Sheriff nixes 'finder's keeper's'

Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley “hit the ceiling” when he read about the new ordinance allowing county employees to keep any lost stuff they find in the course of duty.

“I was outraged by it,” Hawley said of the finder’s keepers ordinance, which was passed unanimously by Island County board of commissioners on Monday.

“We never received any word regarding this coming to pass,” Hawley said, “but that’s the least of my complaints.”

Under state law, government employees are forbidden to keep lost items unless a local resolution stating otherwise is adopted. The resolution passed by the board lets Island County workers retain whatever they find on the job, so long as they turn it over to the Sheriff’s Office and nobody claims it within 60 days.

Hawley said that “once they peeled me off the ceiling” he sent out a strongly-worded memo saying he would continue to prohibit his employees from keeping what they find.

“Being allowed to claim property found in the course of our public duties will open a Pandora’s box of ethical allegations breeding mistrust and eroding the confidence of the very persons we serve,” Hawley wrote.

In an interview Friday, Hawley called the new ordinance “short-sighted,” saying it gives the perception of a conflict of interest. He said such a perception “destroys the very ability for us to do our job, if people don’t trust us.”

He said that no county employees, and especially those “in a special place of trust,” such as deputies, should profit from just doing his job.

“I feel that passing something like this just opens up all of us to all sorts of undeserved criticism,” Hawley said.

In passing the ordinance, the commissioners explained that it might compel county employees to turn in found items to the Sheriff’s Office, rather than take them home. Prior to the new ordinance, all found property that was not claimed was sold off, with proceeds going to the county’s general fund.

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