Dalessandri questions department spending | PostIndependent.com

Dalessandri questions department spending

Tom Dalessandri

Tom Dalessandri, the former two-term Garfield County sheriff who lost his re-election bid eight years ago and is now seeking to turn the tables on the current incumbent.

The numbers, he says, speak for themselves. A sheriff’s department budget, which has grown from around $12 million three years ago to more than $18 million this year under Sheriff Lou Vallario’s administration, is “out of whack” with the current economic situation, Dalessandri says.

“It’s not an illusion that there is some ridiculous spending going on … and the numbers just don’t jive with common sense,” Dalessandri told the Post Independent recently. “Every other government agency has had to cut back, so to me the money is a big deal.”

It’s a message he hopes will resonate with voters in the Nov. 2 election, at a time when spending at all levels of government is a major concern.

That, and his belief that Garfield County is still a rural county with very little serious crime, and which therefore has no need for what he sees as urban-scale law enforcement programs and task forces initiated by Vallario.

“Thank goodness we don’t have that level of crime here,” he said. “And to suggest that it’s more violent today than it was eight years ago, I would argue with that.”

Dalessandri is originally from Michigan where he received his police officer training and spent eight years with the Ann Arbor Police Department before coming to western Colorado. He spent 12 years with the Aspen Police Department, leaving as interim police chief in the early 1990s.

A resident of Carbondale, he started a private security business, Colorado Protective Services, in 1988, providing security and personal protection services for large events, including several presidential visits in Aspen.

He has also taught at the Colorado Mountain College police academy for a number of years, continuing today.

And for the past five years, he’s been the lead coordinator for the Mountains to Mississippi Pearlington project, a valleywide volunteer effort led by the Carbondale and Aspen fire departments to assist the small community of Pearlington, Miss. in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina which devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

Dalessandri won election to the open Garfield County Sheriff’s Office seat in 1994 over then-undersheriff Levy Burris, who is now the Silt police chief. He subsequently won re-election four years later, but faced a formidable challenger in Vallario in 2002.

“It was a bad year for Democrats all around,” he said. “Everyone felt we were a shoe-in, but I think we got a little complacent and didn’t get our message across.”

This year, he says, “I’ve talked to a lot of people, and they’re very dismayed by what’s going on. That has led to a lot of support for my campaign.”

In particular, Dalessandri takes issue with a sheriff’s department that has grown from about 100 sheriff’s office and jail employees and a budget of about $10 million when he left office, to more than 150 personnel and an $18 million budget today. Moreover, he feels the department has become “top heavy” with administrative and supervisory staff, with 22 positions ranging in salary from $60,000 to $88,000 per year.

Dalessandri has called for the elimination of the department’s professional standards/internal affairs division, which is budgeted for $270,100 this year. He said those functions should be turned back over to the county’s human services department, where they were handled under his administration.

“We don’t need a line staffer doing internal investigations, that needs to be handled at the undersheriff and sheriff’s level,” he said. “And I don’t need a press secretary, I’ll speak to the press myself.”

Vallario points out that he returned $2 million of his budget to the county general fund last year, and is on track to return another $1.5 million this year.

However, Dalessandri counters that those figures are based on mid-year amended budgets, and that the adopted budget for 2009 was actually overspent by about $1.3 million.

The new $3 million-plus sheriff’s annex in Rifle is another example of excess spending, he said.

Dalessandri is also critical of the decision to purchase the $236,000 BearCat armored vehicle for use in conjunction with the inter-agency All Hazards Response Team (AHRT).

Beyond the expense, Dalessandri said he’s concerned that the AHRT has evolved into more of a SWAT team. He also says the BearCat isn’t symbolic of the kind of police force citizens want in Garfield County.

“Those aren’t the kinds of vehicles everybody needs in their garage,” he said. “While we do need to respond with haste to certain situations, you also have to respond with cool heads and smart decision-making. Arriving in a vehicle like that can actually escalate a situation.”

Dalessandri refers to himself as the “people’s sheriff’s candidate,” and says he would carry that philosophy back into the sheriff’s office.

“We don’t need a task for everything, we need people willing to participate and engage in the community,” he said.

For more about Tom Dalessandri’s campaign, visit http://www.dalessandri.org.

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