Two years ago, the Sheriff's Blue Ribbon Panel was formed to make recommendations for improving public transparency, enhancing employee...
Two years ago, the Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Panel was formed to make recommendations for improving public transparency, enhancing employee accountability and better managing employee discipline in the King County Sheriff’s Office.
While significant progress has been made in these areas, challenging issues remain that require tough decisions, changes in public policy, bold leadership and a forward-looking approach to managing public safety in King County.
Holding elected officials accountable requires giving them the tools to do their job. It is time to do that for the King County sheriff.
The blue-ribbon panel’s recent progress report identified areas of concern that require the full attention and support of the King County executive, council and sheriff. The panel focused on three key areas that will help ensure the panel’s unanimous recommendations are implemented:
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• The six major recommendations and 36 implementing actions presented by the blue-ribbon panel in September 2006 need to be fully supported to completion by King County government. The substantial progress and momentum achieved by the sheriff’s office to date must be sustained and enhanced to ensure a culture of transparency, accountability and professionalism in the office.
• The King County executive and council should use their best efforts to protect and implement the panel’s recommendations that are currently subject to labor negotiations with the King County Police Officers Guild. For example, sheriff’s office employees should have performance evaluations. A modern field-training-officer program and an early intervention system should be in place to better prepare new deputies entering the profession and help detect and resolve employee problems before they become serious.
Most important, the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight must be implemented as recommended by the panel and enacted into law by the council and executive. Providing independent and effective oversight of the sheriff’s office disciplinary process is critical to improving public trust in the integrity, performance and professionalism of the office.
• The King County Charter Review Commission should forward a recommendation to the King County Council to amend the county charter, giving the sheriff authority and responsibility to negotiate and manage working conditions with the labor organizations representing sheriff’s office employees. While the sheriff is consulted on bargaining issues, the sheriff currently has neither the responsibility nor the authority to negotiate labor agreements or settle contract disputes.
As an independently elected official, the sheriff should have the responsibility and authority to negotiate working conditions and management rights with all labor unions representing sheriff’s office employees. Without this authority, it is difficult and unfair for citizens to hold the sheriff accountable for leadership and oversight of these employees. The executive should retain the responsibility and authority to negotiate wages and benefits.
The panel’s recommendation would create a structure where the executive and sheriff would have a greater incentive to collaborate during negotiations with the labor organizations representing sheriff’s office employees. Under this arrangement, both elected officials would have to work together effectively in order to arrive at an agreed labor contract for joint submission to the King County Council.
At least 28 elected sheriffs in Washington state operate under a system where they retain bargaining authority for management rights and working conditions, while the executive, county commissioners or county administrator bargain wages and benefits. This system also exists in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the King County Superior Court.
Gary Locke, former King County executive and Washington state governor, strongly agrees with the panel’s recommendation:
“I am writing to encourage the charter commission to recommend and forward to the King County Council the necessary changes in the King County Charter that would give the elected sheriff direct authority to bargain management rights and working conditions with those labor unions that represent the employees within the sheriff’s office.”
The success of the blue-ribbon panel’s recommendations will depend on implementation by the sheriff and the men and women of the sheriff’s office. Success will also depend on the executive and council continuing to support the sheriff’s office and employees with the resources needed to implement the panel’s reforms. Ultimate success will depend on the citizens of King County supporting and demanding excellent law enforcement and public accountability from the sheriff’s office.
Larry Phillips is a member of the Metropolitan King County Council. Sue Rahr is the King County sheriff. Randy Revelle is a former King County executive and chairman of the Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Panel.