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Island County deputies, clerk face axe

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown told the county commissioners Wednesday that he will be forced to lay off two deputies and a records clerk due to budget cuts to his office.

Brown and the commissioners previously announced that no deputies will be lost in the current round of budget cuts, but that changed Monday when Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she no longer supports Brown’s proposal to lay off the director of emergency management.

Deputies Scott Fortin and Robert Mirabal, who both work out of the South Whidbey precinct, face layoffs next year unless something changes. Mirabal left his position with the Coupeville Marshall’s Office to work for the county this summer. Fortin was one of two deputies at the academy who were told they were being laid off early this year; he kept his job after another deputy unexpectedly left the office.

Moreover, commissioners are set to approve an ordinance which removes the Department of Emergency Management from the sheriff’s supervision and turns it into “a position without supervision that reports directly to the Board of County Commissioners.”

Price Johnson said removing emergency management from the sheriff’s office relieves it of some of its burdens. She suggested that Brown may have to make other changes in his office.

“Every department in Island County is looking at reorganization strategies,” Price Johnson said, noting that the sheriff’s office has faced one of the lowest percentages of cuts among county offices in budget reductions over the last year.

Island County Commissioner John Dean, known for his conciliatory approach to governing, had unusually strong words about his fellow commissioners’ decision, which he called “a total mistake.”

“I think this is a mistake,” he said. “I hated the fact of losing Dave (Hollett), but hate even more the fact of losing two deputies.”

Last month, the county commissioners assigned Sheriff Brown to cut 5 percent of his budget. The commissioners were facing a $1.2 million budget deficit for 2010. The final budget is scheduled for adoption Dec. 28.

Brown originally proposed to lay off a records clerk and Emergency Management Director Dave Hollett, whose department was moved into the sheriff’s office earlier in the year. Hollett would have been replaced by a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office.

Because of civil service rules, Brown couldn’t lay off a lieutenant in his office, but would have to first eliminate the most junior members of the force.

In other words, laying off Hollett was a way to avoid eliminating patrol deputies.

But no more. Price Johnson surprised Brown Monday by announcing that she no longer supports his plan to lay off Hollett. Commissioner Angie Homola had previously stated she was opposed to the plan, though Dean supported it.

A number of people from the emergency management field have expressed dire concerns about replacing Hollett with a law enforcement officer. Homola pointed out that Hollett was hired from among many candidates for the position and that the county has spent a lot of resources over the years training him in all aspects of the job.

Price Johnson said she was concerned about Brown’s plan for emergency management, which included a transition team made up of various officials from different disciplines.

“The model was problematic to us being able to achieve our goals with the office of emergency management,” she said.

Community Events, April 2014

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