Susan Hutchison Makes First Appearance for the Cops

While her four male, Democratic companions were attending forums and mixers over the last month, Susan Hutchison says she was out talking to constituents, trying to get a sense for what the county needs. But this morning, she finally joined her fellow candidates on a stage before the King County Police Chief's Association in Burien. The Exec hopefuls took questions from area top cops about how they would prioritize public safety if they were in charge.

Predictably, everyone said they would make public safety a top priority (expect the same with growth management at tonight's Futurewise forum). The backdrop to the discussion: Interim County Exec Kurt Triplett recently asked Sheriff Sue Rahr to ax $7 million from her budget for next year. If today's forum had a winner, it may have been Rahr, as the candidates rushed to praise her and defend her against Triplett's proposed cuts.

But it's in how to avoid those deep cuts that the candidates vary widely.

Dow Constantine had to duck out early, but fellow council member Larry Phillips was quick to say that King County needs more revenue to sustain the department. He reiterated past attacks on Tim Eyman (who was in the audience) for sponsoring initiatives that cut deeply into the county tax base, including that 1 percent property tax cap.

State Sen. Fred Jarrett repeated a well-worn mantra about accountability. He wants to increase the use of performance measures. We need to establish the ideal workload for deputies, he said, as well as what they should be accomplishing. He doesn't say exactly what those goals should be, but once we set them, we'll know if and what to cut in the department.

State Rep. Ross Hunter, who like Jarrett is an Eastside moderate, says it's important to be willing to say no. Though he didn't clarify exactly what he'd say no to. Still, he attributed some of the County's difficulty in getting money from Olympia to legislators seeing the county's generous employee compensation and benefits packages as wasteful.

Interestingly, after taking heat for her absence from these things, Susan Hutchison was the most direct. And, if this were a partisan office, would have sounded like a classic Republican. Basically she wants to enact a hiring freeze and renegotiate down the lucrative contracts that guarantee deputies 5 percent annual raises and those lucrative health care packages.

So in her first outing of the campaign, she pretty much guaranteed she won't be getting union endorsements. But Phillips and Constantine have been making the right plays for those anyway.

Still, agree or no, you have to give Hutchison credit for making her position with regard to the Sheriff's office abundantly clear.

The other big issue at the forum was the King County jail--who should control it and who should be allowed to use it. Ron Sims previously told the cities that in 2012, they would have to be out of the jails. All four candidates at this morning's forum want to see a more regional approach to dealing with inmates, but none would say whether that means consolidating everything under the Sheriff's office, or creating a regional body, similar to Sound Transit, to oversee the justice system.

But the whole discussion was rendered pretty much moot this afternoon when Triplett announced that with the number of people sent by the city of Seattle into the county jail system down by nearly 25 percent since mid-2007, the jail can continue taking inmates from the city for at least another year. Jail director Kathy Van Olst says she'll start negotiating with the cities over extending their contracts next week.

Van Olst isn't certain exactly how long the county can extend the contract with the cities. The City of Seattle provided a partial explanation for the drop in inmates, pointing to alternative programs for felony drug offenders--the biggest drop off at the jail--and new filing guidelines. But it doesn't account for the entire dip, so it could just be a fluke.

Triplett says there's no way the contract will be extended a full ten years as requested by the City of Seattle. But he hopes to get it out at least one more year so the cities and the county can work out a better arrangement.

Predictably the post-forum mingling focused on Hutchison, but she refused to answer any questions beyond those related to the forum, saying that she plans to make another appearance at the end of the month in Snoqualmie. "You guys seem to resent that I'm out in front," she told one reporter, adding that voters are "going to learn [my positions] so well in the next several months."

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