July 19, 2019 by Cindy Alia
On June 26, 2019 the King County Charter Review Commission has taken up the task of changing your right to vote for a sheriff, replacing that right with an appointment by the county executive:
“AN ORDINANCE proposing to amend the King County Charter to reestablish the office of county sheriff as an executive appointed position; amending Sections 5 350.20.40, 680.10, and 890 of the King County Charter and repealing Sections 645 and 898 of the King County Charter; and submitting the same to the voters of the county for their ratification or rejection at the next general election to be held in this county occurring more than forty-five days after the enactment of this ordinance.”
Hats off to Shift Washington for uncovering this little reported bit of malfeasance being carried out by the Charter Review Commission! King County Voters’ Rights to Elect Sheriff Being Threatened exposes the planned changes proposed by the commission, and includes a link to the draft agenda where this proposed change has been included in the meeting minutes here. A second article here discusses some of the flawed logic. Below, we describe a number of other important considerations on this issue.
Most citizens would find this proposed change appalling in that we expect our elected sheriff to act in the interest of all citizens as the guardian and watchman of our constitutionally protected rights. This news has alarmed and disgusted many citizens of unincorporated King County. We elect our councilmen, hoping for the best with our candidates for that position, but in doing so it is realized their representation will be seriously diluted by councilmen from Seattle and other environs that do not know rural unincorporated life well.
Given the strictly political nature of a county council election, it would not be a stretch to say in comparison the election of a sheriff is paid closer attention and is taken more seriously than a councilman race. A sheriff must be one who does know rural King County life, understands the priorities and needs of rural citizens and is ready and willing to understand the issues of unincorporated citizens.
It is during the campaigning and election process voters determine the ability and likelihood of a candidate to hold fidelity to our constitution rather than a political allegiance. Determining the best candidate for sheriff is watched closely and discussed in detail among citizens during the election season. An elected position better defines duty to citizen and constitution than an appointed sheriff, who would be hampered in their duty by fidelity to the county, not the citizen.
Oath swearing aside, an appointed sheriff would unfortunately be answerable to the county council, not the individual voting citizen. The appointed sheriff could be recruited from anywhere in the country and thus would be lacking in historical knowledge of the county and its past and present issues. An appointed sheriff could be fired by the county council, and would be a de facto head of an administrative arm, taking a prioritization of duty from the county executive.
In contrast, the elected sheriff when swearing an oath is accountable to the citizens he/she serves, and to the Constitutions of the United States and State of Washington.
An elected sheriff must know and understand the area to which he/she is elected, be a resident of that area, and take the job seriously enough to campaign and display a level of concern and responsibility to the citizens electing him. The Sheriff will take an oath of office which includes a statement of dedication to those who elected him.
The Sheriffs of Washington are elected and are constitutional officers within the Constitution of the State of Washington. State law at RCW 36.16.030 requires that every county ELECT (not appoint) a Sheriff.
An elected sheriff may not be fired, but rather good cause for recall must be shown, and removal from office would go to a vote of the citizens who elected him.
It is clear in state law the sheriff owes allegiance to the rule of law, not the rule of man. Nowhere in state law is it described where a sheriff may ignore some law that is not favored by a county council. On the other hand, a sheriff's duty is to uphold the Constitution, and can thereby protect his/her citizens against an unconstitutional whim of state legislators, bureaucrats, or even voters! An example is discussed in this article regarding the unconstitutional nature of Initiative 1639: https://www.gunpowdermagazine.com/washington-state-sheriff-we-have-constitutional-duties-with-our-oath-of-office/.
State law at RCW 36.28.010 describes the general duties of the sheriff:
The sheriff is the chief executive officer and conservator of the peace of the county. In the execution of his office, he and his deputies:
(1) Shall arrest and commit to prison all persons who break the peace, or attempt to break it, and all persons guilty of public offenses;
(2) Shall defend the county against those who, by riot or otherwise, endanger the public peace or safety;
(3) Shall execute the process and orders of the courts of justice or judicial officers, when delivered for that purpose, according to law;
(4) Shall execute all warrants delivered for that purpose by other public officers, according to the provisions of particular statutes;
(5) Shall attend the sessions of the courts of record held within the county, and obey their lawful orders or directions;
(6) Shall keep and preserve the peace in their respective counties, and quiet and suppress all affrays, riots, unlawful assemblies and insurrections, for which purpose, and for the service of process in civil or criminal cases, and in apprehending or securing any person for felony or breach of the peace, they may call to their aid such persons, or power of their county as they may deem necessary.
Although the King County Sherriff's Office is indicated as a "department" in this url: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/sheriff.aspx, it is not a subdivision of King County government.
The top of the Washington State Sheriffs Association (WSSA) website (http://washeriffs.org/) states: ""The Office of Sheriff is one of antiquity. It is the oldest law enforcement office known in the common law system, and it has always been accorded with great dignity and high trust" - Walter H. Anderson, in Sheriffs, Coroners and Constables. The Sheriffs of Washington are elected and are constitutional officers within the Constitution of the State of Washington." Further, in a slideset by WSSA found here, the Powers and Duties of the Sheriff are described as:
- The modern Office of Sheriff carries with it all of the common law powers, duties and responsibilities attendant upon an office of such antiquity and high dignity, except insofar as the office has been legally modified by legislative enactment.
- The Sheriff is not a county police chief.
- The Sheriff works for the people, not the commissioners [or councilmembers]
- The Sheriff does not work for county government, but is part of county government.
The WSSA slideset provides additional detail on why the Sheriff's office is NOT a "department" of the county government, and why that distinction is so important. The Office of the Sheriff is a Constitutional Office having exclusive Powers and Authority. These Powers are not subject to the dictates of county government.
The National Sheriffs’ Association recognizes the importance of keeping the Office of Sheriff as an elected position in their document PRESERVE THE OFFICE OF SHERIFF BY CONTINUING THE ELECTION OF OUR NATION'S SHERIFFS: https://www.sheriffs.org/sites/default/files/tb/Preserving_the_Office_of_Sheriff_Through_Election.pdf
The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association https://cspoa.org/ recognize the constitutional duties of a sheriff as illustrated in this article featuring Sheriff Robert Mack, written by Charles H. Featherstone of the Columbia Basin Herald, SHERIFF MACK: UPHOLDING RIGHTS, NOT ENFORCING LAW, PURPOSE OF POLICE AND SHERIFFS: https://www.columbiabasinherald.com/local_news/20190714/sheriff_mack_upholding_rights_not_enforcing_law_purpose_of_police_and_sheriffs
It seems this King County Charter Commission is working against the rights of all citizens and for the political wishes of some citizens and the King County Executive in proposing to eliminate our right to vote for our Sheriff. It is hardly reassuring the change would be put to a vote of the citizens, we in King County are well-aware of the perils of “free and fair elections”. Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights is recommending each citizen take time now to contact their King County councilmen, as well as the King County Charter Commission to let them know your opinion on the proposed change from elected sheriff to appointed sheriff. It will prove to be effective to have your opinion known now when it may be enough to stop this attempted miscarriage of representation, than it will be later if this proposed change is put to a vote of the citizens of King County.
Contact the Charter Commission and give your opinion on the proposed changes to your rights here: CharterReview@kingcounty.gov
You can also find and contact your King County Councilmembers here: https://www.kingcounty.gov/council.aspx