Eagle County sheriff defends his job | VailDaily.com

Eagle County sheriff defends his job

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

Daily file photo

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Sheriff Joe Hoy sees tough times ahead for Eagle County. With eight years’ experience as sheriff, he thinks he’s the right man to lead his office through those tough economic times.

“I can’t walk away from that,” he said. “I’m in it for the long haul. I took an oath and I still believe in it.”

A sense of duty isn’t the only thing compelling Hoy to run for re-election, though.

“I love the work,” he said.

Hoy is running for a third four-year term in Tuesday’s primary. His Republican challenge comes within his own office, from Deputy Charles Wolf.

Whoever wins the primary will square off against unaffiliated candidate James van Beek in the Nov. 2 general election.

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The issues

As is often the case with incumbents, Hoy has found himself on the defensive heading into the primary. Wolf has been portraying some of Hoy’s policies as too soft on drunk drivers and prisoners.

One of the biggest issue facing the candidates is perhaps the county’s looming budget cuts – an area where Hoy sees himself as having the advantage. Hoy says he knows the budget inside and out, yet has never seen his opponent at a single budget meeting.

County officials have asked the sheriff’s office to cut up to $2.5 million from the budget by 2012, in response to an expected dip in property tax revenues. Hoy has put together a volunteer citizens’ committee to study what should be cut. He expects their recommendations to come out in about a month.

Wolf recently said he would not lay off road deputies or detention staff to balance the budget – a promise Hoy sees as further proof of his opponent’s naivete about the budget process.

“If he’s not going to lay off roads, he’s not going to lay off detentions, he’s got to lay off someone, so who’s it going to be?” he said. ” … He’s leaving the door open for either the administration or command staff.”

Hoy said staff represents up to 68 percent of any organization’s budget, and while the last thing he wants to do is lay people off, he’s being up front about the fact that layoffs could be unavoidable if the county asks for deep enough cuts.

Another hot issue for the candidates is Hoy’s policy for DUI suspects. Wolf thinks all drunk driving suspects should go to jail when police arrest them. Hoy’s policy gives deputies a choice between taking suspects to jail or releasing them with a summons. Hoy says his policy takes into account a broader public safety risk: the fact that deputies must leave their coverage areas to take suspects to jail. He asks deputies to consider their call loads before they head to the jail. The new trial policy has been in place for about three months.

“We haven’t seen any hiccups in it,” Hoy said. “I think Wolf has made a statement one time, ‘Oh right after the primary we’ll go back to the old ways.’ No. If it’s working, it’ll stay.”

Finally, Wolf has taken issue with the Wii video games and flatscreen TVs the prisoners are allowed to us in jail. Hoy said the law requires jails to provide recreation for the prisoners. When plans for an outdoor recreation area were scratched from the budget for the new jail, Hoy said he had to come up with an alternative.

“There’s your Wii,” he said.

Hoy said the law requires the jail to provide inmates with a source of information, hence the TVs. He’s tired of hearing criticism about the flatscreens.

“Give me a break,” Hoy said. “How many households today have a flatscreen TV, OK? You can’t go out and buy an old fashioned TV anymore.”

Plus, Hoy said the money for the flatscreens came from money inmates pay to use the phones – not from taxpayers’ coffers.

In general, Hoy said he believes in treating the inmates with dignity and respect while they are paying for their mistakes.

“When you do that, the respect level of the inmates toward the jailer rises and we have less acts of violence,” he said. “We have less acts of vandalism. We have less acts of trying to mess with our heads.”

Coming together

When Hoy came home from fighting in Vietnam, where he served as a helicopter pilot during the war, he returned to a country deeply divided from the government. He’ll never forget how people spit on him and called him a “baby killer.” That’s one reason why Hoy says he’s so intent on treating everyone who interacts with the sheriff’s office with respect.

“I feel it’s very important we are a part of the community, we’re not separate from the community,” he said.

To that end, Hoy is proud of the programs his administration started, including teen driving classes, courses on avoiding cyber predators and a project convincing people to stop using their cell phones while driving.

Every organization has its “hiccups,” but Hoy said he believes the sheriff’s office is doing a very good job.

“You’ve got a lot of people, either in uniform or in the office who are committed to being the very best,” he said.

Breaking rank

Hoy grew up in Catskill, N.Y., a resort town on the Hudson River. He became an outdoorsman at a young age, trapping muskrat and mink to make extra money.

In the summers, a teenage Hoy worked for the family beer distribution company, which traced its roots to Prohibition-era bootlegging.

After becoming the first in his family to go to college, at Utah State University, Hoy joined the U.S. Army and went on to serve for 13 years.

He spent a year deployed in Vietnam. He remembers the tinny “bink, bink” sound of bullets hitting his helicopter during a nasty firefight.

“I guess you could say in a way I cut my teeth over there,” he said.

After his army service, Hoy met his wife in Colorado Springs and the couple moved to Eagle County, where Hoy joined the sheriff’s office as a patrolman in the late ’80s.

He ran for sheriff in 2002, only because then-sheriff A.J. Johnson had reached his term limit. He says he never would have considered challenging his boss, as Wolf has done. Hoy says having a political challenge from within his own office has been “tough.”

“I’ve taken the high road, trying to keep everyone focused and trying to help them understand that Mr. Wolf, by law, has the right to do this,” Hoy said. “But is it the right way to do it?”

Hoy described his first year in office as “baptism by fire.” The Kobe Bryant rape case brought a media circus to town.

In general, Hoy said he’s proud of the fact that he has made the organization a place where people want to be, and has strengthened relationships with fire departments, ambulance districts and municipal police departments.

Longtime coworker Bill Bauman describes Hoy as a “flat out nice guy.”

“He wants us to be a family and it always has been since I’ve been here,” he said.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.