A New Sheriff in Town: An indie candidate announces run against Whalen for Teton County Sheriff

By on January 24, 2018

(PHOTO: Slade Ross)

Slade Ross, a former deputy in the Teton County Sheriff’s Department, announced he would run against incumbent Sheriff Jim Whalen as an independent. “I’ve never believed that the sheriff should be a partisan position,” Ross said in a news release. “It stands for equal protection under the law no matter what your political stance.”

Whalen, a Republican, has been sheriff since 2009 when he was appointed to head the department after the retirement of former Teton County Sheriff Bob Zimmer. Whalen was then elected to the position for two consecutive terms.

In a news release, Ross described himself as a person with deep roots in the county, having ancestors who homesteaded in Teton county before Wyoming became a state, including a great-great-grandfather who, Ross said, was one of the first game wardens and constables in the valley before Teton County was established.

“I grew up on a cattle ranch south of town where I learned a good work ethic and to respect our lands and our animals,” Ross said. “I love this valley and am dedicated to keeping our community as safe as possible.

“I am proud of my roots and excited about the opportunity to set the tone for the sheriff’s office.”

Ross worked for the Teton County Sheriff’s office for 19 years, attaining the rank of lieutenant. A departmental shakeup in early 2017 ended with Ross being terminated from his position, and another lieutenant in the department being demoted. In the release, Ross called his termination from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office a, “mutual parting of the ways after it became apparent that they (Ross and Whalen) could no longer work together to further the mission of the sheriff’s office.”

Besides his promise to be a non-partisan sheriff, Ross cites his training and experience as a Teton County Deputy as a key qualification for the position. Ross says he has over 3,000 hours of law enforcement training, and has experience in communications, patrol, investigations detention, search and rescue, court security and civil process. According to the release, Ross is also trained in accident reconstruction and has trained and worked as a SWAT team member. He is also a licensed pilot who has flown aerial firefighting flights.

Ross also studied anti-terrorism and forensics at the FBI’s national academy, a 10-week course for active law enforcement personnel from around the U.S. and some foreign countries to learn more advanced law enforcement skills and investigative techniques.

In his news release, Ross said he believed having deputies spend less time tied to a desk so they can work the streets is another goal. He also said he would “open up more lines of communication with businesses, mental health providers, community advocates schools and private citizens,” so if incidents occur people would be better equipped to deal with the Sheriff’s office.

Ross said he would start an internship program to encourage younger people to pursue work in law enforcement so the department would better reflect the diverse nature of Teton County’s population.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing the Sheriff’s Office — and many other employers in Teton county — is the lack of affordable housing that forces many to live outside the county in neighboring areas, counties or states. Of the 24 employees of the Teton County Sheriff’s office, only five live in Teton County.

Besides being a point of strain for workers like deputies, having a bulk of employees living elsewhere has the potential to cause severe public safety issues. In February 2017, a snowstorm closed several roads leading into Jackson Hole from surrounding areas for several days. According to current sheriff Whalen, this caused significant problems for the department and caused a major public safety problem.

In the wake of that snowstorm, Sheriff Whalen proposed a housing allowance scheme in April that would make it easier for public safety workers employed by the Sheriff’s Department to reside in Teton County. Whalen’s proposed allowance of $800 per month for deputies, $600 per month for dispatchers and $400 per month for jail staff and court security was less than the $1,100 the State of Wyoming offers any of its employees to defray the cost of living in county.

Ross said, if elected, he would also support a program to “incentivize deputies… to stay or move to Teton County so that they are more invested in the community they protect.”

Any such scheme, however, would need approval from elected officials in the county.

Should he be elected, Ross would be the second Sheriff in Teton County elected as an independent. He acknowledges it might be a difficult campaign, however, saying that in Wyoming, independent candidates are barred from fundraising until after the primary election is held.

Under Wyoming law, parties that select nominees by way of conventions instead of primary elections are barred from fundraising until after the state’s primary, which will be held this year on Aug. 21. Independent candidates also are barred from fundraising until after the primary. Members of parties who participate in the primary can accept donations of $1,000 per person maximum prior to the primary, and again prior to the general election in November. Independent candidates can only accept a maximum of $1,000 once.

Ross said he would begin his campaign with a petition drive to be put on the ballot. To successfully be listed as a cadidate on the ballot in November, Ross will have to get a number of signatures equal to 2 percent of the number of votes cast in the county for congressional representative. PJH

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