JEFFERSON COUNTY SHERIFF RACE: Documents describe attempted firings of candidate Davis

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — In a battle of personnel files, Jefferson County sheriff candidate Wendy Davis, who twice faced possible termination from the Poulsbo Police Department, says the point is being lost.

“This isn't about personnel files; it's about who is the best person to do the job — who has the best ideas, methodologies and skills to come into this community and make the sheriff's department a better place,” said Davis, 47, a former member of the Bremerton and Poulsbo police departments who is now a human resources officer for Port Ludlow Associates.

Davis is opposed in the Aug. 5 primary by Ken Przygocki, 63, a retired State Patrol sergeant who filed with no party preference.

Also on the ballot is David Stanko, 66, who has said he is not actively campaigning but who would reconsider if he gains enough votes to push him into the Nov. 5 general election.

Incumbent Tony Hernandez is not running for re-election.

The campaign has led to examinations of both active candidates through public records requests that are being distributed by the opposition.

“I haven't read or seen Mr. Przygocki's personnel file, nor do I want to see it,” Davis said.

“All along, I've said I would run on my own merits and run a positive campaign. You have never heard me say anything bad about Ken.”

Davis' file and other documents, which she confirmed as authentic, have been distributed by members of the Jefferson County Republican Party.

Davis' termination was recommended by then-Chief Dennis Swiney in a letter dated Oct. 22, 2012, and by Deputy Chief Bob Wright in a Feb. 21, 2013, letter.

After intervention in both cases, Davis continued working for the department until she resigned in April 2013.

In the first letter of termination, Swiney recommended to Mayor Becky Erickson that Davis, who he had hired in November 2011 as the department's deputy police chief, be terminated Oct. 31, 2012, shortly before the end of the yearlong probationary period.

He said in the letter that Davis had failed to “develop an appropriate management orientation.”

He said she had revealed a personal relationship with Sgt. Andy Pate, one of three sergeants under her supervision.

“While I commend you for bringing this issue forward in accordance with department policy, we are unable to revise reporting relationships to accommodate your relationship,” Swiney wrote, noting that Pate reported to Davis.

“There is no way to adjust these reporting relationships in order to accommodate your relationship,” he wrote.

David Shurick, Poulsbo Police Officers Association vice president, wrote the mayor. In his Oct. 26, 2012, letter, he described Davis as a “professional, capable, strong and qualified leader” and “one of the best hires that the city of Poulsbo has made in some time” and asked for the mayor's help.

Upon the disclosure of Davis' relationship with Pate, Swiney engineered an agreement in which Davis would resign from her position as deputy chief and accept the position of sergeant.

“After bringing personal issues to the Mayor and Chief, it was mutually agreed upon that the change was in the best interests of all parties,” according to an Oct. 31, 2102, memo.

A memo of understanding between the police officers association and the city dated Nov. 26, 2012, said a provisional sergeant position would be created for her and that, because of an off-duty injury, she would be placed on light duty.

Wright, then a sergeant, took the deputy chief position, becoming Davis' supervisor.

Four months after Davis resigned from the deputy chief position, Wright wrote a letter terminating her from the sergeant's post, saying she had “failed to perform tasks assigned in a reasonable manner.”

He listed five complaints: delays in inspecting vehicles, a delay in gathering equipment for a vehicle purchase, failing to get overtime information from an employee to him in a timely manner, failing to be in the office when expected and violating the city's anti-disruption policy by contacting the human resources department several times to get her schedule changed.

Wright did not answer a call for comment Friday,

A sticky note dated Feb. 25, 2012, is on the letter. It says: “Per Mayor Erickson, this will not be distributed or acted upon.”

Davis said she had not seen the termination letter Wright wrote until it was released to the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader as part of a public records request.

According to Wright's letter, Davis worked swing shift her first two months as a provisional sergeant before moving to an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule.

In letters preceding the termination letter, Wright said he expected her to be in the office during these hours, except for two 15-minute breaks and an hour lunch, and if she had to leave, she was to notify office staff.

Wright said in the letters that she was often missing during those times and did not account for her whereabouts.

Davis said she accounted for her time.

“I had a lot of doctor's appointments” for her injured ankle, “but I did fill out all of the paperwork,” she said.

Davis emphasized that she and Pate had not hidden their romantic involvement. Instead, they brought it to Swiney's attention.

She also said the work situation was familiar to her since as she had worked on the Bremerton Police Department at the same time as her husband, Mark Thompson, and at some point when she was on patrol and he was a supervisor.

Thompson and Davis are separated. Once their divorce is final, Davis and Pate intend to marry, Davis said.

Davis said that prior to her job switch, she and Pate were “good buddies” with Wright, who helped the couple move into her new home.

But one weekend, when Pate was taken ill and transmitted a sick leave request to Wright via text, Wright responded with what Davis characterized as “an extremely inappropriate” response.

Davis filed a complaint of sexual harassment and hostile working environment Jan. 8, 2013.

In a Feb. 25, 2013, letter, Erickson said an investigation found the allegations were unsubstantiated.

“However [name redacted] acknowledged the comments were unprofessional in nature and there is the expectation that he will treat you with professionalism and respect,” the letter said.

The letter also mentions “retaliation concerns” and says “the schedule is one that would be expected of an administrative sergeant” and that “the letter of expectations may have come on the heels of your complaint and the timing may have been influenced by your complaint, however, the expectations would apply whether or not the letter was issued.”

Erickson praised Davis.

“I don't know anything about her opponent, but I think Wendy would be a great sheriff,” he said.

Former Bremerton Police Chief Rob Forbes said in an email that Davis' job performance was “above average and in some cases, depending on the assignment, outstanding.”

Present Poulsbo Police Chief Alan Townsend began work at the Poulsbo department as Davis was leaving but was acquainted with her during the time he was Port Orchard's police chief.

“I found her to be squared away, assertive, up-front about issues, and she is not afraid to tackle even the biggest issues head-on,” Townsend wrote.

Said Davis: “I made a decision from the heart, and so did Andy,” of going public.

“We had integrity, and we were honorable. If people are going to disrespect me for that, they weren't going to vote for me in the first place.”

Davis said many women face similar issues in the workplace.

“As sheriff, I will make sure that no employee in the Sheriff's Office is treated the way I was,” she said.

“I was certainly fortunate to have superiors who understood the law and best practices and who stood by me, but that understanding is too often absent in today's workplace.”

________

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.



Managing Editor/News Leah Leach contributed to this report.

Last modified: July 19. 2014 6:05PM
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