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Rivals reflect on changing of guard

Surrounded by packed-up boxes and pictures, Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri sat at his desk Tuesday and gave the citizens of his county a parting message: You must police the police.

Although Dalessandri didn’t direct his comments toward sheriff-elect Lou Vallario, Vallario said later, “I absolutely agree with him.”

Over the years, Dalessandri, 48, said he’s seen abuses of power by police and he wants to be sure people aren’t afraid to question authority if the need arises.



“The public is boss, not the police,” he said. “The public ordains the police with an awesome power. I’ve seen abuses of power in the valley. It’s really important that people not be afraid to challenge law enforcement. They need to be directed and kept in line.

“The ability for abuse of authority and abuse of power is incredible and that’s wrong,” Dalessandri said.



Vallario said if Dalessandri’s comments are aimed at him, implying that he’ll be more authoritarian than Dalessandri, then he disagrees.

“I don’t feel I’ll be heavy-handed at all,” said Vallario, 42. “I don’t think the sheriff’s office is going to change personality at all.”

Vallario will be sworn into office in a ceremony at 9 a.m. oCourthouse Plaza. Vallario said he will hold a symbolic swearing-in for the Sheriff’s Department officers and deputies at 1 p.m. on Jan. 14 on the steps of the Garfield County Jail.

Campaign mistakes

Although he’s looking forward to the future, Dalessandri said he could have managed his losing campaign differently.

“There’s all those things in hindsight that you’d do differently,” he said. “We have yet to do a full examination of the campaign. We’ll probably sit down as a party and do that.”

At certain points in the campaign, Dalessandri appeared to not take Vallario’s challenge seriously, a tactic that turned out to be a mistake.

“Even today, we talk to so many people who express shock that it didn’t go the other way,” Dalessandri said. “I think it kind of caught a lot of people off guard.”

The majority of employees at the sheriff’s office will stay on, but three employees were not retained – public information officer Ron VanMeter, jail supervisor Dan Hall and jail Lt. Les Beckman – and administrative staffers Barb Sunderland and Andrea Faudre are resigning as well.

“They were very close to me and decided it was time to go,” Dalessandri said of the two administrative employees.

Vallario said he hasn’t found replacements for Hall and Beckman, but plans to do so as soon as possible.

“I’m hoping to fill it by the 14th,” he said of the jail supervisor position.

As for everyone else in the administration, Dalessandri said he sent out an e-mail asking them to comply with any of Vallario’s requests.

But there hasn’t been much direct communication between Vallario and Dalessandri.

“We talked right after the election and that’s it,” he said.

Vallario blames that lack of communication on Dalessandri.

“I am disappointed that Tom has not sat down with me to go over his issues and concerns,” Vallario said, pointing out that he’s called Dalessandri on multiple occasions. “As far as a face-to-face, if I was outgoing, I would hope I’d sit down and express my concerns with the incoming sheriff.”

Other than his lack of communication with Dalessandri, Vallario said the rest of his transition is going well. He said he’s met most of the Garfield County officials he’ll be working with and talked about budgetary issues. He also said he’s met many of his future deputies and other employees of the sheriff’s office.

“I’m trying to introduce myself,” he said.

Dalessandri said that unlike when he took office in 1995, Vallario will have a functional, professional department to step into.

“He will walk in here and literally be able to take care of his business with an organization that’s already finely run,” Dalessandri said.

When Dalessandri took office in 1995, he said, the place was in shambles. The jail was the subject of a federal lawsuit, the staff had very low morale, pay was low and training was nonexistent.

“The staff was hungry for some strong leadership,” he said.

Leaving after eight years

Dalessandri said leaving the sheriff’s office after eight years will be difficult.

“Leaving the office isn’t the difficult part. The hard part is leaving the people we work with,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster here. We’ve laughed and we’ve reminisced. We’re keeping high standards until the end.”

Looking to the future, Dalessandri has been talking to Democratic Party leaders about a future bid for office, exploring openings with the federal government and planning to expand the security company he owns. “So my passion is to expand that company and provide private policing,” he said.

Although he’s leaving, Dalessandri said he’s confident Vallario will come into a smooth-running office. How it runs from there is Vallario’s choice.

“He and I have very different views on policing,” Dalessandri said.

“What he’ll learn is it’s 75 percent management and 25 percent policing.

“You don’t tally your success by the number of tickets and arrests you make. In fact, that’s a poor commentary on our society if you measure law enforcement that way,” Dalessandri said.

Vallario insisted that while he will boost traffic enforcement at the request of those who elected him, he won’t turn the sheriff’s office into “jack-boot Nazis.”

“I want people to see how I operate things,” he said, “and hopefully they’ll like the way I do it.”n Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the


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