Murphy gives up bid for sheriff

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— Dwight Murphy, a Steamboat Springs police officer, withdrew from the Routt County sheriff's race Wednesday after being forced to choose between his job and running for office.

Along with the official withdrawal letter he submitted to the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office, Murphy attached a memorandum he received from interim City Manager Wendy DuBord through Public Safety Director J.D. Hays. The memo asks Murphy to take an unpaid leave of absence from the police department during the campaign or to resign.

"It will be difficult for you, and equally hard on the police department, for you to do your normal job and campaign concurrently for the office of Routt County Sheriff," the memo said.

Murphy said he had little choice but to drop out of the race.

"I'm like everyone else in Steamboat -- I've got to have a job," Murphy said. "That's a year, or at the very least, nine months, of unpaid leave. I can't afford that."

Murphy, a Republican, was the first person to file for sheriff candidacy. Sgt. Ray Birch of the Routt County Sheriff's Office also has filed as a Republican.

Murphy, 49, is a veteran officer with 27 years of experience in law enforcement. He also spent more than a year in Iraq helping to train Iraqi police officers in 2004-05. He earns about $53,000 a year as a police officer.

DuBord said she and Hays discussed potential conflicts between Murphy's campaign and his job with the city. DuBord said the pair decided to give Murphy the choice to take unpaid leave or resign.

"We didn't tell him he couldn't run," DuBord said. "We wanted to give him an option."

Hays said he talked to Murphy about the decision Wednesday morning.

"My job is to look out for the best interest of the police department," Hays said. "I didn't think it was in the best interest of this department to have (Murphy) campaign while actively working as a police officer."

DuBord said the city has clear personnel policies that prohibit any conflict between a city employee's job and a political campaign. The guidelines are applicable to any city employee who decides to run for an elected position such as sheriff or county commissioner, she said.

"(Hays) had some concerns that there was a conflict," she said. "It's not a great combination to have someone in law enforcement running for another position in law enforcement. They're just not compatible activities."

DuBord said Murphy knew the city's policies when he announced his candidacy in January, and he signed an agreement acknowledging that he would be asked to take a leave of absence if any issue arose between his employment with the city and his campaign.

Murphy said he worked hard to comply with the agreement. He said he never campaigned while on duty.

Hays said recent allegations by Birch that Murphy purchased several Web site domain names using Birch's name constituted the kind of conflict the city would not tolerate. Murphy reiterated Wednesday that he did not purchase any domain names.

"In my estimation, when Dwight agreed to the conditions laid out for him when he announced he wanted to run for sheriff, he agreed there would not be any conflict created or anything like that, that would reflect on the police department," Hays said. "All this computer stuff does reflect on the police department. He needed to separate his job as a police officer with what he is dong with the Routt County Sheriff's Office."

Murphy said he respected Hays' decision. "I feel like I have worked hard to comply with the agreement," Murphy said. "It said you must avoid any conflict of interest or the perception of a conflict of interest. It's hard to control that last part. Perception of a conflict of interest could be anything."

Birch said Wednesday that he was surprised to hear Murphy's decision. "I wish him and his family the best, though," Birch said.

Gary Wall, a Democrat, is the other candidate who has filed for the sheriff's race.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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