Departing deputy discusses downvalley life, Dalessandri
After moving downvalley from Aspen almost eight years ago, one thing really surprised Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Ron VanMeter.”It’s the classism,” VanMeter said this week.The bad-mouthing dominos start falling in Aspen, then rattle their way downvalley through Carbondale and Glenwood, then keep smacking the ground through New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute. Often, the dominos spin around and charge back upvalley.”I can’t believe some of the conversations that occur,” said VanMeter, who will not be retained when Sheriff-elect Lou Vallario is sworn in on Jan. 14.VanMeter cited classism he saw when he attended an open house in Rifle earlier this year. Some of the main topics were the Super Wal-Mart store that is scheduled for construction next year, and the sales tax dollars that will stay put in town rather than being leaked to Glenwood.”They were saying, `Screw Glenwood. Now they can’t get their own Super Wal-Mart,'” VanMeter said. “It’s classism stuff, and it aggravates and saddens me.”VanMeter, who lives outside Rifle, spent a few minutes Thursday reflecting on his seven years as the sheriff department’s public information officer/special projects deputy. He came to Aspen 17 years ago after working in law enforcement in Nebraska. Tom Dalessandri, Garfield County’s outgoing sheriff, was a sergeant for the Aspen Police Department at the time.”He’s one of the reasons I wanted to work there,” VanMeter said.VanMeter particularly liked Dalessandri and the Aspen Police Department’s law enforcement philosophy.”They think and act out of the box, and car, so to speak,” VanMeter said. Key to the philosophy is for department personnel to contact and work with the 95 percent of the public that doesn’t commit crimes.”Most agencies aren’t interested in that,” VanMeter said.Soon after Dalessandri created the position of special projects manager, VanMeter went to work setting up an auxiliary department station in Battlement Mesa, then later at Cottonwood Trailer Park near Rifle.”I was a liaison with the Battlement Mesa Company. I worked with the adult protection team and served on the Human Services Commission. For three months, I worked the front desk. I worked in crime prevention. You name it, I did it. I’m not sure Lou (Vallario) understands that,” VanMeter said.VanMeter said one his most memorable projects came when he moved into the then-trouble-prone Cottonwood Trailer Park on the old Highway 6&24.”The area had its share of problems,” VanMeter said. “But we got to know them better, and the crime rate really dropped after the first year. It worked great.”Many of the memories VanMeter will take with him are from this summer’s Coal Seam Fire, when the whole nation watched as flames burned down numerous homes, and threatened to consume the new Glenwood Springs Community Center. VanMeter got to put names with faces of dozens of people, from front-line firefighters to out-of-town Forest Service personnel.”I got to meet some really nice people,” VanMeter said, his voice choking. “That was the biggest reward I’ve gotten from this job.”Vallario told VanMeter the public information officer/special projects position will be eliminated when he takes office. VanMeter said Vallario was “cordial” when he told him his plans Dec. 19. “I offered him some advice, even after I knew the meeting was going downhill for me,” VanMeter said.VanMeter said he “still has a job to do” between now and Jan. 14, but he still seems a bit bitter around the edges. There’s the election that booted VanMeter’s old friend out of office after eight years. “Tom deserves so much credit … But that’s what happens when you’re outspent three to one.”VanMeter said that after Vallario defeated Dalessandri in early November, Vallario went on vacation, then attended the state’s training school for new sheriffs, without announcing the public information officer/special projects position would be eliminated.”I’m sure he learned a lot at the school,” VanMeter said.Vallario has said he plans to handle public information officer duties, which include media relations, himself. VanMeter said Vallario may face a surprise or two in that capacity.”He won’t always be able to get back to the press in a timely manner. It’s a tough job,” VanMeter said.That’s about all VanMeter will say about Vallario. “I don’t burn bridges, I want to cross them … although not always very gracefully,” VanMeter said.VanMeter said he isn’t sure what the future will bring, “But I may be back.”As for special projects at the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department in the post-Dalessandri era, Vallario said he’s not sure what projects have been done in the past.”But we’ll identify what those projects are, then delegate who will do them,” Vallario said.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.