Oak Creek Republican Routt County sheriff candidate Garrett Wiggins would continue to support a local drug task force if elected, while Democratic sheriff candidate Gary Wall said he doesn't know enough about the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team, or GRAMNET, to commit to a stance.
Wiggins, a Steamboat Springs police officer currently working as a drug investigator for GRAMNET, said the drug problem in Northwest Colorado necessitates such a task force.
"I am definitely in support of GRAMNET," Wiggins said during a candidates forum in Oak Creek on Tuesday.
"I live in the narcotics world right now, and let me tell you, meth is here. I just bought heroin in Steamboat Springs, as a matter of fact," he said, referring to a recent GRAMNET operation.
"I will do everything in my power to keep GRAMNET, because right now we have four officers working 7,500 square miles of Northwest Colorado. If one quits, it's over. We're done."
And if GRAMNET were to disband, Wiggins said he'd dedicate Sheriff's Office deputies to drug task enforcement. The Routt County Sheriff's Office, Steamboat Springs Police Department, Craig Police Department and the Moffat County Sheriff's Office are the four local agencies that support GRAMNET with officers and money. GRAMNET also receives federal funding.
Wall, meanwhile, said he was "out of the loop" in regards to GRAMNET and wasn't sure whether, if elected, he'd continue Sheriff's Office support of the task force. He said he has heard multiple complaints about GRAMNET officers violating people's civil liberties and would want to look into those allegations before making any decisions.
Wall also suggested looking "at the bigger picture of drug use in the country" and called for more outreach programs.
"I think we need to be focusing on intervention and education of drug users, because we couldn't build jails or prisons big enough to house everyone facing drug charges," he said. "I'm all for drug enforcement, but I'm also for looking at the bigger picture."
Wall, who has emphasized protecting civil liberties throughout his campaign, criticized Wiggins for saying Monday that police officers occasionally use a "ruse" to help them investigate cases.
"(Wiggins) proudly admitted the police lie to the public," Wall told the crowd of about 30 people at the Oak Creek Community Center. "He called it a ruse, which the dictionary defines (as) 'to deceive.' The thesaurus says a ruse is a 'deception, deceit, sham or to contrive.' Those are not words that should be associated with a police department, because those are words that erode public trust."
"There are plenty of ways to investigate cases without being dishonest," Wiggins countered, saying that Wall twisted his words, and that a ruse is a legal, lawful tool officers often have to use.
"If some pervert molests your child, I am sure you want me to use whatever tool available to me to investigate," Wiggins said. "I will not lie to the public. That isn't the case at all. He's completely taken my words out of context."
Also at Tuesday's forum, Routt County commissioner candidates Diane Mitsch Bush, a Democrat, and Paul Strong, a Republican, discussed issues concerning South Routt residents such as county road maintenance and funding for schools outside the Steamboat Springs School District.
Mitsch Bush said although the county has a healthy reserve in its Road and Bridge Department, she would consider bringing a countywide bond issue to voters that would provide more money to widen and maintain more county roads.
Strong said he disagreed that raising taxes would be the right thing to do.
"I would have a hard time supporting a tax increase with our current level of reserves," he said. "It's like taking a family that has enough money to buy a car with cash, and a family that needs a loan to buy a car. It's like saying, 'I have lots of money already, but I need more money to do other stuff.'"
Oak Creek resident Paulie Anderson asked Mitsch Bush and Strong how they would work to bring more money to the South Routt School District.
Mitsch Bush said there is a disparity between school districts in the county that can be solved only by forming partnerships between school, county and state officials.
"The idea that maybe money from Steamboat will trickle down hasn't worked in the past. I think one way for us to get at this issue is to get county commissioners from the region, including in urban and rural areas, to go to the state. Commissioners can be lobbyists," she said. "And we need to talk about these issues."
Strong said he would look into implementing a countywide sales tax that would benefit the county, not just Steamboat.
"The problem right now is the half-cent sales tax that you all pay when you shop in Steamboat goes to the kids in Steamboat. That probably should have been a countywide sales tax, and not citywide," he said.
U.S. House District 57 candidate Mike Kien, a Libertarian from Oak Creek, was the only candidate in that race to attend Tuesday's forum. Kien told the audience that he would fight for their civil liberties and protect their Constitutional rights.
Routt County candidates for assessor Mike Kerrigan, a Democrat; Nancy Terry, an independent candidate; and Dick Klumker, a Republican, also attended the forum.
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