MONTESANO — After 35 years in law enforcement, Grays Harbor Sheriff Mike Whelan says he’s ready for retirement.
Whelan notified his employees Tuesday, then told the county’s police chiefs at a luncheon and also sent a letter to the county commissioners announcing his retirement, which will be effective on Oct. 1
“It’s just time,” Whelan said. “This has been a great job, an amazing experience, but the time has come. … There’s a police psychologist by the name of David Smith and he said in jest one time that if a law enforcement officer spent 25 years in law enforcement, he is probably certified crazy, but he didn’t say what it means about a guy who spends 35 years in the force like me.”
Whelan has worked at the Sheriff’s Office for 35 years, the past 14 or so as sheriff.
The county commissioners will appoint a replacement and Whelan is recommending Undersheriff Rick Scott.
“Rick Scott and I were both hired in July of 1977 and have worked together since then,” Whelan said. “Rick Scott has done just about everything within the organization from being a dog handler, a death investigator and even an administrator. He has all of the skills necessary to be an outstanding sheriff. My recommendation not only to the commissioners but the community is that he will be appointed the next sheriff. … It is a learning experience going from the day-to-day police work to do police administration and a lot of ways it’s not nearly as much fun. There are some significant skills that have to be developed and Rick has developed those skills.”
Whelan is an elected Democrat in the office, who has about two and a half years left on his term. When he leaves office, it’ll be up to the Grays Harbor Democrats to supply a list with up to three names on it. From that list, the three county commissioners will appoint Whelan’s replacement. None of that process will happen before Whelan leaves office.
Scott says he’s a Democrat who has attended the occasional Grays Harbor Democrat meeting and plans to ask the Democrats to put him on the list.
“I’m still in good health, still love the job and have worked for this office, the only police department I’ve worked at, for 35 years and, hopefully, I will be able to enjoy working here for a number of years to come,” Scott said. “
Whelan has overseen a department that has gone from 88 officers back in 1998 to 74 today, with a scaled back budget and cuts in services. During the past four years, in particular, he notes that the “three unions at the Sheriff’s Office have voluntarily taken benefit cuts, reductions in time off, have taken multi-year wage freezes, and have suffered furloughs in order to save the jobs of those with less seniority.” Whelan recently negotiated a wage increase for his officers, which he says still brings their pay behind officers in other parts of the county.
“We do more with even less,” Whelan said.
Whelan says he’s grateful for the county commissioners in hiring new courthouse deputies with the sole task of working on courthouse security issues, as well as a new deputy director of security. Whelan said those new positions put his deputies back on the street doing their job, where they belong.
Whelan said there are some issues with courthouse security he’d still like to resolve. He also wants to help facilitate a controversial update to the county’s contract with municipalities to provide jail coverage at the county jail. Negotiations are ongoing now. He also has some cold cases he’d like to take one last look at.
Aberdeen Police Chief Bob Torgerson said he’s happy for Whelan.
“Thirty-five years in law enforcement is a long time and a lot of dedication,” Torgerson said. “Sheriff Whelan has always been there for us when we needed help. We would get all the support we need and can’t ask for a more dedicated public servant. Our law enforcement community will be less when he leaves. He’s been a great person.”
Police Chief Jeff Myers says he looks forward to working with Scott during the transition time.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Sheriff Whelan as police chief in Hoquiam and I previously worked for him at the Sheriff’s Office,” Myers said. “I wish him and his family well as they enter a new point in their lives. And I hope he’s looking forward to many years of health and happiness.”