King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht has hired her new chief of staff who she says reflects the new direction of her office to emphasize more community outreach—a former broadcast journalist who has no experience working with King County, law enforcement, or prosecution.
Liz Rocca, a former KIRO 7 investigative content manager, started on February 1 to work under Johanknecht as chief of staff after decades of working in TV news. Rocca will be paid $153,803 a year.
Johanknecht, who said she's been friends with Rocca for about 20 years, told Seattle Met she wanted someone with a broad communication background. Johanknecht said she plans to improve public outreach with a group of advisers she'll call the "community engagement section," which will involve the chief of staff, spokesperson Cindi West, and other employees. Johanknecht was sworn in last month after ousting incumbent John Urquhart for the seat in the November general election.
"One of my campaign goals was to really build community trust and support back up to a higher level," Johanknecht told Seattle Met. "Obviously with Liz Rocca's experience, she's going to be a huge asset to our agency."
Rocca's salary now is 10 percent higher than the former chief of staff—Chris Barringer, who worked under Urquhart—was making in early 2017 after four years on the job. It's 21 percent higher than what the sheriff offered Barringer five years ago. Barringer received a salary of $127,079 when he was first hired in December 2012 and $139,610 as of January 2017.
Rocca worked for KOMO for over 20 years as an investigative reporter, producer, and managing editor before she went on to work for Q13 FOX and KIRO. Though Barringer also didn't have a law enforcement background, he worked for the King County Council for three years and also worked as a deputy prosecutor for the city attorney's office in Bellevue.
The staffer generally works as a liaison between the King County Council and King County Sheriff's Office; this year, Johanknecht said she wanted her chief of staff to also have a background in media relations and recruiting.
"Liz ticked all the boxes of somebody I was looking for," Johanknecht said. "As a matter of fact, having a non-law enforcement perspective within the executive leadership team is, I think, critical to bring in different points of view, different perspectives, different ideas than what I would have as sheriff."