filling as interim police chief. Hawkins has served as police chief in both Darrington and Sultan through the county’s contract agreement with small cities.
“He (Hawkins) has an impeccable reputation,” Saleem said.

The Sheriff’s department is hopeful the investigation will be concluded within 90 days.
Domish could not be reached for comment by the Granite Falls Press after his administrative leave.

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