County discusses sheriff’s authority
by Anna Thayn
May 16, 2012 | 2604 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The San Juan County Commission made it clear that they believe the San Juan County Sheriff is the highest legal authority in San Juan County during their May 14 meeting.

“We live in a system where the person who authorizes authority is politically accountable to the people whom they have authority over. We don’t vote for BLM, we don’t vote for Juan Palma, we don’t vote for Ken Salazar, we don’t vote for the Department of Interior. To me it’s completely contrary to the whole nature of our republic to have federal appointed officers to come and enforce laws,” said Commissioner Phil Lyman.

The discussion questioned dealt primarily with whether or not Forest Service law enforcement officials have authority to write tickets on county roads. Sherriff Rick Eldredge said that according to Forest Service regulations, they can write tickets on county roads, but Sheriffs throughout the state do not believe they have the right to enforce state law, according to Utah statute.  

Eldredge said the Sheriff’s Association is lobbying state and federal legislators to change the federal law,

Eldredge supports a bill in the works for next year. “This is something that the Sheriff’s in the West are trying to push because we are the ones that have all the public lands.” said Eldredge. “It is the job of the sheriff to be in charge of law enforcement in the county.”

Eldredge said officers for the Forest Service typically write tickets for land management types of issues, which are then handled in a federal court.

Commissioner Bruce Adams asked if Forest Service law enforcement officers can write a speeding ticket on a county road.

Eldredge said they do not have authorization to do so, although they will argue that they have that right. According to his recollection, Eldredge said that it has not happened in San Juan County but it has been a problem in other counties.

Adams asked about requests that the Sheriff receives from BLM, Forest Service, and Park Service asking to be deputized to act in behalf of the sheriff in the county.

Eldredge said, “I won’t do that” and told the Commission that since those people work for outside agencies they do not answer to him and therefore he would not authorize them as they would not be accountable to the sheriff.

Resident Monte Wells questioned why if the Sheriff is the highest legal authority, why state patrol, fish and game, and chiefs of police are not under his control. Eldredge said that Chief’s are over the cities, and only in a state of martial law would the sheriff take over authority.

Eldredge said that state agencies are their own entities and have their own agencies. Eldredge reported that the Sheriff’s Office has a great working relationship with the other state agencies and are kept informed when they are working on something in San Juan County.

Eldredge said that the state agencies answer to the Governor, who is elected by the people.

The Commission approved a capitol purchase request from Sheriff Rick Eldredge for jackets for the Sheriff Office employees and staff in the amount of $2,520. The money from the purchase comes from a contract negotiated with the BLM to receive funds for law enforcement provided by the Sheriff’s Office on their lands within the county. Eldredge said that they have a similar agreement with the Forest Service. The agreement is for $5,000 for the year.

The commission approved the use of $10,650 from the Navajo Revitilation Fund for reimbursement on the installation of wireless broadband at the Mexican Water Chapter. The commission was told that a cell tower has been installed in the area as there are no land phone lines available in the Mexican Water area.

The commission approved a request from San Juan County Library Director Dustin Fife to promote Nicole Perkins at the Blanding Library to a leadership position as part-time lead.

Fife said that the position will continue to be part time, but will provide a hierarchy to keep the library running efficiently when Fife is taking care of other duties with the library throughout the county and on the state level.

Several other hires were made to fill part-time and seasonal positions including Cal Dean Black at the Blanding Senior Center, Jacob Regalado as a surveyor’s assistant and Trey Esplin, Regan McDaniel and Josh Keyes as weed sprayers.
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