Garfield County voters face a tough choice in electing a sheriff to manage the county’s law enforcement, jail, natural disasters, search and rescue missions and other responsibilities for the next four years.
Two-term incumbent Tom Dalessandri, a Carbondale Democrat, is facing the most viable opponent of his political career in Glenwood Springs Republican Lou Vallario, the lieutenant and No. 2 administrator at the Glenwood Springs Police Department.
Vallario handles special projects budgets, manages grants and oversees day-to-day patrol and investigations. He is, in his own words, a cop’s cop, with plenty of business savvy.
There’s no doubt in our minds that Vallario could competently manage the sheriff’s department and serve as the county’s top law enforcement officer. We gave very serious thought to naming him as our candidate of choice.
But eight years of observing Dalessandri in office give us the confidence to endorse him for a third term as sheriff.
Dalessandri spent his first term dealing with the tricky politics and legal maneuvers of operating the old county jail and in breathing new life into a department low on morale, equipment and respect in the community.
He spent his second term working hard with the county commissioners to build a new county jail that fits the architecture and safety needs of historic downtown Glenwood Springs. The jail opened in January and, from all appearances, is running smoothly.
And Dalessandri and his competent staff went over the top last summer in providing consistent, trustworthy help and information to residents who found their homes in the path of wildfires, flash floods and mudslides from Rifle to Carbondale.
Dalessandri has proven himself highly capable of balancing the demands of serving a large county, with a concentrated population spread along a corridor of 300 square miles.
The Dalessandri-Vallario race has brought out some thorny issues. Serving that broad area is one.
Vallario contends that deputies don’t respond quickly enough or follow up on calls. He doesn’t fault the deputies; he argues that the department lacks enthusiasm at the administrative level and lacks manpower at the patrol level.
Vallario also contends that morale is poor in Dalessandri’s department. We found no direct evidence of that, but we do know that Dalessandri has been unable to fill four vacant patrol deputy positions.
Re-elected or not, Dalessandri should make filling those vacant positions a top priority in the coming weeks. But we don’t buy the claim that Dalessandri lacks enthusiasm or a service-oriented philosophy. “Customer service is the mission of this department,” he told us.
Dalessandri runs a small private security business on the side, hiring law enforcement professionals to work special events and drive for longtime clients when they visit the valley. Vallario has criticized this, but Dalessandri makes it clear that his job as sheriff comes first. And after watching him in action last summer, we don’t doubt where his priorities lie.
Vallario has also questioned Dalessandri’s attention this year to emergency planning related to terrorist attacks and his service on two national terrorism task forces.
Although attention to backyard law enforcement should remain Dalessandri’s top commitment, his service brings recognition to our community and should make residents feel prepared in the unlikely event of an attack. The recent rash of sniper attacks show us that frightening crime and terrorism can happen anywhere.
In sum, we believe Tom Dalessandri has the smarts, the management skills, the enthusiasm and the compassion to serve as Garfield County’s top cop. We urge a vote for him on Nov. 5.
-Post Independent Editorial Board
Members of the Post Independent Editorial Board are Publisher Valerie Smith, Managing Editor Heather McGregor and News Editor Dennis Webb.
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