County doesn't play by city's rules

Sheriff candidate Birch won't face the same choice Murphy had to make

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— The Routt County Sheriff's Office does not have guidelines for its employees to abide by during a political campaign, Sheriff John Warner said.

Dwight Murphy, a Steam-boat Springs police officer, withdrew his candidacy for sheriff Wednesday after being forced to choose between continuing to campaign or continuing to draw his police salary. Warner said Thursday that Sgt. Ray Birch of the Sheriff's Office, the other Republican candidate for sheriff, will not have to make a similar choice.

Warner said neither his department nor the county has an agreement similar to the one Steamboat Springs' city officials made Murphy sign when Murphy announced his candidacy.

On Wednesday, Murphy said he was sent a memorandum from interim City Manager Wendy DuBord asking him to take an unpaid leave of absence from the police department during the campaign or to resign. Murphy chose to drop out of the race, saying he could not afford to give up his $53,000-a-year job during the campaign.

Murphy, 49, and Birch were the only Republicans to file for sheriff. Gary Wall is the only Democrat who has filed.

DuBord said that when Murphy decided to run for sheriff, he agreed to avoid any conflict of interest or perception of a conflict of interest while working as a police officer and running for office.

Public Safety Director J.D. Hays said he was concerned by Birch's recent allegations that Murphy purchased several Web domains involving Birch's name such as "birchforsheriff.com." Murphy repeatedly has said he never purchased any domain names involving Birch's name.

Warner said he was surprised to learn about Murphy's withdrawal Wednesday.

He said he thinks contracts between agencies and their employees such as the one Murphy signed deter people from running for public office and reduce candidate pools.

"It's hard enough to get people to run for a public office. Why would you tie their hands?" he said. "I thought it was going to be a good election, but I guess we're down to just two candidates and a general election, instead of three candidates and a primary (election)."

Warner has been supportive of Birch's campaign. Birch's Web site -- officialraybirchforsheriff.com -- includes a quote from the current sheriff: "Sgt. Ray Birch is the most educated, experienced and viable candidate to lead the Routt County Sheriff's Office."

Warner said that as long as Birch's campaign does not interfere with his daily duties, he has no problem with Birch's candidacy. If allegations arose that Birch had violated a department policy, Warner said he would address the issue at that time.

--To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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