San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cumming says he'll retire this year, won't seek seventh term

San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cumming ... retiring after six terms. - San Juan County Sheriff
San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cumming ... retiring after six terms.
— image credit: San Juan County Sheriff's Office

Sheriff Bill Cumming announced Tuesday he will retire at the end of the year. He will not run for reelection in November.

"After much reflection and many discussions with my family I have decided that I will retire from my position of sheriff at the end of my current term," Cumming, 62, stated in an e-mailed announcement.

"It has been my distinct honor to serve as the Sheriff of San Juan County for these past twenty-four years. I wish to thank all the citizens for the trust you placed in my leadership for these past six terms.

"I want to assure the citizens of San Juan County that the men and women of the Sheriff's Office are some of the finest and most dedicated public servants I have worked with in my thirty-eight year law and justice career. I know I leave office with our public safety operations in very capable hands. The decision to retire was very difficult to make because of these professionals and the teamwork we have developed over the years.

"So, to each and every co-worker of mine here at the Sheriff's Office I say 'Thank you for a job well done, and thank you for all your support.'"

He added, "Finally, again to my fellow citizens, to my co-workers in emergency services, and to my colleagues throughout the criminal justice system, 'Thank you' for all your support, trust, and friendship through the years. It has truly been my pleasure."

Cumming is not fading from public view. With 24 years as sheriff, he will collect a pension. He is an elected member of the Island Rec board — formally the San Juan Island Park and Recreation District Board of Commissioners. He plans to stay on the board. He will compete in fall in the national racquetball championship in Minneapolis, Minn.; he is ranked first in the Washington state in the men's B Division.

"Maude and I plan to take a real vacation, sooner than later, and I plan on keeping my 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard master's license current by skippering a variety of vessels here and maybe abroad," Cumming wrote in his retirement announcement.

The Cummings' oldest son, Dan, is teaching school in Baltimore and attending Johns Hopkins University. Their younger son, Tim, is graduating next month from Pacific Lutheran University.

As sheriff, Cumming earns $97,514 a year. He manages a staff of 36 full-time employees and a budget of $2.3 million: $719,219, dispatch; $472,888, Enhanced E-911; $398,920, jail; and $209,615, Emergency Management.

San Juan Island EMS Chief Jim Cole praised Cumming for collaborating with the islands' emergency services as a team.

Cole said Cumming allowed the Guardian, one of the Sheriff Department's boats, to be retrofitted into a fully-licensed ambulance that could serve as a backup in shuttling critical-care patients to the mainland when planes and helicopters were grounded by bad weather.

Cumming often piloted the Guardian when weather conditions were extreme.

"His expertise and knowledge of the islands and the perils waiting out there in the water are second to none," he said. "In the last couple of years, several lives have been saved because of his willingness to put himself out there on the line. He's been a real hero for this community."

The Guardian has proven instrumental for the Orcas Island Fire Department as well.

"We use it about once a month, mostly when Airlift can't fly," Chief Mike Harris said. "It was all (Cumming's) idea and he went out and got the money for it."

Harris, who described the news of Cumming's pending retirement as "devastating," noted the sheriff is in charge of dispatch services for Orcas Island's fire, aid and emergency services and is the one who must determine the level of response that's needed when emergency situations arise on any of the outer islands.

The sheriff "wears many hats" and Cumming has proven time and again that he's up to the task, Harris said.

"I've only been here six years, but I can't think of anybody I respect more than the sheriff," he said.

Ran unopposed in 2006
It was not known Tuesday who might run to succeed Cumming. Detective Jeff Asher ran against his boss in 2002, winning 739 votes to Cumming's 1,342. In 2006, Cumming ran unopposed.

Deputy Felix Menjivar is president of the sheriff's guild and was elected to the Friday Harbor Town Council in November. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Cumming expects candidates to emerge soon.

"This was the time to make that decision," Cumming said of his retirement. "In fairness to myself and my family, and to those who would like to run for sheriff. The filing period begins next month. This gives them time to assess their situation, assess their support and get ready to file."

He couldn't or wouldn't name any potential candidates. But he did say, "There are people who have talked about running. This will be their time to assess their interest in taking on this job."

Cumming said there was "no tipping point" where he decided to retire. "Every election I've come up to, I've taken a look at committing to four years, to an election, to all that's involved. I've done that six times," he said.

He said he wants to spend more time with his family and earn some money on the water.

"I will be about 63 when I retire. I'm young enough to change careers. I love the water and I'm looking forward to cobbling together some time on the water and spending time with my wife and having a vacation or two. My health is good and I want to preserve that."

Primary election is Aug. 17; general election is Nov. 2
The primary election is Aug. 17, the general election is Nov. 2. The top two vote-getters in the primary advance to the general election.

Islanders will vote on 14 legislative and local positions this year: County assessor, auditor, clerk, prosecutor, sheriff, treasurer; County Council District 2, District 5, and District 6; District Court judge, Superior Court judge; U.S. House of Representatives 2nd District, 40th District state House Position 1, and 40th District state House Position 2.

— With reporting by Scott Rasmussen and Richard Walker

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