Union Confident Curry Can Raise Deputy Morale

By Beacon Staff

After retiring from the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office five years ago, Chuck Curry, the county’s new sheriff-elect, will head back to the Justice Center in January to take his seat in the ground-floor corner office.

“It doesn’t feel like I’ve been gone all that long,” Curry said. “I was there so many years; I really am looking forward to getting back to that work, to that job.”

Curry, a former undersheriff, defeated incumbent Sheriff Mike Meehan in the June 8 primary election, as well as challenger Sgt. Lance Norman. Since all three candidates filed as Republicans and the function of a primary election is to whittle each party down to one candidate, the June 8 vote decided the race.

The sheriff-elect earned 46 percent of the 13,262 votes cast. Meehan came away with 31.5 percent and Norman finished with close to 20 percent. Curry ran his campaign on promises of more transparency and communication within the office, as well as fair policies and consistent discipline.

In an interview after the election, Curry said he was very appreciative of all the voters who showed confidence in him and thankful that he would not have to campaign anymore.

He plans on staying at his full-time job at the hospital working with ALERT emergency helicopters until he takes over as sheriff.

“I’m very much looking forward to hitting the ground running in January,” Curry said.

After the votes had been tallied, Curry said he received a phone call from Meehan congratulating him on the win and offering to sit down and talk about the changeover in January.

“I know Chuck quite well, I want him to have a smooth transition,” Meehan said after the election. “I will work with him and help him.”

Meehan said he would retire when the time comes to turn over the reins. He said he is considering several different options, but has nothing concrete lined up yet.

But until then, Meehan said he would continue his duties as sheriff, running the office for the next six months to serve Flathead County residents.

“I congratulate Chuck for winning the thing,” Meehan said, adding later, “It is what it is. I’m ready to move forward.”

Deputy morale was a central issue in the race after sheriff’s employees, both sworn and unsworn, took a vote of no confidence in Meehan in May.

Anonymous letters submitted by deputies accused Meehan of inconsistent disciplinary practices and poor leadership, as well as the inability to communicate within his office.

Meehan openly questioned the vote, saying it was politically motivated. He also said it is difficult to please everyone when working for the taxpayer.

The race took on an extra level of scrutiny after Meehan refused to attend a candidates’ forum hosted by the unions. Meehan sent a written message to the forum, which said he felt union leadership had engaged in a pattern of conduct “unbecoming any political campaign.”

After the election, Meehan said he did not want to comment further on the issue.

For Norman, his perception of low deputy morale showed what he saw as a need for change in the office. He campaigned on the idea that the current administration is too top-heavy and should have a more positive presence in the community.

Once the ballots were counted, Norman said he enjoyed the campaign process because he got to meet new people and hear about their concerns. He said he is optimistic Curry will be able to effectively address deputy morale within the office.

“The new sheriff will certainly have my support,” Norman said.

Norman plans on going back to running shifts as a patrol sergeant and said he looks forward to spending his free time on recreation instead of campaigning.

“I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the process,” Norman said.

As president of the Flathead County Deputies’ Union, Dave Kauffman said the union was pleased to see people get out to vote and that the deputies are “willing to accept their good judgment.”

Kauffman said there was no political motivation behind the no-confidence vote, but that the deputies wanted to give Meehan a “report card” so the public could be informed before they voted.

He said the deputies are committed to loyally serving the public and that he is confident Curry will continue that commitment. He is also hopeful Curry’s election will help morale.

“We have a lot of faith in Chuck and his past abilities,” Kauffman said. “I’m not going to guarantee he walks on water, but it’s got to be better than what we have.”