There's going to be a new sheriff in town come November, and Missoula County law enforcement officers on Tuesday heard promises of change and strong leadership from three candidates running for the position.
Of the four candidates vying to be the county's next top cop, three attended an evening forum hosted by the Missoula County Deputy Sheriff's Association. The two Democratic candidates are June's primary election contenders, Lt. Brad Giffin and Sgt. Bob Parcell, who are both current department employees. The Republican candidate is Nick Lisi, a Huson resident who moved to Montana in 2004 after retiring from a 25-year career at the Los Angeles Police Department.
Because he is unopposed in his party, Lisi will automatically advance to the November general election, as will Carl Ibsen, a sheriff's department employee running as an Independent, but who was unable to attend the candidate forum.
Lisi was up front about his lack of familiarity with the sheriff's department and its staff, and said his outsider status put him at a slight disadvantage. But he said his wealth of experience fighting crime in a metropolitan area would complement Missoula's growing population, and he would bring with him a fresh perspective.
"I think I have the experience, the expertise and the knowledge to lead this department," Lisi said. "Missoula County is growing, and with that comes the crime."
His years working in Los Angeles on gang units, on patrol and as a narcotics expert gives Lisi a range of experience that he says he can share with the Missoula deputies, while also learning from them and their intimate knowledge of Missoula County.
"Nobody wants to hear a big city cop tell you how to do your job, and that's not the case here," Lisi said, telling of his early visits to Montana in 1972, when he began hunting in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. "I don't know anyone. I don't have an undersheriff. If something is working, I'm not going to change it. My job is to stand by you guys."
One deputy sheriff asked Lisi how, if elected, he would handle the challenge of restructuring a department largely devoid of captains and a command staff due to retirements, and still hit the ground running without sacrificing a lot of time and efficiency.
Lisi answered that he thought some of the captain positions were superfluous and could be eliminated, but that his main priority would be to represent the department's interests in making those decisions, and would be willing to accept feedback from department veterans.
"I know that the unions are tight, and I don't expect you to give up your loyalty to your teammates or your boss," Lisi said. "But if I do get elected, I'd just ask that you guys respect me and expect me to do a good job."
For Parcell and Giffin, the conference room was full of familiar faces, most of whom were up to speed on their accomplishments and goals.
Giffin ran against Sheriff Mike McMeekin in 2006, and said he realizes the stress of not knowing who your boss is going to be. He also understands the pressures of working for a sheriff you are trying to unseat, and appreciates that there is no incumbent candidate this election year.
"Everybody's boss is changing, and that is stressful. Don't think we don't recognize that," Giffin said.
"When I ran (in 2006) I ran because I wanted to make improvements in the sheriff's office. It wasn't comfortable. It wasn't easy. And I wasn't successful," he continued. "But I ran an honest campaign."
A lifelong Missoula resident, Giffin said he has a vested interest in the well-being of the community, and touted his administrative experience, which will assist him in making budget cuts. With state revenues falling, Giffin said county revenues and the public safety fund will inevitably be affected. He said to help ease that burden, he would work hard to forge better relationships with the City of Missoula Police Department to share resources.
"I'll be honest with you. We're on financial hard times, and those partnerships are really important," he said.
Giffin has 21 years of experience in the Missoula County Sheriff's Department, and has climbed the ranks from probationary deputy to his current position as assistant patrol commander. He said he has always wanted to be sheriff, and has geared his career toward that end.
When asked if he had an undersheriff in mind, Giffin said he would choose Lt. Rich Maricelli because of his experience working in the detective's division.
Parcell is the county's resident deputy in the Seeley-Swan area, and has held numerous duties at the sheriff's office since 1982, including detective and smokejumper liaison officer.
He said his military career with the United States Marine Corps has molded him into a natural leader, which he stressed as the most important quality the next sheriff could bring to Missoula, especially given that there is no incumbent candidate for the first time since he could remember.
"Leadership, leadership, leadership," Parcell said. "This is the time for change. We need to bring this department into the 21st century all the way. We've got great equipment, and a great staff with the wherewithal and the brains I need. What we need is leadership."
Parcell served in combat in Iraq as director of the Iraqi Police Service, and inspected police stations during the Battle of Fallujah, working to establish a sustainable police presence during and in the wake of combat. Having commanded Iraqi police forces, Parcell said he understands what it takes to take charge of a unit in need of change.
"You don't lead from the bunker. You lead from the front," he said.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at email@example.com.