Dalessandri, Vallario prepare for sheriff’s race showdown | PostIndependent.com

Dalessandri, Vallario prepare for sheriff’s race showdown

Greg Masse

The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office runs smoothly and efficiently, Sheriff Tom Dalessandri says, and electing him to a third term would assure that his evenhanded management style continues.

“We’ve built a really good department here, and I believe it’s important to maintain that continuity of service,” Democratic incumbent Dalessandri said.

“To turn this over to someone else and risk diminishing that level of service is something we believe we need to fight for. … The people invested eight years in me. They trained me.”

With training and a solid staff, Dalessandri feels it would be a step backwards if his Republican challenger, Lou Vallario, were to take over now.

Among his list of accomplishments, the 48-year-old husband and father of four children says getting the $13 million county jail built is tops.

“We spent the first (seven) years dealing with the old jail. Now we have the new one,” he said.

Now that the jail has been open for almost a year, Dalessandri said it’s important to run it as efficiently as possible.

As sheriff, Dalessandri is also the county’s fire marshal.

“Fire is an issue for us, and I’m one of the best-versed sheriffs in the state in terms of fire,” he said.

The past summer taught him a lot, he said, and if a similar situation ever occurred again, he would know even more about how to handle it.

He’s also dialed in on homeland security.

“We actually kicked it into gear,” he said. “I believe I’m responsible for getting the county an emergency response plan.”

Dalessandri has represented the county on terrorist-related issues and is a member of the National Sheriff’s Association Weapons of Mass Destruction Committee.

“One of our highest priorities is the emergency management plan for the community,” he said. “We have a lot of natural vulnerabilities,” he said. “That’s one of my highest priorities for my next term.”

Animal control has also been an issue in the campaign.

“In the last year, we budgeted for countywide animal control. We’re submitting it for this year,” he said.

The department will focus its efforts on animal education and enforcement, and hire a full-time animal control officer. Without a shelter, the officer won’t be able to pick up many animals.

Although Dalessandri and his opponent Lou Vallario have avoided personal barbs, Vallario has criticized Dalessandri’s performance.

“He’s said that we’re not responsive and it’s time for a change,” Dalessandri said. “But we’re changing constantly, and we continue to improve all the time.”

Dalessandri pointed out that the Glenwood Springs Police Department has as many officers as the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, but Glenwood Springs is just a few miles across, while Garfield County covers 2,958 square miles.

To try and solve the problem of being everywhere at all times, Dalessandri recently installed telephones in every sheriff vehicle to get in touch with people calling for help.

Dalessandri said being the head of the county’s law enforcement is only about one-third of his job.

“You always hear candidates talk about cop work. So much of this job is about management,” he said.

Other parts of his job include jail management, which uses two-thirds of the department’s $6.3 million budget, search and rescue, and county fire boss.

Another allegation made by Vallario is that Dalessandri’s office doesn’t get along with local police departments as well as it could.

Dalessandri denies the charge.

“Terry Wilson and I worked arm-in-arm during the Coal Seam Fire,” Dalessandri said of the Glenwood Springs police chief. “It wasn’t Lou Vallario, it was Terry Wilson.”

Dalessandri also points out he’s the head of the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team, or TRIDENT, chosen by the chiefs of local police departments.

“Gene Schilling and I work closely on a number of things,” he said of the Carbondale police chief. “We received a letter of thanks from the Rifle Police Department. So that argument, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t hold water.”

Lou Vallario says it’s time for a new sheriff in town.

The Glenwood Springs police lieutenant and deputy chief of police is the Republican challenger for Garfield County Sheriff.

He stands on a campaign platform of better response time and follow-up by deputies, new management techniques, better traffic enforcement on county roads and an improvement in the sheriff’s office’s relationship with other communities.

“All we’re doing is offering choices,” Vallario said.

The 42-year-old Vallario, married for 20 years, is proud of all he’s achieved in his 15-year career in Glenwood Springs. One particular accomplishment he’s proud of is his graduation from the FBI National Academy’s 11-week program on law enforcement.

“It’s very prestigious,” he said.

Vallario said his candidacy is “about what the public is telling me they want,” he said, adding that each of the issues he’s embraced have come directly from the people of Garfield County.

Although Vallario could be next in line for chief of police in Glenwood Springs if Terry Wilson were to step down, he said a group of citizens sought him out and challenged him to run.

“I talked to a lot of people,” he said. “One particular problem (the sheriff’s office has) is a lack of response.”

Also, he claims, the sheriff’s office has a poor track record of following up on calls.

“If I can take what Terry and I have done over here and bring it over there, that would be a really good thing for law enforcement,” Vallario said.

Another problem Vallario promised to tackle is the relationship between the sheriff’s department and local town and city law enforcement offices.

“I’ve worked with those people, and I’m encouraged with the relationship I have with other law enforcement personnel,” he said. “I think I can improve the relationship with other agencies.”

Vallario also said he’d like to develop a victim advocate program.

“It would be a much more proactive approach,” he said.

The program would help the victims of crimes from burglary to murder.

Advocates “would drive around and help victims of crimes do what they need to do,” he said. “Also, in conjunction, I’d like to have someone calling to do a follow-up.”

While Vallario said his goal is not to turn the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office into another Glenwood Springs Police Department, he said he would like to beef up the investigative unit and have more deputies on the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team, or TRIDENT.

“I’m open to looking at other people’s ideas if there’s a better way to do it, rather than reinventing the wheel,” he said.

Also, Vallario said he’s extremely enthusiastic about doing the job.

“I’m a cop’s cop, not a politician,” he said.

On the personal side, he’s also a dad – with two teenage daughters – a coach and volunteer with Garfield County 4-H.

“I think I have the experience. I’m well-rounded and I believe I have the support of others in the industry,” he said.

“It’s time for me to take the next step, and everything is lined up for me to be successful in doing that. I think I can take that department to the next level.”

Vallario will also seek better traffic and drunken driving enforcement.

“My thought process is that unless you’re responding to a call, you should be at least passively (enforcing traffic laws) on county roads,” he said. “I think we need to get out there in the community where the people who pay our salaries are, and enforce the laws for them.”

While the operation of the jail would be a new challenge for Vallario, he said he wholeheartedly welcomes that challenge.

“If you take it as a business approach, you could figure out how it’s run,” he said.

If elected, Vallario said he would apply that type of business sense to the sheriff’s office.

“I take a whole business approach to law enforcement, and I look at it as customer service,” he said.

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