The Nov. 7 General Election is quickly approaching and I want to take this opportunity to address comments made by my opponent, Sam Sparks, in his Oct. 7 candidate column in the Cortez Journal. My opponent stated his campaign planks: 1) an aggressive drug program, 2) reopening the community corrections program, 3) reviving the reserve officer program and 4) bringing back an animal control/agricultural officer.
1) The drug problem my opponent talks about is one of the most difficult issues our community faces today. As your sheriff, I am committed to fighting the manufacture, selling and use of illegal drugs. We currently have in place the 22nd Judicial Drug Task Force. We have made great strides on the state and federal level this year in keeping the task force financially alive. While grant funding has been going down over the past several years and is being reduced significantly this year due to the federal government’s continued expenses with the hurricane disasters in the Gulf, as well as the continued expenses outside of the country, we have worked hard to be articulate and accurate when applying for these reduced funds.
As a board member of the Drug Task force, I have been actively involved in getting Montezuma County listed as a Federal Methamphetamine Hot Spot – a designation which will put us in a position to receive additional federal funding in fiscal year 2007. We are also in process to receive a HIDA (High Intensity Drug Activity) designation which will put us in a position to receive additional state funding. As one of the leaders of the task force, I am committed to increasing the performance of the task force and its work in our judicial district.
I am also committed to working closely with the community and advocacy groups to help alleviate the drug problem. One of the ways we currently work with the community is through the schools. My opponent states that he would put a school resource officer in the Dolores and Mancos schools. We already have a school resource officer (SRO) serving the Dolores schools. Deputy Hughes, the current SRO, is in the Dolores Schools every school day and also teaches at the Mancos School.
This position was originally funded through a grant which expired several years ago. Because of the positive results of having a deputy assigned specifically to the schools, the county commissioners and I have continued to allocate funding to keep the position alive. I believe that the SRO’s interaction with the students, faculty and family has been, and will continue to be, a key factor in reducing the amount of narcotics, alcohol and bullying problems within the schools.
2) Community Corrections is a subject that keeps being raised. When I stepped in as sheriff, the program expenses were over budget and there was a large shortfall with the income – it was losing money to the tune of $12,000-$15,000 per month. There was no money available in the county budget to make up this loss and I was not going to cut law enforcement services to the community to fund Community Corrections.
In discussions with Ed Camp, the Colorado State Director of Community Corrections, he stated that his department was not willing or able to give our facility the necessary number of clients and state funding to make up the shortfall of dollars. (The 2005 budget, put together by my predecessor, projected income that was far in excess of the contract amount that the state committed to the county in a signed contract in August of 2004.)
Knowing we would not get any additional state funding, we then looked regionally to see if any private entity, already involved in operating community correction facilities would step forward to take over the program. But after talks and site visits combined with huge incentives of a very minimal rent on the building space, all the groups said it was a losing proposition. With no way to fund the losses the commissioners decided to close the facility.
FYI — we still have a ComCor program for our local offenders. This is a pass-through program administered by the probation department. This contract pays to house parolees in other areas and is at no cost to our county.
3) My opponent states that he will revive the reserve officer program, but the reserve officer program is already in place. These certified reserve officers commit a minimum of 10 hours per month to the agency and must first pass an approximately 160-hour certification course to become (reserve) POST certified. We currently have eight certified reserve officers and they assist us in court security and with special functions.
I have started another volunteer program to assist us in emergency /disaster situations. These 20-plus volunteers are not required to be certified officers, but are trained in what to do to help in the case of a disaster. They meet with the County Emergency Manager and me every 5 to 6 weeks. We are grateful for all these volunteers – we hope if you get a chance to meet one of them you will give them a big Thank You. And if you have an interest in becoming a volunteer, please give me a call.
4) My opponent’s suggestions about an animal control officer have some valid points, but he fails to mention that there is no current income available to offset the expenses of this position. I am not opposed to a county animal control program if we are able to adopt county ordinances that raise the funding for offsetting those associated costs. However, you need to put the horse before the cart and solidify the funding before incurring the expense.
Until that time, each and every deputy responds to animal concerns as a matter of regular calls for service. We work closely with Dr. Shane Cole from the Montezuma Veterinary Clinic, who is our animal advisor, as well as with Joe Stevensen, who is the brand inspector. Lt. Martin also works closely with Gary Shoun of the state brand commission. We are also moving forward with our “Ranch-Watch” program and we will have signs available to purchase, at our cost, in the near future. This program advises would-be thieves and other trespassers that the farms and ranches are patrolled by deputies and that local ranchers are keeping an eye out for illegal activity.
Very briefly, I would also like to address some comments my opponent made in the October Free Press. I have not been a party to pursuing, prosecuting or investigating my opponent, during his current series of legal actions. Both my wife and I have enjoyed getting to know Sam and his wife throughout this political process (remember the corn shucking?). I do not have power over the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating my opponent, nor do I have power over the DA’s office, whose decision it is to file and prosecute on his charges. Finally, I certainly do not have power over the judge who censored my opponent for his testimony. The reality is we are all responsible for our own actions and it will be up to the jury when his case(s) go to court after the election.
My core beliefs have not changed since my first day as your sheriff some 19 months ago and those beliefs are integrity, accountability and a commitment to community. Part of that commitment is not promising programs that we are unable to implement.
Our agency has 55 employees and our expenditure budget is $3.1 million. Our inmate count reached a high of 135 people this summer with a capacity on paper of 110. We currently respond to calls for service that arise at a moment’s notice and run the gamut from traffic infractions to homicides.
How we handle those calls is paramount. I demand a professional and courteous response from my deputies, and I expect an even higher level from myself. I have told my staff that all you have as a deputy is your integrity, which is measured by what you do, how you handle yourself and others, how you articulate your reports and how you represent the agency in court.
As we work through the challenges ahead with more people moving to the county, more calls for service and a higher inmate population, all on a flat income stream, we need a sheriff who not only understands those fiscal challenges but who has the ability, the respect, and the desire to work with the community, for the community. My opponent is correct that we are at a crossroads in the county and I urge you to check the facts of both my opponent and myself. Ask other law enforcement officers, elected officials and those who have worked with both me and my opponent who they believe can do the job best. Remember to vote on Nov. 7 and I ask for your vote to keep the positive course we are now moving in.