Campaign debate lingers — is it economics or leadership?
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Times File
The Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office has seen a 27 percent turnover rate since January 2019.
The Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office has seen a 27 percent turnover rate since January 2019.

One of the key issues hotly debated in the 2018 Gunnison County Sheriff’s election continues to plague the department — that of turnover. And the question posed then remains unanswered today — is turnover a matter of leadership style, simple economics or reflective of a national trend?

Figures provided by Gunnison County Human Resources show that from the time Sheriff John Gallowich took office in January 2019 until April 2020, 10 people have left the Sheriff’s Office — four from patrol and six from the detention center. That’s a 27 percent turnover rate in the department of 37 employees in 16 months — unchanged from prior to when Gallowich took office.

By comparison, between 2012 and April of 2018 — roughly a 76-month period — 49 people left the department in both patrol and detention. That’s roughly an average of 10 employees per the same comparative period of 16 months.

During the campaign Gallowich said that addressing turnover was one of his top priorities if elected — that turnover was due to leadership style and that employees leave because of a lack of support. His opponent at the time, then-Undersheriff Mark Mykol, countered Gallowich’s claim, saying there were varied reasons for turnover including salary, professional advancement, family matters and other personal reasons.

But even with the change in leadership, turnover persists.

Gunnison County officials confirmed that two recent departures were that of deputies Shane Belsey and Matt Taramarcaz.

Douglas County confirms Belsey has taken a position with the Sheriff’s Office there in patrol — which could be considered a career move. Although he declined to give specific names in this article, Gallowich said in an exit interview with a deputy “he lost to the Front Range,” it was a matter of salary and having the ability to buy a house, one of the reasons Mykol attributed to turnover.

“We’re always going to have a small percentage that uses us as a stepping stone,” Gallowich said.

Taramarcaz still is employed locally, not in law enforcement. Lacy Construction owner Bill Lacy confirmed the former deputy is now working for him.

 

Breakdown of the numbers

Gallowich spoke to the Times about the number of resignations over the last 16 months. Of the four employees that left patrol, Gallowich said the two patrol deputies other than Belsey and Taramarcaz did not complete field training — another reason his opponent Mykol gave as a reason for turnover.

“The person may not be found to be a fit during the early part of their field training,” Mykol said in October 2018 about people leaving the department.

One of the two, Gallowich said, went to another law enforcement agency.

Yet Gallowich during the campaign insisted officers leaving was due to leadership, and that a change in leadership was needed to thwart such turnover.

“I believe it has been because of the leadership style we have,” Gallowich said of the Sheriff’s Office in October 2018. “I am a different type of leader. I will lead by example — because of my background I can do that.”

Of the six employees who left detention, Gallowich attributes three departures to a change in how shifts are maintained in the jail. Once fixed shifts, Gallowich said the detention center now rotates the schedule, so no one person is stuck on the graveyard shift. However, the sheriff said, some of those detention employees said they could not work a shift other than daytime and left.

“Does this have to do with leadership? I guess you could say leadership does have a bearing on it because we did make some changes in the Sheriff’s Office in which for some of the folks in the detention center, it no longer worked for them, and that was the scheduling,” Gallowich said recently. “When we look at turnover we’re not going to have to worry about losing people because of shifts anymore. We’re going to tell them up front, ‘this is what you can expect.’”

Two other detention deputies, Gallowich said, left for reasons once again noted by Mykol during the campaign — for family reasons or career moves. One woman, Gallowich said, moved to the east coast for family reasons and another — former detention center Capt. Clay Curtis — made a career move to work with Gunnison County in Juvenile Services.

Yet turnover rates such as have been experienced at the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office are far from unusual. The Times contacted Routt County Human Resources, which reported a 24 percent turnover rate from January 2019 to April 2020. Yet, Delta County reported much higher figures. During the same time period the Sheriff’s Office there has had a 45 percent turnover rate — 30 departures with a total of more than 67 employees in the department.

 

Change in investigators

When turnover occurs, experience is lost, especially that which is used in crime analysis. Gallowich said during the campaign that he was committed to building a solid investigative unit within the Sheriff’s Office.

Yet, with Taramarcaz’s resignation, the department lost a highly trained agent, who was assigned to investigations.

Taramarcaz came to Gunnison County after an extensive career in Montrose County where he was an investigative sergeant. While there, he was awarded the Medal of Valor in 2010 for his actions during an incident in which a Montrose police officer was killed. In 2018, while with Gunnison County, the 7th Judicial District named him as the lead investigator of the Critical Incident Investigative Team deployed after a Thanksgiving day shooting involving a state patrol officer on Hwy. 135 near Crested Butte South.

The Times attempted to contact Taramarcaz, but he did not return calls as of press time.

Gallowich said he performed an exit interview with a recently resigned officer whom he said had “a lot of experience.”

“Burnout — that was a term used. No doubt he did have experience so when I lose somebody like that they are not easy to replace,” said Gallowich, about losing the experienced officer.

Gallowich has since hired a new deputy. Gunnison County Human Resources confirmed Deputy Mark Martin was hired by the Sheriff’s Office. Mt. Crested Butte confirms Martin was a patrol officer with the town’s police department from January 1988 to September of 1999.

His resume obtained from Gunnison County by the Times through a Freedom of Information Act request details a long history in law enforcement.

Prior to working in Mt. Crested Butte, Martin worked in Illinois for five agencies over the course of 10 years. Following his employment with Mt. Crested Butte, Martin worked for Custer County, Colo., Sheriff’s Office serving at various levels. He worked for the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office and was an investigator for the 22nd Judicial District out of Cortez.

Gallowich indicated that Martin will assist with field training.

Gallowich said both Taramarcaz and Belsey were qualified to perform training for officers — another aspect he emphasized in the campaign. He said however, he still has four people in his department who are qualified field training officers.

“I’m concerned, but I think it will work out,” Gallowich said. “I think there will be some turnover, but my goal is to minimize it to where it is down to a trickle, and I think it’s very doable.”

 

(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at editor@gunnisontimes.com.)