OPINION: Sheriff Gillespie changes his mind on re-election


It was just five months ago that Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said he would run for a third term next year.

Despite scrutiny over the Metropolitan Police Department’s use of force, a budget deficit and an ongoing struggle to get state and local lawmakers to approve a sales tax to pay for current and future cops, Gillespie told the Review-Journal’s Mike Blasky that he’d stick around.

But on Monday, that all changed. “It is with a great deal of thought and consideration that I have made the decision to not pursue a third term as Clark County sheriff,” Gillespie wrote in a one-page statement.

What happened in those five months to change his mind? Plenty.

The end of the 2013 Legislature was tough: After begging lawmakers the entire session to approve a 0.25-percentage-point increase in the Clark County sales tax rate, lawmakers settled on a 0.15-percentage-point plan before screwing up the logistics and failing to pass the bill. It was swiftly approved in a special session, but the bill required the sheriff to go before the Clark County Commission for more begging.

The commission held some painful hearings on the matter but has thus far put off a decision. Gillespie said in his statement that getting the sales tax approved remains one of his last priorities in office.

Then, Gillespie had to endure the resignations of Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody and several civilian members of the Use of Force Review Board after Gillespie overruled a recommendation to fire an officer who shot a man the officer mistakenly believed had a gun. Board members criticized Gillespie for failing to follow their unanimous recommendation and for ostensibly undermining the role of the board.

Then, it was reported that Metro’s air unit had given Guns ‘N’ Roses lead guitarist DJ Ashba and his girlfriend a helicopter ride to a romantic picnic site, where he proposed. This probably did little to convince skeptical county commissioners mulling the sales tax increase that the department was using its resources in the most efficient way possible.

Then, it was reported that Metro’s top brass — which includes Gillespie — had cancelled a months-long audit of the department’s Air Support Unit, a decision that came just hours before Search and Rescue officer David VanBuskirk fell to his death from a department helicopter while saving a hiker stranded on Mount Charleston.

All of those things certainly clouded Gillespie’s political future. But they by no means made it impossible for him to win re-election.

Gillespie, a 33-year veteran of the department, was elected in 2006 with 63 percent of the vote, defeating wanna-be cop Jerry Airola. He won re-election in 2010 against actual Metro cop Laurie Bisch with 65 percent of the vote.

Gillespie surely could have faced more serious opposition this year, with more serious issues. (Moody, for example, is rumored to be mulling a bid.) Let’s not forget that use-of-force issue still plagues the department, following an award-winning Review-Journal series in 2011 on officer-involved shootings that led to a Justice Department review and a major change in the coroner’s inquest process.

In short, Gillespie’s job was extremely difficult, although the plain-spoken sheriff carried it off with aplomb. He kept his cool before the Legislature and the County Commission, even in the face of some truly ridiculous public comments. He was up-front with his management decisions, even controversial ones. He rolled with the punches, especially the ones that came because of events totally outside his control. And he didn’t run from the department’s problems.

“I wish all those who choose to pursue the position of sheriff the best of luck,” Gillespie said in his statement.

If that sounds more like a challenge than well-wishing, you’re probably not far off.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.