Sheriff’s race hinges on experience, accountability
Two Democrats are vying for a single slot on the November ballot to become the chief law enforcement officer in Douglas County.
Sheriff Tom Dalbec has nearly 12 years of experience on the job.
“I feel without question that I am the most qualified, most experienced, most knowledgeable candidate for the position and that I have not given the constituents any reason to not vote me back into office,” Dalbec said.
County Board Supervisor Mark Liebaert, however, feels it’s time for a change. The farmer and former Superior police officer, who has 13 years of local government experience, promises a new perspective.
“I bring something to the sheriff’s department that no other candidate has,” he said. “I bring all the experience of those town boards, the county boards, the chair of this committee, the treasurer of the State Farmer’s Union. All those things are piled on my shoulders in experience. I know how to get things done.”
Liebaert has worked on a number of controversial issues, finding and forging compromises. They include the Gordon dam and a sheriff’s office gun range in Bennett.
One of the big differences between the candidates is their view of the county board’s role. Liebaert has pointed out a lack of attendance by the sheriff at board and committee meetings. Dalbec said that’s just not true. Online county records show that Dalbec attended nine of the 23 public safety committee meetings since 2011, including three of the four meetings in 2014. He attended 20 of the past 35 Administration Committee meetings. And he attended four of the nine jail long-term task force meetings in 2012.
If he’s elected sheriff, Liebaert said, he would attend county board meetings and step it up a notch, making attendance at town board meetings part of his job.
“I will make sure that I’m accountable and I’ll make sure you know how (tax dollars) are being spent. I will be at those meetings,” Liebaert said.
Dalbec said he does attend meetings, and Liebaert has seen him there. But they aren’t mandatory.
“If I don’t go to a meeting, so what?” Dalbec said. “I’m running the sheriff’s office. I report to the people because I’m a constitutional officer. I don’t report to the county board. I don’t report to the county administrator. I report to the people, the citizens of this county. That’s who I answer to.”
That authority stems straight from the state constitution. Dalbec said that takes political considerations out of the day-to-day operations of the office.
Liebaert said that’s no reason not to work together.
“The county board is the elected representative of those people,” he said. “I think he’s amiss by not realizing the county board serves the same public, basically as a volunteer group. Not only is he missing out on how he should be treating the county board but I think he’s missing out on the fact that the public would be getting better service if he was working with those other elected officials.”
Dalbec said he understands the need to stay within the budget, but there are factors beyond his control — from rising fuel costs and events like the Germann Road Fire to the high number of Douglas County prisoners housed at the jail, which leaves less revenue-generating beds for rent.
“I try my darndest to meet and stay within the budget that the county board approves,” Dalbec said. “But at the same time the county board and the citizens have to understand and realize I and my staff are going to do what we feel we have to do to provide that safety, that level of service that people want and expect.” If that necessitates overtime, they’ll get it.
“If the county board doesn’t appreciate or like that, well, I ask them to ask the citizens of the county, ‘Do you not want the deputies coming to your house to take care of a problem even if they’re on overtime?’ I guarantee you 99 percent of the people in the county are going to say ‘I don’t care if they’re on overtime. I want somebody here,’” Dalbec said.
The county jail, in particular, offers financial challenges for the sheriff’s office. Dalbec said all cost-cutting avenues have been exhausted including a change to 12-hour shifts to reduce staff.
“I don’t know if we can do anything other than start allotting more money in the budget to cover the revenues,” Dalbec said.
Liebaert plans to form a new committee of businessmen and others with no ties to the jail to seek possible ways to increase efficiency and cut costs.
“Take a look at it with different eyes,” Liebaert said. “It’s not going to be an easy fix. It may be an impossible fix, but it’s worth the look and it’s worth a different eye look. I think there’s many ways to look at it that have not been explored yet.”
The men have different plans to curb the increase in property crime, much of which can be traced back to drugs.
Liebaert would focus on public awareness and participation, including neighborhood watches and a focus on getting information out to the community.
“You can only have three, four squads out at any one time,” he said. “The chances of them catching somebody without public help is pretty rare.”
Dalbec plans to request funding from the county board for an additional investigative position, which would cost about $80,000. The three investigators can only do so much in the time allotted, especially when their beat encompasses such a large area.
The most important role of the sheriff, Dalbec said, is to provide the level of safety and security to the public that they want and expect. While it has to be done in a cost efficient manner, it also has to be done in a professional manner by providing highly qualified, highly trained, highly equipped personnel to do the job the best they can.
He ticked off changes made under his watch. The department has upgraded to new radios and a new countywide communications system, launched a Facebook page and website. Dalbec said he has made personnel changes to hold people accountable. The department has partnered with the Superior Police Department on a joint drug task force and an additional narcotics investigator has been added. His experience and proven leadership are what sets him apart, Dalbec said.
Liebaert said the top job of the sheriff is to be accountable.
“It’s one of the main reasons that I think I find fault in Tom is that he is not accessible,” the South Range man said. He realized something was missing from the sheriff’s office leadership and felt he could fill that.
“Those are the kinds of issues, I guess, that drove me to see that we needed to have a change,” Liebaert said. “I am capable of making those changes.”
Although his law enforcement experience was from 1976-1989, Liebaert said he is qualified for the job. Sheriff’s candidates are not required to have any law enforcement experience, according to County Clerk Sue Sandvick. The duties and powers of the office come with the position, according to the Badger State Sheriff’s Association.
Training to get a new sheriff up to speed is available at technical colleges throughout the state, much of it at no cost to the county or individual.