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Who shot down the sheriff? 

Terry Maketa says he's leaving office for family and financial reasons, but questions remain

Let's be honest: When all factors are considered, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa announcing that he won't seek a third term just doesn't add up.

Last week, Maketa stunned the community by saying he'll pursue other opportunities so he can spend more time with his family and bring home a bigger paycheck. He says if he gets the right offer, he might even leave office as soon as this summer, well before his term ends in January 2011.

The 45-year-old sheriff is a popular two-termer with a long list of accomplishments, including streamlining jail operations, setting up a detox facility, and earning professional accreditation for the department. Maketa actually helped persuade voters in 2006 to extend the sheriff's limit from two to three terms, and with his name recognition and track record, him earning a third appeared automatic.

And yet on the same day that he walked away from the prospect of four more years in the $111,000-a-year job, one of his ex-deputies, Todd Evans, hopped into the race and immediately drew one key endorsement and a band of sheriff's officials checking out his agenda.

Dropping the bomb

Maketa says he began toying with the idea of not running in April 2009 and talked to 100 community people about his plans during the last few months. Yet the story never leaked.

"It does seem far-fetched," says County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, who notes he learned about Maketa's decision Jan. 20, the day it went public. "I was as surprised as anybody."

Likewise, Commissioner Sallie Clark, liaison to the Sheriff's Office, says Maketa told her the news the same day. Even Maketa's employees have said they were in the dark until minutes before Maketa went public.

"Nobody saw it coming," says Joe Breister, chief of the law enforcement bureau. "I didn't foresee the sheriff not running. He had a staff meeting that morning. We got it about the same time everybody else did."

Maketa disputes that, saying he told his command staff weeks ago that he might not run.

"I had given them a heads-up what the date would be [when] I would make the announcement," he says.

Breister says he might have run for sheriff himself if he'd had more notice. Caucuses meet March 16, and the assembly will be held April 10.

"I feel like I would be too much under the gun to put something together in this short a time," he says.

Evans says he's been exploring a race for about a year and told Maketa a month ago he'd be running against him. Maketa shared his plans with Evans on Jan. 18.

'That's politics'

By that time, Evans had lined up considerable support, starting with that of former Sheriff John Anderson, who groomed Maketa to succeed him in 2002 and endorsed him in the last two races.

"I was prepared to support this candidate [Evans] regardless of an incumbent or not," says Anderson, sheriff from 1995 to 2003. "I clearly believe we need a new direction, and I think Todd can provide that direction because of Todd's background, character and integrity and vision for the future. The organization will benefit from new blood and new ideas. The time was right for a change."

Maketa says Anderson is sore because Maketa chose not to endorse anyone in the 5th Congressional District race in 2006, when both Anderson and Maketa's friend, Jeff Crank, were running.

"That's politics," Maketa says. "Some hurt feelings came about as a result."

Maketa contends the "character and integrity" comment is a lame attempt to "come up with something" against him; he considers his record bulletproof.

When Evans kicked off his bid at the Garden of the Gods Club, just 90 minutes after Maketa's press release made news, he was flanked by a slew of Maketa's top dogs, including long-timers Larry Kastner, Ken Moore, Brad Shannon, Breister and 15 to 20 others. Their attendance might have been interpreted as already-established support from the inner sanctum, but Breister says they flocked to the news conference out of curiosity.

"We went there because we wanted to see what his vision was for the office, what his direction was," Breister says. "If the sheriff had decided to run, that's who we would have been backing."

Maketa acknowledges that rumors have circulated for months about his private life, but insists he wasn't pressured out of the race, except by his kids, who want to spend more time with him.

"I look back and see everything I missed," he says.

He also has had enough of the county's budget squeeze and the job's 24-7 demands: "It sucks the life out of you."

Saying he has no political plans, Maketa expects to parlay his experience and connections — he's on the FBI's Advisory Policy Board, for example — into a high-paying private-sector job. He says he has one offer for $131,000.

zubeck@csindy.com

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