Either Cmdr. Troy Knudson or Capt. Jude Maurer will lose the election for Rock County sheriff, and this is an editorial about the future loser.

On Oct. 28, The Gazette Editorial Board will endorse one of them for the race, but first we must address what happens to the man who goes to work Nov. 7 knowing his former political opponent will soon become his boss.

It’s an invitation for dysfunction and one that hampered the office after Sheriff Bob Spoden in 2014 beat his opponent, then-Capt. Gary Groelle. The extent of the dysfunction became apparent in the weeks leading up to this year’s primary election between Groelle and Knudson.

Since 2014, Groelle had racked up reprimands and warnings in his personnel file for accusations ranging from sleeping at work to misusing office resources for his campaign. There appears to be some validity to the allegations, but political motivation likely crept into Spoden’s treatment of Groelle. By some accounts, Spoden sidelined Groelle.

After receiving a reprimand for using photos of himself during official duties for political purposes, Groelle complained Spoden did the same thing during his 2014 campaign. The Gazette found such photos on Spoden’s campaign Facebook page, and Chief Deputy Barbara Tillman’s explanation was revealing.

Tillman, whose photo also appeared on Spoden’s campaign Facebook page, asserted that Spoden as sheriff operates by another set of rules.

“He is an elected official, a constitutional officer, and the policies (banning political activity in uniform and while on duty) don’t necessarily apply to the sheriff,” she said.

In other words, Groelle faced a double standard. It’s no wonder he resented being reprimanded.

Fortunately, we don’t sense animosity between Knudson and Maurer. The last thing anyone wants is a repeat of what happened between Groelle and Spoden.

During his interview with the Gazette Editorial Board, Maurer said the 2014 election was destabilizing.

“What I believed happened is that when Gary Groelle ran against Sheriff Spoden four years ago, it disrupted the organization. It was an awful election. There was a lot of mudslinging,” Maurer said. “To be quite honest with you, the culture since then has not been good. Our communication does not exist, and that was most likely because the more information that was shared with then-employee Gary Groelle, it would embolden him and give him a chance to run, which he did.”

Maurer’s goal, he said, is to return the office culture to what it was before the 2014 election.

The editorial board asked both Maurer and Knudson how they would treat their opponent should they win Nov. 6. In each case, the candidates said they wouldn’t politicize the sheriff’s office.

“(Knudson) would be treated just like an employee, the same way I’d want to be treated if I lose,” Maurer said.

Knudson responded, “At the sheriff’s office, we have six captains. We need the full effort and investment of all of them. I don’t think we can afford to move somebody to the sidelines.”

Holding the candidates to their word won’t be easy because political retribution can be subtle and difficult to identify. But it’s a good sign the two have refrained from attacking each other during the campaign, and we found their desire to separate politics from official duties to be sincere.

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