Femling challenged by Hailey police
Primary election for sheriff comes at
busy time for office
By MATT FURBER
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
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
Femling said he feels confident about his
chances of winning. His 24 years of experience as a police officer is his major
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,"
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
"I want to ensure that our tax dollars are
used wisely and efficiently, and that all options are explored," he said.