He may be fresh in the pilot seat, but newly sworn in Kittitas County Sheriff Clay Myers is hitting the ground running.

Myers’ first week has been filled with administrative duties related to the transition, dealing with statutory and legal requirements.

“What we’re trying to do is get all those things taken care of,” he said. “We have to reissue the oaths of office. We have to do all of the appointments for all of the staff. We have to file some things. It’s just a whole laundry list of requirements.”

Despite all the work that needs to be done to complete the transition process, Myers said there aren’t any significant changes in store at the office.

“We’re just kind of headed in the same direction we were going,” he said.

HUMBLE ROOTS

Myers’ path into law enforcement and his route to the Kittitas Valley has deep roots. Originally from Nevada, Myers’ family raised horses on the Carson River between Fallon and Carson City. He worked for a time as an underground hard rock miner in Eureka, Nevada before joining the army. While in the army, Myers was stationed at Fort Lewis, setting up his first opportunity to visit what would become his long-term home.

Myers first visited Ellensburg while part of on a rodeo team, spending time at stock contractor Frank Beard’s ranch in the Naneum area.

“I used to go out to his ranch and ride practice stock,” he said. “He held a couple of saddle bronc clinics out there. I just really liked Ellensburg. It was the right place.”

Myers took a position in the corrections department at the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office in 1985, but he said shortly after a position for line deputy came available.

“I applied for that and I got that position,” he said.

Although he said he didn’t have any aspirations to be in law enforcement while growing up, Myers said he vividly remembers his childhood friend group making predictions about what each would do when they grew up. He said the others predicted he would be a police officer.

“Three out of the four of us are actually in those professions now,” he said.

The true seed of interest in law enforcement for Myers was planted while he was stationed at Fort Lewis. He rented a house on a ranch in rural Thurston County and became friends with the property’s owner, who happened to be a deputy in that county.

“Being a friend with him was really where I started thinking about a law enforcement career,” he said. “I actually saw up close the impact he had and the sort of things he did. That interest developed from there.”

As he decided on where to apply, Myers said Kittitas County was always a top priority for him, as he felt like the location was a perfect fit.

“We went to a lot of different places in the Pacific Northwest for rodeos, but this was really the place that I wanted to go,” he said.

MAKING THE TRANSITION

Until recently, Myers said he had no interest in running for the sheriff’s position. He said he had been approached in the past to run but declined.

“No real political ambitions,” he said. “I enjoy operations. I was very satisfied with my position, all of the positions I’ve had with the sheriff’s office. It wasn’t really until fairly recently in conversations with (then-Sheriff Gene Dana) that I decided to go ahead and assume this role.”

Once he made the decision to apply for the job, Myers said there has been no looking back.

“I think it’s going to work out very well,” he said. “There’s some things I want to finish. There’s a plan that I have for the future of the sheriff’s office and I’d like to see that happen.”

Looking forward towards 2020, Myers said his first priority will be training the supervisor and command staff on the business side of the sheriff’s office.

“I think that’s somewhere where we have the room for the greatest amount of improvement,” he said. “We are functioning at a very high rate operationally. We’re function at a pretty high rate administratively, but that’s where we have the most room for growth.”

When he became undersheriff 15 years ago, Myers said he knew next to nothing about the business side of the office, something he said tends to be common amongst people in his position at the time.

“I’ve struggled the most with that,” he said. “It’s been driven in how important that is. We’re going to train, beginning with our corporals all the way up to the commanders how the business is run. What are the finance rules, what are the purchasing rules. There’s a lot.”

By training the staff on these rules, Myers said they will be in a better position to be in full compliance with all policies and standards that impact the office. Furthermore, he said it will help reduce the learning curve he experienced when he began to learn about the process.

“That’s just going to make them better commanders and better supervisors,” he said. “We’re also building future commanders, future undersheriffs, future sheriffs.”

FOCUS ON UPPER COUNTY

Another priority Myers has for the office in the next couple of years is to expand presence in the fast-growing Upper County municipalities. He said this will be done by expanding the infrastructure of the department, including transportation, law enforcement, search and rescue and emergency response elements.

“There’s become a significantly higher demand based on the population increase,” he said. “The increase is coming. It’s already started and it’s going to continue. We’re seeing a lot of diversity in this new population, and we’re seeing a lot of change in expectations. We can lead that change or we can chase it.”

Myers said the citizens of the county should not be harmed by population growth but should instead benefit from the process. To benefit, however, he said the public safety infrastructure has to be managed to account for the growth. He pointed out an example of the struggle as it pertains to transportation, as development population growth within the state and region has choked local roads and freeways.

“The impacts of the increased traffic on I-90, increased traffic on the county roads, these new developments that are going in is already negatively impacting the people that already live there and do business there,” he said. “I think that you’re just not going to recognize the Upper County in six to seven years, so we all need to work together and make sure we have a good plan for dealing with that.”

Due to the recreational opportunities and terrain, Myers said the bulk of search and rescue operations occur in Upper County. Because of this, he has been working for the last two years to come up with a plan to move the search and rescue operations to the Cle Elum area.

“That’ll reduce response time and it’ll just help address those needs,” he said.

The plan is to utilize the existing county road shop, which will be vacated once the new facility is complete adjacent to the Upper County transfer station. Myers said the old shop is designed perfectly and is in the perfect location for the needs of the sheriff’s office. He hopes to see that plan to come to fruition by 2021.

“We don’t have to buy new land,” he said. “We don’t have to buy a new structure. We just have to do a few things to make that function.”

If the plan to move into the road shop works out, Myers said it will benefit the Upper County courthouse, as the current substation and bay used to store search and rescue equipment would be vacated, a move Myers said will be important looking forward.

“By moving out of there, we allow space for the court to expand, which they’re going to need as the population increases,” he said.

When looking at addressing the population growth in Upper County, Myers said he is not looking at a large increase of the total number of staff within the sheriff’s office.

“It’s simply reallocating where they work from,” he said.

EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

Myers’ third major priority for the sheriff’s office in the future is to address their emergency management services. As the emergency management director for the county, he said the office has a responsibility to plan, prepare for and mitigate disasters.

“We have to expand those capabilities,” he said.

Myers’ plan to make that happen is by expanding partnerships with local fire services, as well as federal and state agencies.

“We all have resources,” he said. “We all work together, but I really feel like we can work together better. I feel like there are a lot more resources we can share.”

Myers said the enhanced partnerships have the potential to provide multiple benefits, including search and rescue operations that particularly affect Upper County.

“In the event of a disaster, that just simply carries over, because you’re already working together at a higher level,” he said. “You’re sharing resources.”

Myers said he has plans to address the idea with fire chiefs in the area and has begun talks with state and federal agencies. He said he expects widespread support in the effort to enhance cross-agency relationships.

“I think that’s going to help out significantly,” he said. “It’s going to help us meet those challenges.”

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