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Former Sheriff Sterk won’t challenge Knezovich

Former Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk announced Friday that he won’t challenge incumbent Ozzie Knezovich.

Sterk declared earlier this month that he was considering a run, but he concluded there isn’t enough time to mount a competitive campaign.

According to the state Public Disclosure Commission, Knezovich has raised $51,051 and spent $17,959 on his campaign. Sterk registered with the commission on May 6, but hasn’t done any fund-raising.

If he had started 10 months sooner, “we would be in the midst of a very competitive race,” Sterk said.

Knezovich said one reason for his whopping campaign treasury – currently the largest in Spokane County – is that he has long expected Sterk to run against him.

Sterk confirmed that he met with sheriff’s deputies early last year when some of them asked him to run.

He said he has been approached several times since then, and “this is the fourth time now that I’ve come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t do it.”

In announcing he won’t run, Sterk pelted Knezovich with much of the rhetoric a campaign might have generated.

Knezovich responded, and the crossfire revealed a hotbed of dissension among Spokane County Jail corrections officers.

Sterk said officers told him Knezovich threatened at roll calls that, “if you speak out against me or how I am managing the agency, I can fire you.”

Knezovich remembers it differently, saying several corrections officers “made false statements against their leadership,” and were warned “you can’t do that.”

He said he has “addressed every legitimate complaint that we can find,” but will hold critics accountable if they violate policies about truthfulness.

Efforts to reach a union spokesman were unsuccessful.

Sterk said both corrections and law enforcement deputies asked him to run, but “it’s more corrections officers than anyone else.”

Knezovich said county commissioners’ decision in October 2007 to give him control over the previously independent Geiger Corrections Center is a major factor in the dissension.

“The jail (staff) has been extremely resistant to the merger,” Knezovich said. “Extremely resistant. They view the Geiger work force as being less competent and qualified than they are.”

He said another source of friction is his effort to eliminate inefficient 10-hour shifts and overtime that forced him to ask commissioners for almost $900,000 in 2008 to cover overspending in the jail.

Every sheriff’s division except the main jail already works 12-hour shifts, Knezovich said.

He said a contract that allowed him to convert the day and swing shifts of jail corrections officers to eight-hour days helped keep 2009 jail spending more than $500,000 under budget.

Sterk and Knezovich agree the jail needs 12-hour shifts.

Unlike 10-hour shifts, 12-hour shifts eliminate overlaps by dividing the day evenly. They also reduce fringe-benefit costs.

Sterk said he implemented the 10-hour shifts to provide time for training that reduced the number of inmate suicides.

He said he had just asked corrections officers to consider 12-hour shifts when he resigned in March 2005 to become a Nazarene minister and executive director of the denomination’s Pinelow campground at Deer Lake.

County commissioners appointed Knezovich to the vacancy, and he was elected in 2006.