I’ve been very interested in the recent rush of candidates for the office of Park County sheriff. In my opinion, one of the most important campaign promises that any of these candidates could make would be to recognize that they have a public duty to share information with the residents of the county.
I’ve been working at The Flume for a bit over four years. And during that time I have seen our Sheriff’s Office slowly, but surely, dial back on the information that they release to our newspaper and to the public in general.
And I’m not just talking about information that would put the office in a negative light or a compromising position. Even positive actions by deputies and the department, actions that would highlight how they work hard to protect and serve the county, have been withheld.
I will give you an example. Last year there was a barricaded male in a house in Fairplay. The Sheriff’s Office was at the house because of a possible domestic violence situation. It took most of the night, but the deputy in command managed to talk the male out of the house, therefore minimizing the danger to the deputies, other possible victims and the community
The Monday after this incident, I asked Sheriff Fred Wegener if he could supply me with a couple of paragraphs, describing some details on the incident. He knew of my deadline to get the information into the paper, yet I did not receive any statement from him in time to publish it.
An opportunity lost by Wegener.
This is just one example of the multiple times I have asked Wegener for information about certain department actions, only to be met with silence.
And over the last two years, almost everything The Flume has published about the Nate Carrigan and Maggie Long murders has been assembled from sources other than the Sheriff’s Office.
In short, Wegener has been extremely reluctant to share anything with the Park County public, whether it reflected positively or negatively on the department.
Wegener has even stopped sending the newspaper the sheriff’s blotter, a long running feature of The Flume, which detailed the various activities and arrests made by the department on a weekly basis.
Wegener told The Flume is was too time consuming to compile the blotter information.
Without identifying any single candidate, statements made by the candidates on Facebook and articles in The Flume all have one thing in common: a realization that the current administration does not keep the public informed of much of anything.
I have found statements such as: “I have a real desire to rebuild trust and create a strong relationship between the Park County Sheriff’s Office and the community it serves … ,” “There is a lack of communication with the administration, the citizens of Park County as well as the surrounding agencies that are called upon to assist … ” and “It’s time for integrity and honesty through transparency and accountability. It’s time to reestablish trust with the public … ”
Nice sentiments, but I assure the candidates that if they can’t keep these promises about transparency, the Park County population will not take it lightly.
There is a huge groundswell of people who have had it with being ignored and at times, downright lied to. As part of my job at the newspaper, I keep in touch with the pulse of the community, and I can honestly tell you, many have had it, not only with the secrecy of the Sheriff’s Office, but with behind-the-scenes machinations of our Board of County Commissioners.
The seat of our current district three commissioner, Mark Dowaliby’s, is also up for grabs in 2018. As of this writing, there are five candidates who have announced interest in this position. A general theme of these candidates’ platforms include transparency and, as one candidate promises, “ … systems that amplify community voice at each level of the decision-making process.”
Once again, we see candidates who are addressing the transparency issues of our county government, and offering to fix the problems.
As editor of this paper, I know there is a problem. But these individuals, who have nothing directly to do with The Flume, are making the same arguments that I am making in this editorial.
There is a problem.
My question to all of the candidates running for open seats in this election cycle, “Will you promise to communicate honestly, in an effort to let the community know what their county government is doing to responsibly carry out its public duty?”
We’ll see, won’t we?