WALLA WALLA — According to Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner, the decision to hire a retired Los Angeles police officer, John King, to replace former Capt. Barry Blackman was difficult, “based on many factors.”
“It was made in the best interests of the Sheriff’s Office,” Turner said in a phone interview this morning.
The decision isn’t sitting well with Blackman, apparently, and the erstwhile captain took issue with the decision in a letter written to Turner in January, then forwarded to Walla Walla County commissioners Feb. 25, a day after Turner announced King’s hiring in a guest column that ran in the Union-Bulletin.
Perry Dozier, chairman of the county commission, said Blackman’s letter was the first he had heard of King’s appointment to Blackman’s position. He said that, legally, Turner can appoint anyone he deems appropriate.
“He can appoint or demote out of those (appointed) positions,” Dozier said, adding he has not, in his four years as commissioner, received a letter like Blackman’s.
Turner stated in his editorial letter, “John (King) announced his desire to move his family to the Pacific Northwest around the same time that Chief Deputy Barry Blackman was discussing his plans to retire.”
Turner added that King visited Walla Walla several times, and was eventually offered a position.
“Since then, we were also glad to hear that Barry Blackman has decided not to retire at this time,” Turner wrote. “He advised us that he would prefer to stay on the team a while longer and be reassigned to another supervisory position.”
Blackman’s letter, however, indicated that Blackman would prefer to remain in his current position, and that Blackman had not, in fact, announced any definite retirement plans.
Blackman pointed out that he had said he would retire if his wife, Chis Blackman, was elected as a county commissioner in the 2012 election.
“I realize it was stated that if my spouse were elected … I would retire at the earliest time I’m eligible, which would be October 2013,” Blackman wrote. “My wife was not elected to the office of county commissioner, so there will be no conflict (of interest), and therefore I have no plans to retire in the immediate future.”
Blackman also wrote that he was against an alleged promise to reinstate Blackman to the position of Chief Deputy if Undersheriff Edward Freyer retires and King were promoted to that position.
“I am emphatically opposed to that proposal,” Blackman wrote, later adding that would only increase confusion within the department.
“I understand that John King may be an attractive prospective staff member,” Blackman wrote, stating he had concerns about how the decision to demote him and hire another administrative staff member from outside the department would be received by the community and deputies.
“The message that would be received would be that you don’t feel that anyone within the agency … is good enough to be in your administration.”
When questioned about Blackman’s letter, which was dated Jan. 9, 2013, Turner said he could not comment on personnel matters, and restated the decision to hire King was difficult.
Turner also did not comment on whether Blackman’s reassignment to sergeant was filling a vacant position, or whether a new position would be created, and what, if any, salary changes Blackman could face.