By Randi Pierce
On Oct. 8, Archuleta County will have a new undersheriff serving under Sheriff Pete Gonzalez.
Effective Friday, Oct. 5, current Undersheriff Jim Saunders will retire, with Det. Rich Valdez taking over the position on Oct. 8.
“After forty-two years, it’s a well-deserved retirement for Jim,” Gonzalez said, adding, “He’s done a tremendous job for us.”
Saunders, who has 42 years of experience in law enforcement, including stints with Jefferson County and the Pagosa Springs Police Department, has been with the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office since January 2011, when the prior undersheriff, John Weiss, retired.
Saunders said he is heading to southern California post-retirement to be closer to family and, after 63 years of snow, to not have to spend the winter shoveling.
“It’s just time for a change,” Saunders said of his decision, adding, “We’ve truly enjoyed our time in Pagosa Springs. The coworkers and friends that we’ve made have been wonderful.”
Saunders’ successor, Valdez, is someone very familiar with the area and department.
Valdez, a graduate of Pagosa Springs High School, began working in law enforcement in 2000 with the PSPD and, in 2003, joined the ACSO as a patrol deputy. Save for a one-year stint with the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Police, Valdez has been with the ACSO since.
“I’ve worked really hard for it,” Valdez said. “I’ve worked my way up … from patrol all the way up through the ranks to that position.”
Gonzalez said Valdez possesses the qualities necessary for the job — loyalty, the work ethic and leadership skills, and he has been to command school.
“I’m delighted to have someone such as Richie,” Gonzalez said.
Valdez currently serves as detective sergeant, and will continue the role in addition to the duties assigned to the undersheriff, and hopes to continue teaching at the police academy in Durango on occasion, where he currently teaches four or five days per semester, twice per year.
Additionally, Valdez said he holds a degree in public management and has taken trainings needed for the position.
Since learning of Saunders’ impending retirement, Gonzalez said Valdez has worked closely with Saunders and has helped Saunders prepare the department’s draft 2013 budget.
“He is a very knowledgable, well-educated law enforcement officer with a lot of expertise and good, good leadership style. Excellent leadership style,” Saunders said of Valdez. “He will be a wonderful replacement for me.”
“I’m extremely excited,” Valdez said. “There’s so many positives that I’m excited about.”
Valdez said he’s thankful for Gonzalez’s trust in appointing him undersheriff and for the help of the department in preparing him for the position.
“Becoming the undersheriff, it gives me an opportunity to do more for the department,” Valdez said, placing emphasis on the department as a whole.
In fact, many of Valdez’s goals revolve around the staff, stating he wants to, “continue to be successful and start preparing those guys to be in positions for future, upward mobility,” and help the department’s members achieve their goals.
“I think we have a really good team right now and I’m excited to be part of it,” Valdez said. “It’s about all of us.”