Park County sheriff spending end of term in Florida
DENVER (AP) — In the midst of a high-profile murder investigation and federal lawsuit involving the death of an officer, the sheriff of Park County, Colorado has been living in Florida.
Sheriff Fred Wegener didn’t seek re-election in 2018 to keep the position he’s held for nearly 20 years. In late July 2018, Wegener sold his home in Grant and announced the next month he was retiring on his own schedule.
But Sheriff Wegener didn’t retire. He withdrew his resignation and kept his salary. County commissioners said he rented a place in Park County and took vacation, intending to remain the active sheriff until the end of his term.
On Dec. 6, Wegener responded to an email from 9NEWS questioning his absence from Park County.
“I came down to Florida in August on vacation, as you can imagine I have quite a little bit. I am back and forth, handling the day to day issues by e-mail. Thank you for you (sic) interest.”
Wegener did not say how often he returns to Park County. Park County Undersheriff Dave Wholers told 9NEWS he believes Wegener spends about a week each month in the county before returning to Florida.
Photos on Wegener’s Facebook page show the sheriff has made time for fishing. In one picture, he dons a straw hat and holds a large bass up to the camera. The caption in the picture reads, “Found where the bigger ones were!”
Wegener declined an interview with 9NEWS to address community concerns about lack of leadership and a staffing shortage in the department.
“No I’m not meeting with the media. Thank you,” Wegener responded in an email.
Undersheriff Wholers said Park County commissioners budgeted for 26 sworn officers in 2018. There are currently 16 deputies patrolling the county and ten job openings. Wholers said 11 deputies left Park County in 2018.
Sheriff Wegener was first elected Park County sheriff in 1999. He led the department through the Platte Canyon High School hostage-taking in 2006 in which 16-year-old Emily Keyes was shot and killed.
Wegener was sheriff during the shooting death of Cpl. Nate Carrigan in 2016. Carrigan’s family later filed a federal civil suit against Sheriff Wegener and Capt. Mark Hancock.
Wegener was at the helm when 17-year-old Maggie Long was killed. The Platte Canyon High School senior was first reported missing after she didn’t show up for a school concert on Dec. 1, 2017. Her body was found inside her family’s home in Bailey.
The house had been set on fire. A large safe, valuables and guns were stolen. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation and FBI joined the case, but the Park County Sheriff’s Office remains the lead investigating agency, according to the FBI.
Sheriff Wegener has not held a public press conference about the Long case since February.
Park County commissioners did not respond to interview requests regarding Sheriff Wegener’s absence. 9NEWS reporter Noel Brennan and photojournalist Bryan Wendland sought answers during a Dec. 13 county commissioners meeting.
Park County attorney Erin Smith denied access to 9NEWS cameras during the public county commissioners meeting. County commissioner Mike Brazell later told 9NEWS a camera in the meeting would be “disruptive.” Smith also said cameras encourage “grandstanding.”
9NEWS requested and obtained an audio recording of the meeting from Park County. The CD recording, however, did not capture the audio from the microphone used during public comment.
During public comment, 9NEWS reporter Brennan asked commissioners if it was appropriate for the sheriff to be living in Florida and working through email.
“We’re a statutory county, which means that the sheriff is a statutory position,” answered Commissioner Dick Elsner. “We as board of county commissioners have absolutely no control over the sheriff.”
Brennan asked commissioners to address community concerns about leadership, staffing and morale in the sheriff’s office.
“One, I have a problem with the citizens of Park County going through the news to talk to us,” Elsner said. “I have not received emails concerning the sheriff. We as - me personally, yes, I know we have issues.”
Elsner explained the county is constrained on what it can pay deputies and reiterated that Park County voters choose their sheriff.
“We look forward to working with the new sheriff to get a lot of these issues resolved and I’m thinking, you know, I’ve talked to him several times and he’s looking forward to working with us,” Elsner said.
In January, Tom McGraw will take over as Park County sheriff. In the meantime, the active sheriff of the county will continue to take a paycheck and cash it in Florida.
Information from: KUSA-TV, http://www.9news.com