Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley is now former Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley after abruptly changing the date of his planned retirement from Jan. 2 to Monday.
During a special meeting Monday evening, the Albany County Board of Commissioners acknowledged the receipt of a notification letter from O’Malley dated last Friday. In the letter, O’Malley cites “a myriad of circumstances” behind his decision.
When reached on his cell phone Monday morning and later through email, O’Malley refused to talk to a reporter.
During Monday’s meeting, he expressed affection for the community and said he was grateful for the opportunity to raise a family here. He said Laramie will always be home.
“It’s been an honor and a pleasure to serve the citizens of Albany County,” he said.
Last week, O’Malley made a personnel move within the department, reclassifying Undersheriff Josh DeBree as Lieutenant Josh DeBree.
Anticipating that his retirement would leave the department with neither a sheriff nor an undersheriff until a replacement is named, he also gave DeBree the authority to make administrative decisions and conduct the affairs of the office.
According to a resolution adopted by the commission on Monday, DeBree’s reclassification stems from O’Malley’s concerns about who will be appointed to fill the vacancy and the potential termination of DeBree, who is serving in an appointed position.
Wyoming Statute allows deputy sheriffs a hearing and appeal before they’re fired, demoted or suspended without pay. That protection does not apply to members of an office’s executive staff who operate in a managerial role, which would include the undersheriff. The sheriff has the discretion to reduce the rank of a member of the executive staff but cannot terminate him without cause.
County Attorney Peggy Trent told the commission that undersheriff is not a mandatory position in a sheriff’s office, and some sheriffs in Wyoming haven’t appointed such a position.
“That is discretionary among county sheriffs,” she said.
Trent said she communicated the situation to the city attorney and Laramie Police Department, and she anticipated no problems with the arrangement during the next few weeks.
“We should be fine as we transition an elected official,” she said.
In an earlier interview, O’Malley said DeBree was his choice to fill the vacancy, and he sent a letter to the Albany County Democrats saying as much. DeBree applied for the position during the truncated search that took place in October before a lawsuit brought the process to a halt. He was not one of the party’s original finalists.
O’Malley’s expedited retirement brings some clarity to an ongoing process that began in September when the sheriff initially announced his intent to retire in January. The commission initiated the replacement process on Sept. 15, while the county party filed a complaint in Second Judicial District Court, seeking to pause the process until O’Malley actually vacated his office.
Judge Tori Kricken granted a temporary restraining order on Sept. 29 and then a preliminary injunction on Oct. 14, prohibiting the commission from continuing the replacement process.
On Monday, Kricken lifted the enjoinment, allowing the commission to proceed to fill the position. State Committeeman Ken Chestek said the legal question of whether the announcement of a retirement creates a vacancy in an office is a moot point for the current situation.
“That doesn’t matter now because there’s clearly a vacancy as of yesterday,” he said on Tuesday morning.
According to Trent, Kricken reserved her ruling on the lawsuit itself and will likely issue a decision by the end of the week.
Also on Monday, the commission restarted the process to fill the sheriff vacancy. The commission sent a letter to the Albany County Democrats Monday evening, notifying them of the vacancy and opening a 15-day period for the county party to submit three names to the commission. The commission then has five days to name a replacement from those three candidates.
Chestek said Monday’s events have accelerated the timeline for the county party, which had anticipated making its final decision in late December.
“We’re going to have to move that process up to meet the new situation,” he said.
Since the preliminary injunction was issued in mid-October, a screening committee has solicited applications and is narrowing the pool down to a group of no more than eight finalists. A public forum is scheduled for Dec. 2, with the party’s central committee planning to meet Dec. 5 to come up with its final list of three names using a ranked choice voting process.
“We feel like we’re in a position to meet the deadline now,” he said.