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Sheriff Maketa defends his office's work in update to El Paso County commissioners

By: stephen Hobbs
June 17, 2014 Updated: June 18, 2014 at 2:35 pm
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El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa ducks under a microphone cord as he avoids reporter's questions on his way to speak to the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at Centennial Hall. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Called to account for how his office is running in the wake of accusations of sexual impropriety and creating a hostile work environment, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa on Tuesday staunchly defended his administration to commissioners.

"I have performed and risen to the level and beyond what the community has expected," Maketa said in a prepared answer to questions that had been sent to him. The questions were about his command structure, emergency preparedness and the possibility of future litigation against him.

On May 29, the five-member board of commissioners gave the sheriff a unanimous vote of no confidence after complaints were filed earlier in the month alleging sexual impropriety, discrimination, removal of almost all oversight over the Sheriff Office's budget and creating a hostile work environment.

The commissioners initiated an investigation May 13, after three commanders filed a complaint to the commissioners the previous day. Other complaints also have been filed.

At Tuesday's meeting, Maketa defended his office against the perception that it was unprepared for an emergency and was understaffed. He said four positions are being filled by employees in lower positions, including one bureau chief and the jobs of the three commanders put on leave. Maketa said another bureau chief position, vacant since 2010, was filled by a commander he promoted, instead of a chief, "to save money for the county."

Maketa challenged commissioners to improve relations with his office. In a response to one question, Maketa asked for unobstructed dialogue with the commissioners and county staff, saying he had tried to maintain "open communications," but that sometimes his calls have not been returned.

"It should be no different than three months ago when you'd pick up the phone or you'd send an email," Maketa said. "You do not have to resort to writing an editorial in a small Black Forest newspaper requesting to meet with me. I would challenge who is really interfering with communication."

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Darryl Glenn said he sent an email to the sheriff asking for a representative to assist in reviewing controlled burns, which was copied to "several members of our staff" and the Black Forest Fire District.

"And that is what got published in the paper," Glenn said. "So contrary to your statement, if I need to communicate with you, I don't go to the publication to do that. I extend you an email."

Glenn said he did not receive a response. Maketa said he could not find the email. Glenn offered to show the sheriff a copy, but Maketa did not look at it and continued to respond to Glenn's question, saying that he has made a commitment to all fire districts to be there with "full support of whatever efforts they need with the resources we have."

Maketa said that the "only disruption" he has seen in his office "was with the access of my IT staff to perform their very basic functions." He said it took a week to get a laptop set up for a new employee to begin training as a dispatcher. He said other software in his office needs maintenance.

"I would just ask that you take a serious look at that and let my people, especially my IT people, do their job and support those that are on the front line."

In late May, the Sheriff's Office confirmed that seven computers were "imaged" as a part of the investigation into the allegations against Maketa. . Investigators with the Mountain States Employers Council began gathering information, determining what questions to ask and whom to interview. Seven computer hard drives from the Sheriff's Office were taken as part of the investigation.

Commissioner Amy Lathen responded to Maketa about the IT issues saying, "It's important to emphasize that we are working very hard to strike the proper balance in preserving their ability to do their job and obviously preserving the data that's necessary for all aspects of the ongoing investigation."

Commissioner Peggy Littleton, who called for Maketa's resignation at a meeting three weeks ago, asked Tuesday if employees in the Sheriff's Office are being paid two salaries for filling voids in the command staff. Maketa said that no one is getting paid "double salaries."

Last week, Maketa faced questions about the ongoing investigation and the preparedness of his office at a news conference for the release of the Black Forest Fire After Action Report. Later in the week, supporters outnumbered critics of the sheriff during competing rallies outside his office. Many of the same supporters were at the meeting Tuesday and walked in with the sheriff when he arrived. Maketa's defense attorney Pamela Mackey also walked in with Maketa.

In his prepared responses, Maketa also addressed a question about the potential "chilling effect" of pending litigation on his office. Maketa said that facing litigation is "common" for a public employees.

"It doesn't take facts to file a lawsuit,"he said. "I think when this independent investigation is completed, it's going to clear up a lot of myths that are going around."

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