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Kootenai County sheriff to retire

Mon., March 21, 2011, 1:08 p.m.

Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson will not seek re-election next year and will leave office after serving a total of 17 years.

Watson was sheriff for one four-year term in the late 1970s, but was not re-elected. The Post Falls native and ex-Marine then was appointed sheriff in 1999 following Pierce Clegg’s retirement. Watson won re-election in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Watson graduated from the Idaho State Police Academy and has worked in law enforcement since 1968. He also ran his own private security firm for 19 years, news archives show.

During the past 12 years of Watson’s tenure, his department has grown from 184 full-time employees to 286. That included the transfer of 31 employees in the 911 division from the county commissioners’ staff to the sheriff’s office, said Sheriff’s Major Ben Wolfinger.

Also during that time, the sheriff’s budget grew from $7.8 million to $24.4 million, county records show. Helping account for that growth, Wolfinger said, were the jail’s expansion — from 127 beds to 325 — and the addition of the 911 division.

Watson was not available for comment Monday, but Wolfinger confirmed his decision.

Wolfinger, 49, announced his intention Monday to run for his boss’s job.

“Rocky and I have been talking about this for some time,” Wolfinger said. “I’ve really prepared my whole career for it. I’ve decided it’s a natural next step.”

Wolfinger has worked for the sheriff’s department for 28 years and has overseen all of its bureaus including managing patrol officers, detectives and the jail. He currently is the services bureau commander, which includes records, 911 and public information.

Wolfinger, who also served five years on the Coeur d’Alene City Council from 2000 to 2005, will run as a Republican.

Wolfinger said he is announcing his candidacy early because Watson’s decision was made public and because he wants to get a jump on fundraising.

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