As the unraveling of El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa continues, slowly and painfully, he's acting more determined than ever to finish his third and final term in office. He'd walk away in January 2015 when his successor, apparently Bill Elder, takes over.
Despite all the revelations of improper relationships and messages, the irreparable damage to his credibility, the growing likelihood of ominous lawsuits, editorials in the Gazette and Colorado Springs Business Journal publicly calling on him to resign, and then the Board of County Commissioners unanimously joining in that demand late last week, Maketa has remained steadfast.
The sheriff apparently doesn't care what those others think.
What we have now is an old-fashioned standoff. Maketa is alone in the street like an old-time Western sheriff, convinced he's on the right side of the law, prepared to battle to the last bullet, with everyone watching but nobody defending him. Never mind what the consequences might be.
It has become a sad, ironic spectacle. Maketa earned statewide respect for his impeccable leadership and instincts in emergency management, as displayed in the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. Even his emboldened adversaries admit that. But the sheriff doesn't see clear moral and ethical issues in the way he's running day-to-day operations, or the inherent danger (legal and otherwise) in cavorting with subordinates.
So what's next? Actually, one respected leader in our midst could step in and settle this situation, which is becoming a legitimate local crisis.
That person is John Suthers. As the term-limited but still fully effective state attorney general, Suthers heads the Colorado Department of Law. He's also the leading Republican elected state official, which makes him probably the most powerful figure in the state GOP. Beyond that, he has maintained his residence in Colorado Springs from childhood through a successful legal career that led to being Fourth Judicial District Attorney before he replaced Ken Salazar as attorney general in 2005.
Not only has Suthers remained in close touch with this city and county, he heads the list of possible 2015 candidates for mayor of Colorado Springs, whether or not Steve Bach seeks a second term. Already, Suthers has acknowledged his interest in multiple media interviews.
What we have now is an early opportunity for Suthers to show his worthiness for mayor — by intervening to extinguish the Maketa controversy. In fact, Suthers is the only person who could pull this off.
Suthers could use his legal stature and authority to request a private meeting with Maketa. Obviously, Suthers' party prominence and local credibility give him even more ammunition for such a one-on-one session. Suthers can't force the sheriff to resign, but more bluntly than anyone, he could lay out the possible consequences for Maketa (and the entire El Paso County government) that already exist and could become much worse. He also could help Maketa develop a diplomatic exit strategy.
If Suthers could make that happen, bringing order to the needless chaos that won't go away as long as Maketa stays, then the attorney general could emerge as a deserving local hero in his own right.
Already we're hearing that Suthers would support the proposed stormwater ballot issue for November, a regional solution that would address countywide infrastructure needs and appease Pueblo County.
Mayor Bach has not budged from his opposition to the ballot issue, insisting that the city should worry about its own problems and not the county's needs, and promising that his alternative would not bring additional cost to taxpayers.
The stormwater confrontation could come this month. Bach likely will use his annual State of the City address on June 12 to lay out his plans. Other community and business leaders are gearing up to make known their preference for a regional solution. Suthers would be smart to join those ranks, which are likely to become more publicized in days ahead.
But the crisis with Sheriff Maketa must come first. Somebody has to step in, somebody with influence, somebody with clout.
We don't have to know the gory details. Just the outcome.