Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons announces re-election bid

Jack Queen
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, a Democrat, announced his bid for re-election Wednesday.
Special to the Daily / Courtesy of Jaime FitzSimons |

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons announced his run for re-election on Wednesday, setting up a rematch with his former colleague and Republican challenger Derek Woodman, who declared his candidacy last year.

FitzSimons, a Democrat, is approaching his second year in office but will be seeking a full, four-year term for the first time. He defeated Woodman in a close election in 2016 but was only running to complete former Sheriff John Minor’s remaining term.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you think you know what the job entails until you sit down in that chair and feel that huge responsibility to the community you serve,” FitzSimons said in an interview. “For every decision I make, I have to weigh the needs of more than 30,000 people. That’s a lot of people to listen to and a lot of things to balance.”

FitzSimons served as a Summit sheriff’s deputy for 12 years prior to his appointment to acting sheriff. Before that, he served in the Los Angeles Police Department, where he rose to the rank of detective and investigated homicides and drug cases.

FitzSimons said he was most proud of his efforts to promote mental health during his tenure as sheriff, including lobbying to secure a crisis-stabilization unit at Frisco’s Medical Office Building through a state grant. The four-to-six bed unit will provide a secure but therapeutic environment for patients experiencing mental health crises.

“We’ve done some tremendous work in the past two years over mental health issues, and there are more good things to come,” FitzSimons said. “I’m really proud of what I have done and what I have contributed to moving the needle on the mental health in our community.”

FitzSimons also pointed to his support for the Treetop Child Advocacy Center, a facility slated to be built in Breckenridge that will provide a kid-friendly environment for forensic interviews with child victims of crimes. Currently, the closest such facilities are in Glenwood Springs and the Front Range.

Under FitzSimons’ watch, the Summit County Jail has seen a pair of upgrades, including a surveillance camera system overhaul last March and a new contract with an inmate health care provider minted in November. The sheriff’s office has also remodeled its evidence room and hired a new evidence technician, moves that FitzSimons said have improved local law enforcement’s ability to investigate crimes.

FitzSimons said he is also proud of expanding Summit County’s School Resource Officer program, which now stations a sheriff’s deputy at both Summit Middle School and Summit High School.

Looking ahead, FitzSimons said he hopes to build on his work over the past two years and help shepherd the crisis-stabilization unit and child advocacy center to fruition. But he also acknowledged the challenges of running a law enforcement agency in Summit County, where high cost of living can present staffing challenges.

Woodman has assailed FitzSimons for what he claims is high turnover and staffing problems at the sheriff’s office. FitzSimons countered that staffing levels are healthy, although the jail is currently two positions short.

“Up here in Summit County, our unemployment rate is low and everyone’s competing for jobs, and when it comes to cop jobs, we’ve got to find someone who’s drug-free, is certified as a peace officer, can pass a polygraph, can pass a psych test and can pass a background check,” he said. “Then when you throw in the cost of living up here and all of the other challenges, I feel very fortunate that we are fully-staffed.”

FitzSimons could be in for a tough race against Woodman, who had a 35-year career at the sheriff’s office and served as Minor’s number two until his bitter falling out with FitzSimons, who was appointed acting sheriff in 2016 by the Democrat-controlled Board of County Commissioners.

FitzSimons then fired Woodman, saying an electoral opponent of the sheriff shouldn’t also be serving under him. He later defeated Woodman by several hundred votes.

The county commissioners are backing FitzSimons for a full term, citing his engagement with community organizations and collaborative approach to running the sheriff’s office.

“Jaime FitzSimons has done an outstanding job at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and I am so excited to endorse his re-election,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson said in a statement. “He is exactly the kind of leader this community needs and deserves. His diligent work on mental health is just one example of the way he pours his heart into this community.”

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