Friday, September 26, 2008

Sheriff seeks reelection to sixth term

Femling, England meet in election for second time

Express Staff Writer

Steve England and Walt Femling have met in an election before. In a May 2004 primary, Femling, a Republican, easily beat his challenger, also then a Republican.

Even then, England, who was 28, was optimistic about his future.

Steve England Age: 33 Experience: Ten years in law enforcement in the Wood River Valley, three years in U.S. Navy. Why running: “I’m running because of the changes that need to happen at the sheriff’s office. My opponent is, at a point in his career, where he believes more in taking care of himself, not the employees of the sheriff’s office, and that doesn’t benefit law enforcement and our community in the long run.”

"In four more years I expect to win the election and be sheriff," he said following his 2004 loss.

This year England has switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent and is trying to capitalize on increased numbers of voters and sweeping calls for change from the general election stage.

Even so, England, now 33, is facing a candidate who has more than 20 years of experience at the sheriff's office. Femling, 51, has worked in law enforcement in the Wood River Valley since 1980 and has been sheriff since 1987. This is his sixth election.

There are three areas Femling said he wants to stress in this year's campaign. As sheriff he wants to continue to smooth out the transition into the county's new $12 million public safety facility. He wants to continue to focus on youth substance abuse through a nonprofit group he co-founded. And he wants to work to turn the tide of an escalating number of felony crimes being committed in Blaine County.

England, an Idaho native, said in a Tuesday telephone interview that he has been attending a number of functions this fall, as well as meeting with business owners. He has worked in Blaine County law enforcement since 1998. He was an officer and interim marshal in Bellevue for three years before accepting a position with the Hailey Police Department in February 2001.

He became Hailey's school resource officer in January 2003, and that became what he refers to as one of his favorite jobs of all time.

"I was able to interact with all ages of school students, and more times than not it was in a positive light," he wrote on his Web site at

He later was promoted to sergeant in April 2005 and lieutenant in October 2007.

According to his Web site, England's platform consists of four primary issues:

· Employee turnover at the sheriff's office is too high.

· More emergency services partnerships need to be created throughout the county.

· Supervisory positions should be eliminated to boost patrol staff salaries.

· More patrols are needed in outlying portions of Blaine County, like Carey, Picabo and Gannett.

Walt Femling Age: 51 Experience: Law enforcement since 1980, sheriff since 1987. Why running: “I want to continue the transition into the new jail and create programming for inmates that will make a positive impact in the community. I want to continue efforts that will have an impact on youth drug and alcohol use. And I want to provide the leadership and vision to slow down the violent felony-type crime that is happening in our community.”

While Femling is campaigning on a 20-year track record and an ability to capitalize on the successes of his past while moving toward new challenges, England is pointing out potential shortcomings and calling for change.

Among Femling's most notable accomplishments was construction of a new public safety facility to replace the old sheriff's office and jail.

"I spent 17 years trying to get a new jail and public safety facility," he said in an interview in the new facility's conference room Thursday morning. "We are just now getting it opened, and there is a lot more work to do within this jail."

Femling said one of his visions is to bring programming into the county jail setting. He pointed out that 95 percent of the inmates incarcerated at the county jail will return to the community from which they came.

"If I can make them a better neighbor and not bring them back to jail, then we are going to make an impact in our community," he said.

Such programs would include coursework toward GEDs, substance abuse counseling and teaching about cognitive thinking errors.

"I'm really excited over these next four years to develop some programming that can be modeled that other jails can look at," he said. "It can make an impact in our community, and it will."

Femling also said the group he co-founded, Community Drug Coalition, is something on which he wants to continue working. He said the group is just getting off the ground and is applying for a 10-year, $100,000 grant with which the group would be able to implement its strategic plan. The plan includes education efforts and identifying root causes of why substance abuse in Blaine County is higher than in other communities.

Finally, Femling said that over the past four years felonies and violent crimes have doubled in Blaine County.

"Our community is changing," he said. "It's going to be a real challenge over this next four years to look at a vision and have the leadership in law enforcement to make a difference in the crime that is happening."

For his part, England said he will establish high morale and camaraderie within the organization of the sheriff's office "and hopefully make ... employees feel they are respected and their input is valued. It should be."

He also believes all emergency services organizations in the region need each other.

"We all want to do our best, and sometimes that's hard to do without interfering with each other," he wrote on his Web site. "It takes mutual respect, collaboration and work. That work has to start somewhere. I'd hope to make the Blaine County Sheriff's Office a logical starting point."

With staffing, England wrote that he could save money by eliminating "a few supervisor positions."

"It would be possible to do this through upcoming retirements," he said. "I'd like to take the money that eliminating those positions would save and return it to patrol staff, thus allowing us to retain better-trained and veteran officers."

Finally, England called for better coverage of outlying parts of Blaine County.

"I'd like to structure regular patrol in these areas and encourage deputies to become 'resident'-type deputies who are available in all corners of the county rather than simply clustering in the Hailey/Bellevue area."

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