Mitzi Johanknecht, a career cop in the King County Sheriff’s Office, deserves a chance to lead the department.
Every election ought to be a referendum on the incumbent. If the incumbent doesn’t measure up, or has failed an important part of the elected office, he or she doesn’t deserve to return.
In the King County sheriff’s race, John Urquhart fails that test. Urquhart was the longtime spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office before winning the top spot in 2013, and his gift for public relations is intact. But Urquhart’s management style has alienated much of his workforce, and his response to a serious ethics scandal badly eroded his credibility.
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King County Sheriff
Strengths: Mitzi Johanknect has managed the SWAT team, special operations and two different precincts.
Incumbent John Urquhart’s management ability is legitimately called into question by a suppressed rape investigation. Johanknecht deserves a chance to straighten the ship and reset the community credibility of the sheriff."
Urquhart, 69, is challenged by Mitzi Johanknecht, a 32-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office. She has managed the SWAT team, special operations and two different precincts. She proposes modest changes to sheriff’s operations — better recruitment, stronger cybercrimes investigations, among others. But the best case for her election to sheriff is Urquhart himself.
Last year, King County settled a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against Urquhart and the Sheriff’s Office for $1.3 million. Urquhart strongly opposed settling, but county lawyers decided to mitigate potentially worse damages if the case went to trial.
During that litigation, it emerged that Urquhart directed his internal investigations unit not to document an earlier rape allegation against him in the computer system that formally tracks personnel misconduct complaints. That effectively ended what should have been a routine internal investigation. The rape allegation itself was not prosecuted after Seattle police and FBI investigated it.
But Urquhart’s handling of the case smacks of entitlement, especially because Urquhart champions himself as a tough internal policer of misconduct. It also became part of a larger case against Urquhart’s management style. The union representing the sheriff’s captains and majors filed a formal complaint this summer accusing Urquhart of lying, vindictively using internal investigations and threatening employees who support Johanknecht.
It is tough to fully understand the source of dysfunction within Urquhart’s command staff, and whether some of the angst is caused by Urquhart’s willingness to quickly call out misconduct. He did that appropriately this week regarding a sheriff’s employee pulling a gun in a routine traffic stop.
But Urquhart’s management ability is legitimately called into question by the suppressed rape investigation. He has attacked The Seattle Times for investigating it, and when the sheriff’s independent ombudsman sharply criticized Urquhart’s handling of the case, the sheriff suggested it has no authority over him as an elected official.
Johanknecht, 58, deserves a chance to straighten the ship and reset the community credibility of the sheriff. She is backed by many of the senior command staff, and clearly has the experience and expertise to oversee the 1,000 sworn and professional staff of the office.