Clark County is moving along with the establishment of its new jail services department, naming its administration last week which includes a deputy who ran for sheriff earlier this year.
On Sept. 26, Clark County Manager Kathleen Otto announced the appointment of David Shook as the Clark County director of jail services. Shook, who joined the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in 2020 after decades of law enforcement experience in Oregon, was one of three candidates to replace outgoing sheriff Chuck Atkins, though he lost in the August primary election.
A news release from the county noted that during his 25 years at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office his work included enforcement and corrections and encompassed leadership roles in training and operations.
“I am humbled and excited to have been chosen for the director position of the newly formed jail services department. I look forward to working side by side with the jail staff and community stakeholders,” Shook stated in the release.
Alongside Shook, Otto announced Joe Barnett will be the manager of jail administration and Bryan Pilakowski will be the manager of jail operations. Shook will report to Clark County Deputy County Manager Amber Emery.
During a Sept. 28 “council time” meeting with the Clark County Council, Otto gave an update on how the department, barely a week old, has been developing. On Sept. 20, the council voted unanimously to create the department, which will transfer operational control of the Clark County Jail from the sheriff to the county directly when the monthslong transition is complete.
Otto said Emery, Human Resources Director Will Winfield and Corrections Chief Phil Sample held listening sessions the previous Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with corrections staff.
“There was a lot of positive conversations, a lot of good questions,” Otto said.
She anticipates weekly meetings will be held with any member of corrections staff once the leadership team is in place.
She said Winfield reached out to the correctional officer’s union to schedule listening sessions with them as well. Otto and Emery met with sheriff’s office leadership about the transition.
“There’s a lot of questions and the reason why is because we are just at the beginning stages of these conversations,” Otto said. “I have zero doubts that we will be able to work together through this transition.”
Otto said the county’s human resources policy allows for the direct appointment of the positions.
“The team that was appointed provides a vast skill set specific to jail administration, operations and leadership,” Otto said.
Barnett has more than 30 years of experience with Clark County and is currently a commander in the corrections division, the release stated. Pilakowski has worked more than 20 years for the county and is currently a corrections deputy.
The release stated both “have been instrumental in providing leadership in their respective positions” at the jail.
As part of the transition, Otto said staff would revise the components of an advisory team which likely would come back for council consideration the following week. She said the team would include representatives from law enforcement, local governments, mental health and substance abuse experts, underserved populations and other community members.
She said the team is “essential to provide a specific lens and discuss data-driven processes and services, ensure equity and drive future policy recommendations.”
Otto said she met with the county’s mental health sales tax board last week to ask about using some dedicated funding in the jail for things like training and hiring qualified staff.
Otto reiterated the switch from sheriff to county oversight had been discussed over the years, and that Atkins shared his support of the transition.
“Overall there is a shared hope of the possibilities of what can be done to improve the jail and services provided in our community,” Otto said.
Councilors stressed the need for transparency during the transition, which will likely take several months.
“Right now the public is clamoring for information,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said.
He stressed the importance of including mental health services with the new approach to running the jail.
“It’s in the public’s best interest to prevent recidivism,” Medvigy said. “We need to provide care, especially for those who are mentally ill.”
Like Otto, he noted the recent moves reflect a history of talk about jail services without any formal decisions.
“We get criticized when it seems to move too fast, but we’ve been talking about this for a long time in different aspects,” Medvigy said.
Councilor Richard Rylander said there is a perception among the public that the process has moved too quickly. During the prior week’s meeting, several people testified against creating the department, including both candidates for sheriff in the November election.
Rylander said the county must “do everything we can to make sure that the public has the awareness of what’s going on, what steps are being taken.”
“Even to the point of if we have to err on the side of providing a little too much rather than sort of not enough,” Rylander said. “I just want to make sure that the public believes that they’re not being left out in the cold on this.”