El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa hasn't spent much time in the office since May.
That's when allegations were leveled against him and county commissioners opened a pair of investigations into financial and employee-related complaints.
Most recently, he hasn't been in the office since Oct. 3, according to records of his key card access obtained by The Gazette through an open records request. He isn't expected to return until the end of the month, a spokesman for the office said.
Employees say this, and a lack of a formal transition plan with Bill Elder, who is running unopposed for sheriff in the Nov. 4 election, is adding to a feeling of uncertainty in the office as the end of Maketa's term approaches Jan. 13.
"I am deeply troubled by the input that we receive from staff members at the Sheriff's Office," County Commissioner Amy Lathen said. She said employees have expressed concern over a lack of oversight from the sheriff.
"This is just a terrible situation."
On Oct. 3, Maketa met with members of the media to explain his dissatisfaction with a decision by county commissioners to move the Office of Emergency Management under the control of commissioners. Undersheriff Paula Presley is in charge when Maketa is away, spokesman Sgt. Greg White said.
White does not know exactly when Maketa will return but said he would be gone for roughly three weeks. It's unclear whether Maketa is on vacation or working remotely from home or another location, White said. His departures from the office have been on short notice.
Through an email from White, Maketa said elected officials work whatever hours are required to complete their duties. He is in contact with his staff every day, Maketa said through White, but as an elected official he is not required to be in the office.
Maketa has already removed most personal items from his office, White said. He is in the final months of 12 years as sheriff, White said, so doing that is not uncommon.
Presley, too, has begun emptying her office, White said.
According to the key-card records beginning May 19, the most hours Maketa has been in the office in one week was 29.25 hours during the week of Sept. 29. During three weeks beginning June 23, Maketa was in the office fewer than 10 hours total, according to the records.
County spokesman Dave Rose said the records indicate only time in the office and don't include work done elsewhere.
Despite his absence and the ongoing investigations into criminal, financial and employee-related complaints, multiple employees say the climate of intimidation in the office has not stopped. The employees spoke with The Gazette on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. They point to the release in June of an internal affairs file of a female deputy as an example of Maketa taking retaliatory measures against employees that he believes are speaking out. The employees said they are fearful of the sheriff and undersheriff.
Lathen said she has heard similar concerns.
"People used the word 'oppressive,' " she said.
Maketa is accused of sexual impropriety, discrimination, removing almost all oversight of the Sheriff's Office annual budget and creating a hostile work environment, according to a complaint filed to the El Paso County Commission in mid-May by three of his commanders.
They also filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Nine claims have been filed with the county seeking $3.9 million in damages.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is leading an investigation into the sheriff on behalf of the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
In late May, Maketa acknowledged that he engaged in inappropriate behavior and apologized for "not being forthright," in a video to Sheriff's Office employees. An effort to recall Maketa failed over the summer.
The organizer said the group collected more than the 44,000 required signatures but did not believe it had a big enough "buffer" to pass the signature verification process.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has paid more than $175,000 in legal fees for the investigations into financial and employee complaints against Maketa.
El Paso County Attorney Diana May said Wednesday that the investigation into employee complaints by Sherman & Howard and the Mountain States Employers Council is complete. The final report, she said, is not finished. The financial and criminal investigations are ongoing.
Lathen said she is eagerly waiting for the report.
The county is overseeing the Sheriff's Office by watching all payroll requests, Lathen said, to see if any adverse employment actions, such as retaliatory firings, are occurring. That, she said, has been the case for months.
"We have to protect the county, and we have to protect our staff," Lathen said.
On Oct. 1, an intra-agency memo was sent by Lt. John Brandt, acting commander for the support services division, saying dispatch training coordinator Tiffany Huntz would transfer to the dispatch shift supervisor position effective Oct. 31. The sheriff said, through White, that the move was lateral and was not a promotion. Huntz had finished training her group of dispatchers and it was time to rotate, White said.
Huntz is alleged to have had a sexual relationship with Maketa and to have received favorable treatment from the sheriff.
Elder said Wednesday that he is not focusing on what is going on inside the Sheriff's Office. He confirmed that no formal transition between he and Maketa is occurring but that he is prepared to take over once officially confirmed at the general election. Elder said that Maketa has not spoken to him in regard to a transition and he has not requested to meet with the sheriff.
"It's as much on me as on him," Elder said.
Elder, who plans to make staff changes when he takes office, said he is focused on preparing himself for the job.
"I just don't want to be involved in the issues that are going on," he said. "If he's ready to develop a transition plan, I'm more than willing to work on it. I don't get the feeling that he's much interested in that."
THE MAKETA ARCHIVE