Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett remembers during the heated campaign four years ago when then-sheriff Mike Harum criticized him for being inexperienced and out of his depth.
"Boy, was that an understatement," Burnett told me in an interview this week. "I had so much to learn," he added.
He acknowledges that he had a limited perspective as a deputy. He was seeing things from the valley floor but the view was much different from the mountaintop of leadership where you are privy to information that you legally cannot share with the community or with staff.
Burnett freely admits he had a steep learning curve during the first 18 months on the job, as he dealt with contentious relations with cities that contract with the county for law enforcement services and a new contract with the deputies was negotiated. "That was the most difficult and stressful time I've ever had," said Burnett.
The cities, including Chelan, Entiat, Cashmere and Leavenworth, were talking about taking over law enforcement, which would have been a $2 million hit to the county budget, Burnett said. It was a nervous time for his staff with all of the uncertainties. Relations with the cities have improved, but there's still work to be done, he said.
Burnett is one of those rare individuals in public service who has no problem admitting his mistakes or that he has things to learn. It's a refreshing approach.
One of the things Burnett has learned is that it takes patience to get things done, and he's had to curb his impulse to charge ahead. I think the asset and skill set I bring is that of a team player — to try to develop win-win situations," Burnett said. Some things take time and it's better not to rush into decisions before making sure you have enough facts, he said. He's had to curb his instinct to dive in and get right to a solution.
He's a self-described people person who engages well with people. He admits there are times when late night community meetings make him a little grouchy at times, but says when he gets there and starts conversing with people, he learns information and picks up ideas that can be helpful.
The role of law enforcement is just a "small piece of the puzzle," said Burnett. The bigger piece is driven by the society — the effects of the breakdown in families, for example. "Law enforcement can never be the one-stop answer. It's never going to be the cure," said Burnett. Prevention is going to take a broader community effort with civic leaders, school districts, social service agencies and others looking for deeper answers.
Burnett, who has a goal of serving several terms, says the standard he wants to set is that community's best interest is always at the top of the list. "If a person messes up with the best of intentions, that's one thing," Burnett said. "If he betrays the trust, that's another scenario."