Sheriff criticizes county official

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By David Giuliani

San Miguel County Sheriff Benjie Vigil contends the county government isn’t giving his department the resources it needs. And he said that’s largely because the county manager controls the County Commission.

The sheriff went public with his criticism of County Manager Les Montoya after the commission decided last week against Vigil’s request for high-voltage stun guns for his deputies.

“Les Montoya wants to tell me how and where to spend the budget. The commissioners give him too much power,” said Vigil, who was elected in 2006. “He’s not supposed to be controlling the elected officials. I’m elected by the people.”

At last week’s commission meeting, Montoya presented the Sheriff’s Department’s request for $41,000 in federal funds for equipment, including $12,500 for Tasers.

But commissioners questioned Montoya on whether the department had a use-of-force policy for Tasers. Montoya said it didn’t but that it was preparing one.

“We’re going to buy Tasers and then they’re going to put them away?” Commissioner June Garcia asked.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the department’s request, but not include Tasers. Vigil wasn’t at the meeting.

Vigil said later that the commission’s decision was part of a trend in which the county was denying requests from his department. He said he suspects that the commission may end up not allowing his deputies to have Tasers even after he completes the policy.

Vigil contended that the manager has rejected his requests for more deputies and a secretary. As it stands, the office manager is doing both clerical and dispatch duties, he said.

He said Montoya treats deputy positions as if they’re always eight-hour-a-day jobs. He said the manager questions his department whenever a deputy works more than eight hours.

Vigil contended the detention center gets better treatment and more of its funding requests approved. He said when his department requests documents from the county, it charges 50 cents a page, something other departments don’t have to pay.

The Sheriff’s Department spends much of its time as an inmate transportation service, leaving little time to do anything else, Vigil said.

“He (Montoya) is happy state police is answering all the calls. I should be answering all these calls,” the sheriff said.  “The commissioners give him all the powers he wants. Everyone jumps up when he snaps his fingers, but I don’t.”

Montoya said he doesn’t control the commission, only that he provides the commission with recommendations.

“That’s my job,” he said.

As for the Tasers, he said he presented the request as Vigil would have. It was the commission that had the questions about the policy, he said.

He said that when he looks at funding requests, he determines whether there will be revenue for such items in subsequent years.

Commission Chairman David Salazar said the sheriff was wrong to say that the manager controls the commission, calling Vigil’s statements an “outright misinterpretation.”

“The county manager keeps us informed about what’s going on. He does a good job for us. We follow a lot of his recommendations. If I disagree with him, I’ll let him know,” the chairman said. “A lot of people thinks he (Montoya) runs the whole show. The commission does, in conjunction with the county manager.”