Barbs fly between sheriff hopefuls Buglione, DiSalvo at Squirm Night
Supporters, friends of DiSalvo and Buglione started filing into the venue for the debate nearly two hours before it was set to begin
The differences between Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Michael Buglione — whether professional, political or personal — were on full display at Thursday’s candidate debate held in Aspen.
The Squirm Night debate was civil if not intensely chippy between the two. Moderated by Aspen media professionals under the studio lights of GrassRoots TV, the debate had DiSalvo portraying Buglione as a lawman who refuses to take accountability and lacks the experience and judgment needed to run the Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff also criticized Buglione for having not risen past the ranks of patrol sergeant except for the time he was director of operations, a position he voluntarily demoted himself from, DiSalvo said.
“What qualifies you to be sheriff when you’ve only risen to one level above patrol officer?” DiSalvo asked Buglione.
He hammered DiSalvo by suggesting the sheriff runs the department like it’s a Fortune 500 company.
“I don’t think the Sheriff’s Office is a 200-person organization where you can’t know the day-to-day operations,” Buglione said.
He referred to what he called the sheriff’s “disconnect” from the department he oversees — whether that’s not knowing how much the county was paying Garfield County to house its inmates when the jail was temporarily closed for repairs in 2021. The answer was $60 per inmate, Buglione said.
“I’m not disconnected,” DiSalvo said. “Talk to the people I work with.”
Buglione also blasted the sheriff over his cavalier remarks about marijuana use when he spoke at the September memorial service for the late Sheriff Bob Braudis, who died in June.
“That’s not cool to say that at a public event where there could be children,” Buglione said.
Buglione also cited DiSalvo’s comments from a previous Squirm Night before marijuana became legal in Colorado: That he would not investigate illegal drug use by adults — even if they’re sniffing cocaine lines off of their coffee table — if it’s done in the privacy of their home.
“Joe, I thank you for your for service; however, I want to be better a role model for the the children in our community,” Buglione said, noting he doesn’t support strict drug enforcement but believes the Sheriff’s Office falls short on its educational efforts about the downside of substance use.
“I still think drug use is an adult decision,” DiSalvo said but added he thinks 25 should be the minimum age to buy pot; he also touted the drug-addiction counselor who works as a county school-resource officer at Aspen schools.
DiSalvo started in local law enforcement in 1985 at Aspen Police Department before switching over to the Sheriff’s Office in 1988 and working under Braudis. Buglione also started with the APD, in 1994, later to join the Sheriff’s Office under Braudis, who retired in 2010. DiSalvo has been the elected sheriff ever since then.
Supporters, friends and relatives of DiSalvo and Buglione started filing into the venue for the debate nearly two hours before it was set to begin. DiSalvo’s sister, also an ex-wife of Buglione’s, attended the debate, as did the sheriff’s wife.
Buglione’s wife also was there, as well as several former employees of DiSalvo’s who are supporting Buglione’s campaign. A handful of current sheriff’s deputies and staff also were in DiSalvo’s corner.
One of the touchiest subjects the two have argued over has concerned an incident at Bumps restaurant at the base of Buttermilk ski area on March 7, 2019.
Buglione had said he would have a chaperone-type presence at his senior daughter’s high-school club’s fundraising event but didn’t make it because he was in Golden for law-enforcement training. Other parents who agreed to chaperone also didn’t show up, and the fundraiser turned into a party with booze and drugs, kids coming home drunk and one student cited for being a minor in possession.
Buglione previously said he should have let the Sheriff’s Office know he wouldn’t be able to attend the event — but also noted because the Sheriff’s Office assigned him to a training session, he thought his chaperone duties would be covered by someone else. Buglione also said he told his daughter he couldn’t make it because of the conflict, and she assured him other adults would be there.
“I can’t be at two places at once,” he said at the debate. “I was approved by Joe to go to training. Joe even told my daughter, ‘I’ll even do walk through at Bumps that night.'”
The Bumps incident led the sheriff to place Buglione on administrative leave and then demote him from sergeant deputy to a jailhouse position, and Buglione to ultimately resign from the Sheriff’s Office, ending his 17 years in local law enforcement.
“Sheriff DiSalvo considered Mr. Buglione’s attendance of the event an employment assignment,” wrote Deputy County Manager Rich Englehart, who was the hearing officer on Buglione’s appeal of the internal investigation’s findings and recommended disciplinary actions in his findings of facts dated April 18, 2019. “Mr. Buglione does not consider his attendance of the event an employment assignment.”
Englehart’s findings of fact said Buglione had a responsibility to notify his supervisors of the conflict.
A report that preceded Englehart’s findings said Buglione said he actually forgot about the commitment. Then-Capt. Jesse Steindler recounted Buglione’s statements in a memo dated March 13, 2019, which The Times obtained through an open records request.
“The day before the event while you were in Denver, on Wednesday, 03/06/19 Linda Lou called you and reminded you of the event. You said you told your daughter that you forgot about the event and suggested that Linda Lou ask your wife Holly but Holly had a prior engagement and could not attend. You also asked Linda Lou if there was a need for law enforcement to be present at the event. Linda Lou replied that there was no need for law enforcement to attend. I asked you if you thought that you played a significant part in the whole situation. At the time, you got upset and said, ‘I won’t own this’ and ‘you know me, if I screw up I admit it’ and ‘this has nothing to do with the Sheriff’s Office.'”
Running as a designated Democrat, Buglione received 37.45% support with 1,917 votes in the June primary; DiSalvo, an independent, sat comfortably at 56.82% with 2,912 votes.
While DiSalvo has scored convincing victories at the polls in his previous three campaigns for sheriff, Buglione said he is feeling momentum grow in his favor.
“The way I’m running my campaign, I’m pushing a rock uphill,” he said. “I’m getting more and more support.”
For more information on the sheriff’s race, read our previous coverage:
Pitkin County sheriff-elect Michael Buglione on Wednesday credited his election victory to grassroots campaigning, hard work, and handshakes.