Several newly elected officials took office last week, including County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, Assessor Mike Kerrigan and Sheriff Gary Wall.
Public service is noble work for relatively small rewards. The pay is not competitive with the private sector and the criticism often outweighs the praise. Let us begin 2007 by welcoming these new servants into their roles and wishing them and all other elected officials the best in the new year.
That said, we would be remiss if we did not take note of the different approaches the newly elected officials took to their first days in office. Mitsch Bush and Kerrigan joined all other county officers for a swearing-in ceremony Tuesday morning. Judge James Garrecht handled the oaths of office without a lot of fanfare. Mitsch Bush immediately left for training in Denver. Kerrigan got settled in.
Contrast that with our new sheriff. Wall insisted on his own private ceremony and asked all the deputies in his department to attend. He was sworn in by Judge Michael O'Hara, and then each deputy took the oath individually. "I wanted this to be a special occasion," Wall said. "There's a new sheriff. I wanted them to get a flavor of how I operate."
Let us be clear - Wall won a convincing victory in the November election. He netted 55 percent of the vote to defeat Republican Garrett Wiggins, who netted 44 percent. He won on a platform of change, so it should not come as a surprise that he is implementing such change.
What is perhaps surprising is how rapidly those changes are coming.
Even before he took the oath, Wall informed several longtime Sheriff's Office employees - Undersheriff Dan Taylor, Investigator Rachelle Redmond and Sgt. Dan Kelliher - that their services would not be needed in his administration. Taylor had been undersheriff to outgoing Sheriff John Warner, and Redmond had agreed to be undersheriff to Wiggins, so perhaps their departures were inevitable. "I have chosen who to give commissions to," Wall said. "John Warner gave commissions to people that I will not. Any new sheriff is entitled to do whatever he chooses."
Wall chose as his undersheriff David Bustos, Wall's assistant police chief in Vail in the 1970s. Most recently Bustos worked for a security company in Utah. Neither Wall nor Bustos has a current Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, but Wall feels no sense of urgency. "It's not like I am in a hurry to do that. I'll do it when I think that's appropriate," Wall said. "Not having (certification) won't hinder my duties in any way."
Finally, there's the issue of his office. Wall said he plans to use an office at the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat, a few miles away from the Sheriff's Office and Routt County Jail. Wall said it's an effort to live up to his campaign pledge to be accessible to the public. But if someone is looking for the sheriff, isn't the Sheriff's Office the logical place to look?
Time may show that Wall's moves are the right ones. But sweeping staff change and decisions that draw attention to him individually put the spotlight squarely on the new sheriff. The boldness of his statements and actions leave little margin for error. That's a big risk for someone returning to law enforcement for the first time in more than 30 years.