EVERETT — The relationship between Sheriff Adam Fortney and the county executive just got tense.
His voice raised, Fortney called the executive’s decision to hire former Sheriff Ty Trenary as a law and justice policy analyst a “political payback.”
Trenary had been sheriff for six years, before he lost resoundingly in the Nov. 5 elections against Fortney, then a night shift patrol sergeant.
Afterward, Trenary opted out of staying on at the sheriff’s office as a captain. Then on Friday, County Executive Dave Somers made the announcement that the ousted sheriff will join his office as a senior policy analyst focused on law and justice, emergency services, homeland security and “other high priority issues” that cross departments and agencies. Trenary will make an annual salary of $148,100.
Fortney said he opposed the hiring of Trenary in meetings with Somers, and indicated he would not work with his predecessor.
“This is not how government is supposed to work,” Fortney said Monday. “This is like worst-case scenario for everyone involved.”
Somers and Trenary had worked closely as elected officials, and endorsed each other in their campaigns for re-election, though Somers ran unopposed.
Fortney declined to comment for a Sunday story published in The Daily Herald. Sunday afternoon, he went to Facebook, where he took issue with a description in the article that he had a “hands off approach” to the county jail.
“Please hear me loud and clear—THOSE WORDS HAVE NEVER LEFT MY MOUTH!” he wrote on Facebook. “I have spent more time in Corrections in the past 6 weeks than the former Sheriff did in 6 years.”
Fortney said he’s attended roll calls and that he hopes to have an office at the jail where he can work once per week. Boosting corrections staff morale has been a focus of his, he said.
So far, the new sheriff hasn’t enacted any major policy changes, and has left in place the same leadership team. Programs brought forth under Trenary’s leadership have also remained untouched, such as providing Suboxone to inmates to help with opioid withdrawal.
Somers said he initially had concerns about what Fortney might do with the corrections facility, and in November he had considered moving oversight of the jail to the executive’s office. After the idea became public, and after further discussion with Fortney, Somers said he ultimately chose not to move forward with the plan.
In a statement Monday, Somers stood by his decision to hire Trenary, pointing to his 32 years of experience as a law enforcement officer. Roughly 75 percent of the county’s general fund budget goes to law and justice agencies.
“Ty Trenary has the ideal experience to provide policy advice to our office as we work to stand up new programs and analyze existing policies across our law and justice system,” Somers said. “… He knows what it’s like to wear a badge and gun and put his life on the line every day for the people of our community. By having Ty in our office, we are better able to understand the complex needs of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.”
In his new job, Trenary will get a chance in a different branch of county government to expand the programs he helped implement as sheriff. That includes embedded social workers, who have teamed up with deputies to help people experiencing homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness, and a new diversion center that’s used to steer those people toward longer-term services. He’ll be tasked with developing partnerships, identifying new funding sources and making policy recommendations.
He also could provide support to a $250,000 law and justice study, slated to be done by the end of the year. The county council and the executive’s office have not yet made a decision on how that study will be carried out.
Somers said Trenary’s hire wasn’t an “adversarial move,” but noted that it could carry an element of oversight for the sheriff’s office. The executive can’t determine what the sheriff can or can’t do, but he does have a say in the budget process. Or he could make another attempt to gain oversight of the jail.
Fortney, who has been sheriff for all of five weeks, said Somers has placed “zero trust” in him.
Spokesperson Kent Patton gave a different characterization of Somers’ position.
“The Executive has had a generally positive dialogue with the new sheriff and looks forward to a productive partnership,” Patton wrote in an email. “The Executive has been entirely transparent with the Sheriff and believes they both want to show results.”
But because of Somers’ move to bring Trenary on, Fortney said he won’t support a new tax to help public safety agencies throughout the county, which previously failed a vote in 2016. He likened the decision to spend money on a position for Trenary to playing “shell games with taxpayer money.”
At this point, Fortney said, any chance of a working relationship with the executive’s office is likely over.
“As long as he’s there,” Fortney said, referring to Trenary, “it’s not going to work.”