King County Sheriff responds to allegations from recent ethics investigation
After KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show revealed Tuesday that the King County Office of the Ombuds is investigating Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht for granting a request of 144 excess vacation carryover hours, the sheriff is responding to allegations detailed in the report.
Essentially, Johanknecht OKed a carryover vacation request of 18 days, equaling $10,000 in pay to an employee who was instrumental in her 2017 campaign. The request was granted to now-Undersheriff Scott Somers — who held the title of Captain in 2017 — shortly after Johanknecht became King County Sheriff in January 2018.
That request was initially denied by the previous sheriff, John Urquhart. According to Johanknecht, there was a concern that Urquhart was retaliating against Somers for supporting the new sheriff’s campaign during the election.
“My concern was that this that the former sheriff’s actions could be retaliatory,” Sheriff Johanknecht told KTTH’s Jason Rantz. “I took them as being retaliatory for Mr. Somers working on my campaign in our off-duty time.”
As for why she granted the request, Johanknecht was adamant that it wasn’t as part of any preferential treatment.
“Not because he helped my campaign. Absolutely not,” she stated.
The sheriff’s decision to grant Somers’ request for carryover vacation was based on a pair of factors. First that, because of what she characterized as a lack of cooperation from former Sheriff Urquhart during the transition period, it was “a little bit more difficult to … do the work of the department to be prepared on January 1 when I took office.” She had previously stated she believed Somers’ help during her election campaign and transition period prevented him from using his vacation hours, ultimately leading to his carryover request.
The second reason related to concerns over retaliation against Somers by Urquhart, who had also granted another employee’s carryover vacation request.
“I was really concerned when (Somers’s) leave was denied, but an H.R. manager’s leave was approved,” said Johanknecht. “In order to avoid potential litigation on that, it was just appropriate for me as the new sheriff to make the change and grant his request.”
From here, the Office of the Ombuds will continue to conduct its investigation into the matter. It unclear at this time when it will reach its conclusion.
You can read Sheriff Johanknecht’s full response to the Ombuds, as well as documents related to the vacation request below.