Letter To The Editor: The Real Issue … RISK

Former County Councilor

While I understand how Terry Goldman (letter) might interpret Jaret McDonald’s column as a vendetta against the current sheriff, I don’t see it that way. The real issue is the risk to the County of having a sheriff’s office. I addressed this in my Sept. 15, 2015 column in the Los Alamos Daily Post but will expand, here.

  Although the County Council has made admirable and appropriate efforts to convince the sheriff that he limit his activities to those permitted in the County Charter, the Council, itself, has limitations to its control over the sheriff.  That is, the Council, aside from legislating the duties of the sheriff, only has budgetary control over the office. The Council can neither fire the sheriff nor control his actions. And that’s the rub.

When a sheriff acts outside the authority granted by the County Charter, not only is the sheriff (and possibly his deputies) at personal financial risk, but also the County. Lawyers go for deep pockets. That means that a lawyer would not only personally sue the sheriff for acting outside his authority but also sue the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office is the County, and the County is Los Alamos taxpayers.

The personal financial risks to the sheriff for unauthorized actions are real, as we similarly witnessed when Gov. Gary Johnson acted outside his authority by approving Indian gaming. (See my Sept. 15 column.) The risks to the County are also real, as I observed and experienced during many years in government service.

The risks associated with Los Alamos having a Sheriff’s Office has always existed. The risks have been mitigated, however, by previous sheriffs strictly adhering to the limited authority granted by the County Charter.

I do not begrudge Sheriff Lucero having a different opinion regarding whether the Home Rule County Charter takes precedence or state statutes takes precedence when establishing the authority and duties of sheriff. The risks associated with the conflict between the two sets of laws, however, must be addressed by the community. A vote FOR question 1, in my opinion, is the most practical and sensible way to address the risk: Remove the Office of Sheriff from the County Charter.