Hazlehurst: Maketa’s abuse of power exposes systemic problem

Terry MaketaTerry Maketa hits the spot

Three girlfriends, that’s a lot

Naked selfie and a tax hike too

Terry Maketa is the sheriff for you!

As County Commissioner Darryl Glenn accurately noted, Sheriff Terry Maketa’s multiple improprieties in office were “the worst-kept secrets in town.”

Four years ago, Pam Zubeck of the Colorado Springs Independent detailed them in a lengthy article. The piece didn’t have much impact because Zubeck couldn’t get any of her sources to speak on the record. They were afraid of Maketa.

As the elected sheriff of El Paso County, Maketa has had complete control of his office, his employees and their careers. As Gazette reporter Dave Phillips made clear in his story last week, Maketa could hire, fire, promote and demote as he chose.

He allegedly elevated one of his paramours to controller, reporting only to him, and he took complete control of the office budget.

All of this took place under the county commissioners’ noses.

It’s true, as Glenn said during a press conference after the news had broken, that the commissioners have no direct authority over the sheriff, but they do have final budget authority. They could have withheld funds pending an outside audit, convened an independent investigation of the allegations, or publicly expressed their concerns about the “rumors and innuendo” that had swirled around the department for so long.

They kept their mouths shut. They publicly praised Maketa’s leadership, went to bat for him when he asked them to endorse a dedicated tax increase for his department, and ignored the ongoing turmoil.

Why?

Was Maketa the J. Edgar Hoover of the Colorado Springs law enforcement community, with bulging files documenting the corruption and misbehavior of his fellow elected officials? Highly doubtful.

Were the commissioners just naïve, trusting and stupid? No observer of county elected officials would so characterize Sallie Clark, Amy Lathen or Darryl Glenn.

The truth is simple.

Maketa was a wildly popular Republican officeholder, one apparently destined for higher office. He was a wily and effective politician — so why cross him?

Absent firm, irrefutable proof of his misconduct, going after him would be folly. The Hippocratic Oath says, in part, “First, do no harm.” The first law of politics repeats it, with a modifier: “First, do no harm — to yourself.”

So Maketa’s elected peers gave him a pass, and he became Sheriff Putin — accountable to no one, feared by all.

This is not the first time that an elected county official has behaved inappropriately. Five-term District Attorney Bob Russel, a brilliant prosecutor and a gifted lawyer, was denied a sixth term in office in 1988. His long-standing problems with alcohol finally came to public notice, and Democrat Barney Iuppa won the election. Like Maketa’s dalliances, Russel’s drinking was known to his staff, to courthouse insiders and, in all probability, to the county commissioners of his era. No one spoke up.

The Colorado Springs chief of police is not an elected official. For almost 90 years, the chief was appointed by the city manager, who was in turn selected by a non-partisan elected City Council. Since 2011, the elected mayor appoints the police chief, who serves as an at-will employee of the city. Partisan politics isn’t part of the equation.

Chief Pete Carey joined the CSPD in 1984, and he rose through the ranks until tapped to head the department by Mayor Steve Bach. Previous chiefs, including Jim Munger and Lorne Kramer, came from other jurisdictions, bringing new methods and perspectives to a rapidly expanding force. Carey, like Kramer and Munger before him, doesn’t have to curry favor with Republican primary voters.

His job is to be a competent law enforcement officer and embrace the overall vision of his boss. If he fails in either category, he’ll be out the door. The job doesn’t include empire building. It may be that the whole system of electing county sheriffs is intrinsically flawed, especially in counties where a single party has historically dominated the political landscape. Career officers understand that they’re effectively barred from the highest leadership position unless they’re politically engaged, and they must be comfortable with the beliefs of the ruling party, either the far right or the far left.

Changing the system would require an amendment to the Colorado Constitution, so that’s a nonstarter.

What we can do is insist that the commissioners refer a measure to county voters this fall, limiting future sheriffs to two terms. Maketa’s 12-year reign of terror is reason enough to do so.

10 Responses to Hazlehurst: Maketa’s abuse of power exposes systemic problem

  1. John,

    As you recall, our amateur commissioners are quite reluctant to do anything but to ensure they remain in office as long as possible as evidenced by their maneuvering to grant themselves three terms – - a matter the public soundly defeated. Sallie and Amy worked quite hard on this issue only to find the public was not in agreement they need to remain in office more than two terms.

    What you are proposing (limit sheriff to two terms) is a matter already in the initial planning stages. But it goes beyond. The matter being considered will also call for a four year waiting period for any elected official to run for an additional office after terming out of an existing seat.

    Will not be ready by this fall. Next fall. SpringsUnigroup is pushing the matter to the forefront.

    Rick Wehner
    May 27, 2014 at 10:02 am

  2. Yes. The matter for the need to impose term limits on elected officials within El Paso County Government has been a topic of recent concern, prior to the event with the Sheriff. It you would like to weigh in with your support or opposition to the need, please feel free to do so.
    Thank you. Every Voice That Speaks, is a voice that is Heard.

    http://projectoneunity.homestead.com/Temp-Poll-Eight.html

    Staci Lynne Holdt
    May 27, 2014 at 11:04 am

  3. Disgusting failure of the press and The Party. When there is One Party Rule, there is always corruption. That the press refused to fulfill its function, instead ignoring malfeasance to protect The Party, sheds even more light on how broken our politics are. The Ruling Party is corrupt and incestous, yet Christ Himself couldn’t run here as a Democrat and win. If the Commissioners knew of this “open secret” and did nothing, then they, too are culpable. But the reality is that The Party, which controls all, will sweep this away. Disgusting.

    John Koury
    May 27, 2014 at 11:20 am

  4. for a Party to pull this off,
    corruption in every office in the County,
    they need a stupid electorate.

    Brian Scott
    May 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm

  5. Points well taken, John. Who knew what when? That’s the question right now.

    Vince Linden
    May 27, 2014 at 9:18 pm

  6. Rick and Stacie, you both like to sell the lies that the commissioners “granted themselves” three terms. The measure was voted on by the electorate. As far as Lathen working hard to keep the term limit at three terms, she was the one that made the motion to put the measure on the ballot to allow the voters to reduce the limit back down to two terms. And, while Salli Clarke and Dennis Hisey both were allowed to serve their third term if elected, Lathen is not allowed to run for a third term. But don’t let the truth get in the way of your opportunity to smear a Republican elected official

    John Smith
    May 29, 2014 at 3:40 pm

  7. Mr. Smith

    The results to which you refer as a measure being voted on by the electorate came in at

    El Paso 1B:
    • YES 109700 (61.78%)
    • NO 67868 (38.22%)
    El Paso 1C:
    • YES 111762 (62.94%)
    • NO 65805 (37.06%)
    El Paso 1D:
    • YES 107500 (60.67%)
    • NO 69693 (39.33%)

    The follow up measure where the voters were allowed to vote on a clearly worded measure came in with a higher number of voters refusing to grant the third term. Note that the percentages were not that different but the number of voters swung the outcome.

    1B-El Paso County Term Limits Change
    Result Votes Percentage
    Yes
    161,006 64.05%
    No 90,369 35.95%

    We are not interested in smearing all Republican elected officials. We had high praise for Mr. Bob Isaac. It has been a long time. We are very interested in doing everything possible to see that those currently in county offices, with the exception of Mr. Glenn, do not ever serve in an elected capacity again.

    Richard D. Wehner
    May 30, 2014 at 10:20 am

  8. AMY LATHEN:

    “I’m standing here saying I know what the numbers are,”

    http://www.csindy.com/IndyBlog/archives/20…

    Lathen also said she supported the tax hike, though she is “a very, very conservative Republican.” She also said the resolution behind the ballot measure assures there would be maintenance of the sheriff’s budget — meaning commissioners wouldn’t bait and switch the voters by claiming for general-fund purposes the new tax revenue.

    “I’m standing here saying I know what the numbers are,” she said. “I know what’s happening within the budget of El Paso County. I will stand in partnership with [Maketa].”

    Richard D. Wehner
    May 31, 2014 at 4:56 am

  9. Rick, is there a point, or do you just like quoting Lathen.

    And I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t dispute either one of the points that I made in my other post. 1 – that the commissioners didn’t “grant themselves” another term, as you claimed, and 2 – that Lathen made the motion to put the term limit question back on the ballot.

    John Smith
    May 31, 2014 at 9:20 pm

  10. John

    There is a point, albeit rather circuitous.

    I concede your point that the commissioners did not ‘grant’ themselves a third term.

    However, they did use somewhat carefully researched and clever wording to write a ballot question that led voters to approve the term extension and they did, in fact, approve the measure. When the election returns were in, voters responded that the result was not that which they had intended and their was an immediate expression of concern from the public and all three local print press organs that this was perhaps a matter needing review and possibly a second vote.

    At that point, there was a hard resolve on the part of the commissioners to ignore the public and the press to consider a second vote.

    If one were to ‘Google’ term limits and lay out every article from that era, it is obvious the pressure was strong in that there was a feeling that what the commissioners were doing is basically denying the public basic right to ‘petition government’. Were it not for that element, I doubt so many entities would have worked so hard to oppose the commissioners on this matter. Two or three terms is actually rather irrelevant when there are no candidates for county office who have real experience in economics, municipal administration, finance, accounting or economic development.

    Another semi-consession:

    As to Mrs. Lathen having been the one to put forward a motion to allow the re-vote, it came only after it appeared the outrage coming from the public and press could conceivably cost her votes. If you think I am referring to her propensity to put re-election ahead of the good of the people, you got it!

    The 2009 Project 6035 pretty much indicated that political discord would inhibit progress for the region. She is a part of that discord creation.

    This is a region that has the assets to be a thoroughbred racing stallion performing at the pace of an old plow mule. I assign responsibility for this level of performance squarely on the shoulders of our elected officials with Sallie and Amy leading the pack of those who have created an environment hostile to business. In fact, if one runs back through the ‘quick polls’ the last two months in the Business Journal, the Saturday Business Magazine and SpringsUnigroup – the evidence is strong that the local business community is becoming concerned that this is not, in fact, a business friendly city – - and a separate poll indicating local government communication with the business community are less than satisfactory.

    I personally could not care less about quoting Mrs.Lathen as I have not heard her say anything other than that which serves to drive major firms to other cities where they bring tax revenue to those communities an provide jobs. If you do not have those survey results on local government, we will be happy to send them to you.

    Thank you for the interesting exchange – opposing viewpoints are interesting and vital

    Richard D. Wehner
    June 2, 2014 at 11:12 am