Incumbents under fire in valley sheriff’s races
The sheriff’s races in each of the three counties of the Roaring Fork Valley have turned out to be the headlining events in the Aug. 10 primary campaign.
A crowded field was expected in Pitkin County after Bob Braudis announced he wouldn’t seek a seventh term in 2010. Braudis first was elected in 1988 and was Mr. Automatic in five re-election bids, drawing only token opposition if any at all.
Less expected was contested races in Eagle and Garfield counties, where the Republican incumbents are facing challenges from within their own party in the primary. Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy is facing a challenge from one of his own deputies, Charles Wolf. The winner will face James van Beek, a former Eagle County deputy sheriff who will be on the November ballot as an independent.
In Garfield County, incumbent Republican Lou Vallario is facing a challenge in the primary from Doug Winters, a Rifle resident who works as a detective with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
The winner of that primary will take on Tom Dalessandri, a Democrat who was Garfield County sheriff from 1994 to 2002, when Vallario defeated him.
The Garfield and Eagle county elections will be by mail-in ballot. Garfield County mailed ballots yesterday. Eagle County is mailing ballots Wednesday. Pitkin County’s primary election is at polling places on Aug. 10.
In Pitkin County, a four-man field for sheriff unexpectedly was reduced to three yesterday when Hugh Zuker dropped out of the race. That leaves Joe DiSalvo, Rick Leonard and Rick Magnuson. (For a profile of the candidates, see http://www.aspentimes.com/weekly.)
In Eagle County, the winner of the sheriff’s race will have to live with a sharp budget cut for 2011. Hoy said he has informally been advised by county officials that the sheriff’s budget must be pared by $2 million, or roughly 20 percent, next fiscal year. The budget was slightly more than $10 million this year.
“We’re pretty sure we’re going to have position cuts at the end of the year or at the beginning of next year,” Hoy said. “We’ll try everything else first.”
Hoy, 63, has served two terms as sheriff, and he has been with the sheriff’s office a total of 21 years. He said he loves the job and the people he works with, so personnel cuts will be particularly difficult. Nevertheless, he wants to remain in the position.
“I guess I’m not ready to hang up the spurs,” he said.
Wolf, his deputy and challenger, said his job as a deputy is to interact with the community, listen to their concerns and problems, then fix them. The duty of the sheriff “is pretty much an extension of my job,” he said.
Wolf said his primary change as sheriff would be to clearly spell out the department’s procedures and policies, which he believes would benefit the public. For example, deputies currently have the discretion to release someone suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol to a sober person. He wants the suspect to go to jail as a consequence of their actions.
Wolf, 38, has spent 13 years in law enforcement, including two years with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. Hoy questioned if Wolf has the management experience to deal with the drastic cuts that must be made. Wolf said his experience has included supervisory roles.
Voters in Basalt and El Jebel might be most curious about how a sheriff’s office based 50 miles away is going to effectively patrol the mid-Roaring Fork Valley given the budget cuts that must be made.
Hoy acknowledged that it is a tough challenge. “I don’t know if I can give you a clear answer right now,” he said.
Even before the recession, Eagle County’s staffing was an issue. Basalt police responded first to an attempted murder in the midvalley in 2009 because no deputies were available. Basalt town government has opposed approval of the Tree Farm project in El Jebel on grounds that the town will be forced to deal with the results of the growth, including increased need for law enforcement.
Hoy said he might have to go to an on-call situation, as deputies aren’t on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Deputies in several areas of the county would be on-call in early morning hours, and paid only if paged out.
Wolf said he has dealt with staffing challenges. As a lawman in New Mexico, he and one other deputy patrolled 2,200 square miles. Wolf said he would analyzes data on when calls are most frequent in the Basalt-El Jebel area. He would ensure deputies are on duty when history shows they are needed most.
As far as meeting growing demands for service, Hoy said the county commissioners should consult with his office before approving new projects, so he can advise them on how the growth would impact his department. An impact fee should be charged for law enforcement, as it is with schools, he said.
In Garfield County, the challenger claims the incumbent’s experience will hurt him rather than help him in a re-election bid. Winters said he is a “fresh face” and that voters are fed up with people in power.
He claimed numerous people have told him the current sheriff’s administration is “unapproachable and arrogant.” He wants to adopt a community policing policy that emphasizes more interaction between deputies and residents.
While he works in Eagle County, Winters said he is connected to Garfield County residents. He has lived in Rifle for nine years.
Winters also criticized “Lou’s affair” with a subordinate who worked at the jail.
“I want to bring the organization up to a higher level and back to the basics on law enforcement,” Winters said.
Vallario couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Winters, 36, has spent 14 years in law enforcement, almost exclusively with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. He spent two years in road patrol and the balance of the years as a detective. He doesn’t supervise employees but Winters claimed he could take on management effectively because he is a “people person” who communicates well.
In a forum on KMTS radio Monday, Winters criticized Vallario for increasing the sheriff’s budget from $13 million in 2008 to $18 million this year. Vallario defended the increase as necessary, in part, to open an annex in Rifle. Winters questioned fiscal decisions Vallario has made and said now is the time for greater fiscal restraint.
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