We can't help but be a little mystified by Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall's insistence on skirmishing with the Board of Commissioners about such innocuous issues as motor pool policies.
Wall retained outside legal representation this month to draft a memo to the commissioners saying he would not acquiesce to their request for details on his departmental policies.
It doesn't sound like a big deal to us. However, Wall and his attorney make the case that to respond to a letter from the commissioners would undermine not only his authority, but that of other sheriffs around Colorado.
We're not so naÃive that we don't recognize a turf war when we see one. The sheriff is standing firm and resisting any actions on the part of the commissioners that remotely suggest they have power over him. Wall's attorneys drafted an eight-page letter setting out case law relating to the separation of powers between the county and the sheriff.
We would suggest that even if he's standing on legal high ground, the sheriff, his department and his constituents would be better served by a less adversarial relationship between the board of commissioners and the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county.
The squabble goes back to earlier this summer, when the commissioners expressed surprise that Wall was allowing his employees to use their patrol vehicles for personal use. The sheriff contends that keeping his deputies in their cars bolsters public safety and extends the reach of patrols across the county. He makes a point. However, the county commissioners noted that his policy was inconsistent with those of the county motor pool, which provides his vehicles.
It came as no surprise when the commissioners sought clarification. They asked county attorney John Merrill to send the sheriff a letter asking him to go over a list of 18 county policies and indicate whether he accepts those policies, or alternately, to provide his own policies.
The commissioners might not have elicited such a defensive response from Wall had the memo not come from Merrill. However, the request for information doesn't appear so threatening to us.
We lack the expertise of Wall's attorney, Ralph A. Cantafio. Still, we question his assertion that "the responsibility of the Board of County Commissioners as to the Sheriff's Office begins and ends with the budgeting of money."
Unless we're badly mistaken, the Sheriff's Office depends on the commissioners to shop for benefits for its employees and produce their payroll checks in a timely fashion, among other things.
We expect Wall to make law enforcement decisions without interference by the commissioners. But we don't see how his position with the county is advancing law enforcement-related objectives.
Wall's stance is ultimately perplexing because he is on the record saying he fully intends to publish his written policies for the Sheriff's Office at www.co.rout.co.us/sheriff. If that's the case, why not respond to the commissioners and "get on with the business of public safety in Routt County," as Wall put it this week?