PORT ORCHARD — At the Kitsap County Commissioners’ regular board meeting on Monday, the county commissioners unanimously appointed interim Sheriff John Gese to fill the vacant sheriff’s seat.
Undersheriff Gese, who served as interim sheriff following the retirement of Sheriff Gary Simpson, will serve as Kitsap County sheriff for the remaining year and a half of Simpson’s term.
As sheriff, Gese will oversee a $43 million budget and a staff of over 250 in his department.
Commissioner Ed Wolfe said in the meeting that this was one of the most difficult decisions for him to make in his time as commissioner. The Kitsap Democrats, who were tasked with recommending a replacement for Simpson, who was a Democrat, had selected Sgt. Brandon Myers as their top choice.
Wolfe addressed Myers’ passion and drive, and said it was his belief that Myers has the ability to become sheriff in the future if he chooses.
Speaking of Gese, Wolfe said, “You’ve been a stalwart. You’ve brought stability and continuity to the department.”
Commissioner Rob Gelder said the appointment is not an endorsement, but instead a decision for the current moment.
“This position and the role of the sheriff’s organization really truly deserves a longer, broader community conversation than this appointment process has afforded,” Gelder said. He acknowledged the calls from the community for changes in law enforcement, but also cited the need for stability within the organization.
“There is a desire to do something differently,” Gelder said, “My vote this evening is not against anyone. It is a vote for near-term stability.”
Following his appointment, Gese told the commissioners: “I fully understand the magnitude of your decision for this appointment. It doesn’t escape me, especially during these times — challenging and changing times for the police and law enforcement profession and calls for police reform.”
Gese acknowledged calls for criminal justice reform and greater social justice. He said he appreciated the board’s recognition of his 20 years’ management experience with the sheriff’s office. He then thanked Myers and the other sheriff candidate, Lt. Kathy Collings, as well as his colleagues in the sheriff’s office who he has worked with during his more than 30-year career.
And finally, Gese thanked his son and wife, Laura, who is an officer in the corrections division.
“I will not disappoint you, our community, or our agency,” Gese said.
In the comment box during the Zoom streaming session, Carollyn Zimmers, co-chair of the 23rd Legislative District’s Democratic PCO Committee, wrote the following: “The Kitsap County PCOs took great care interviewing and voting on Brandon Myers as our considered best choice to lead the Sheriff Department into the future. He was more than qualified for the job. I can’t express how very disappointed I am that three (3) Commissioners completely disregarded the recommendation of the elected Precinct Committee Officers of Kitsap County.” Zimmers said her comments were her personal opinion.
Gelder took issue with Zimmers’ comment that commissioners disregarded the recommendation made by the Kitsap Democrats. He said the work of the Kitsap Democrats and their recommendation was taken into consideration but that, ultimately, they made their decision based on the county’s organizational needs.