Houde named Ely's next police chief

by Tom Coombe

After six rounds of balloting, the Ely City Council finally reached a majority and picked Chad Houde to be the city's next police chief.

A 15-year-veteran of Ely's police force, Houde was selected over Ely officer Adam Borchert on a 4-3 vote in the sixth and final round. Ely police sergeant George Burger, who led after the first round of balloting with three votes but did not gain a majority, was eliminated after the fifth round while Virginia police lieutenant John Swenson fell from contention earlier in the public balloting process held late Friday afternoon, after interviews at City Hall with all four finalists.

Council members Paul Kess, Heidi Omerza, Al Forsman and Angela Campbell picked Houde in the last round, while Borchert was supported by council members Ryan Callen, Jerome Debeltz and mayor Chuck Novak.

In brief council discussion about the interviews, Kess told the group that Houde was his top choice and came across as "more energetic and fairly succinct.”

Forsman, who initially backed Burger for the job, told the group “I could support any of the three (final) candidates... Of the three, some interviewed better than others but I think it showed the leadership we have in our department.”

During his interview, Houde spoke of reaching out to a variety of community groups ranging from the school district to senior citizens, and engaging the law enforcement students at Vermilion Community College. He also suggested that Ely become involved in the "national night out" and called it a prime opportunity for members of the police force to "learn who your neighbors are." He also showed interest in supporting new events - including a city street dance.

"If you do it responsibly, I'm in favor of it,” said Houde.

Houde told the council that he had learned and matured in his years on the force, suggesting that an email he wrote years earlier in protest of a prosecutor's decision could have been resolved better with a conversation, and noting that he wrote more tickets earlier in his career.

"(Now) I'd rather educate than issue a ticket,” said Houde. "I think you get a lot more accomplished by having a simple conversation with someone."

Houde said he believed one of the roles of the chief is to be a "professional who is available to the public," and promised not to implement sweeping changes in the Ely department.

"If you get too excited too quickly, you're bound to fail,” said Houde.

It took several rounds for the council to settle on Houde, who must still negotiate a contract agreement with city officials.

Burger was supported by Campbell, Debeltz and Forsman in the first round, while Houde got the support of Kess and Omerza. Callen backed Borchert while Novak voted for Swenson on the first ballot.

Novak switched from Swenson to Borchert in round two, and the council soon moved to eliminate Swenson from contention.

A third round produce an identical 3-2-2 ballot with Burger in the lead, while the tide turned after discussion between the third and fourth ballots, with Borchert soon taking a 3-2-2 edge. In round five, Forsman moved his support from Burger to Houde, resulting in a 3-3-1 logjam and a subsequent council motion to eliminate Burger from contention and cut the field down to two.

In the final round, Campbell cast the swing vote, putting Houde over the top and putting him on course to replace John Lahtonen, who is retiring at the end of the month.