Snohomish council considers hiring permanent police chief

Many think Capt. Robert Palmer is the best fit, but his salary would cost the city another $30,000.

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Robert Palmer is the interim chief of police for the city of Snohomish. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Robert Palmer is the interim chief of police for the city of Snohomish. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

SNOHOMISH — At its most recent meeting, the Snohomish City Council was asked to consider changes to its contract with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, to allow the city to hire Capt. Robert Palmer.

Palmer took over a few months ago, following a tense night in downtown Snohomish.

He attended the Snohomish City Council meeting Tuesday night dressed in a black uniform, in case he was sworn in that night. Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney was there for the same reason. Police services in Snohomish are provided by the sheriff’s office, with the current contract valid until the end of 2021.

Ultimately, the council decided not to make any decisions yet. Changes to the contract included adding $30,000 to the city budget to hire Palmer as a captain, to pay a total of about $200,000 a year for salary and benefits, according to city records.

The city council could avoid that extra cost if it hired another lieutenant instead, paying about $170,000 for salary and benefits. Council members also wanted to look closer at language in the contract. They’re scheduled to continue the discussion during the next regular meeting on Sept. 15.

Palmer has been the interim police chief since June. At the time, former chief Lt. Keith Rogers was assigned to another position within the sheriff’s office after hundreds of people gathered on First Street, some with guns. Many called for his resignation.

On Tuesday, councilmember Judith Kuleta asked Palmer how he would handle a situation similar to the gathering at the end of May, if it were to happen again.

He said he would follow the law and use available resources within the county and state.

“That’s the best thumbnail sketch I can give you,” he said. “It depends on what’s going on.”

Councilmember Tom Merrill asked if there were any lieutenants in the sheriff’s office who could take over the role, to avoid paying the $30,000.

“Honest answer is certainly, yeah,” Palmer replied. “There are great people who work for the sheriff’s office and they’re certainly capable of coming in and administering the Snohomish contract.”

Soon after, virtual attendees were allowed to speak during public comment. Some pointed out they don’t agree with sheriff Fortney’s leadership, and don’t know if they trust his recommendation to hire Palmer.

Merrill shared the same concern. He also has not yet had a chance to sit down and talk with Palmer, and he hopes to do so before making a decision, he said.

State Rep. John Lovick called in during public comment. Lovick, a Democrat, serves the 44th Legislative District. His opponent in the upcoming general election is Snohomish Mayor John Kartak.

Before Lovick was appointed to the House of Representatives, he served as sheriff and county executive in Snohomish County.

“I think this man is an absolute class act,” he said of Palmer. “When I say class act, I think about some of the interactions I’ve had with him over my career. He’s the kind of leader I would want if I lived in your wonderful city.”

Palmer has been with the sheriff’s office for 32 years, including in roles as a detective investigating homicides, crimes against children, narcotics and sex offenders.

Councilmember Steve Dana said the idea of spending $30,000 makes him “wince a little bit” but that he’s comfortable paying the money, because he believes Palmer is the best choice.

He also pointed out that if people don’t trust Fortney’s judgment, they may want to listen to Lovick.

“You just heard a ringing endorsement from Rep. Lovick regarding the qualities and the merits of the man,” Dana said. “… We all have some questions about maybe the philosophy of people in the sheriff’s office and other elected offices. I think in this particular case we are looking for a guy with impeccable character and impeccable qualifications.”

By the Tuesday meeting, Palmer was only days from ending his 90-day position as the city’s interim police chief. Fortney gave permission for him to stay in that temporary role as the council continues to deliberate.

After more than an hour of discussion, the council voted to continue the conversation at its next regular meeting.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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