Department to hold public meeting

Robert Smith

Pawhuska’s police department and its reinstated chief are moving ahead, and planning an event that offers an opportunity for improved communication between the public and the police.

Chief Nick Silva said the department is planning a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23, at the Pawhuska Church of God, 814 East 9th Street. The meeting will offer an opporunity for police officers and citizens to talk directly about a variety of concerns, Silva said.

The meeting will also offer the community a way to move beyond the recent uncertainty about the future of the police department. A former interim city manager and a former assistant city manager fired Silva on Friday, June 28. Then, in a whirlwind period of activity that lasted just five days, the officials who fired Silva resigned from public office and a new interim city manager reinstated him.

Silva received an ovation from a small crowd that gathered outside the police station after he was reinstated to his position Wednesday evening, July 3. The City Council had just met and appointed a new interim city manager, who made it her first duty to give Silva his job back after several days of controversy.

Pawhuska city councilors met in closed session for roughly 40 minutes July 3, before naming Tonya Bright to serve as interim city manager until Aug. 1. The meeting began at 4 p.m.

Bright previously worked for seven and a half years as administrative assistant to the city manager. She is to manage city operations until permanent city manager Dave Neely takes over on Aug. 1.

Bright’s first official act of note was to reinstate Silva as Pawhuska’s police chief. Former Interim City Manager Larry Eulert and former Assistant City Manager Rex Wikel unceremoniously fired Silva on June 28, prompting a wave of public reaction.

Eulert and Wikel resigned in the aftermath of their dismissal of Silva, and the City Council needed to appoint someone to manage the city for the rest of July. The vote to appoint Bright was a unanimous 5-0.

“At the time she seemed like the most qualified person and we’re very happy with her,” Pawhuska Mayor Roger Taylor said in explanation of the council’s decision. Immediately after the council voted and adjourned its meeting, questions arose about Silva’s future and the leadership of the police department.

Charlie Cartwright, administrator at the Osage County jail and a trusted member of Sheriff Eddie Virden’s leadership team, had stepped in as an interim police chief for Pawhuska last Friday. Cartwright was on-hand for the announcement of Silva’s reinstatement and the two men shook hands in acknowledgement that Cartwright was handing the department back to Silva.

“That will be a decision for our interim city manager,” Mayor Roger Taylor said, when questions arose immediately after the council session.

Bright and City Attorney John Heskett met with Silva, and Bright then joined Silva at the police department sally port for a public announcement of the reinstatement decision. Bright said she was acting “in the interest of fairness.”

“For the good of the city we need to work together in a positive manner,” Bright said.

Silva told reporters the department has work to do.

“We’re ready to go. We’re prepared for tomorrow,” he said, referring to the department’s responsibilities during Independence Day celebrations July 4. Silva said Sergeant Daniel Alden, who left the police department following the chief’s dismissal, was back on the force and the department’s emotional support dog, Ebony, would be returning. Ebony had been in the care of municipal animal shelter volunteer Susie Owens since June 28, Silva said.

“We came out on top and we’re ready to move forward,” Silva said July 3.