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.
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.