Douglas County

Sheriff candidates tackle issues at debate

Three hopefuls talk guns, visions for future

Virginia Grantier
About 200 people showed up for the Feb. 22 Douglas County Sheriff debate in Parker. Candidate Lora Thomas is standing; candidate John Anderson is seated at the far end of the table and candidate Tony Spurlock is in the middle.
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Lora Thomas, Douglas County’s coroner running for sheriff, said at a Feb. 22 sheriff candidates’ debate she supports teachers being armed in schools.

She wasn’t alone.

Candidate John Anderson, a Castle Rock police commander, said he supported it, too, if teachers were trained, deputized — and suggested a pager system so that in an emergency teachers could press a button and the school resource officer would know immediately which room the emergency was in, and so what level of assistance that particular teacher, based on training, could provide.

Candidate Tony Spurlock, Douglas County undersheriff, said he was a “Second Amendment guy.” But he also talked about the chaos of gunbattles and that even trained officers make mistakes in those situations. He said there might be better options for protecting students than arming teachers and said it would cost a lot of money to train teachers.

The three Republican candidates, who are seeking to replace term-limited David Weaver, met for the debate at Creekside Recreation Center in Parker

When asked about the candidates’ position on gun-free zones, Thomas said she generally didn’t support gun-free zones, Anderson, talked about Constitutional rights, although specifically expressing support for prohibiting guns on airliners and courtrooms. Spurlock said that regarding the issue of open carrying of firearms, he didn’t think it was right to restrict it in parks and trails.

The three candidates participated in a two-hour debate, hosted by Douglas County Young Republicans, that attracted a crowd of 200 that didn’t fit in the Parker meeting room. Many stood and many had to listen from the other side of a glass wall in a hallway.

When asked why they’re running, Thomas, a former district major for the Colorado State Patrol, said that after cutting the coroner’s budget by a third and ridding it of corruption, she could easily run for a second term. But she’s been asked by current sheriff’s employees to run for sheriff because of “waste, abuse…mismanagement” in the current entrenched department. She said employees also have asked her about things they have been told, such as if Thomas is elected she’ll fire half of the employees, cut pay and other changes.

“Those are just lies…I don’t know where they’re coming from,” she said.

She said she wants to bring the department to a world-class level, based on values such as integrity, accountability and trust — a place that people want to work for and that other law enforcement agencies will come to when needing help.

Thomas, who has a master’s degree in business administration, said the other candidates haven’t taken the same extensive steps as she has to get educated. She said in various positions, such as the Western Colorado Peace Officers Association, her peers have seen her leadership qualities and voted her into leadership positions.

Spurlock, who said he has served under four sheriffs and learned from all, says he has basically been the department’s CEO for the past eight years, overseeing a $48.5 million budget and 464 employees, and that his vast experience is valuable. He said 95 percent of county residents are satisfied with the job being done and that he wants to continue providing that service. He said the department’s biggest challenge has to do with global issues. That it needs to maintain a presence, and obtain information, through federal task forces, and with I-25 and E-470 going through it, there are “tons of hazardous materials.” He said heavy air traffic at Centennial Airport also creates potential dangers the department needs to be prepared for.

Anderson, who said he served as acting chief for several years and has overseen such projects as the multimillion construction of the current police department building, said he thinks the sheriff’s department needs “new vision, new leadership.” He wants less spent on infrastructure — referring several times to the county’s new infirmary for jail inmates — and more on such changes as having a deputy in every school, more help for senior citizens, pay-for-performance for deputies instead of the current step-grade system. He also wants to break the county up into “communities” and community boards that would have certain deputies assigned to them.