“In order to justify running for sheriff, I think that some of my opponents, I think they have to raise issues and raise problems that aren’t problems to be able to solve them,” Steward said.
Olson, meanwhile, leveled the most direct criticism of the sheriff to date when he said the county needs “a sheriff that’s full-time.” Pressed by an audience member for an example, the Powell area deputy faulted Steward for limited participation in the investigation of a Cody child’s 2012 kidnapping and rape.
The morning after the crime, “the suspect was still at large and the sheriff went hunting,” Olson charged.
“I believe that’s totally incorrect,” Steward responded. “I did not go hunting.”
Saying he wasn’t going to go into details, Steward said there were “specific reasons” as to why his office wasn’t heavily involved in the case. He said the kidnapping started within Cody city limits and there was a lack of “control.”
Steward also said he relies on his supervisors, who represented his office in the investigation.
“When you’ve got a roomful of 40 people, ... at what point in time do you clog that up with people who are not going to be so much involved in that investigation as much as your subordinates and the people that are running, investigating for your agency?” the incumbent said.
Dunn, who served as a deputy from 1990 to 2012, agreed that the sheriff’s office needs to have its employees work as a team.
“I’m not saying Scott (Steward)’s not doing work, but he can’t do it all,” Dunn said. “You’ve got to have a team that’s going to perform.”
However, going back to concerns with the department’s current morale and turnover, he said that in order to perform, employees have to be happy and dedicated to the job.
Dunn said he’s in the campaign because people — including current sheriff’s deputies — asked him to run and make a difference. He said the department’s morale has generally been low for the past decade.
“It’s not good,” Dunn said. “Law enforcement isn’t what I expect, and what I would like for the people to understand (is), are you getting what you expect from law enforcement?”
He also faulted Steward for not doing enough to keep up deputies’ pay with the Powell and Cody police departments.
Olson said this month’s pay hikes of about 12 percent are appreciated, but also “kind of overdue” and not enough to solve the issue with turnover. The 33-year department veteran said the root problems are “a lack of communication and a lack of concern and care for employees.”
Boosting training and communications were two of Olson’s suggestions.
Steward, however, said he’s improved training and that recent changes to deputies’ schedules and (with the approval of county commissioners) their pay were in direct response to two top complaints he heard from those leaving the department.
“It’s tough as a government employee to sit up here and push for government raises, but we were really in a bad situation and we have been, so I spent the last three years trying to educate commissioners, bringing them on board,” Steward said.
The roughly 60-person department has lost 42 employees over the past nine years, Steward has said, with four being retirees and seven being people who were asked to leave or were fired. He attributed a part of the problem to “employment terrors.”
Steward emphasized his experience — 24 years with the department, and the last nine as sheriff — and questioned the credentials of his opponents.
“I think simply just making a promise of what you’re going to do, without having that experience to do it or know what you’re getting into, is an issue,” Steward said. “As we know, change isn’t always a good thing. Look at our federal government.”
As for supervisory experience, Olson referenced his year and a half administering the Park County jail, his nearly a decade and a half as a patrol sergeant and in organizing Wyoming’s Special Olympics.
Dunn, who worked five years in the jail and 17 years as a Powell patrol deputy, noted that he’s run security at the Cody Stampede where he supervised about a dozen other people.
Steward also took aim at a statement Olson made at a previous forum, where the deputy said he wanted to “bring the honor and the respect back to the office of the sheriff here in Park County and get back the good reputation that we used to have.”
“I don’t really mind if we raise issues on training, on retention, on other issues — that I don’t feel are issues,” Steward said. “But I think to say that the sheriff’s office has lost honor and integrity is a slap in the face to all of our professional women and men serving today, and they’ve expressed that to me.
“With that said, how you can run an agency if you’re telling the officers in that agency they don’t have any honor and integrity?” Steward said.
Olson responded that he’s “never questioned the honor and integrity of the people that work for the Park County Sheriff’s Department.
“I think what I said was that you need to lead by example by showing honesty and integrity in every situation, both on-duty and off-duty,” Olson said.
Dunn also addressed Steward’s criticism.
“As far as integrity and honesty, those officers have that,” Dunn said. “What they need is more of a community leadership where they can do their job the way they’re supposed to do their job.”
Now, he said officers have told him “they’re avoiding each other.”
The three candidates also faced a number of questions from the Clark audience about how they would deal with federal government intrusion.
“The sheriff should be there in defense of the people and their rights,” said Dunn, saying the sheriff’s first job is to take care of the people.
What if the government came to collect people’s firearms?, came the follow-up question.
Steward said it depends on the situation — such if the federal government was coming in with soldiers in armored cars.
“You can say we’re going to do this, we’re going to take up arms, we’re going to force them out — again, I have a department with 45 sworn officers. They’re not going to do a whole lot,” Steward said. “So it’s going to be (up to) the help of the people. If that’s what the will of the people is, that’s where we’re going to go.”
“I wouldn’t let anybody take my gun. I wouldn’t let anybody take anybody else’s guns either,” said Olson. “But like Scott (Steward) said, if somebody’s coming in here with a full-blown assault, we’re going to have a lot worse problem on our hands.”