Earlier this year, Pam Zubeck, a senior reporter for the Colorado Springs Independent, broke a story revealing Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell was operating a lucrative private investigation and security business, iXero LLC, separate from his duties as a local law enforcer. Zubeck wrote that Sheriff Mikesell employed officers, from both the Colorado Springs Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, to work as private investigators in their spare time. A number of those officers were disciplined by their law enforcement agencies for using public resources, such as phones, computers and cameras, while working for iXero. El Paso Sheriff Bill Elder subsequently banned his officers from moonlighting for Sheriff Mikesell. Sheriff Mikesell says the discipline handed down to the officers is their problem and there’s nothing wrong with running a side hustle. However, many questions about potential conflicts of interest and Sheriff Mikesell’s priorities remain unanswered. Simon Crittle put these six questions to Sheriff Mikesell and is waiting for a reply.
1. You occupy a position that demands a high degree of public trust. But at the same time you operate a side business that has employed law enforcement officers who have been disciplined for using law enforcement resources while they worked for you. Are you concerned that public trust in your official duties might have been compromised? Beside giving your word, how can you restore the public’s trust and assure local people you are discharging your duties as Sheriff of Teller County in the proper manner?
2. It has been reported that you let Teller County commissioners know about your side business dealings. It has also been reported that you claim to have been given clearance to run your business by the Teller County attorney. (He disputes this.) Did any of those interactions involve you providing written assurance or documentation about your business dealings? Did you comply with any formal mechanism – either at the county or state level – that involved you disclosing details about your business? If so, what did you do in that regard? If not, do you think it would be prudent to disclose documents and/or more details about your business to the public?
3. Can you assure the public you don’t use county resources to run your business? Do you use your county-issued car, phone, computer, office or anything else to do work for iXero. Do you carry two phones? One for each job? Do you take iXero-related phone calls when you’re in uniform? Do you use a personal car to, say, go and meet a iXero client or drive to the airport for a iXero-related trip? Do you have a separate email account for iXero-related work? Do you read and write iXero email on county computers or phones?
4. Because you occupy a public office and, at the same time, work privately for clients, it is possible you could find yourself in a conflicted or compromised position? Who are your clients? Do any of your clients live or work in Teller County? If so, what would you do if you discovered a local client was suspected of a crime? Would you or your deputies question or arrest them? Would you recuse yourself or distance yourself from any criminal investigation? How can a sheriff of a county distance themselves from a criminal investigation in their jurisdiction? If your clients all reside or work outside of Teller County, what would you do if you discovered they were suspected of, or committed a crime, elsewhere? Would you alert authorities in that jurisdiction? Where does your first loyalty reside? With your clients or with the judicial process?
5. Even if no actual conflict of interest exists, are you concerned about the potential for a future conflict or the perception that a conflict might occur? How can you mitigate potential or perceived conflicts?
6. Being a sheriff requires a lot of hard work. Sheriff Elder, of El Paso, told Pam Zubeck he was “never not the sheriff” when asked if he thought it was ok to run a side business. How do you manage to balance working as the sheriff of Teller County and, at the same time, run a business that reportedly turns over hundreds of thousands of dollars each year? Does your job as sheriff ever suffer because you are busy working on your business venture? Are you concerned there might be a perception your attention isn’t always on the job of being sheriff? How can you assure the public you have their best interests at heart and are carrying out your law enforcement job as expected?
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