Roles reversed in sheriff’s race

Lou Vallario

Tom Dalessandri


On the issues: Garfield County sheriff candidates

Vallario’s rising budget

Dalessandri said Vallario now oversees the second-largest sheriff’s department budget in western Colorado, at a time when taxpayers and businesses are hurting because of the recession.

“I felt it as much as anybody has, and I don’t like to see government holding money and spending out of control,” he said.

Vallario said every law enforcement agency head seeks biggers budgets so they can add officers and improve service. Ultimately, he said, his budget proposals require approval by others within the county.

“I don’t handle the money. The financing department handles the money, the commissioners handle the money,” he said.

Construction of a sheriff office annex in Rifle

Dalessandri said Vallario had other county space available, but chose to build his own building.

“It puts more deputies in chairs, their feet on the desk,” instead of out on the streets, Dalessandri said.

Vallario said the annex was in response to growth in the county’s west side, and it came in under budget. It cuts down on response times and is helping the public there because people no longer have to drive to Glenwood Springs for things such as copies of incident reports, Vallario said.

“I think it’s doing a great job of servicing the west end of the county,” he said.

If Lou Vallario and Tom Dalessandri sometimes have spirited if not downright heated things to say about each other in the race for Garfield County sheriff, it may be at least partly because the two have a bit of a political history.

“It’s sort of like deja vu all over again that we’re back up against each other, although the roles are reversed,” Vallario said.

Today, the Republican Vallario, 50, is the eight-year incumbent in the job. In 2002, he was an assistant Glenwood Springs police chief and successfully challenged the Democrat Dalessandri, who was completing his eighth year as sheriff.

The rematch means voters have not only the candidates’ rhetoric, but their records, to judge in this election.

Dalessandri, 56, said the more he hears from the public about Vallario, the angrier he gets. He said the stories include poor follow-up after people file criminal complaints, Vallario being inaccessible to the public, and Vallario or his campaign workers intimidating business people to try to get them to take down pro-Dalessandri signs.

“This is the stuff I’m hearing. I’m not making this stuff up. This is what people are telling me,” Dalessandri said. “This guy, he’s … empire-building, he’s on a crusade for himself, he’s self-serving.”

Vallario said he wouldn’t say emotions are getting high between him and his opponent. He dismissed the back-and-forth between them as just politics, and he said he has tried to keep his campaign focused on his “eight years of success” and what he and his office have done for the community.

But he admitted to being “sick and tired” of allegations that he’s inaccessible, saying he has more of an open-door policy than Dalessandri did.

He said it’s possible to find some people unhappy with how any law enforcement agency responds to certain complaints, because they don’t understand that an agency has limitations and can’t do much about matters such as disagreements over fencing or water issues.

And he said he doesn’t care whether a business supports Dalessandri or him, and that he hasn’t encouraged people to threaten to not patronize businesses who displayed signs backing his opponent. But such people only are exercising their freedom of expression, just as the businesses are, he added.

Vallario has questions about Dalessandri’s time in office as well, including the fact Dalessandri simultaneously owned outside businesses.

“It was commonly touted around the county that he was an absentee sheriff,” Vallario said.

Dalessandri, who continues to own a security business, calls such criticism “nonsense” and contends he was at the sheriff’s office “day and night” five days a week and sometimes more. He says Vallario has “trashed” him with lies.

“I’m tired of the guy. This guy is a spin doctor, and that’s the bottom line,” he said.

The two have sparred over who first instituted 24-hour sheriff coverage. Dalessandri said it’s an “almost pathological” lie for Vallario to lay claim to that accomplishment. Vallario said people with criminal complaints were told to call back in the morning during Dalessandri’s time as sheriff.

Dalessandri said despite big increases in Vallario’s budget, Vallario hardly has increased deputies on the street, instead adding more administrators and managers. But Vallario said sergeants and corporals do street duty, too.

Vallario went unchallenged for re-election in 2006 but narrowly survived a Republican primary challenge this summer by Rifle resident Doug Winters, an Eagle County sheriff’s detective. Dalessandri has promised to hire Winters as his undersheriff if he wins the election.

Vallario said that will help more than hurt his campaign, citing what he said is anger by some people that Winters failed to support his party’s primary winner.


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