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Sunday, December 10, 2023
Dec. 10, 2023

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Clark County’s new Jail Services department advances; transparent process urged

Otto says meetings begun with corrections staff

By , Columbian staff writer

Clark County continues to move forward with its new Jail Services department and development of a transition plan to take over management of the county jail.

County Manager Kathleen Otto, who announced Monday that former Clark County sheriff’s deputy and sheriff candidate David Shook would helm the department, gave a brief presentation Wednesday to the Clark County Council during its meeting.

“Our Deputy County Manager Amber Emery and (Human Resources) Director Will Winfield, and the current chief of the jail, did listening sessions last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with the corrections staff. There was a lot of positive conversations, a lot of good questions and we’re going to continue that dialogue,” Otto told the council.

Otto said once the entire leadership team is in place, she expects weekly meetings to be scheduled for any corrections staff member to attend and ask questions. She said Winfield has also reached out to the corrections guild to schedule listening sessions.

“There are a lot of questions and the reason why is because we are at the beginning stages of these conversations,” Otto said. “I have zero doubts we’ll be able to work together through this transition.”

In addition to appointing Shook as the director of the new department, Joe Barnett was appointed manager of jail administration and Bryan Pilakowski was named manager of jail operations. Barnett is a corrections commander at the Clark County Jail and has worked for the sheriff’s office since 1991. Pilakowski is a corrections deputy and representative for the corrections deputy guild. He has worked for the sheriff’s office for more than 20 years.

According to the Monday announcement, the team will begin the work of transitioning management of the jail from the sheriff’s office to Jail Services on Oct. 17.

Since Otto’s announcement, some have questioned how the three positions were filled less than a week after the county council approved a resolution to create the new department.

In an email to The Columbian, Otto said the decision was made to appoint the team members rather than go through a competitive application process because, “This leadership team includes a vast skill set specific to jail administration, operations and leadership that will be valuable in developing and implementing the transition plan.”

Otto said the county’s human resources policy allows appointments to be made for certain positions, “at the discretion of the county administrator or elected official.”

“All three positions require unique skill sets (e.g. jail operations, jail administration, leadership etc.). The three appointees have these required skill sets. Of course, qualifications and experience were reviewed, and conversations ensued,” Otto said in the email.

Shook’s annual salary was set at $134,316, but salaries for Barnett and Pilakowski are still being set, Otto said, and are expected to be finalized within the next couple of weeks. Barnett and Pilakowski will remain in their current positions until the leadership team convenes Oct. 17.

Shook could not be reached for comment.

“It’s important to have this team together so that they can actually start working with the stakeholders to develop that (transition) plan,” Otto told the council.

While waiting for the leadership team to begin its work, Otto said efforts are already underway to create an advisory board, and there will be an update for the council on that next week. The advisory board will consist of members of the community, law enforcement, local jurisdictions, mental and behavioral health experts, substance abuse experts, a representative of the underserved population and others, she said.

Councilor Gary Medvigy said getting information and updates out will be essential because, “the public is clamoring for information.”

“We get criticized when it seems to move too fast, but we’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Medvigy said.

Because the perception by some members of the public is that the council rushed through the recent changes at the jail, Councilor Richard Rylander Jr. asked that “we do everything that is within reason … to make sure the public has the awareness of what’s going on, what steps are being taken. If we have to err on providing too much rather than not enough.”

For county council meeting information, go to clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.

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