Steamboat Springs Garrett Wiggins has faced Gary Wall before. The men ran against each other in the 2006 election for Routt County sheriff, which Wall won. But now, with more history behind each of them and potential issues on both sides, the men are preparing new strategies for the rematch.
Democrat Wall ran on a campaign of constitutional and civil rights, and on the idea that he wanted to reduce turnover in the department. He now says he has largely accomplished his goals by keeping low the number of deputies who have left the department. Wall said he has changed the atmosphere of the department to keep his staff around.
“When I was elected sheriff, I wanted to operate the office in a completely different way,” he said.
Although of the Sheriff’s Office staff of about 50 people, there has been some turnover — about 30, including four this year — Wall said it has been “healthy turnover.” Fourteen of the staff members left during Wall’s first year in office, which he said was a result of the previous administration. And of the four this year, three were fired and one left town, he said.
That’s not enough, said All Crimes Enforcement Team Cmdr. Wiggins, a Republican.
“I want to focus on maintaining a professional and competent sheriff’s department,” he said. “In order to have a competent and professional sheriff’s department, you have to have good quality employees and maintain good quality employees.”
Wiggins said it’s difficult to keep a competent staff when turnover is that high, and he noted that many of the people who left the office are people Wall hired.
Wall points to the fact none of his patrol deputies has left for the Steamboat Springs Police Department, though one jail deputy did, and several officers returned from the Police Department. The Sheriff’s Office has served as somewhat of a training ground for other agencies in the past, and Wall was trying to stop that trend.
Wiggins and Nick Bosick, his challenger in the Republican primary election, pointed to Wall’s relationships with other agencies as something they wanted to change. Wall has publicly clashed with the Routt County Board of Commissioners on several occasions. He objected to the countywide furloughs imposed as a cost-saving measure, requested and was denied winches and portable defibrillators for the department’s SUVs and was chastised for expected budget overruns.
“I think it’s very, very important that there is a good relationship between the county commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office,” Wiggins said. “You have to have that unity to have a well-run, well-established department.”
Wall said those disagreements have been overblown and that although he sometimes disagrees with the commissioners’ decisions, his primary interest is protecting public safety.
He also pointed out that after projections showed he might be spending more than budgeted, he has stayed under budget every year, a statement confirmed by Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan.
“Do I have a difference with them? Yes, I do. But again, it’s not personal; it’s public safety issues,” Wall said.
Some of the figures still are disputed, however, such as the attorney fees Wall accrued as he consulted outside counsel in his dispute with the commissioners about salaries.