Criminal-justice study draws fire
Times Snohomish County bureau
The Snohomish County Council has set aside $585,000 to implement the results of an efficiency study, but the county executive's office says the study is riddled with basic factual errors.
The draft of the $140,000 criminal-justice efficiency study was released a month ago by Berkeley, Calif.-based consultant Alan Kalmanoff, director of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning. In a 60-page letter to Kalmanoff last week, Deputy County Executive Gary Weikel and other county staff members reported 17 pages of factual errors and wrote that half of Kalmanoff's recommendations were already in place in the county.
"Even a brief review of the attachments will reveal our disappointment at the quality of the work, the magnitude of the errors and the lack of clarity in many of your recommendations," Weikel wrote.
Snohomish County officials aren't the first to complain about the quality of Kalmanoff's work: officials in at least five other states — California, Ohio, South Carolina, Michigan and Nebraska — have complained about him. One City Council member in Cincinnati, where Kalmanoff resigned earlier this month after a billing dispute, called him "Dr. Rip-off."
Kalmanoff said he expects his studies to upset some officials everywhere he goes.
"In general, there's always some bad reaction to our work because we're recommending changes to the status quo, which is what we're hired to do," Kalmanoff said.
He wouldn't comment on individual complaints, including the Snohomish County letter, saying only that "we have the response and we are working on it."
He cited letters of recommendation from county officials, which are what persuaded Snohomish County to hire him in the first place. In Kalamazoo County, Mich., for example, three county commissioners wrote him complimentary letters. The other five voted to fire him.
"Some said he was caustic," said Kalamazoo County Commissioner Judy Todd Johnson, who had voted to keep Kalmanoff. "Well, could be, but that's what they asked for."
The Snohomish County Council earmarked money last week to implement Kalmanoff's recommendations, but council members don't yet know exactly how they will spend the money. The council and County Executive Bob Drewel's office probably will form a committee charged with spending the money.
"We do really want to use what we can work out of that report, but there's a lot of it in there that wasn't done with the highest quality," said Susan Neely, a criminal-justice expert in the county executive's office.
Most shocking, Neely said, were the inaccuracies, such as Kalmanoff's claim that 72 percent of Snohomish County jail inmates are low-security. The county's figures show only about 23 percent of inmates are low-security.
Kalmanoff wouldn't comment on how he came up with 72 percent, but one of the report's main findings is built on that number: The county, according to the study, is spending too much money building a jail for high-security inmates, even though, the report says, most current inmates don't need a high-security jail.
The county plans to open an $86 million jail in 2005.
On Oct. 15, Neely sent an e-mail to Kalmanoff asking about the figures. She received a curt reply:
"We collected manual data and knew the jail," it said.
Officials in Cincinnati said they had received similar responses. A federal judge had assigned Kalmanoff to monitor Cincinnati's police department for race problems after riots last year.
"He was so evasive. He just would not answer the questions," said Chris Monzel, a Cincinnati councilman.
Problems arose after Kalmanoff billed the city $55,000 after two weeks of work. Two weeks later, Kalmanoff resigned.
Officials in Summit County, Ohio, which includes the city of Akron, said their criminal-justice system is still recovering from a study Kalmanoff did there in 2000. There were factual errors in Kalmanoff's report, officials said, and he never answered their original question: whether the county needed more jail space.
"The content — like in the tone of our report — just did a lot of damage to the cooperation in our county," said Jim Lawrence, executive director of Oriana House, a nonprofit agency that runs the Summit County jail.
Snohomish County Councilman Jeff Sax, R-Snohomish, said he was "thrilled" with Kalmanoff's draft report. He said the executive's office is politicizing the report and taking it too personally.
"The fact that the executive chose to distribute their response to everyone in the county indicates to me that they're trying to defend themselves," he said.
The executive's office sent Weikel's letter to reporters, the County Council and 40 county officials.
Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or firstname.lastname@example.org.