North valley coverage, turnover and experience rise to top
by Mark Reaman
The candidates for Gunnison County sheriff took their share of heat at the Crested Butte News Candidate’s Forum held Sunday at the Center for the Arts. Current undersheriff Mark Mykol and his opponent, John Gallowich, were asked about how best to provide sheriff’s coverage at the north end of the valley, about how to stem what many see as an abnormally high turnover rate in the department, and about their training and experience.
The forum began with Mykol under the spotlight, with pointed questions directed specifically at him from some audience members who basically admitted a personal bias, including a former county deputy who was fired and a woman who witnessed Mykol arrest a relative and claim he used unneeded force. Mykol remained calm and quipped at one point, “I come in peace.” At the end of the forum he told the audience that he appreciated hearing all the concerns from the audience, “good or bad.”
But the hottest topic was whether or not the county Sheriff’s Department would continue to walk away from the contract with the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department to provide sheriff’s coverage in the north end of the valley. Basically, Gallowich said he would work to reverse the current path and maintain the coverage through Mt. Crested Butte, while Mykol indicated he would continue to have the county department directly take over law enforcement coverage.
“The decision was made between the commissioners, the county manager, the finance department and the sheriff in 2016 when Mt. Crested Butte wanted to increase the cost of the coverage. The increased cost of the direct coverage will be absorbed by the county general fund,” Mykol explained.
He said the current contract calls for the county to pay the town $139,000 a year. The town has eight officers. He said the county has budgeted $349,700 for the new coverage and has approved four new deputy positions and a new sheriff’s vehicle. In response to a question from Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt about what would be cut in the county to pay for the increased expense, Mykol indicated the funds would come from the county general fund.
“The call for this is to be done by the sheriff, not the county commissioners,” said Gallowich. “If elected I’ll take full responsibility for this. The cost increase is significant. To pay $139,000 for eight well-trained officers, their vehicles and benefits is a good situation. For what the county is trying to do it will cost well over $560,000. Taxpayers will pay for all of it. One new car is not sufficient for three or four deputies. Our response time up here will go up. A building is budgeted at $150,000. It will cost more and we will lose service.
“We have no experience left on the road,” Gallowich added to a question by former deputy Scott Enloe, who was fired in 2017 and took issue with staffing in the department.
“There is more experience in the department than you are saying,” responded Mykol.
When asked if the north valley contract situation was a “done deal,” Mykol said it is was a done deal in his view but admitted it could change. Gallowich said he didn’t think leaving the Mt. Crested Butte contract for sheriff’s coverage was actually a done deal and he would work to change it if elected.
Joe Dix asked about impacts on response time with sheriff’s deputies responding to calls instead of Mt. Crested Butte police and if there was a written plan on how the coverage would work.
“There is no written plan. We have adjusted the schedule and have the personnel to do it. There will be two guys every day and two guys every evening up here,” said Mykol.
“I think we need a document to be transparent,” countered Gallowich. “It doesn’t add up when you put pencil to paper. It simply isn’t going to work. I’d like to see a plan as well.”
The county commissioner candidates also weighed in on the situation. “I think coverage has been quite good,” said Bob Schutt. “As county commissioner, my job is to spend tax dollars wisely. I’ll make sure we get quality, efficient sheriff’s coverage at a good cost.”
“The commissioners’ role is budget approval,” agreed Roland Mason. “It’s not our role to debate the details. We’ll be given the contract and budget as is from the sheriff. The budget going into the future needs to meet the needs of the people, especially in terms of public safety.”
Mary Gomez said she witnessed Mykol use excessive force to make an arrest of a relative in 2009 and she didn’t trust him. She asked what sort of training he had as a deputy and what training he would provide staff if elected.
“I understand your feelings,” Mykol said. “Perception and truth are two different things. My training is highly extensive and we are trained to control a person without giving them any injury. We will do extensive training and debriefings for all deputies.”
Sandy Jackson then asked Mykol if he realized the extent of the turnover problem in the department with an unusually high rate of departures. He said the turnover issue has been around for several years through different administrations. “There have been a lot of changes in the last year,” he said. But he listed a number of qualities the administration looks for in new hires so that “deputies will be anchored in the community. And sometimes turnover is okay,” adding that turnover helps bring different experience into the department. “It is good for us.”
Gallowich said he has never seen such a high turnover rate in a department. “It is a serious issue we must address to attain the level of professionalism we want. It is a cultural thing and I want to change that,” he said. Gallowich said he has led a 30-person department in the past and high turnover can be addressed.
Jane Chaney asked Gallowich why he had only worked at the Wheat Ridge Police Department for about 14 years and left when he was 37 years old. Gallowich said he actually worked there closer to 16 years and had worked hard to build up his retirement funds so he could return home to the Gunnison Valley from the Front Range. “I received a lot of good training there and brought it back here and used it,” he responded, explaining he worked in law enforcement for both the county sheriff’s department and the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department.
“I left the Sheriff’s Department after an injury but I’ve worked as a reserve in Mt. Crested Butte since 2012 so I am currently working in law enforcement and have the same training as Mark does,” he said. “I am ready to go and cleared to go.”
Former Gunnison county sheriff Rick Murdie said the staffing issue was a major concern. He reminded everyone that the road between Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte was a county road and if it shut down, as it sometimes does during major winter storms, the proposed staffing without Mt. Crested Butte simply wouldn’t work. “The response time issue is also really important. It is essential for the north end of the valley,” he said. “From what I’m hearing the proposed staffing won’t get it done. Are you both willing to get in the seat and cover shifts?”
“You know me, Rick. I’ll be there,” said Mykol.
“I’ll be there anytime,” agreed Gallowich. “But I think we have to go further and address the north valley agreement and not rely on putting administrators in patrol cars.”
Mykol summed up his pitch for sheriff, saying it had been 30 years since Gallowich worked full-time in law enforcement. “And he worked as an investigator in Wheat Ridge and not in a sheriff’s department. We are not voting for an investigator, we are electing a sheriff.”
Gallowich said he has been in active law enforcement for more than 30 years. He said he was worried about the county sheriff’s department. “I want to provide a positive sheriff’s department and can do that by leading by example,” he said. “Understand too that I will serve the entire county of Gunnison as sheriff, not just the north end of the valley.”