Summit Daily editorial: Sheriff FitzSimons has shown strong leadership and deserves your vote | SummitDaily.com

Summit Daily editorial: Sheriff FitzSimons has shown strong leadership and deserves your vote

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons speaks during a candidate forum Wednesday night, Oct. 3, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco. Read more in Friday’s edition.

The office of the sheriff is a matter of life and death. It's about public safety — not partisan politics at its nastiest. And yet that's what we have with the cutthroat contest between Democratic incumbent Jaime FitzSimons and Republican challenger Derek Woodman.

The most vicious personal attacks, however, have come mostly from one side. While Woodman comes across as likeable and genuine in person, his campaign has been anything but affable. We believe the manner in which a candidate conducts his campaign matters. It is a reflection of who he is and what we can expect from him in office.

The Woodman campaign's relentlessly negative style has torn the community apart in a way that no local election has in recent history. Had Woodman taken the high road and focused exclusively on his extensive experience and deep ties within the community, the race would have been one befitting the get-things-done character of Summit County. But Woodman didn't do that. Instead, he disseminated misleading claims about FitzSimons, calling him a "part-time sheriff" lacking in integrity, a man more focused on his career as a Hollywood consultant than running a law enforcement agency.

The race has been personal from the beginning.

FitzSimons, upon being appointed by the county commissioners to replace John Minor back in May of 2016, declined to swear in the then-undersheriff Woodman, who was also vying for sheriff. Effectively, Woodman was fired — his 35-year law enforcement career coming to an ignominious end. FitzSimons said he based his decision on state precedent concerning the inherent conflict of having two political candidates in the chain of command of a public office. Although there was legal cover, perhaps FitzSimons made a mistake and would have done better to keep Woodman on in a diminished role. That's in the past and cannot be undone.

It appears Woodman never forgot the slight, nor did his supporters, who have twice waged ugly and mean-spirited campaigns — first in Nov. 2016 and now nearly two years later.

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The Summit Daily News editorial board endorsed FitzSimons in the 2016 race. At the time, we wrote, "We believe FitzSimons is a dynamic, tireless workhorse who represents the future of the Summit County law enforcement." We argued that he possessed a "compelling vision for a highly capable, responsive sheriff’s office that engages the community as much as it protects it. Look for FitzSimons … to be on the forefront of pressing community issues such as mental health and workforce housing. He’s a born leader and will serve our community well."

Based on his job performance over the past two years, we believe FitzSimons has delivered.

He currently sits on the advisory board of Building Hope, a community initiative to create a more effective mental health system in the community. He also serves as a board member for the TreeTop Child Advocacy Center as well as the Colorado Commission for Adult Offender Supervision. He's also brought back the school resource officer program, installed new security measures in the jail and expanded the household medication take back program.

Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons has served admirably and tirelessly as the county's top lawman, and he deserves to be re-elected.

Some have complained that the sheriff's race shouldn't have anything to do with whether a candidate is a Democrat or Republican. We are sympathetic to that point of view. Neither FitzSimons nor Woodman has outlined a platform that is particularly on the left or the right. Both candidates present themselves as "just cops" who want to fight crime and act as leaders in community efforts to address challenges such as our mental health crisis. Both men have extensive law enforcement experience.

What truly separates the two candidates is leadership ability. We believe voters must make their decision based on that.

Woodman has argued throughout his campaign that FitzSimons is a micromanager who is never satisfied with his staff. Woodman has also claimed, falsely, that FitzSimons' management has lead to a 70-percent turnover rate.

Here are the facts: Since FitzSimons took office there have been 40 individuals who left the agency, not counting emergency managers or the sheriff. According to the Summit County Human Resources Department, the sheriff’s office has averaged a turnover rate of 20 percent since 2014. Under FitzSimons, the turnover rates by year have been 20 percent in 2016 (June-Dec), 15 percent in 2017, and 19 percent this year.

FitzSimons acknowledges that his demanding approach isn't for everyone. However, perhaps that's what we should expect when a public official has high expectations of his team.

What is Woodman's vision of leadership? Just let people do their jobs. Empower them and get out of the way. It sounds good, but in practice that hands-off approach can have severe consequences. Under Woodman's watch, two inmates died while in the jail. Another was beaten severely by another inmate, but survived. As a result, the county paid out nearly $4 million in settlements to the families.

“This is costing taxpayers millions of dollars because the jail is mismanaged. That should be a huge concern,” said David Lane, the attorney representing the families.

A 2016 county audit also revealed lax management and accounting practices tied to Woodman. The Republican candidate claims it was all a partisan hit job, but we aren't convinced of that.

To be sure, FitzSimons has had serious lapses in judgment. One of the most disturbing events of his history was the suicide of a fellow Los Angeles Police Department officer, following an extramarital affair with FitzSimons in 1998. That led to a wrongful death lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed, FitzSimons' termination and eventual reinstatement to the LAPD.

FitzSimons has expressed remorse concerning those events and says he has learned from his past failures. We see evidence of that in the positive work he has done as sheriff over the past 29 months.

He's moving forward and fighting for Summit County's future.

The Summit Daily editorial board includes Publisher Meg Boyer, Editor Ben Trollinger, Assistant Editor Susan Gilmore and reporters Sawyer D’Argonne and Deepan Dutta.

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