My name is James Whitehead. I am announcing my candidacy for Los Alamos County Sheriff. First I would like you to know a little bit about my background. I grew up working on farms and ranches in Kansas, and Oklahoma. I left an abusive home at fifteen and worked odd jobs and stayed with friends to continue school. At sixteen I moved to Stillwater Oklahoma to live with my older brother and finish my last two years of high school where I graduated nearly a semester early.
I have served in the United States Army at Fort Benning, Fort Stewart, and Fort Hood. In October 2001 I graduated from the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, 4th in my class, and was recognized by the Commandant’s List. I served in Korea for 14 months at Camp Hovey, within 16 miles of the DMZ. I returned to the U.S. in 2002 and was later honorably discharged in January 2003.
I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in December 2006. I have worked with a fire protection consulting firm in Atlanta Georgia, served the public as a Deputy Fire Marshal for the City of Raleigh, North Carolina, and as a Fire Protection Engineer at the Wolfe Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation in Burlington Kansas. I came to New Mexico in the spring of 2010 to accept a position as a Fire Protection System Engineer assigned to the TA55 Plutonium Facility. I now work as a design engineer assigned to the Engineering Services – Engineering Project Delivery Team.
All of this experience has led me to a place where I believe I can make a bigger difference in my community. I have been active in the community as a volunteer with the Sheriff’s Posse for the past year. Watching the deterioration of some elements of the community I love has brought me to a decision to engage in a more meaningful way. It is time to restore the rule of law within the Los Alamos County Government.
Let me be more specific. Recently, the electorate has voted to keep the Office of Sheriff. This vote confirmed in the public arena what I have suspected for a few years. I believe that there are some principles that are being neglected by some in leadership in Los Alamos County. I do not believe there is an evil intent on behalf of those in leadership. I do believe there is a slide further and further away from the founding principles of our founding fathers. I know that those principles are in competition with the need for harmony in our community. This is a difficult balance. I also believe I can be a positive force for those principles without damaging harmony. I will tell you it is by respecting each member of this county.
Our County Council must now recognize the will of the people by properly funding the Office of Sheriff, returning to this office the duties and powers granted by state statute and the Constitution of New Mexico. I am thinking also about conflicts with Home Rule and the 1976 Vaughn Decision. These conflicts are based on the misinterpretation of the law. Vaughn was a decision that was based on a district court judge affirming the decision of the County Council under a different charter. While I recognize the reasoning behind the Vaughn decision, times have changed. We are experiencing growth pangs that have not been fully addressed by County leadership. Some forces outside of our county are forcing discussions about HOW we enforce the laws of our community, our state and our nation. Together we can work on this effort.
Recently our Former County Councilor George Chandler stated in his February 18, 2016 Los Alamos Daily Post article, Analysis Of Law; Policy Governing Office of Sheriff, stated that “Los Alamos is an incorporated county, and NM Constitution Article X Sec. 5 allows incorporated counties to “provide for the form and organization of the incorporated county government and shall designate those officers which shall be elected, and those officers and employees which shall perform the duties assigned by law to county officers.” And he correctly quotes this section. It is irresponsible to present half the picture. Here’s a little more.
Article III, Section 1 of the State Constitution separates the powers of this state into three distinct areas, the legislative, executive and judicial. This article prohibits any person or collection of persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments from exercising any powers properly belonging to either of the others.
So, how is it that the County Council, the legislative department of our county government, thinks that the charter grants to them the powers of the executive department, powers that they are specifically prohibited from exercising by the Constitution of the State of New Mexico, and specifically acknowledged this limitation of power? This is the central question that must be asked and answer during this sheriff’s race.
We have repeatedly heard well intentioned, but misguided arguments, made by those that wish to dissolve the Office of Sheriff that the Vaughn Decision permits the county to assign duties to the Sheriff’s Office and Police Department at their discretion, to prevent redundant performance of duties. And again, I applaud the effort to save money, when we are seeking to be efficient with taxpayer dollars. It cannot be at the expense of creating an environment of hostility toward the principle of separation of powers. For years, we have been told what the District Court Decision meant, and what they have the power to do, but to date, no one has questioned the constitutionality of the County Council decision. So, I will. In fact, I believe I have a duty to raise this question. I have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. This action is evidence of my efforts to uphold this oath.
How is it that a decision which overturned state statutes that grant specific powers and duties to the 33 Sheriffs of our state can be considered ethical, legal or constitutional? The power of legislation at the county level is not a power that is permitted to be exercised by overruling the state legislature. I would call attention to the Titus vs. The City of Albuquerque decision where the ruling clearly upholds the supremacy of the state legislature over that of lower government entities.
Article IV, Section 24, of the New Mexico State Constitution prohibits the legislature from passing special laws that affect or regulate only one or a few counties. How is it that the County Council improperly exercises powers assigned to the legislature?
In accordance with the Vaughn Decision, the judge actually upheld the assignment of law enforcement duties involving the keeping of the peace, and that all other statutory and customary functions and duties of the sheriff remained with the Sheriff of Los Alamos County. The County has actually violated this ruling and the defied the state legislature when it chose to transfer those law enforcement duties not involving the keeping of the peace from the Sheriff to the Police Department.
Here is an example of why this policy is detrimental. On May 3, 2016, I filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s office. I had been made aware of an Animal Control Officer was using the Los Alamos County Shelter to house three dogs. These animals were the Animal Control Officer’s own dogs. My complaint included photographic and video evidence. On May 25, 2016, Sheriff Lucero contacted me and explained that he met with Police Chief Dino Sgambellone the day before, and was assured by the Chief that he would look into the matter further in light of the evidence. On the same day that Sheriff Lucero met with Chief Sgambellone, the County Council held a meeting that included an agenda item to introduce an ordinance to abolish the Sheriff’s Office.
On May 25, 2016, County Councilor Kristen Henderson was interviewed on KRSN 1490AM, where she explained why the County Council took action against the Sheriff’s office, indicating “It is not the Sheriff’s job to police the police!” Hmmm. This seems to cut directly to the issue at hand. The question presents itself. Who ACTUALLY DOES police the police? If the County Council is willing to take this action against the Sheriff for conducting an investigation into the actions of an animal control officer, what would they be willing to do to a member of the Los Alamos County Police Department if the criminal activity brought to their attention by one or more members of the County Council or that of the County Manger that appoints the Chief of Police?
James Madison said in Federalist Papers #47 that “The separation of powers doctrine is necessary because of the political truth that the accumulation of all governmental powers in the same hands can lead to tyranny.” I think that it is time to remove unchecked executive powers that the County Council has obtained. The check on that power is a Sheriff who answers directly to the electorate and not the County Council. There are good men and women of our police department. This is not a fight to eliminate their jobs. As a member of a Law Enforcement Family, we all know about the Blue Line. I understand the issues that challenge the men and women of law enforcement on a daily basis. It is because of these men and women, the people of Los Alamos and the need for restoration of the Rule of Law that I have decided to announce my candidacy for the Office of the Los Alamos County Sheriff. My name is James Whitehead. I am running for Sheriff.