County allows employees to keep items found on job

Finders keepers? Only if you work for Island County.

The old, unwritten rule of "finders keepers" was codified Monday, when the Island County Board of Commissioners gave county employees permission to keep any lost property they find on the job.

State law forbids government employees to claim found items unless a local resolution is adopted that states otherwise. Without such a resolution, unclaimed property is sold, and the proceeds go into the county's current expense fund.

Now, if a county employee finds something lost he or she wants, all they need to do is hand the goods over to the sheriff's department, and wait 60 days. If no one claims the item, it goes to the employee who found it.

"You can find lots of stuff in the ditch along the road," said Public Works Director Bill Oakes Monday.

He said county employees who turn in a lost item "should have the same right that any other citizen would have to claim it if it's unclaimed," provided they do the right thing and first give it to the sheriff.

"We want our people to do the right thing, which is turn the stuff in," Oakes said.

He said county employees, such as road crew members or parks workers, often find lost items. In those instances when an employee finds cash, Oakes said it is only reasonable that he or she should get it after an appropriate wait.

Not everyone was pleased with the resolution. Prior to adopting the new resolution, chairman Mike Shelton noted a letter submitted to the board by Freeland resident Loretta Martin, who warned the county against the potential or perceived conflict of interest the resolution could cause.

Martin wrote that her own office was in the practice of donating lost or abandoned items to charity after a six-month wait. In order to prevent "even the perception of a conflict of interest," employees are never allowed to keep unclaimed stuff.

Although Martin said she doesn't doubt the honesty of county employees and officials, she indicated that lost items could be put to better use. Commissioner Bill Thorn responded to Martin's in absentia objections, saying the county always made every effort to locate and notify the owners of lost property.

"I find it difficult to see how there would be a conflict of interest," Thorn said of the resolution.

Commissioner Mac McDowell pointed out that, contrary to Martin's concerns, the absence of a resolution granting lost property rights to county employees could entail more of a perceived conflict of interest. He said that if county workers knew they couldn't retain unclaimed items, they might not be as likely to turn them over in the first place.

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