City government's threat not logical
October 3, 2008 · Updated 12:40 AM
Last Tuesday evening, I spoke before the North Bend City Council regarding the threat by Mayor Joan Simpson to cancel the city's contract for law enforcement with the King County Sheriff's Office. Now she's set the process in motion and North Bend residents have 18 months in which to prepare for a public safety disaster.
As has been widely reported, the mayor - evidently backed unanimously by the City Council, according to Councilman Ed Carlson - had threatened to drop that critical contract because County Executive Ron Sims apparently convinced the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to consider construction of a facility to house high-risk sex offenders near the fire training center east of the city. Canceling that law enforcement contract in protest over Sims' apparent machinations and a DSHS decision is not simply wrong, it is wrong-headed.
Residents of North Bend should be outraged at Sims and DSHS, not the sheriff's department or Sheriff Dave Reichert. In his own remarks last week, Reichert made it perfectly clear he does not support Sims' proposal and was not part of the decision-making process. Likewise, citizens who truly are concerned about community safety should be outraged at Mayor Simpson's decision. It is remarkable that Mayor Simpson, who has worked so hard and admirably in what she feels is the best interest of her community, would set in motion an action that could have such a devastating result. North Bend residents should hope that sometime within the next 45 days, during which Mayor Simpson reportedly wants to meet with Reichert, that tempers will have cooled and cooler heads will prevail.
Incredibly, several speakers who had just listened to Reichert explain his position in detail still seemed to hold him and his agency accountable for something Sims is trying to do over the sheriff's objections. I'm not surprised that not a single hand was raised when I challenged those in the audience to acknowledge whether they voted for Sims in the last election. Not many people are willing to admit casting a ballot for a man who now wants you to become neighbors with a rapist or child molester.
Perhaps North Bend residents might want to know what it will cost for the city to re-create its own police department before sitting idly by and allowing the mayor and council to destroy their current law enforcement program in a misdirected hissy fit. Figure the cost of equipment, from uniforms to cars to radio dispatch services, plus salaries, training and benefits, office space, liability insurance and fuel, the city could easily exceed its present law enforcement costs by 50 to 75 percent, and possibly even double the amount now being spent. Whatever else that may be, it is not a wise use of public money at a time when the city is scrounging for every penny.
I was editor of the Valley Record over 25 years ago when the city abolished its small department and initiated the contract with King County. The bottom line then, as now, was the cost of police services. Many residents are concerned about how few deputies are on duty at any given moment; one covering the city and another, and sometimes two, the surrounding unincorporated area.
Does anyone seriously think that will somehow improve if the city goes through with ending this contract and re-creates its own agency? Has anyone, including the mayor and council, thought about that at all? Evidently not. Now North Bend residents will have 18 months to think about it.
Last Tuesday evening, there was an atmosphere of helplessness and vulnerability among members of the audience. What ever happened to self-reliance? If proponents of ending the sheriff's contract worry about problems from sex offenders, even with sheriff's deputies on patrol in this community, how are you going to cope with their loss?
While you're pondering that, ponder this also: Where is the logic in "punishing" the sheriff because you're upset at something the county executive is trying to pull? If all of this is some kind of "bluff," Mayor Simpson should understand this isn't a poker game and neither DSHS nor Ron Sims care about that contract or the community. If Sims cared, he would have also attended last Tuesday's council meeting.
You want to get the attention of Ron Sims? Flood his office with telephone calls. Jam the County Council meetings. You want to discourage DSHS? Work with state Sen. Dino Rossi. Most importantly, partner with Reichert and the sheriff's department to cooperatively address this threat from the DSHS, and do it in a very public way. People like Sims get away with this sort of arrogance because nobody ever holds them personally accountable. Sims is not going to care about North Bend's concerns unless the citizens of North Bend correctly make an issue out of his leadership, and not the sheriff's department contract.
Based on what I witnessed at last week's City Council meeting, Reichert is not your enemy and Sims is not your friend. It is a pity that Mayor Simpson and the council could not keep that in perspective, because now North Bend residents might just wonder whether they have friends, or enemies, at City Hall.
For all this week's letters, pick up a copy of the Valley Record