The sheriff’s race in Colorado’s El Paso County took a “House of Cards” turn Thursday, when the Colorado Springs Gazette published a lengthy investigation into a candidate’s missing personnel files.
The article offer a behind-the-curtain glimpse into a controversial, back-stabbing race.
Former sheriff’s deputy Bill Elder is seeking to replace outspoken but term-limited Sheriff Terry Maketa, but a file supposedly containing damaging information about an internal affairs investigation against Elder during his time in the sheriff’s office has vanished.
Speculation among Elder’s opponents is that deputies who support his candidacy stole it from a locked room to keep its contents from being leaked. Indeed, during an investigation in December, two deputies resigned after taking lie detector tests about the missing documents.
But Elder — a 19-year veteran of the sheriff’s office — and the deputies told the Gazette they have nothing to hide. Elder said he’s never been the subject of an internal affairs investigation and isn’t sure a file on him ever existed, but that rumors about it are being used to smear his campaign.
The deputies say they’re victims of a witch hunt led by Maketa to make life hard for employees who support Elder. Both were also involved in trying to organize a police union.
The Gazette, which noted that its investigation included reviewing scores of documents and more than two-dozen interviews, couldn’t determine whether the file existed or not.
What’s clear is that the outgoing sheriff has hand-picked a candidate to oppose Elder, former two-term sheriff John Anderson, even though those interviewed for the article say Maketa hates Anderson.
Sources told the Gazette that Maketa decided to back his former political foe after Elder told Anderson that he wanted to perform a forensic audit on the sheriff’s office’s financials if he’s elected. Until then, Elder and Anderson had been allies.
“I’m convinced the sudden split was over the audit,” Elder told the Gazette. “I think Anderson did not want anyone to look at the books.”
Two of Anderson’s comptrollers told the Gazette that Anderson’s tenure, from 1995-2003, was marked by financial irregularities, including irresponsible spending on meals, undeserved overtime pay for certain employees and pointless spending on odd projects.
One source told the paper that Anderson had his staff research the viability of the sheriff’s office having its own “space station,” which Anderson clarified was a communications satellite.
The paper said Maketa’s motivation to back Anderson could be to protect Maketa’s loyal employees from a purge, should Elder be elected.
Maketa “appears to be trying to protect people and programs he installed in the Sheriff’s Office by making deals with a longtime foe,” the Gazette reported.
Maketa said he considers Elder to be inexperienced, which is why he’s backing Anderson. He also denied fabricating an internal affairs file to sow doubt about Elder’s qualifications.
“I have nothing to gain from making up a file and making it disappear except a big headache,” he’s quoted as saying. “I would rather just release the file and let the public do what they are going to do.”
Maketa has been one of the most vocal Colorado sheriffs opposed to the state’s new gun control laws. And he made headlines a few months ago by publicly calling out a fire chief for bungling the early response to last summer’s destructive Black Forest Fire.
A recently-concluded independent investigation into Fire Chief Bob Harvey’s actions, however, cleared him of any negligence or wrongdoing.
“The investigation established firmly that there was no professional misconduct on the part of the chief and affirms his leadership abilities,” the fire and rescue protection district said in a statement on Wednesday, as reported by the Gazette.
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