It took just one week for former Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas to find a new job. The city of Des Moines hired him Tuesday to be police chief.
Thomas stepped down May 8 after seven years as Kent Police chief and 29 years with the department after Kent Mayor Dana Ralph announced she was promoting Assistant Chief Rafael Padilla to be the new chief.
When Des Moines city staff heard Thomas didn’t have a job, another changing of the chiefs occurred in South King County. Thomas was sworn in Wednesday morning.
Des Moines City Manager Michael Matthias said in a phone interview Tuesday that discussions had occurred among city staff and leaders about creating a new position of director of emergency management, to help better prepare the city for a large-scale natural disaster or other emergency.
Thomas replaced Chief George Delgado, who became the new director of emergency management. Delgado was chief for six years.
“We weren’t looking at all,” Matthias said about hiring a new chief. “But when we heard Ken had left his job in Kent and had a degree of interest in the city, it was an awesome opportunity to cover both of our bases, so we reassigned our current chief and decided to bring Ken’s leadership skills into our department.”
Matthias also was impressed with the background of Thomas and his network of connections with regional and national law enforcement agencies to combat violent crime and gangs.
Thomas, who is married and lives in Covington, will be paid a starting annual salary of $165,072, Matthias said. Delgado will receive $150,000 a year in his new job, the same pay he received as chief.
“We raised it to be competitive and to be in the range Ken is in,” Matthias said.
Thomas received $173,969 per year in Kent, where he ran a force of 157 officers in a city of more than 128,000. Des Moines has 30 officers and a population of more than 30,000.
Thomas could not be reached for comment. He did not return several messages.
The sudden changing of chiefs in Kent and Des Moines isn’t that uncommon when it comes to city department heads and elected leaders, said Steve Strachan, a former Kent Police chief and now executive director of the Lacey-based Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
“While Chief Thomas has been both a friend and a colleague to me for many years, all of us who serve, or have served, as executives understand the authority of our elected policy makers,” Strachan said in an email Monday. “Kent city leadership made a change and those decisions are respected.”
Ralph called it a “mutual decision” for Thomas to step down. As mayor, she has the authority to replace city department heads.
Strachan worked as the Kent Police chief from 2006 to 2010. He left to become chief deputy under then-King County Sheriff Sue Rahr and became sheriff in 2012 when Rahr left for a new job. Strachan lost the November 2012 sheriff’s election to John Urquhart. Strachan became the Bremerton Police chief in 2013 before leaving that job late last year for his current position.
Strachan said it is not uncommon for city leaders to remove and replace a chief in a day. He also said cities don’t always conduct a nationwide search.
“It is certainly within the purview of the mayor – if they feel confident that the best leader is already available – they have every right to make that decision,” he said.
Thomas received a severance package of $163,736 from the city of Kent, according to the city Finance Department. That amount included six months pay of $90,779; vacation payoff of $25,052; sick leave payoff of $29,467; management benefit cash out of $13,174; and regular pay of $5,263. Those amounts are before taxes and deductions.
Then-Mayor Suzette Cooke named Thomas chief in 2o11 after Strachan resigned to become chief deputy of the King County Sheriff’s Office. Thomas was one of four finalists for the job. The other finalists were from outside the Kent Police Department.
In addition to his new job, Thomas is president-elect of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs 14-member executive board and scheduled to become president at the group’s conference May 21-24 in Spokane. Thomas has served as vice president and treasurer, positions fellow chiefs and sheriffs elected him to.
“He is certainly a respected leader and his nomination and election to leadership positions is indicative of that respect,” Strachan said.