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Gary Groelle announces run for sheriff, criticizes his boss

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Frank Schultz
March 25, 2014

JANESVILLE—Gary Groelle has problems with how his boss runs the Rock County Sheriff's Office, but he is not saying much about what those problems are.

Groelle, a captain at the sheriff's office, formally announced Tuesday that he will run against Sheriff Bob Spoden.

Groelle made his announcement in front of about 50 supporters in the amphitheater in Lower Courthouse Park.

Groelle said some people's voices are not being heard.

“I want to speak for them. I want to be their sheriff and their voice,” he said afterward.

Groelle said he has heard concerns from various people and organizations. He would not name them.

He said they are those who “for whatever reason are not getting their message out that they want the sheriff's office to go in a different direction, to have a different type of leadership style, and I believe I can give that to them.”

Asked what their concerns are, he said it has to do with how money is being spent.

Groelle mentioned excessive overtime and “different programs that we provided for the community that may not be as efficient as they can be.”

Groelle said he also has heard concerns about money spent on equipment “that may not be well spent.”

“I will be sensitive to the citizens of Rock County who are suffering financially and have strained budgets. I believe in shared accountability,” Groelle said in his news release.

Spoden responded Tuesday, saying events that could require overtime, such as an overturned oil tanker or the need to secure the scene of an investigation, can't be anticipated.

In the past year, Spoden said, a deputy was required to guard one homicide suspect, Daniel Bellard, around the clock at University Hospital in Madison, which greatly increased overtime costs.

“We're all aware of overtime, and we really push with our officers and our captains and commanders that they need be very cognitive of the overtime issue, but at the end of the day, public safety comes first, ensuring a solid investigation comes first,” Spoden said.

Asked about equipment, Spoden said Groelle sits at the command staff table, and Groelle's job in support services includes buying equipment, so if equipment is too costly or would not meet needs, it was Groelle's responsibility to raise the issue.

Asked if he could run the department with a smaller budget, Groelle said he would have a budget plan based on values and long-term goals.

“Hopefully, we can reduce some costs. I can't say that we can, but I will certainly look at all those areas, all those items, where we could possibly save some money for the taxpayers.”

Spoden, in a recent news release announcing his re-election campaign, also said he would seek cost savings and said he has done so in the past.

“The office of sheriff should not be a political position staffed by a politician. It should be a law enforcement position staffed by a leader,” Groelle said in a news release.

Asked what he meant, Groelle responded: “What I'm saying is that leadership is the most important quality, and understandably it's a political position. I see my leadership style a little different than the sheriff's.”

Asked how he is different, Groelle said: “I could become more involved in the community myself, interact with people better, I believe, and could be a stronger representative for the sheriff's office.”

Spoden said he would prefer that the sheriff be appointed, or at least that it be a nonpartisan position, but the law requires a partisan election.

Political skills are needed to get things passed by the county board or in Madison or Washington, D.C., Spoden said, but his political skills “do not go beyond any other normal sheriff in Wisconsin.”

Spoden said running the sheriff's office is personal to him, as it has touched his life since he was 5 years old. His father was a deputy from 1967 to 1994, “so it's very dear to me, and it's been dear to my family. It's personal.”

Groelle said he told Spoden on Friday that he would run. He said Spoden was not pleased.

Groelle said he told Spoden it “was nothing personal against him.”

Groelle is a Milton resident who turns 55 on Saturday. On Tuesday, he called himself a “man of faith” and the proud father of two adult children who wanted to offer voters a choice that would affect their quality of life.

Because both men are running as Democrats, voters will choose between them in the Aug. 12 primary.



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