CANYON CITY - The dispute over emergency management duties for Grant County flared up last week, as the County Court and Sheriff Glenn Palmer squared off over a set of keys.
The Court had asked Palmer in writing to turn over materials including the keys to the office that had been occupied by the emergency management coordinator. The office is located in the Sheriff's Office building, next door to the Courthouse.
In a brief encounter June 27 at the Courthouse, County Judge Mark Webb told Palmer that the Court needed the keys to the office. When Palmer replied that "the keys stay with the building," the judge said the county would withhold the new vehicle keys and plates needed by the Sheriff's Office until the office keys were turned over to the Court.
Palmer asked if that was "an ultimatum" before leaving the room.
Webb and the Court later reconsidered their stance. In a June 28 letter, Webb said "On reflection, withholding the vehicle keys and plates is unlikely to serve our purposes."
Instead, he wrote, the Court will hire a locksmith to change the lock on the office "to accommodate your security concerns while enabling us to access it as needed."
The dispute over the keys was the latest skirmish in the recent debate over emergency management duties.
During budget deliberations this spring, the county cut the emergency management coordinator job held by John Boynton.
The Court directed Palmer to take over emergency management, although not at the level expected from Boynton, whose job was paid in part by a grant.
Palmer declined, citing the difficulties he faced dealing with budget cuts to his own department. Palmer lost a patrol deputy in the budget process, and said he was hard-pressed to cover law enforcement duties with his remaining staff.
His refusal was one factor in the Court's decision to summon him to a meeting in May to listen to their concerns. That meeting drew more than 50 people to the Courthouse, most offering vocal support of Palmer. At that session, the sheriff again refused to take on the role of emergency management coordinator.
On June 7, Webb sent a letter to Palmer noting that the Court "will respect your desire to resign your duties as EMS Manager."
The letter also asked for the EMS computer, inventory list, plans or literature, and the keys to the office.
The sheriff responded in an e-mail that "if I were to give out the keys, it would compromise the security of the building."
He also raised the possibility of using the office for search and rescue.
"If the person that takes on the duties and responsibilities of emergency management already has an office elsewhere, that is what we will probably do," Palmer wrote.
Webb replied that the county intends to maintain the "original purpose of that office - namely, as an EMS center."
Webb said he understood that the keys to the office were individual. However, he said that if they do open other doors in the sheriff's quarters, the office could be re-keyed.
Palmer said later in the week that he did receive the new vehicle keys. He still refused to turn over the office keys because of security concerns.
He also said that with emergency management no longer under the direction of the sheriff, the office should be moved.
"The position's gone, so the stuff needs to go too," he said.
Palmer said the space would work well for the search and rescue unit, which now operates out of the old county shops but doesn't have adequate office quarters.
In last week's Court meeting, Webb reiterated his earlier position that as the governing body, the Court has the authority to expect the sheriff to take on the emergency services duties. However, he added, the Court also can delegate the duties to someone else, and it's "not worth a fight, in terms or money or effort."
He and the Court have agreed to take back the emergency management responsibilities.
Webb said he had been approached by an individual who knew Boynton and had been involved with emergency management issues, and is interested in helping with the county duties now, even on a volunteer basis.
Webb declined to name the individual, stating that the Court has not yet defined the specific duties that need to be covered, or offered the post to anyone.