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King County sheriff slams council for 'lack of transparency' in proposed measures

The King County Council is considering two measures that would make the sheriff an appointed position or allow the sheriff’s duties to be determined by ordinance.
Credit: KING
King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht speaks at a news conference addressing a series of shootings on SR 509 on January 17, 2019.

SEATTLE — King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht spoke out Wednesday against a proposal that would allow the sheriff’s duties to be determined by county ordinance rather than state law saying she was concerned about a “lack of transparency.”

“We believe voters want a fully independent Sheriff, who is free to take bold action on reforms and represent all of the communities and interests of our diverse constituency,” Johanknecht said in a statement.

Proposed Ordinance 2020-0231, which would allow changes to the sheriff’s duties, is one of two dueling proposals under consideration by the King County Council. Council members also discussed Proposed Ordinance 2020-0205 during a committee meeting Tuesday, which would return the sheriff to an appointed rather than elected position. However, the former ordinance would allow the sheriff to be elected while the latter would allow the sheriff’s duties to be defined by state law.

If the council approves these measures by their July 21 council meeting, both measures will go on the November general election ballot for voter approval.

RELATED: Committee to discuss returning King County sheriff to appointed role

Johanknecht argued that the public hasn’t had ample time to comment on the ordinance that would allow changes to the sheriff’s duties, which was introduced July 7. The other ordinance, which would allow the position to be appointed, underwent more than a year of study by the Charter Review Commission and saw multiple public hearings, according to Johanknecht.

“The democratic process should be a transparent process, one where elected officials seek the community’s input and participation before taking action,” Johanknecht said.

The legislation to make sheriff an appointed position stemmed from recommendations made by the 2018-2019 King County Charter Review Commission's final report focusing on accountability and oversight. The commission found elections politicize a law enforcement role and appointment would allow more proportional representation and more flexibility when interim change is needed.

Between 1852 and 1969, the King County sheriff was an elected position. That changed after voters approved a Home Rule Charter in 1968, which replaced many elected officials with appointed positions. A proposed ordinance approved by voters in 1996 returned the sheriff role to an elected position – Dave Reichert was elected sheriff in 1997.