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Sunday, October 13, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Panel of citizens will set salaries for Spokane County sheriff, prosecutor

FILE – Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, right, speaks to the media surrounded by chiefs of police and other county sheriffs to urge the passage of state legislation which would automatically decertify law officers who commit crimes Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 at the Spokane Sheriff's Office. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE – Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, right, speaks to the media surrounded by chiefs of police and other county sheriffs to urge the passage of state legislation which would automatically decertify law officers who commit crimes Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 at the Spokane Sheriff's Office. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane County commissioners addressed Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s salary on Tuesday, although they didn’t give him the raise he’s been asking for.

Instead, the commissioners voted unanimously to let an independent panel of citizens determine how much the sheriff makes. They gave the 10-member Citizens’ Commission on Salaries the same authority over the elected prosecutor’s salary.

That same panel gave the county commissioners – Republicans Al French, Josh Kerns and Shelly O’Quinn – a 19 percent raise earlier this year, bringing their salaries to $110,693.

County law previously provided that the assessor, auditor, clerk and treasurer made 95 percent of the commissioners’ salary. Under the resolution passed Tuesday, the citizens’ commission will recommend salaries for those positions, and county commissioners will have authority to approve or reject them.

Any salary reductions that the commissioners approve for other elected officials would take effect only at the end of those officials’ terms.

Knezovich’s base pay last year was $123,234, the average of the salaries earned by the sheriffs in Pierce, Clark, Kitsap, Snohomish, Yakima and Benton counties.

According to county salary data, at least 15 of Knezovich’s employees made more than him last year, mostly due to overtime. His three undersheriffs had base salaries of about $132,000. One sergeant made more than $144,000.

Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl made $151,595 in 2016, a year in which he only served as chief for half the year.

Knezovich said Tuesday he has been asking for a raise for several years. He said he works roughly 70 hours a week and doesn’t get paid for overtime.

“On a normal summer,” he said, specifying the period between May and the end of September, “I will maybe get three weekends off.”

Prosecutor Larry Haskell, who made about $160,000 last year, said he’s not personally concerned about his wages even though state law suggests they should be higher. His salary is calculated by adding half of a Superior Court judge’s salary to half of a District Court judge’s salary.

“For what it’s worth, the Legislature says the prosecutor’s salary should be the same as a Superior Court judge’s,” Haskell said.

In January 2016, French introduced a proposal to boost the salaries of the sheriff and prosecutor, but O’Quinn and then-Commissioner Todd Mielke rejected it, saying they should wait until the citizens’ commission met this year.

None of the current commissioners responded to multiple requests for comment on Tuesday.

After his proposal failed last year, French said the county had struggled to increase wages to market rates in the wake of recession.

Haskell said Tuesday he understands that Spokane County “is not a rich county by any means.” He said only a few counties in Washington pay their prosecutors the same salaries as Superior Court judges.

Under the resolution passed Tuesday, the chief deputy attorney and the county’s counsel for defense manager will make 85 percent of the elected prosecutor’s salary beginning in 2019.

Knezovich said the sheriff’s wages were frozen for political reasons in 1996. The commissioners at the time froze Sheriff John Goldman’s pay, then cut it from $90,000 to $70,000 when his term expired. The new pay was less than undersheriffs made and Goldman opted not to run for a second term.

Commissioners who supported that pay cut said it was a conflict of interest for the sheriff to have a salary based on those of his employees. But the commissioners oversee union negotiations for the contracts of Sheriff’s Office employees – not the sheriff.

Knezovich said it’s “a small step in the right direction” to give the citizens’ commission authority over his salary, even though the panel isn’t expected to convene again until 2019.

“Maybe politics will get out of it a little bit,” he said.

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