March 6, 2014 Updated: March 7, 2014 at 3:08 pm
Everyone employed at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is expected to follow a long list of policies and procedures. Everyone except the sheriff.
In December, Sheriff Terry Maketa amended long-standing policies to exempt himself from the office rules, which cover everything from seat belt use to sexual harassment.
He did it in a way that skipped the typical review of his staff.
And within weeks of changing the policy, he violated one of the rules he no longer has to follow by publicly discussing an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation, which the policy handbook states should be "treated in strict confidence."
Maketa changed the wording on the first page of the policy manual Dec. 10 from "This manual applies to all Sheriff's Office personnel" to "This manual applies to all Sheriff's Office personnel except the Sheriff by nature of his elected position."
The Sheriff's Office said this is within Maketa's authority.
"The Sheriff has full authority and can change or completely discard the manual for use at any time without seeking permission," Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said in a statement. "The Sheriff is not legally an employee and therefore provisions within the manual do not apply. Even from a practical approach, and to name just a few policies which wouldn't apply to the Sheriff include vacation, sick, compensation, time keeping, chain of command, evaluations, notification procedures, release of information to the media, social media and disciplinary process."
When asked by The Gazette earlier this month about not adhering to the department's policy that forbids discussing Internal Affairs investigations, Maketa said, "You know who I am? The sheriff. You know who wrote those policies? Me. I can do with them whatever I want."
The Gazette contacted four sheriff's offices on the Front Range and none exempts the sheriff from office policies.
"Wow, that's interesting, that's all I'll say about it," Arapahoe County Sheriff David Walcher said. "The sheriff has the authority to change policies and could do so on the fly, but I hold myself to the same standard as everyone in my office."
Jefferson and Douglas counties also do not have a blanket exemption for their sheriff.
"There are a few exemptions related to political activities," said Pueblo County Undersheriff J.R. Hall. "But our sheriff has to follow the same rules as any deputy."
Fred Wilson, a spokesman for the National Sheriffs' Association, said he had not heard of other sheriffs creating blanket exemptions, but said that does not mean it never happens, adding he knows Maketa. "If he is changing policy, I'm sure he has good reason."
Typically, changes to policy in the El Paso County Sheriff's Office are made through the office's Support Division staff, which writes and reviews policy to be approved by the sheriff, according to a staff member. The staff member wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
In the case of the most recent change, the staff member said, the sheriff skipped the typical procedure and ordered a member of the Support Division staff to add the exemption without other review.
The exemption frees the sheriff from dress code requirements and other standards, as well as a long list of rules that bar employees of the office from using abusive language, criticizing the District Attorney and other elected officials, interfering with lawful investigations and having sexual relationships with subordinates.
During the same revision, Maketa required all staff ranked lieutenant and above to seek his permission before endorsing a political candidate. El Paso County voters will elect a new sheriff in November. Maketa, under terms limits, cannot run again.
The changes in policy came as the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is dealing with a scandal surrounding the reported theft last year of an Internal Affairs file for former deputy Bill Elder, who is running for sheriff. Maketa, who is heading the investigation of the file, has backed one of Elder's opponents, former sheriff John Anderson, and has repeatedly spoken to the press about the investigation, and ordered his Internal Affairs staff to give interviews. Elder says he was never the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation and questions whether the investigation is being used to sink his campaign.
Weeks after exempting himself from policy, Maketa sent an officewide memo detailing unfolding events in the investigation of the missing file. Since then he has repeatedly given the media detailed information about the investigation.
Anderson, who was sheriff from 1995 to 2003, said he did not have any exemption to policies. He said he could not think of many situations where an exemption would be needed for the sheriff, who must have had reasons for the change.
Anderson said if elected, he would likely expand the exemption.
"It would be kind of silly to write yourself up or investigate yourself. The sheriff is held accountable by the people who put us in office," Anderson said. "I have to tell the truth, I'd probably keep the language the way it is now, and I'd even ask why the undersheriff isn't included, too."
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