With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

When the shit hits the fan, Sheriff Sue Rahr will be standing alone.

Sheriff Sue Rahr went to a King County Charter Review Commission's Regional Governance Subcommittee last week armed with an endorsement from a panel, which reviewed her office in 2006, recommending that power to negotiate the terms of labor contracts rest with her, rather than County Executive Ron Sims. The entire meeting had the feeling of watching your parents fight as a kid: They tell you how much they love each other before taking a series of passive-aggressive pot shots until the lawyers are called in. Both Rahr and representatives of the executive's office began their remarks by insisting that they had the utmost respect for each other, adding that their concerns were in part hypothetical—if, say, there's ever a sheriff and executive who are at loggerheads. But not these two, just, you know, in theory. In 2006, the panel created a list of 36 actions it felt were essential to getting the department on track. Most have not been completed because they have to be addressed through labor negotiations, according to the sheriff's report on the panel's recommendations. And Rahr wants the power to do that in part because, she says, she's the one held accountable for the management of the department with whom Sims is negotiating. "I can't think of a single instance when the executive has stepped forward and taken responsibility for the behavior of my employees," she says. During a break, she mentioned to one commission member that when the shit (her word) really hits the fan, it is she, not Sims, who faces the music alone. Sims Chief of Staff Kurt Triplett argued that changing the charter is too drastic, noting: "As you all know, we have the highest respect for the sheriff." (This coming from the same man who, at a meeting of the commission in November, pushed for a return to the days of an appointed sheriff.) He says that putting negotiating power in the hands of the sheriff will increase the county's exposure in a lawsuit should the department end up with a contract that conflicts with other departments' agreements. The committee members focused questions and comments on the need for more dialogue between the sheriff and executive, so it doesn't look like a charter change is coming in the near future—but expect a lot of mudslinging between the two the next time an off-duty deputy is arrested for assault.

 
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