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Hawkins returns, this time for city
Bill Hawkins never thought he’d carry the title “prosecutor” again after leaving Island County elected office a decade ago.
But in a move surprising to many in the county’s law and justice community, including himself, Hawkins is shutting down his Oak Harbor law office and taking a three-year gig as the city’s prosecutor.
His actual title is a little longer: law and justice coordinator / prosecutor.
“I had no thought of doing this whatsoever, but they came to me in an emergency,” Hawkins said.
The emergency was that the city of Oak Harbor suddenly lost its prosecutor, who handles misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases that occur in the city. Mayor Jim Slowik wouldn’t elaborate on what became of the former prosecutor, citing the confidentiality of personnel issues. The Whidbey News-Times made a public disclosure request that is still being processed.
Hawkins was able to step into the position on very short notice. It’s a job he knows well. He was Island County’s elected prosecutor from 1991 to 1998. He worked as a deputy prosecutor in the county office for 16 years before that.
“The whole community should be excited to have him,” Slowik said. “I know his reputation is that of a fair prosecutor.”
Hawkins doesn’t come cheap. Under his original, temporary contract with the city, Hawkins was working between 22 and 30 hours a week. His billing rate is $225 an hour, but he agreed to lower that to $195 beginning Aug. 1.
Slowik said Hawkins immediately offered fresh ideas for improving the city’s law and justice system. The city also happens to be in the process of forming its own municipal court, possibly a night court, effective Jan. 1, 2011; it’s a project that Hawkins can take on.
Apparently Hawkins enjoyed his return to prosecution and public service; he agreed to make the job more permanent. City officials created a special position tailored for Hawkins. He’ll prosecute crimes and help the city attorney with legal matters. He’ll help train and advise police officers about the law. In addition, he’ll investigate and coordinate changes to make the justice system more efficient and inexpensive.
“I think there’s ways to get the same job done with the same level of justice, but in a less expensive manner,” Hawkins said. “I’ll basically act as a legal engineer to redesign the system.”
Hawkins will earn $107,000 a year under the three-year contract, with an option to renew. By comparison, the Island County prosecutor earns more than $127,400 a year and oversees an office of eight attorneys and support staff.
“It pays less than private practice,” Hawkins said, “but I gotta tell you, money isn’t everything.”
Hawkins will close down his office this fall. He hopes to keep a “handful” of his current clients on a limited basis, if city officials allow it.
Both Slowik and Hawkins said that the new position will save the city money over the long run. One of Hawkins’ main tasks will be to investigating whether it will be cost effective for Oak Harbor to run its own municipal court. Currently, the city contracts with Island County to run the joint municipal and district court in Oak Harbor.
City officials have long complained about the amount the county charges the city. Several years ago, a city consultant found that the city does pay more than most cities of similar size. Slowik said he objected to the yearly $30,000 rent the city pays, especially now that the court building has been paid off. Early this year, the city gave the county a two-year notice that it would be pulling out of the agreement.
Hawkins is also looking at ways to manage the city’s aging and crowded jail in a more cost-effective manner. He suggests there may be alternatives to jail time, such as diversion or work crews, for people who commit certain crimes.
“It’s all about public safety,” he said. “You want to get their attention and stop them from doing it again. We need a lot of tools in our toolbox.”