MONTESANO — The Grays Harbor County commissioners on Monday named Rick Scott as the next sheriff of Grays Harbor County.
Scott, who has 35 years with the Sheriff’s Office, most recently as undersheriff, will officially be sworn in this morning. He won’t stand for election until 2014, completing the term of Sheriff Mike Whelan, who retired on Oct. 1. Scott’s been acting sheriff since then, but had to go through the motions of being nominated by the Grays Harbor Democrats and go through the appointment process to actually get the title.
Scott said he asked his childhood friend Judy Mawhorter to swear him into office on Tuesday. Mawhorter is Scott’s chief civil deputy and, as it happens, they both went to Satsop School together in grade school.
“We’ve known each other our whole lives and I thought it’d be special to have her do it,” Scott said.
Immediately after being sworn in, Scott said he will swear Mawhorter in as chief civil deputy, Dave Pimentel as the new undersheriff and Sgt. Steve Shumate as the new chief criminal deputy. He’ll also have to issue new commissions for all of his deputies, as well as police officers around the county, who also have commissioned deputy powers.
“There’s going to be a whole lot of paperwork to get done the next few days,” Scott said.
The commissioners formally appointed Scott to the sheriff’s position Monday afternoon during their regular meeting.
“I can’t think of another person I’d rather have in that position,” Commissioner Mike Wilson told Scott.
“I look forward to following in the footsteps of of Mike Whelan and Dennis Morisette,” Scott said shortly after accepting the role.
As it is, Scott is wearing an old sheriff’s star of former Sheriff Morrisette until new badges of his own can be made.
“It’s appropriate, given how much I learned from Morrisette,” Scott said.
Scott’s first, immediate, challenge will be to work with the county commissioners as they set his budget. Scott says he supports Whelan’s last budget request for a new jail superintendent and two new corrections officers, noting that the county’s jail cannot be at capacity because of a lack of manpower.
Scott is also tasked with working with Deputy Security Chief Dave Haller in finishing up courthouse security. On Monday, the county commissioners approved a contract to have an X-ray machine in the courthouse lobby for at least the next year. Haller and Scott are also looking at a closed-circuit video surveillance system.
Another budget concern is to ensure that early retirees of the police pension program known as LEOF 1 are fully funded by the county. The county budgeted less than $50,000 to cover medical costs and it’s already exceeding $80,000 this year and could go higher by year’s end, Scott pointed out.
“This is a big issue because we have 21 retirees on this plan and the county is responsible for their medical coverage,” Scott said. “We can’t just forget about this.”
While Whelan worked on legislation in Olympia and was heavily involved with the Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and other groups, Scott says he hasn’t decided how involved he’ll be.
“As the undersheriff, I was 90 percent day-to-day activities and 10 percent policies,” Scott said. “Now, I’m all about policies, as well as the political end and that’s going to be new to me. I was never really involved on the political end before and I’m already seeing the side of this job that does involve politics.”
Scott said it will be very hard for him to step away from the operational side. For the most part, becoming sheriff has felt more like “adding one more star on the shoulder and moving two offices down the hallway.”
“I have 35 years on the operations side,” Scott said. “Because of that, I may very well be a bit more hands-on. We have 39 sheriffs in this state and they all do things a bit differently from each other and their predecessor.”
He says he still thinks he’ll be a presence at major crimes and investigations. For instance, Scott still continues to work with detectives on the case of Lindsey Baum, the missing McCleary girl, who disappeared in 2009. Just because he’s sheriff, it doesn’t mean his interest in the case will go away.
“At crime scenes, it’s very common to have seen Shumate — who was our head of investigations — standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Pimentel and myself and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Scott said.