With November’s election just weeks away, an old email is creating fresh headaches for La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard.
Though Schirard sent the email in March, his Democratic challenger, Deputy Sean Smith, leaked it to public officials in the last 10 days.
In the email, Schirard lambasts changes in Durango’s population and government, saying he doesn’t even “want to go downtown.”
Schirard, a Republican, sent the email from his official sheriff’s office email account to Bayfield resident Wendy Cox on March 18. From the email’s stampings, it appears Schirard was responding to an email Cox sent to Schirard, Smith and Undersheriff David Griggs, asking whether any of them intended to go to a meeting of the Durango Gun Club.
“The demographics of downtown Durango has changed so drastically in the 42 years, I have lived in La Plata County that I don’t even recognize it or want to go downtown. Every day at noon I sit in Colorado Trading Co. on 8th Ave. and visit, most days with John Malarsie, Tom Price and others. We are disgusted and as upset with the situation as you or anyone else. (sic)
“This is purely a reaction from your liberal, democratic, gun hating, pot loving, abortionist, Obama supporting socialist who have taken over Durango City government and want it to be Aspen south.” (sic)
In a phone interview Wednesday, Schirard admitted authoring the email, but said it was never intended for broad consumption.
“This was a private email in reply to a question from Wendy Cox, who’s a concerned citizen out here in Bayfield. I know her political leanings,” he said.
Schirard said at the time he wrote the email, he was chagrined by Durango City Council’s demand that the Durango Gun Club either stop requiring members to join the National Rifle Association or decamp from its rent-free location on city property.
Schirard said the way he described Durango “may be a little harsh.” He continued: “But I was describing my political philosophy and feelings. I don’t think there’s any doubt that I’m a very politically conservative person.”
Schirard accused Smith of obtaining his email to Cox through surreptitious means.
“My concern is that if he’s going to root around in my emails for political (purposes) – the sheriff has a lot of power. If I didn’t like somebody – what else might he do if he had that power? I don’t know to what extent he would go.”
Smith denied that he had ever “rooted around” in Schirard’s emails.
“I have never been in his email, once, ever,” he said. “Wendy (Cox) sends questions to the three of us quite often. You can see from the way his email is addressed that he clearly hit ‘reply-all.’”
Smith said he started forwarding the email to Durango city councilors and La Plata County commissioners in the last 10 days.
“I held onto this email for a long time, and debated releasing it. But the public has a right to know what Schirard thinks, particularly people in the city of Durango. I even told the sheriff to his face last week that I intended to use it,” Smith said.
Of the 52,000 people who live in La Plata County, 17,000 reside within Durango, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
While insulting large constituencies is impolitic in an election year, Smith said Schirard’s withering assessment of Durango – La Plata County’s largest city – undermines the Sheriff’s Office.
“These are not the words of a leader – or a professional,” he said. “You can’t be a leader when you’re alienating half the population with your statements. You have to be the sheriff for everyone.”
Durango’s Mayor Sweetie Marbury said she found Schirard’s comments about Durango “disappointing and very hurtful.”
“In my opinion, he hurt himself, too, because he forgot that he represents all of us,” she said Wednesday.
Marbury said she’s a strong supporter of free speech, and Schirard is more than entitled to his own opinions.
“But you’re not supposed to use your work computer to rant and rave about your political opinions. And this is shocking. He really slammed the whole city, the people who live here, who work here, our businesses. It reveals a lot about the person who wears the badge. When he says he won’t come to Durango, he’s slamming the Strater and the Rochester hotels, putting down Francisco’s and Karyn Gabaldon and Durango Olive Oil – everybody who works hard to make a living here.”
It’s not the first time Schirard has inflamed political sensitivities using his work email. During the last two years, he has sent emails to his staff bashing liberals, gun laws and President Barack Obama.
When they became public in June, Smith said some people in the sheriff’s office found them offensive. He said though the sheriff is an elected office, employees shouldn’t feel pressured to share their boss’ politics while going about their work. He said it’s improper for government officials to use the time, resources and property that taxpayers fund to further their personal political agendas.
Durango City Councilor Keith Brant, a Republican, said he hadn’t yet read Schirard’s email. “I don’t know that I have a comment to make, except that making outlandish statements like that isn’t very smart,” he said.
Marbury defended the course Durango has taken over the last decades.
“Schirard’s right: It’s true that Durango has changed over the decades,” Marbury said. “But change has brought a lot of good things too. New people, new businesses – we have things like the trolley, for example, and new people volunteering for nonprofits in Durango.”