Friday, November 5, 2004

Femling hits ground running for next 4 years

Express Staff Writer

Sheriff Walt Femling

After final election results were posted at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey early Wednesday morning, Democratic sheriff candidate Hailey Police Lt. Jeff Gunter set out to collect his campaign signs, conceding defeat.

Meanwhile, at Republican Party headquarters in the E.G. Willis building, supporters of incumbent Sheriff Walt Femling breathed a collective sigh of relief and shared high fives as they celebrated the successful outcome of a close race.

Blaine County Republicans headquarters was lively Election Night as the county?s minority party faithful also kept an eye on presidential results on two televisions tuned to Fox and NBC.

In the end, Gunter won in only four precincts. Femling took 10 precincts and swept the absentee votes. At one point in the evening a cumulative tally showed the two candidates within 500 votes of each other, but Femling always maintained a lead.

Once the last absentee ballots were counted, Femling won by 941 votes, 5,421 to 4,480.

?My opponent worked really hard and ran a good campaign,? Femling said Thursday after finally getting a good night?s sleep Wednesday. ?We?re feeling good about the outcome. Throughout the night people kept coming by, voicing their support. I am proud of how we ran the campaign. We?re excited about the next four years.?

Gunter finished collecting his campaign signs at about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday and flew out that morning from Friedman Memorial Airport to the Cook Islands for a vacation.

?Jeff said a thank you to everyone for their support and told me he was going to congratulate Walt before he left,? said Hailey Police Chief Brian McNary.

Femling said a strategic plan his department began to lay out at a staff retreat in September will now be brought into full swing.

?We?ll be launching some of those plans this month,? he said, specifically mentioning plans to have Enhanced 911 consolidated dispatch implemented. ?We hope to have everything ironed out by the end of February.?

The mood was high at the Sheriff?s Department Thursday as dispatchers and deputies voiced their satisfaction at the outcome of the race. However, time for celebration was limited as the business of the day?in a year that has already been full?picked up.

?We hit the ground running,? Femling said, reflecting on how busy the department and all law enforcement agencies in the county have been in the past year with numerous high profile cases. ?This was the first time in 17 years the county commissioners handed me a bonus check. There was one month when I worked everyday.?

Femling said he was pleased also with the outcome of the jail advisory vote, which passed by more than two to one with 6,472 votes in favor of giving the county an OK to look into building a new county jail using county savings. The no vote came to 3,139 ballots.

Femling has been pushing county commissioners to construct a new jail for many years and said he felt confident that progress could be made on that front in the next four years.

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