TS - Blue Lake changed policy to allow Gundersen, wife to work together

Blue Lake changed policy to allow Gundersen, wife to work together

The city of Blue Lake changed its policy on spouses working together in the same department three years ago to avoid finding new supervisors for the police department, officials said.

Although it is unclear if Chief David Gundersen, who is facing 12 counts of spousal rape in addition to seven other charges, and his current wife, a Blue Lake police department sergeant, were married at the time, the City Council felt it was necessary to address their personal relationship with an ordinance, said City Manager Wiley Buck.

Gundersen has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

”The whole issue was we had no mechanism, if there was a problem, to avoid any problems with relationships,” Buck said.
He said he was not sure if they were married at the time the ordinance was passed, but even a live-in situation can lead to issues that would affect a couple who work together.

Blue Lake hired its police sergeant in September 1999 and hired Gundersen in November 1999.

Marriage licenses are recorded in individual counties and can be confidential. There is no public record of their marriage in Humboldt County.

The ordinance, which was put in place in February 2005, removed restrictions on spouses working together in the same department, but also gave the City Council authority to take action if problems did arise.

”If it wasn't working professionally then we had options in terms of changing the employment status of one or the other,” said Councilwoman Marlene Smith. She said Buck brought the matter before the council because Gundersen and his wife had been working outside of the policy.

”It was suggested that we revisit the policy and see if we could make it fit the situation,” said Smith, adding that it would have been hard for Blue Lake to replace one or both of its only supervising officers.

The city is currently facing the difficulties of a lack of supervising officers. Since Gundersen and his wife are both on administrative leave, the remaining two officers have been unable to do regular patrolling duties without a supervisor, officials said.

”It's one of those issues that we felt that we were kind stuck in the middle,” said Mayor Sherman Shapiro of the 2005 ordinance. Being a small city, Shapiro said it would have been harder to find replacements, but the ordinance is something the council will be reviewing.

Smith agreed.

”We're going to revisit this and see if we can't do something that's a little bit different, a little bit better,” Smith said. “In my opinion, it was a decision we made that in hindsight proved to be not wise.”

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or dtam@times-standard.com.
Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 02/28/2008 01:27:20 AM PST