Lewis for sheriff
Matt Lewis should be the next sheriff of Mesa County.
Unfortunately, this relatively simple deduction, based on experience and job readiness, will be lost on those who take issue with the manner in which he appeared on the ballot. Or those who point to the fact that he was named as a defendant in a lawsuit settled by the county.
We don’t think such criticisms diminish his qualifications. The Daily Sentinel’s editorial board met with Lewis, the Republican, and unaffiliated candidates Pat Arotin and James Lange and our conclusion was clear: Lewis is the best candidate by a long shot.
Only two candidates — Lewis and Arotin — are current law enforcement officers. Of them, Lewis is the only one who has been a supervisor. He has been with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office for 17 years and held a variety of positions. He’s been a patrol supervisor and had stints with the property crimes unit, the professional standards unit and has served as a public information officer. Currently he’s in charge of the complex crimes unit.
That breadth of experience gives him the widest possible view of the department’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges.
By his own characterization, Lewis was being groomed for a leadership position by former Sheriff Stan Hilkey. But he made it clear that he’ll be his own man, not a carbon copy of his mentor.
“I thought Sheriff Hilkey was a good sheriff and a good person, but I see some opportunties for improvement,” he told the editorial board.
That includes creating more internal opportunities for employees by rotating them in and out of assignments to gauge skill sets, reduce burnout and improve retention.
Lewis also wants to elevate the profile of the department within the community.
“Being able to maintain the community’s trust is the biggest challenge we face,” he said. “Crime trends come and go, but we have to consistently do the things that are important — keeping tabs with with the community, being transparent and responsive to their needs.”
To that end, he would require leaders within his administration to serve on community boards to heighten the interaction between the agency and the people it serves.
Lewis was forthcoming about a lawsuit that some in the community have argued is evidence that he’s unfit for office. He told the editorial board he was proud of the actions of deputies in his command on the night of Aug. 21, 2010, which later became the subject of a federal lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office on claims of excessive force and a Fourth Amendment violation.
With the benefit of hindsight, Lewis conceded that “things could have been done better,” but he wouldn’t change his response to that domestic violence situation based on the information available at the time. We were satisfied with his recounting of that incident. Volatile situations sometimes demand quick decisions. It wasn’t the first lawsuit filed against law enforcement officers and it won’t be the last. But there was nothing in Lewis’ version of events that gave us pause.
Arotin touts his master’s degree in strategic leadership along with his nine years in the department as a potent combination for an administrator.
But he promulgated views that put him on the same footing as some in the “constitutional sheriff” movement. Arotin’s opposition to BLM road closures along with his view that sheriffs “are the last line of defense” against federal intrusion, could put Mesa County in a ticklish situation.
Challenged by the editorial board, Arotin backed off his position, saying he needed to brush up on the issue.
Lewis, on the other hand, made it clear that he has no plans to foment confrontations with federal agencies.
“We have very good partnerships that benefit us (the department) and the community at large,” he said. “I value those partnerships and don’t want to damage or destroy them.”
We found Lange’s positions on transparency, militarization of police and budgetary priorities to be as valid as those of the other candidates, but in the end, we felt Lewis’ combination of experience and vision makes him the best man for the job.
We urge a vote for Matt Lewis for Mesa County sheriff.