Koster to be first-ever county ombudsman

EVERETT — John Koster didn’t spend much time looking for work.

The term-limited Snohomish County councilman is set to become the county’s first-ever ombudsman at the start of the new year.

In that role, the Republican from Arlington will get to be a trailblazer, tasked with creating from scratch an office that looks into citizens’ concerns about county government.

“One thing he’s known for is constituent work,” Deputy Executive Mark Ericks said. “He takes pride, when somebody has a problem and comes to his office, in solving that problem.”

County Executive John Lovick, a Democrat, created the ombudsman’s job as part of the 2014 budget. Lovick, the former county sheriff, was appointed in June to replace the scandal-dogged former executive, Aaron Reardon, who resigned in May.

Creating the ombudsman’s position is part of Lovick’s attempt to restore public confidence in county government.

While Koster and Lovick are from opposite ends of the political spectrum, the executive administration didn’t hesitate to consider the conservative Koster for the job.

Ericks said Koster’s council colleagues — all four Democrats — commended his fairness. Koster, Ericks recalled, has a ready response when they discussed the position: “‘Potholes don’t care whether they’re fixed by a Democrat or a Republican.’”

The Snohomish County Charter Review Commission weighed the idea of an independent ombudsman in 1986, 1996, and 2006, but never created the office. The county does have an ethics commission to review citizens complaints, but after 20 years, it’s never levied a fine of more than $100.

Snohomish County will model its ombudsman, in part, on the system that King County implemented more than 40 years ago as part of its 1968 County Home Rule Charter. Its mission is not only to investigate violations but also to publicize its recommendations.

King County’s ombudsman is charged with investigating citizen complaints about county government, allegations about employee misconduct and other reports of improper governmental action.

To work, the office needs to remain independent from the executive of the County Council. Koster may have to tell elected leaders things they don’t want to hear. It’s almost like a “fourth branch of government,” Ericks said.

“We’re inviting somebody into our house to tell us how we should do something better,” he said.

For now, the ombudsman will fall under the human resources department. Its director reports to Lovick.

The ombudsman office will be open by springtime, Ericks said.

It’s unclear how long Koster intends to stay in the role. He could not immediately be reached Thursday afternoon.

“What I have offered John is to get this started up for us,” Ericks said.

In a year or so, Ericks expects to talk to Koster about whether he’s interested in staying on.

Koster has served 12 years on the County Council. After three consecutive terms, he was ineligible to run again this year. Democratic Councilman Dave Gossett of Mountlake Terrace also must leave office at the end of the year for the same reason.

Koster previously served six years in the state House of Representatives.

His salary in the new job will be a little over $100,000 per year, Ericks said.

Koster’s legislative aide, Barbara Chapman, also will join the ombudsman’s office as an assistant. She’ll also work for the county’s Equal Employment Opportunity investigator, Stacey Allen, who is responsible for looking into internal employee complaints.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Lynnwood
Lynnwood’s car tab fee and utility tax on chopping block again

City Council members will talk about repealing them. If they do, the mayor is prepared to veto their actions.

Most of Compass Health’s clinical employees at the Marysville, Monroe and Snohomish sites will transfer to its Everett locations. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Lawsuit blames counselor’s ‘unethical’ relationship for Marysville man’s death

Joshua Klick was referred to a counselor at Compass Health. Two years later he was shot and killed.

Marysville
Smokey Point Boulevard stretch closed for crash investigation

The road was closed between 136th Street NE and 152nd Street NE after a possibly fatal collision.

Doug Ewing looks out over a small section of the Snohomish River that he has been keeping clean for the last ten years on Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the Oscar Hoover Water Access Site in Snohomish, Washington. Ewing scours the shorelines and dives into the depths of the river in search of trash left by visitors, and has removed 59 truckloads of litter from the quarter-mile stretch over the past decade. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Diving for trash in Snohomish River, biologist fills 59 pickup beds

At Thomas’ Eddy, Doug Ewing estimates he has collected 3,000 pounds of lead fishing weights. And that’s just one spot.

Wade Brickman works through a call with trainer Lars Coleman Friday afternoon at SNO911 in Everett, Washington on May 20, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Difference between life and death’: New 911 tech saves vital seconds

Snohomish County is the first in the nation to get the new technology, which reduces delays on emergency calls.

Nuno Taborda
Former Rolls Royce executive to lead Everett aerospace firm

magniX, which builds electric aircraft motors, has hired Nuno Taborda as its next CEO.

Top row (L-R): Rep. Suzan Del Bene, Sen. Keith Wagoner, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, Rep. Rick Larsen. Center (L-R): Tamborine Borrelli, Bob Hagglund. Bottom (L-R): Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, Rep. Kim Schrier, Mark Miloscia, Sen. Patty Murray.
As filing ends, campaigning shifts into a higher gear

The ballot will feature intraparty battles, election deniers and 16 challengers to a longtime U.S. senator.

In this April 10 photo, drivers head northbound on Highway 99, near the intersection of Evergreen Way and 112th Street where a motorcyclist was fatally struck by a motorist Friday. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)
Mountlake Terrace woman arrested in fatal Everett motorcycle crash

Desiree Morin is accused of hitting and killing a motorcyclist while high on methamphetamine. Bail was set at $50,000.

Marysville to pay $3.5M to former students for alleged sex abuse

The district settled the lawsuit over incidents from the 1980s. Kurt Hollstein remained employed until June 2021.

Most Read