King County Executive Candidates Speak At Burien Forum

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by Ralph Nichols

Crime – including a high level of gang activity – is an ongoing concern in the Highline area, along with the rest of King County, especially at a time when multi-million-dollar budget deficits have forced staff reductions in the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices.

And not surprisingly, all five major candidates for King County executive told the King County Police Chief’s Association on Thursday that public safety is the primary responsibility of county government. They spoke at a forum at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien.

Former King County Executive Ron Sims, who resigned earlier this year to become President Obama’s number two man in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sought in 2008 sharp cuts in the staffs of both the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices. The county council lessened the impact of Sims’ proposed reductions by reinstating some of the funding he wanted to eliminate. But interim Executive Kurt Triplett now wants Sheriff Sue Rahr to cut an additional $7 million from the budget for her office next year.

Although Rahr is unopposed in her bid for election to a second full term, any attempts to make additional cuts in public safety to balance the county’s 2010 budget could make the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices a key issue in the race for county executive.

The county executive candidates who spoke at the Burien forum are King County Councilman Dow Constantine, D-West Seattle, State Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, a former Microsoft project manager, Susan Hutchison, executive director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences and a former KIRO-TV news anchor, State Sen. Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island, a Boeing project manager, and King County Councilman Larry Phillips, D-Seattle.

Also on the Aug. 18 primary election ballot for King County executive, which now is a non-partisan position, but who did not take part in Thursday’s candidate forum are Stan Lippmann, Alan Lobdell, and Goodspaceguy.

Here are the highlights of what each candidate, listed alphabetically, told the police chiefs:

Dow Constantine, whose district includes Burien and North Highline, said the primary role of county government is public safety – the sheriff’s, prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices, the courts, and the jails.

“Unfortunately, the general fund is in a period of decline” and the county council has “struggled mightily” to protect public safety from severe cuts, including the sheriff’s gang unit in Burien and White Center and its community storefront office in Boulevard Park.

Detention facilities continue to be a problem for the county, which needs to be a provider of jails for the region, he added.

(Note: Constantine had to leave after making these introductory remarks to keep a previous commitment.)

State Rep. Ross Hunter noted that 70 percent of the general fund budget goes to public safety. “That’s what we do as a county.” Now, to improve efficiencies, “we need a new regionalism,” especially in the management of jails.

“The county is not an autocrat,” he said. “We need sound financial decisions, fair accounting, for county cities and for taxpayers….

“We have to get a handle on (county) labor costs. We have to have an executive who is willing to sit at the bargaining table and bargain hard.”

Susan Hutchison said the paramount “responsibility of government at every level is the protection and safety of its citizens.” And reducing crime doesn’t happen by accident. “Your hard work,” she told the police chiefs, “in collaboration with the prosecutor’s office means we are living safer.”

Describing citizens as “fed up with the county not living within its means,” she charged that “there is waste and overspending. The first think I will do is cut out waste before we cut out other spending…. People just want the services they pay for…. Citizens don’t trust government to get anything done unless it’s cutting something that’s a benefit to them, like deputies or prosecutors.”

She would impose a hiring freeze on all county agencies, and attempt to negotiate county employee benefits down to national averages. “That’s what people in this county are demanding.”

Fred Jarrett said King County “needs to come into the 21st century” in its management of government operations and finance. The county’s primary responsibilities are public safety, criminal justice and civil justice, and these can be addressed more effectively if the county executive becomes a partner in justice system.

Sustaining the criminal justice system “has to be a budget priority,” he said, describing not prosecuting property crimes below $5,000 as “not a good idea….

“Total King County spending is up by three times the rate of inflation,” he noted. “We have to get our costs under control as a county.”

Larry Phillips noted that he was instrumental in moving major county programs, including parks and social services, out of the general fund “so they would not compete with public safety.”

Citing a “good working relationship” with Rahr, he added, “It is important that the executive and the sheriff get along.” Phillips said he worked with her to restore from Sim’s cuts in the sheriff’s budget funding for “all 10 of her top priorities.”

Moving forward, public safety will be maintained as the top priority by finding efficiencies and new revenue sources. “We may have to go the public … for some sort of approval (to increase taxes) in the future.” He blamed Tim Eyman initiatives that imposed tax limits on local government as part of the current budget problem.

Problems with county jail space can be reduced by providing non-custodial programs for the mentally ill and the drug dependant under strict guidelines and enforcement, he said.

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One Response to “King County Executive Candidates Speak At Burien Forum”
  1. John Marthens says:

    King County Council has a history of imposing increases in various taxes without input or comment from the general public/voters. Recently, and one day after the last general election, three increases in KC sales taxes have been imposed to fund somewhat unimportant and unnecessary projects. Also, the KC Ferry District was created to fund a ferry service between Vashon Island and Seattle, without any input or discussion on the part of the general public.

    Do you think that it is fair that people that may never have need for use of any of these funded services have to pay an increase in taxes to support special interest groups?

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