Veteran Sheriff Steps Down; Commissioners to Pick Replacement

Ensminger exit marks the third Teller head lawman to quit in recent years

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

photo by CR Chambers

In one of the biggest bombshells to hit Teller County in recent months, Mike Ensminger, the head law enforcement leader for nearly seven years and a big proponent of gun rights in the region, has decided to call it quits, opting to take another job In Jefferson County.

As a result, the Teller County Commissioners will face a significant decision in securing a replacement until Jan. 2019. And whoever gets the nod for the temporary sheriff slot will have a definite front-runner advantage in the next election for the four-year seat, scheduled for Nov. 2018.

Last week, Ensminger submitted a formal letter of resignation. He will leave his tenure of sheriff on May 29 to become the director of training for Jefferson County. Prior to serving as sheriff for Teller County, Ensminger was a professor of criminal justice at Pikes Peak Community College for more than 20 years. 

The fact that he is stepping down isn’t too surprising. Out of the last four sheriffs for Teller County, only one, Frank Fehn, has served out his last completed elected term. Term limits have played a big role in this rotating chair syndrome for head law officers of Teller County in their final years in office.

Sheriffs, along with all elected office-holders in Teller County and across the state, can only serve for eight consecutive years. Last November, a plan to axe this term limit rule in Teller County was strongly rebuffed by local voters.   

However, the timing of the decision has taken many political observers by surprise. The sheriff had approximately a year and a half left in his final, second term.

Ensminger was elected to the sheriff post in 2010, facing no opponents in the general election. 

However, he faced a bitter primary challenge from Mark Manriquez, an investigator for the Division of Gaming, during the GOP primary. Manriquez challenged Ensiminger again in 2014, as an unaffiliated candidate. In both occasions, these elections created a staunch rivalry between both candidates and their respective camps of supporters and foes. These political tensions never quite got resolved during Ensminger’s reign.

Ensminger’s stint as sheriff was marked by much adulation from many community leaders and supporters, who credited him with bringing more professionalism and standards to the office. For the most part, he had maintained much better relations with the county commissioners that existed before, and was credited for improving the financial situation, surrounding the operations of the Teller County jail in Divide. He also was a popular figure among certain community groups.

“His efforts to protect the citizens of Teller County and his support to the Honorary Deputy Sheriff’s Association speaks volumes of the kind of person he is – dedicated, caring and results oriented,” said Mike Perini, president of the HDSA group, in an official statement. “We wish him the best of luck in his new endeavors.”

But at the same time, Ensminger faced his share of vocal opponents. These opponents questioned his qualifications for the job, and accused him of creating bad relations with former employees and key commanders/officers. Critics also accused the sheriff of getting the county into a number of needless lawsuits, contending that the Teller sheriff’s office set a new record for legal woes. They also questioned the high turnover rate at the sheriff’s office.   

During his first term, Ensminger had a relatively high profile image as Teller’s head law officer.

He gained a strong reputation for opposing gun control legislation proposed by key Democratic lawmakers several years ago. He also served on several distinguished committees at the state level.

Decision Time

The county commissioners must now make one of their most important appointment decisions. The last time, the commissioners faced this level of a verdict, in picking an interim sheriff, was in the mid-1990s, following the prompt exit of former Sheriff Guy Grace.

At that time, the commissioners selected Frank Fehn, who following his appointment, won the four-year seat. Fehn presided over the sheriff’s office during the Texas Seven fugitive capture and several other notable cases.

Kevin Dougherty, the undersheriff under Fehn’s administration, was then elected for two terms. He had to resign several months prior to serving out his last term due to questions surrounding whether he lived in the area as a full-time resident.

The commissioner could make a decision for the temporary appointment, as early as this week. May 22 marked the deadline for submitting applications for the appointment.