Grand County sheriff candidates share views in candidate forum
You can still vote in the primary election by requesting a ballot and claiming an affiliation up until Election Day, June 24. A polling center is already open at the Grand County Administration Building, and ballots were sent out to all affiliated registered voters on Monday, June 2. See more on the sheriff’s candidates in the Wednesday, June 11, edition as they provide answers to Sky-Hi News questions.
Candidates for sheriff, incumbent Rod Johnson and challenger Brett Schroetlin, presented their views on deputy morale, term limits and leadership styles at a “Meet the Candidates” event.
Each of the two candidate were allowed an introduction at the event, then answered a series of audience questions The event, sponsored by the Kremmling Rotary, was held Wednesday, June 4, at the Bumgarner Building in Kremmling.
30-years county law enforcer Johnson said he is “conservative, fiscally as well as with budgeting.” And, “traffic is not my priority,” he said. “We have fairly strong presence of traffic enforcement in the county; state patrol and police departments handle the lions share of traffic and issues on the state highways.” Johnson served at the county as deputy, then sergeant, then lieutenant until appointed as sheriff in 1993.
Schroetlin worked at the Grand County Sheriff’s Office as a sergeant and a lieutenant before working for the Fraser-Winter Park Police Department as a commander and as acting chief of police. Schroetlin left the squad for a short time when he took a state investigator job, then returned to Winter park and now is the department’s detective and canine handler. The challenger said he first and foremost honors integrity, family values and community whether in plain clothes or in uniform. He also hopes to improve employee retention and morale, and get deputies more involved in community via coaching and mentoring. He also aims to shorten response times in the county.
Schroetlin said he disagrees with a disorderly conduct statute because it is too vague and acts as a “cover-all” statute. And the drunk driving statute “needs work,” he said. It “needs to be erased and rewritten” with the input from law enforcement, mental health and communities. He also advocates for increased penalties for repeat offenders, such as DUI.
Johnson said he would scrap from the books two gun laws from 2013. One is not being able to purchase or possess a magazine for more than 15 rounds; the other concerns background checks for transfer of firearms among private parties. Johnson supports legislation that would make three DUIs a convicted felony.
domestic and sexual violations
Johnson said certain domestic situations may be more appropriately handled with an “educational hammer” rather than sent through the criminal justice process. But Johnson said he wields “no sympathy” for sexual assault offenders. “They should be treated harshly… sexual assault is not a forgivable violation I can come to grips with.”
Schroetlin said those in domestic violence situations oftentimes are judged prior to court proceedings by community and neighbors. All law enforcement should utilize community resources available “to make sure people are integrated back in the community so victim doesn’t remain a victim and suspect remain an offender.”
Brett Schroetlin repeatedly indicated that morale is low at the county sheriff’s office and received applause following his comments on the subject. With increased morale in the agency, he said, there would be improved work ethic, reports, and communicating with the public. “If we don’t have our employees happy, how are they going to represent me? How are they going to represent our community? We absolutely have to focus on that,” he said, saying a sheriff needs to know what it’s like to work in all areas of the operation to learn how to coach individuals. He also hopes to inspire career growth opportunities for employees.
Johnson explained his open-door policy at the county, saying anyone has the ability to come into his office and air thoughts. “We always work on morale improvement. But whether it’s successful depends on the employee,” Johnson said he recently told a deputy: “If you want to leave yourself a legacy of serving the public and being a good employee, that responsibility lies more on you as an employee than it does the administration you work for.” On the subject of leadership, Johnson said “I believe today you have to interact with the individuals who are working for you and understand their side. Now, does it always come out in favor of the employee? I’ll tell you it doesn’t. Can it come out in favor of the employee? No. because you can’t have the employees running the department, it’s got to be run by the administration, and because the sheriff’s office is a Constitutional office elected by the people. Whether it happens in the middle of the night while I’m at home sleeping, or while I’m in my office, the buck stops here.”
transport of people needing detox, of juveniles and mental health individuals
Johnson said one of the biggest challenges in the office is management of detoxification because of lack of expertise in the department to oversee someone detoxifying. Most often people in these situations are transported to Summit County or Denver. But solutions are not easy for holding facilities for juveniles, mental health patients and intoxicated individuals, he said. Summit County’s detox facility is struggling to keep in operation, and so Grand County may not have enough cases to fulfill a facility here. And there are challenges surrounding mental health and juvenile holding facilties as well, although the county did work around a federal law through the state by allowing a juvenile’s night’s stay in Grand County to save on long-distance transports out of county.
Schroetlin wants to bring the problem to the forefront and get the community involved to try and find a solution. Not having a detox location is “putting deputies in bad situations in the middle of night by not having the resources available,” saying on a deputy’s watch while turning intoxicated individuals over to family and friends, there is the risk of serious alcohol poisoning while not under the presence of a trained professional.
Shroetlin said: “I think every county in the state needs to progress, needs to move forward. Rod has done a great job, but with any position I think the term limits need to apply, and I think there needs to be new people. These people have great experience, but I think we do become stale in the county. We need to have new visions and new goals and more people involved in the community.
Rod Johnson disagreed: “Term limits, not a fan,” he said. “Obviously I’ve made a career out of this. I look at all the elected officials we have, and I’m very proud of the job they do, I think they do a wonderful job.”
number one challenge in county law enforcement
Johnson said it’s the workforce. “We’re struggling finding qualified individuals to work there, and I think it’s because the county has kind of become a transient county. Training people new all the time costs a lot of money. You can have new bricks and mortar and all brand new vehicles, but the workforce is the key to what the sheriff’s office does, and that will always be a challenge.”
Meanwhile, Schroetlin said it’s workforce morale. “I think that we have got to get that foundation of morale. Something has to be done. I’m not going to throw stats at you or names or anything like that, but I encourage each and every one of you as you leave here, do it privately, focus on as many sheriff’s office employees you can find, and find out how the morale is at the sheriff’s office. It needs to be done in personal face-to-face conversations with these people, I think you’ll see that it’s time for a change.”
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