Steamboat Springs Routt County commissioners were right Tuesday to set the new undersheriff's salary at $64,000.
That's about $18,000 less than what new Sheriff Gary Wall had recommended David Bustos receive. It was a rather outrageous request from Wall, considering Bustos lacks recent law enforcement experience, does not have a degree and is not certified to be a law enforcement officer. The resume that the Pilot & Today was provided does not even show dates for his work experience.
Wall is off to a shaky start since being sworn in as sheriff Jan. 9. He announced he wanted to make his office in the Routt County Courthouse, away from the Sheriff's Office. He insisted on his own swearing-in ceremony. He dismissed three long-time employees. He hired an undersheriff who last worked in law enforcement 30 years ago - when he was Wall's assistant chief in Vail.
Finally, neither Wall nor Bustos is Peace Officer Standards and Training certified. But Wall has shown no sense of urgency in getting such certification, which is required of all law enforcement officers in Colorado.
Wall asked that Bustos be paid on Step 9 of the county's 11-step salary scale. He noted that was the pay former undersheriff Dan Taylor was budgeted to receive this year. But Taylor, who is one of the employees Wall dismissed, had more than a decade of experience as undersheriff, not to mention many years more in law enforcement.
County commissioners chose instead to place Bustos at Step 1, which will pay him $64,000, with a bump to Step 3 - $68,500 - once he gets POST certified. This was a generous and reasonable offer by the commissioners, none of whom makes more than $55,000.
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush told Wall the county's pay scale is in place for a reason, and that starting one employee at Step 9 could be viewed as unfair. "We have to follow the rules," she said. "Rules provide reliability and a basis of trust for both current employees and the public that we won't make special exceptions."
Mitsch Bush is right - putting Bustos at nearly the highest level on the county pay scale was not fair to other employees or to Bustos. Bustos has been on the job for two weeks. That's not nearly enough time to prove his value.
Wall argued he and Bustos together would more than make up for their high salaries by reducing turnover in the Sheriff's Office. He accused former sheriff John Warner and Taylor of running an office on "fear and intimidation."
But if Wall really wanted to strengthen retention, why not advocate for better deputy pay and benefits? Why not spend more time in the office with them? Why not establish a track record first, then seek rewards?
The decisions Wall has made during his first days in office leave a lot of room for second-guessing. In their actions Tuesday, commissioners sent a strong message that there are procedures to follow and that respect must be earned. We can only hope Wall got that message.