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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Femling challenged by Hailey police officer

Primary election for sheriff comes at busy time for office

Express Staff Writer

The Republican Primary Election for the position of Blaine County Sheriff comes at a time when the number and complexity of criminal investigations by the Sheriff’s Office has increased substantially.

Republican voters will be asked to choose Tuesday, May 25, between 17-year incumbent Sheriff Walt Femling and Hailey Patrol Officer Steve England. The winner of the primary will face Hailey Police Lt. Jeff Gunter, a Democrat, in the Nov. 2 general election.

Republican Primary Election opponents for Blaine County sheriff, incumbent Walt Femling, right, and challenger Steve England, faced off Thursday in a debate in Hailey. The candidates challenged each other on Emergency 911, consolidated dispatch, the need for a new county jail and ongoing security concerns in a prominent resort destination. The debate was sponsored by Citizens for Smart Growth and filmed so it could be televised this week on KSVT’s program "Perspective." Express photo by David N. Seelig

In the debate over which of the two Republicans will make the best sheriff, England said the office of sheriff has become "stagnant," and needs a fresh face.

Honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1997, England started his career as a patrol officer with the Bellevue Marshal’s Office. He has been with the Hailey Police Department since February 2001.

In addition to working as a patrol officer in the department, England works both as a field training officer and school resource officer

Femling, however, said the demand for police protection in the county requires someone with more experience than England can bring to the position.

Femling, 47, is entering his fifth election cycle. He was challenged in three previous elections, and ran unopposed in 1992.

Femling said he feels confident about his chances of winning. His 24 years of experience as a police officer is his major selling point.

But Hailey Police Chief Brian McNary is questioning whether or not enthusiasm has more value than experience. However, he did not endorse either candidate specifically in a letter to the editor in today’s Mountain Express.

Under the current election process when it comes to choosing a sheriff, incumbent sheriffs typically have more experience than any candidate stepping into the contest, but McNary said experience is not necessarily the most important quality.

He said typically the day-to-day skills required to fulfill the role of sheriff are learned on the job, something any good cop can handle.

England, 28, said he believes he has as much, if not more, experience than Femling had when he was first appointed sheriff in 1987. He also said he thinks his interactions with youth and Hispanic residents will help improve the office.

Femling has found quick support from his deputies and office staff. England, on the other hand, has been pounding the pavement drumming up support by going door to door soliciting voters.

England did not criticize Femling’s efforts to direct a manhunt last week for an armed burglar hiding out near a group of Baker Creek cabins, north of Ketchum. However, he said he could have handled the situation equally as well.

"I don’t want to Monday morning quarterback him, but personally I feel I would have done an adequate job," England said.

Femling said issues surrounding the proposal for a new jail and officer retention are some of the critical ones facing the sheriff in the next four years. "They are going to take some real experience and leadership to get through."

Gunter, 43, began working for the Hailey Police Department in 1990. Then, after a two-year stint serving the city of Bellevue as marshal and city administrator in the late-1990s, he returned to the Hailey force as a sergeant in 2000.

Gunter said the wise use of taxpayer dollars are his main motivation for running against whichever candidate wins the primary.

"I want to ensure that our tax dollars are used wisely and efficiently, and that all options are explored," he said.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.