Guv picks Hilkey for state’s top safety post
On Tuesday, Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey made sure he was no longer suing Gov. John Hickenlooper.
After all, there was a job interview in Denver with the Democratic governor on Wednesday.
Hilkey said that meeting included a “very candid” conversation about the sheriff’s participation in a still-pending federal lawsuit seeking to overturn gun restrictions enacted last summer and championed by Hickenlooper. On guns and other issues, Mesa County’s three-term Republican sheriff said he came away impressed.
“He talked about how we might have different political views on a few things, but he made sure to say, ‘I don’t want you to change who you are, and you need to be authentic,’” Hilkey said Thursday, struck by the “diversity of opinion” among Hickenlooper’s staff.
“That felt really good to me,” he said.
The feeling was apparently mutual. Hilkey on Wednesday was offered by the governor, and accepted, the position of executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado State Patrol, Division of Criminal Justice, Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.
“He has embraced evidence-based practices in every area of his work, and has been part of implementing national best practices in pretrial and bail reform,” Hickenlooper said in press release announcing Hilkey’s hiring.
“In addition to his law enforcement and diversion experience, Stan has managed wildland fires and emergency situations. Stan brings extensive knowledge and understanding of community safety as it affects rural and urban areas of Colorado.”
Hilkey, 49, who is term-limited after 12 years and cannot seek the sheriff’s office again, is to start his new job on June 16.
He replaces Jim Davis, who left the position March 31.
In a letter to county commissioners announcing his departure, Hilkey recommended they name Undersheriff Rebecca Spiess to fulfill the rest of his term. Hilkey will vacate the office June 15. Colorado statute and the state Constitution says the undersheriff will assume duties of the office until county commissioners appoint a new sheriff to fulfill the current term, expiring January 2015.
Hilkey announced the move in a countywide email distributed Thursday morning, urging staff to stay “committed to your service” in the upcoming transition and “avoid the distraction of politics.”
“Perhaps the most significant thing that makes this opportunity even a possibility for me is the reputation of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office in this state, and that is solidly because of you,” Hilkey wrote. “I will always be humbled by, and grateful for, your service and proud to have been your sheriff.”
Several who attended a hastily called press conference Thursday returned the praise. Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper called Hilkey a “mentor and friend.”
“On a personal level, he’s maybe the most outstanding law enforcement executive I’ve had the privilege of working with,” Camper said.
Hilkey, through a Denver attorney, filed a motion Tuesday to withdraw as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by most of Colorado’s sheriffs. U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger, who heard arguments in March, has yet to rule on whether Colorado’s limits on ammunition magazines and expanded background checks violated Second Amendment rights.
Hilkey said Thursday he was not asked by Hickenlooper to withdraw from the lawsuit.
“I don’t want to be in conflict with my own staff and boss,” he said. “I will probably be privy to facts on both sides and don’t want to do anything improper.”
Hilkey said his views haven’t changed.
“A lot will be said about a Republican going to work for a Democratic governor, but I think the important thing is, he cares about public safety issues, wants things done right and wants good service to communities and other public safety agencies,” Hilkey said.
Both men have expressed past opposition to Colorado’s loosening of marijuana laws.
“Voters have said they want us to try and figure out how to make it work,” Hilkey said. “They’ve (governor’s staff) made it clear that will be a big part of the job.”