For months, rumors of piss-poor management skills and an inability to work well with women have dogged the heels of Sergeant John Urquhart, one of the two men vying to become the next King County Sheriff—a tense race that's pitted Sheriff Steve Strachan, whom The Stranger endorsed, against Urquhart, a 24-year department veteran and former spokesman.
The rumors stem from a 2003 internal investigation of Urquhart's management skills while he was overseeing 30 deputies in Burien. Several deputies had complained that Urquhart was verbally demeaning and discriminated against female deputies, according to internal department records. The story was even picked up by KIRO this month.
I spoke to Liz Johnson, a now-retired officer who worked for Urquhart in 2002, who said Urquhart joked about her personal life during roll call and told her how to conduct herself when off duty. "Where women were concerned... he leads by belittlement and condescension," she told me.
An active-duty female deputy, who asked to remain anonymous, said Urquhart wouldn't allow two women to take calls together, and he banished her to only patrol select areas in the Burien precinct that he oversaw. "It really came to the forefront that his mentality was 'women should be in charge of [certain] stuff because they're women.' When in reality, we've all got the same training and skills to do the job," she said.
But the criticisms seem to be an astute political attack launched by Strachan's campaign during a decidedly close race. When I contacted Urquhart about the allegations, 10 colleagues—mostly women—who've worked with him for years stepped forward with impassioned testimonials vouching for his character.
"I can see his bluntness rubbing some people the wrong way, but I have never, ever seen him treat female deputies differently," said one still-active female deputy, who also asked that we not print her name because she works with Strachan.
Urquhart's proposed chief deputy, the retired Spokane chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, was more blunt: "If I, for one moment, thought that John had a problem with women or was a misogynist, then there is no way I would affiliate myself with him," she said.
Despite the allegations in 2003, only part of one complaint—dealing with performance standards—was sustained by investigators. Captain Annette Louie reported at the time that Urquhart's "management style and communication skills created low morale and stress at work." The report goes on to recommend training to help Urquhart improve his leadership skills—not disciplinary action.
To wit, John Urquhart might've been a shitty manager, but it doesn't appear that he was a discriminatory one. "I am blunt," Urquhart admits. "But to say that I don't work well with women is patently ridiculous, and it's not true."