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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County hires jail manager Mike Sparber as new senior director of law and justice

Spokane County has hired Detention Services Director Mike Sparber, who has spent most of his adult life working in corrections, as its first senior director of law and justice.

The new senior director of law and justice will oversee departments of the county’s criminal justice system that aren’t run by elected officials. Sparber will manage detention services, pretrial services, the public defender’s office, the regional law and justice administrator’s office and the medical examiner’s office. He did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, and Spokane County spokesman Jared Webley said Sparber was busy with meetings Tuesday afternoon.

Sparber started as a Spokane County corrections officer in 1988 and worked his way up the ranks until taking over as detention services director in 2019. The Spokane County Jail and Geiger Corrections Center are part of detention services.

Sparber’s hiring comes during a time of transition for the county’s criminal justice system. Former Spokane Regional Law and Justice Administrator Maggie Yates resigned on Jan. 18.

Yates, who had been leading the county’s criminal justice reform efforts and working to reduce the jail population, has declined to elaborate on why she resigned.

But Sparber would have become her new boss and, with her position vacant, he’ll be taking on some of her responsibilities, including implementation of a supported release pilot program in District Court.

Spokane County CEO Scott Simmons said Sparber will be able to decide whether he thinks Yates should be replaced. Even if there isn’t a regional law and justice administrator in the future, Simmons said the county will remain committed to criminal justice reform.

“I just wouldn’t get hung up too much on whether that position will be backfilled or it will be reconstituted into something different,” Simmons said.

It’s possible Sparber’s promotion could restart discussions about construction of a new Spokane County Jail.

The county will be discussing jail issues in the coming months, Simmons said. He emphasized that the county won’t necessarily be focusing on building a new jail, but rather re-envisioning its corrections facilities as a whole.

Simmons said he created the senior director of law and justice position as part of a broader effort to realign the county’s leadership structure in order to improve communication and clarify chains of command.

Simmons explained that when he became county CEO last year, he had 30 departments – “way too many,” he said – reporting directly to him. Now, Simmons said he has about 10 individuals reporting directly to him.

He said Sparber’s position won’t cost taxpayers more money because the county has eliminated its chief operating officer and environmental services director roles in the past year. Sparber and new Senior Director of Community Affairs Cathrene Nichols effectively replace those two positions from a cost perspective, Simmons said.

The county created a job description on Dec. 28 for the senior director of law and justice position. The job, which comes with a salary in the $126,000 to $155,000 range, was originally posted from Dec. 28 to Jan. 5 but only open to county employees. Simmons said the job posting was extended two or three weeks after Jan. 5, and a half-dozen county employees interviewed for the position.

Attempts to reach Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney for an interview were unsuccessful, but in a voicemail Kuney said she’s excited to have Sparber take on the role.

“Mike’s had a lot of experience here in Spokane County,” Kuney said.

Spokane County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns did not respond to requests for comment.