Crime Ã¢â‚¬â€œ including a high level of gang activity Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 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 sheriffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and prosecutorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offices.
And not surprisingly, all five major candidates for King County executive told the King County Police ChiefÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s number two man in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sought in 2008 sharp cuts in the staffs of both the sheriffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and prosecutorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offices. The county council lessened the impact of SimsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 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 countyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2010 budget could make the sheriffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and prosecutorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the sheriffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, prosecutorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and public defenderÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offices, the courts, and the jails.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Unfortunately, the general fund is in a period of declineÃ¢â‚¬Â and the county council has Ã¢â‚¬Å“struggled mightilyÃ¢â‚¬Â to protect public safety from severe cuts, including the sheriffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what we do as a county.Ã¢â‚¬Â Now, to improve efficiencies, Ã¢â‚¬Å“we need a new regionalism,Ã¢â‚¬Â especially in the management of jails.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The county is not an autocrat,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We need sound financial decisions, fair accounting, for county cities and for taxpayersÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Susan Hutchison said the paramount Ã¢â‚¬Å“responsibility of government at every level is the protection and safety of its citizens.Ã¢â‚¬Â And reducing crime doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t happen by accident. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Your hard work,Ã¢â‚¬Â she told the police chiefs, Ã¢â‚¬Å“in collaboration with the prosecutorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office means we are living safer.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Describing citizens as Ã¢â‚¬Å“fed up with the county not living within its means,Ã¢â‚¬Â she charged that Ã¢â‚¬Å“there is waste and overspending. The first think I will do is cut out waste before we cut out other spendingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. People just want the services they pay forÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. Citizens donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t trust government to get anything done unless itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cutting something thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a benefit to them, like deputies or prosecutors.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She would impose a hiring freeze on all county agencies, and attempt to negotiate county employee benefits down to national averages. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what people in this county are demanding.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Fred Jarrett said King County Ã¢â‚¬Å“needs to come into the 21st centuryÃ¢â‚¬Â in its management of government operations and finance. The countyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“has to be a budget priority,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said, describing not prosecuting property crimes below $5,000 as Ã¢â‚¬Å“not a good ideaÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Total King County spending is up by three times the rate of inflation,Ã¢â‚¬Â he noted. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have to get our costs under control as a county.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Larry Phillips noted that he was instrumental in moving major county programs, including parks and social services, out of the general fund Ã¢â‚¬Å“so they would not compete with public safety.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Citing a Ã¢â‚¬Å“good working relationshipÃ¢â‚¬Â with Rahr, he added, Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is important that the executive and the sheriff get along.Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said he worked with her to restore from SimÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cuts in the sheriffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s budget funding for Ã¢â‚¬Å“all 10 of her top priorities.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Moving forward, public safety will be maintained as the top priority by finding efficiencies and new revenue sources. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We may have to go the public Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ for some sort of approval (to increase taxes) in the future.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.