King County's top jail official has resigned after less than five months on the job, with county officials offering little explanation for his departure following allegations of...

Share story

King County’s top jail official has resigned after less than five months on the job, with county officials offering little explanation for his departure following allegations of “workplace concerns.”

Kenneth Ray, 46, who had led Yakima County’s jail system for a decade, was hired by King County Executive Ron Sims in August to head the department of adult and juvenile detention. At the time, Sims hailed Ray as “an innovative leader” in the corrections industry.

Ray was scheduled to go before the Metropolitan King County Council for confirmation next week. Instead, he was placed on administrative leave Wednesday following allegations of “workplace concerns” that were being investigated by the county human-resources department. His resignation came a day later.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

In a brief letter to Sims, Ray said he was resigning “to pursue another opportunity that promises new and different experiences to which I look forward.” Ray did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.

Sources familiar with the allegations against Ray said they concerned his treatment of employees, including things he said to them. One issue that arose shortly before Ray’s resignation, sources said, was his decision to abruptly demote or reassign a top administrator in the department’s juvenile division without consulting other affected parties.

A spokeswoman for Sims declined to elaborate yesterday.

“I’m not able to say exactly what happened. There were workplace concerns that arose,” said Carolyn Duncan, Sims’ spokeswoman. “We don’t believe anyone could have foreseen the issues that arose this week.”

Jared Karstetter, legal counsel to the King County Corrections Guild, said the union members had problems with Ray’s management style.

“He didn’t consult with anybody,” Karstetter said. “He didn’t ask himself who will this decision impact and who ought I to give a heads up to before I make the decision.”

But Karstetter said he was not sure what role those complaints played in Ray’s apparent ouster. The union had been conducting its own review to determine whether to support Ray at upcoming confirmations hearings.

Ray had been hired after a yearlong search to head the King County jail system, which houses nearly 2,300 inmates and 120 juvenile offenders. Ray went from making $90,000 a year in Yakima to $120,500 a year in his new job, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Duncan said Ray had been vetted by a hiring committee that found him to be “a very qualified candidate with a long list of professional accomplishments.”

Prior to his Yakima job, Ray had been a police officer and supervisor with the Vidor, Texas, Police Department for nine years. He had also served as undersheriff for Orange County, Texas.

King County’s deputy corrections director Reed Holtgeerts, a 28-year veteran, was named interim director by Sims.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com