The King County (Washington) County Council approved a ballot measure to change the position of King County Sheriff from an elected to an appointed one. A second ballot measure, if approved, would give the County Council power over the duties and responsibilities of the sheriff’s department.
The approved measures will appear on the ballot in November reported FoxNews.com. King County contains the city of Seattle as well as its surrounding suburbs.
The change from elected to appointed sheriff was not a reaction to the recent nationwide protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year according to MyNorthwest.com. A charter review board recommended the changes after a thorough, months-long review.
This was not the opinion of County councilman Girmay Zahilay, who referred to the current calls for defunding police departments as the primary motive for the measures. “The largest movement in American history, nationally and locally,” he said, “they have all been saying one central message and that is that we need a new system of public safety. That kind of big, bold fundamental change I don’t think we can rely on just a sheriff’s department that’s independently elected that we can’t truly oversee.”
The King County Sheriff has been an elected position since 1996. The office has a term of four years.
County councilman Rod Dembrowski defended the ballot initiatives. “This proposed charter amendment is not about being upset with or against the police,” he said. “I think that debate is unappealing and is not accurate.” He also commented that currently voters in the city of Seattle wield too much power in the election of a countywide office like sheriff, despite Seattle residents not often being affected by the office. “Those of us who represent cities with the sheriff’s office, the cities themselves, and rural unincorporated and urban unincorporated residents, I think, could and should play a stronger role in determining the sheriff,” he said. Appointment of the Sheriff by County Council would make this possible Dembroski asserted.
Dembroski claimed that he was concerned about the increasing politicization of the Sheriff’s office. “This would enable a nationwide search to choose the very best top law enforcement officer,” he said. “It could very well be someone from within the department, but it may be someone that doesn’t want to be a politician.” He did not explain exactly how the change from elected position to political appointee would remove politics from the sheriff’s office.
If passed, the current occupant of the Sheriff’s Office, Mitzi Johanknecht, would remain in the office until the expiration of the four-year term in 2021.