3 new Franklin officials sworn in

PASCO — Franklin County swore in three new top officials Monday, all of them entering office with promises to be more efficient and improve services to the county's 77,000-plus residents.

But as Superior Court Judge Vic VanderSchoor swore in the three new elected officials and six re-elected officials, he also warned them to be braced for challenges.

"Public service is not always a fun thing," VanderSchoor told the courtroom full of county employees and families. "Sometimes it's a very difficult thing to do."

New Prosecutor Shawn Sant, Auditor Matt Beaton and Treasurer Josie Koelzer all replace ousted veteran county officials.

The re-elected officials sworn in are Clerk Michael Killian, Assessor Steve Marks, Commissioner Rick Miller, Coroner Dan Blasdel, Sheriff Richard Lathim and District Court Judge Jerry Roach.

Sant said he hopes to make the transition smooth. He said former Prosecutor Steve Lowe already has been updating him on current cases.

"It's difficult for the existing staff having a new supervisor come in," he said. "I want to make sure that they feel comfortable."

Sant also plans to hire three new deputy prosecutors to replace those he has fired. Sant sent notices in December to Michelle McMillen, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor and deputy prosecutors Amy Harris and Erica Davis telling them that they no longer would have a job once he became prosecutor.

Sant said he hopes to get the office back to full staff of 10 attorneys as soon as possible.

Now that he is officially in office, he said he will be able to appoint Lowe to handle three cases as a special prosecutor. Doing so will help the office avoid an appeal issue, Sant said.

Sant has asked Lowe to serve as a special prosecutor for the first-degree murder case against Gregorio Luna Luna. Sant was one of the defense attorneys for Luna Luna, 31, who is accused of fatally stabbing his son's mother, Griselda Ocampo Meza, 21, on May 24.

Sant also plans to hire Lowe to prosecute the 2008 murder cases against brothers Jose and Ramon Garcia-Morales, who are accused of gunning down a Pasco couple.

The brothers are charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder for fatally shooting Alfredo Garcia, 42, and critically wounding his wife, Maria Ramirez de Garcia, 38.

Sant was Jose Garcia-Morales' defense attorney so the prosecutor's office won't be able to handle either case.

Sant said he plans to work with County Administrator Fred Bowen to get a contract in place for Lowe to handle the cases.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller likely will serve as special prosecutor for a fourth case, Sant said. He may also be appointed to serve as co-counsel with Lowe for the other three cases.

Sant said he also will be meeting with deputy prosecutors to make sure he does what he can to help them with their cases.

"This office doesn't rest," he said.

Sant said he intends to make the best decisions for taxpayers.

"I have 77,000 new supervisors now, and I report to them," he said.

Beaton won't have his own office until county staff finish painting it. He defeated 21-year incumbent Zona Lenhart in the Nov. 2 general election.

Beaton said he already met with the auditor's office staff in December. He plans to set priorities and brainstorm changes with the staff.

"I'm looking forward to working with the staff," he said.

Beaton, 41, of Pasco, said one of his major focuses will be finding funding for new financial software.

A committee already made a recommendation on the software to county commissioners more than a year ago, but the commissioners have yet to fund the purchase. Lenhart estimated the software would cost about $500,000. The county's current software no longer is being supported by its creator.

Becoming treasurer still felt a little unreal for Koelzer on Monday. But she said she was excited to start her new job and planned to start examining how the office runs and finding ways to improve with the help of the staff.

Koelzer, 49, beat Tiffany Coffand in the Nov. 2 general election.

Koelzer said she plans to improve the quality of service citizens receive.

* Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com