Shoreline Officer Demoted For Remarks -- City Says Endorsement Of Council Candidate Was Inappropriate
Seattle Times Staff Reporters
SHORELINE - Police Sgt. Mitzi Johanknecht, admired by many for her involvement in community policing, is being demoted from her job as second-in-command because city officials say she spoke out inappropriately while campaigning for a City Council candidate.
Johanknecht, an executive sergeant, will be transferred to a sergeant position at a King County Police precinct in Kenmore on Nov. 5 - the day after Shoreline elections. Shoreline contracts with King County for police services.
"The loss of this woman will be incalculable to the integrity of our city," said Krista Phipps, who was among those yesterday who protested outside Shoreline City Hall against Johanknecht's reassignment. "The last thing we want is for her to leave here."
In an open letter she wrote in support of City Council candidate Susan Reichmann, distributed last week, Johanknecht refers to the city's ongoing review of a contract proposal from King County for more than $5 million in police services.
The letter states in bold print, "Don't balance the city budget on the back of public safety!"
The consensus among the crowd of supporters was that Johanknecht had as much right as any other citizen to hold political opinions - and state them as loudly as she pleased.
"She can do what she wants on her off time," said supporter Gertrude Lindemann. Johanknecht took vacation time to campaign for Reichmann.
But Deputy City Manager Larry Bauman said it was inappropriate for an officer as high-ranking as Johanknecht to insinuate that public safety was being compromised.
"It's really a question of confidence and her ability to work with us as a city and to work with the management team of the city," Bauman said. "We can't have an executive-level officer telling the public that we're trying to balance the city budget on the back of public safety, when that's strictly not true."
The crowd that gathered outside City Hall waited in vain for over an hour for City Manager Bob Dice to back off his request to transfer Johanknecht.
"They've insulated themselves from the public," said John Phipps. "I don't see my City Council here, I don't see my mayor here. It makes me wonder if they care what we think at all."
Reichmann, who set up the city's neighborhoods office before quitting earlier this year, has been critical of the current City Council. Many of the assembled crowd said they thought Johanknecht was being transferred because she campaigned for a candidate the current council disliked, though Dice said, behind closed doors, that the decision had nothing to do with politics.
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