The race for Thurston County sheriff was shaping up as Independents Day, as Thurston County sheriff’s deputy and independent John Snaza led his Democrat opponent, Lt. Debbie Mealy, by about nine percentage points after the first election results were reported Tuesday night.
If Snaza’s lead holds, he will replace outgoing Sheriff Dan Kimball, a Democrat who decided last year not to seek a second term.
Snaza, 45, a Navy veteran and two-time winner of the Sheriff’s Office Lifesaving Award, was supported by Kimball and Kimball’s predecessor, Gary Edwards.
Snaza, the community service deputy for the Sheriff’s Office and the Thurston County SWAT team commander, was not ready to declare victory during his campaign party at the Fire Creek Grill and Ale House in Lacey.
“I’m not celebrating,” Snaza said. “I’m excited, and I’m very humbled.”
But Snaza had a wide grin and hugged supporters who congratulated him on his strong showing so far. Snaza thanked both former sheriffs who endorsed him, as well as the Thurston County firefighters.
Kimball credited Snaza’s lead in the race to strong bipartisan support. He added that both candidates are good people, and he hopes the Sheriff’s Office will now move forward with unity and strength in protecting and serving residents.
Mealy, who ran as a Democrat, serves as the deputy director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in Burien. She has worked at the training commission’s headquarters in Burien for three years during her tenure as sheriff’s lieutenant in Thurston County.
During the campaign, Mealy touted her management experience and education – she has a Ph.D. in knowledge and learning management from Walden University – as qualifications that made her the best candidate. She has said she has experience helping manage a $22 million budget as deputy director of the law enforcement training commission. She also has said she has served as the commission’s liaison with the Legislature.
Mealy, 43, could not be reached for comment by telephone Tuesday night after the first election results were announced.
The sheriff’s job pays about $118,000 annually.
Law enforcement officials in Thurston County have said that the biggest challenge facing the sheriff-elect is ensuring that the Sheriff’s Office continues to provide a high level of service despite a shrinking county budget that has been hard hit by the recession. The county’s budget problems have led to layoffs that have made it more difficult to keep deputies on the road. Since 2008, the Sheriff’s Office has lost 28 positions.
On Tuesday night, Snaza said that he will implement a plan to put more deputies on the road if his lead holds and he is elected sheriff.
Jeremy Pawloski: firstname.lastname@example.org