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Five candidates for sheriff Five candidates for sheriff

Republicans have almost a half dozen candidates to choose from in their primary election for sheriff

In a season where primary elections are making headlines throughout the nation, Bonner County has joined in generating primary interest by fielding five candidates in the Republican primary election for county sheriff. Elaine Savage, the incumbent, is facing challenges from four other former and current law enforcement employees, including former county Sheriff Chip Roos, Sandpoint police officer Darryl Wheeler, sheriff’s deputy Rocky Jordan, and former sheriff’s deputy Geoff Rusho. Larry Hanna is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket for the position.

Sheriff Elaine Savage was elected to office in 2004 after serving as Undersheriff to Phil Jarvis. She came to the position with an extensive and varied background in law enforcement. In 1974 she was selected for one of the first classes opened to women in the U.S. Army’s Military Police. In the years since she worked in several different police departments, trained as a hostage negotiator, was a patrol officer and worked undercover as a vice and narcotics cop. For 11 years, in her off-duty time, she worked security for the Dallas Cowboys “and remain a fan to this day.”

Savage, born in Priest River, moved home in 1996 and by ‘98 was the Police Chief for Priest River. When the county took over policing duties on the west side of the county, she joined the Sheriff’s office.

“During this election process, it keeps getting bandied about that somehow I’m not certified to do this job,” Sheriff Savage laughed. “I would like to reassure the residents of the area that I’m fully certified to be sheriff. I can arrest people, write a ticket, carry and fire a weapon, and handle any of the other duties expected from any of our deputies.” Indeed, she has earned the POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) executive certificate.

“I have the experience needed to do this job properly,” Savage stated. “Candidly, my opponents do not. Even Mr. Roos, Bonner County’s former sheriff, can’t match my experience because he never served in the post-9-11 world. The job has changed drastically since he was our sheriff.”

One of those changes is the growth in the area since Roos was last Sheriff in 1999. Savage presides over a department with a budget close to $5 million dollars, and, at 100 employees, is one of the largest employers in the county.

“To run an organization of this size, you have to have a large background in many areas, not just in patrol,” Savage said. “You have to understand the liability risks, budgeting - I run a $5 million industry, and that’s your money. I have to be responsible with it. One thing you don’t want to have to do is train a sheriff.”

Understanding all aspects of how the department works is the driving force behind Savage’s decisions regarding training for lieutenants. “I have 7 lieutenants,” she said. “They rotate through other divisions so they can learn the whole system.”

The jail is one of the primary responsibilities of the sheriff, she stated. “Of the 40 county jails in Idaho, only 16 are in compliance with jail standards,” she said. “Ours is one of them. We’ve hired three nurses for the jail, and installed an isolation system. For example, when inmates are infected with MRSA, or TB, we can treat them here - nobody has to go to the hospital.”

Savage points to a series of accomplishments she’s made as sheriff. “Our staff has better training, better pay and better equipment,” she said. “The image of the sheriff’s office has improved greatly. I credit our deputies for most of that,” she added. “They do a lot out in the communities, and they truly enjoy working with people.”

She’s also proud of the Inmate Labor Program, which builds upon the Sheriff’s Labor Program established by Roos. “We now take inmates, people actually serving time in jail, and provide service to our community by having them shovel snow, mow lawns. They’ve even planted and maintained a garden that provided over 5,000 pounds of food to the local food banks, and to our jail as well.”

And she has plans for the future. “I’ve been accused of having no vision,” she said, “but we’re still building the base here. I’d like to see improvements in pay for our deputies, and we have to keep pace with the growth in the county and ensure we have the staffing levels to keep up with the demands.” She also wants to see continued growth in a team approach to running the department.

“It’s not all about me,” she laughed. “It’s about them (the deputies). Just because you get elected doesn’t make it yours.” She highlighted the work of the dive team as an example of where the department needs to go. “On their own, they put together a budget for their department for 2009, plus they came up with a strategic plan, a training plan, and a list of equipment needed. That’s the kind of thing we need. I can stand here all day and order things, but they won’t make for a good department. We’re all in this together.”

Former Sheriff Evan “Chip” Roos believes its his past experience that makes him the best choice as the Republican nominee for Sheriff. With 22 years behind him in law enforcement, he served 12 of those as the county’s sheriff, and two as undersheriff before retiring in 2001. “I’ve been a sheriff longer than anybody,” he laughed. “There was one guy back in the 20s or 30s who also served three terms, but that’s it.” Like Sheriff Savage, Roos also holds executive certification from Idaho’s POST. “Some have pointed out that my certification has expired,” he said. “Big whoop. All certification expires after three years. That doesn’t change the existence of it, and (if elected) I’ll get ‘em all renewed.”

Roos has a long, local record to stand on, and it’s a record he’s proud of. “I have a track record and I have proved what I can do. We did a lot of things - I say we because it was a team effort. We got the jail built, started the domestic violence advocates’ program, had the largest Search and Rescue program in the state. Pride was high and we had the right vehicles for the job. I really felt, when I left office, that we had hurdled all the hurdles.”

Now, he says, the hurdles are back. “I think it’s messed up,” he explained. “I talk to people who have been (in the department) a long time and they tell me they don’t feel support from the top, that rules change frequently. They thought I was a hard taskmaster but now they think I was pretty good! I had really hoped Elaine (Savage) would try to repair the damage done during (Sheriff) Jarvis’ tenure but she said she’d keep the same policies and it seems like she has.

“The position of Sheriff is an administrative job,” Roos said, and given that, one thing he’d change is the policy manual. “The policy manual is a kind of a big mess right now. It’s a living thing and should be constantly looked at. Instead, they used mine for seven years, then they got one that ICRMP (county insurance) prepared that’s out of line with our county. It was written for some place like Ada County. We need something that fits our area.”

Other changes Roos would like to see made are in how dollars are being spent. “Training dollars are all being spent at the top - for example, they sent the undersheriff to the FBI academy. Then the guy gets a better job somewhere else and quits. (For that type of position) you should hire someone who has experience from day one.

“Money is simply wrongfully appropriated,” he stated. “When I was sheriff, I worked just fine with a $285 desk from Staples. Now they’ve spent thousands of dollars on a lot of maple and oak.”

He adds, “(Back then) the rubber was always meeting the road. I had a word processor, my undersheriff had a word processor - we didn’t have secretaries. Now there’s umpteen lieutenants, and they’ve dropped out the lower end. They’ve gone to a 24-hour system of a watch commander in charge. That’s overkill by decreasing first-line positions.”

He also wants to see a return to a strong reserve force. “The reserves have fallen to nearly none,” he said. “That was our primary recruiting pool since ‘74 - losing that is devastating. Now they have to recruit from God knows where instead of growing their own. With a good reserve program,” he laughed, “you have a chance of weeding out the odd ones, who don’t belong in law enforcement.”

Roos says he agrees with statements that post-9-11 the sheriff’s office operates in a different world. “There’s absolutely no question about that. (On the plus side) there’s a lot more streamlined method of obtaining help and funding.” He’s not sure the changes are all for the good, however. “I don’t think all the changes are very good for the citizens. And (law enforcement) is wired a lot tighter these days.” But while things have changed, Roos says that makes no difference in his ability to do the job. “All the agencies I worked with are still in existence, still doing the same things one way or another. I may be unaware of who has responsibility for what now, but truthfully, those types of things were always in flux. And it’s not information that’s hard to come by.”

Roos would like voters to know, despite what’s been written in blogs, “my health is fine, I’m not a womanizer, and I don’t have a drinking problem. A heavy drinking day for me is when I have two beers in a 24-hour period - and that usually involves a lawnmower and heat,” he laughed.

Although the area has grown, and times have changed, Roos believes it’s still possible to have a sheriff’s department that’s a close-knit part of the community. “I was born in Bonner County, raised in Bonner County, and had a full law enforcement career in Bonner County. I have the same credentials (as the current sheriff) and have worked a lot more divisions. The only thing I’ve never done in law enforcement (officially) is the clerical division. And I have the administrative experience to run the office.” He says the current sheriff is the only other candidate who can truthfully say that, and “I did it for 12 years. She’s done it for three.

“We did a lot of good things when I was sheriff,” he said, and hopes voters will return him to the office he thought he’d retired from, so that good things can happen again.

Sheriff’s Deputy Rocky Jordan, born in Michigan, has almost 25 years experience in law enforcement and 20 years experience (some overlapping) working jobs that either related to or aiding police agencies. “I actually have more experience than any of the other candidates,” he said. In addition, Rocky holds an Associates degree in Police Science and a BS in Police Administration. He moved to North Idaho 12 years ago - “Just in time for the last big snow,” he laughed “and we stayed for this one.” He began work as a Reserve Deputy for Bonner County, becoming a paid deputy in 2006. In his years prior to moving to North Idaho, Rocky worked with a wide variety of agencies, from city agencies to Interpol, the FBI, and Border Patrol. He is currently Idaho POST certified.

Over the years, when not working in law enforcement, he has worked many jobs related to the field, and even owned a business doing skip tracing. “I ran my company and took it to a million dollar a year business,” he said. “I have the administrative experience to serve as sheriff, and have the on-the-road background as well.” He added, “I have attended four academies and have taken thousands of hours of training.”

Rocky said, if elected, he would change “just about everything” in the current sheriff’s department.

“A big issue is morale,” he said. “Morale is bad. (Deputies) aren’t leaving because of pay, it’s because morale stinks. We need to get that built back up in the department.” He wrote on his website that morale was not only in the toilet, but that “the toilet’s been flushed.”

In addition to that, he has specific areas he’d like to see addressed. “I want to bring back the K9 Unit,” he said, “and we need to track sexual predators. That’s program has been introduced twice and not been followed through on. That’s been a problem,” he added, “programs that don’t have any follow through.”

In addition to narcotics issues, Rocky wants to see dogs utilized in Search and Rescue, along with additional Sheriff’s Reserve Units. He also said the area’s drug problem is of major concern.

Better tracking of sexual predators is a major concern and a personal one as well. Rocky’s then six-year-old son, Brett, was both molested and murdered at home by a sexual predator. “I don’t mind talking about it,” said Rocky, who mentions the story on his website. “That’s the reason I was finally able to get into police work. (My wife) Cathy didn’t want me to be a policeman until after that happened. She saw the policemen at the scene crying, witnessed their sorrow at the funeral and the constant support from detectives in the Phoenix Police Department, and told me she finally understood why I wanted to be in law enforcement.”

Other issues of concern for Rocky are guarding against terrorist influx from our northern border; ensuring that vehicles purchased for the department are appropriate “for the rigors of police work;” citizen involvement through posse/reserve programs, the Explorer program and the Citizens Academy; and an increased presence in the schools.

An overriding ‘theme’ for Rocky is perseverance. “I’m not only qualified for the job, but I have a passion for it,” he said. “It’s going to take 60- to 80-hour weeks to get the department into shape, and I’m ready to do that. I’m hard working, and I’ll do whatever is necessary to accomplish my goals.” He wrote on his website, “I believe in family, in community, and in the freedoms afforded us by the Constitution of this great country. I will not be a sheriff who comes to the office the 15 days out of the month that are required. I plan to be a working sheriff.”

Daryl Wheeler, Patrol Division Commander, Sandpoint Police Department. When Daryl Wheeler moved to North Idaho from California in 1998, he brought with him 12 years of experience in big city law enforcement - experience he feels helps make him the most qualified candidate of the Republican contenders for sheriff.

“What I bring to the table is 22 years experience no one else has,” he said simply. “I’ve worked with the California Legislature, worked in a large California department dealing with an incredible crime rate - I’ve experienced the gang problems first hand, responded to double and triple homicides. I spent 2 1/2 years in a jail and helped develop and write policies for the jail, I’ve been a training officer... I have the most well-rounded experience of all the candidates.”

After moving here, Wheeler was a field-training officer for the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office and a resident deputy for the city of Clark Fork. He resigned from the SO, and then took a job at the Sandpoint Police  Department, “because I couldn’t embrace that administration’s (Sheriff  Jarvis’) administrative philosophy and goals. I wasn’t fired,” he stated, though that charge has been made.

Wheeler states he “loves Bonner County, loves what this area is like and what it’s all about,” and says one of his goals in running for sheriff is to maintain that type of atmosphere. “I don’t have a big city mentality, just the big city experience,” he said.

Wheeler says “there are several things,” he’d change in the operation of the sheriff’s department, and gets specific on some of them.

“I would improve and increase training for all sworn officers,” he said, “and I’d do it without an increase in the budget. Because of my background in training, I know there’s a lot of free training available out there. In addition, there’s a lot of retired officers from other areas who are qualified as trainers and I would utilize their skills.”

He’s also concerned that current Idaho law books are not purchased for deputies. No one can know every law “but when you’re out on a call, you need to make sure you can look it up and make sure you have all the elements of the crime before you arrest someone. It’s not always clear-cut, and you don’t want to find out later, with a lawsuit against you, that you charged someone with the wrong crime.

“The department is (currently) lacking in leadership,” he added. We need mentors to teach young officers as they come up.”

Another area of concern is finances. “As a Republican, I’m a fiscal conservative, and I believe the budget is being mismanaged. Every dollar spent has to be accountable to taxpayers (and) I truly believe the Sheriff doesn’t know what her budget is. Outside of salaries, there’s about $1.15 million in discretionary funds that I believe can be put to better use.”

As an example, he points to the recent purchase of rear-wheel-drive vehicles for the department. “They’re spending $21,000 for the car and then almost $20,000 to equip it and it’s not suitable for our terrain. These cars are designed to go 150 mph. That’s not what we need, we need vehicles that can get to your house when you need us there. Plus, we need to be uniform in our vehicle purchases so that equipment can be moved from one to another as vehicles get older and need to be replaced.”

Wheeler also wants to “create an atmosphere of teamwork,” in the department. “I will do everything I can to make sure that every officer succeeds. Right now, nobody knows what they’re doing. I’ll have goals and benchmarks and will set out a plan to meet them. Our officers need to know they have value.”

Wheeler also has concerns about the plan for a 60-bed work release facility. “Kootenai County has three times our population. They built a 60-bed facility and they’ve never had more than 30 inmates. How is she (Savage) going to fill those beds?”

Another concern for Wheeler is lawsuits against the department. “Elaine (Sheriff Savage) has had a rash of lawsuits against the department, and the investigations have taken months, while officers are out on paid administrative leave. She remarked at a recent meeting that there’s only one outstanding lawsuit now, and that’s great, but historically there have been several. She’s been asked to call for an independent investigation to ensure there’s no wrongdoing in the department. If she doesn’t take care of this, I will. As the new sheriff I will make sure all my employees are loyal to the citizens and to their responsibilities.”

Although Wheeler doesn’t have administrative experience with a sheriff’s department of this size, he points out he has budget experience in other areas. I have an impeccable reputation,” he said. “I am respected, and no one will question my honesty, my integrity or my work ethic. My promise to Bonner County is that as the sheriff, I will raise the standard of service to citizens of this county, and will be accountable to them for every dollar spent in the budget. I will partner with all area agencies and they will know who the Sheriff is.”

Retired sheriff’s deputy Geoff Rusho. (Ed. Note: I was unable to personally interview Mr. Rusho prior to press time. The information that follows came from his website.

Geoff Rusho, who says his history in Bonner County “goes back to the turn of the last century,” began work for the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in the reserves in 1990. In ‘92 he became a marine deputy, and a working resident deputy, and by ‘93 had added K-9 patrol duties to his resume.

In 1996 Rusho became a patrol officer for the Priest River Police Department while continuing his involvement in the Bonner dive team, and became a trainer and supervisor in the reserves program. By 1999 he was back working with the Bonner County’s Sheriff’s Office; between then and 2007 he continued with his training and dive work responsibilities, as well as becoming Supervisor (in 2005) of the Emergency Response Team.

From 1987 to 1992 he did dual work as the owner/operator of Pend Oreille Speed and Paint in Blanchard; in 1998 he became co-owner and manager of  towing companies for Priest River and Blanchard. He left that business in 2004 to pursue his law enforcement interests, but in 2007 became the owner of GLR Investments, LLC, specializing in “classic vehicle restoration investments and residential/commercial property rentals,” a business he owns today.

“I can talk to you about all the successes I have had in the past; however, the future of the Sheriff’s Office and its active role in the community is what’s important ot me,” he writes.

Rusho states that, “there’s a need for a change in the current administration, structure and functionality of the Sheriff’s Office,” and adds that his “eighteen years of knowledge and experience in local law enforcement makes me the wisest choice as your next sheriff.”

Rusho questions the distribution of funds, characterizing them as “mismanaged,” and believes the department needs to streamline administration, reduce “redundant” manpower, and build better agency relations. Of particular concern - “the number of patrol deputies has been cut by 38 percent to support administration in the past seen years. This has reduced the numbers to one patrol deputy for every 100 square miles.”

Rusho has also indicated concern regarding programs that have been disbanded or reduced and vows, if elected, to “bring these programs back.” Among those he lists the Resident Deputy program, K9 units, reserves, traffic enforcement, off-road recreation patrol and the immediate supervisory rank.

A K-9 deputy himself, he has particular concern for that program. “Having worked with a canine partner on patrol, I recognize the need and potential for trained Sheriff K-9s to perform specialized and sensitive tasks. K-9 teams have proven very valuable in the detection of narcotics and apprehension of suspects.  The Bonner County sheriff K-9 program has been reduced to one drug detection unit.”

He also objects to the re-definition of Sergeant. “The rank of sergeant was redefined by the Savage administration, and advancement opportunities were eliminated for non-supervisory positions. This in turn demoted numerous personnel to deputy status after years of dedicated service to the Sheriff’s Office. This change affected the final retirement pay for many nearing retirement. This change in policy was enacted to allocate more money for administration.”

“We need a sheriff who understands why we live in Bonner County,” Rusho  writes. “You must lead by example, and all else will follow. This formula will continue down through my new administration. Everyone must serve the public as well as being in administration.”

The Republican primary election will be held Tuesday, May 27 from l8 am to 8 pm. Visit the Bonner County website for a list of polling places.

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Landon Otis

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Politics, Bonner County, elections, sheriff, Elaine Savage, Rocky Jordan, Daryl Wheeler, Geoff Rusho, Evan "Chip" Roos

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