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Out Here: Surprises common before elections

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 11:55 a.m. CDT

Things have a way of coming out just before elections.

Recently, we learned the top dogs in the Dixon Police Department don't much like Lee County Sheriff John Varga, who is facing Dixon police Officer John Simonton in the March 18 GOP primary. They say he doesn't play well with others. And they assailed him for putting out a news release last year that, they say, may have caused suspects in a 1983 killing to flee. Even the state's attorney's office chimed in with that criticism.

Nonetheless, Varga apparently has a lot of support on the County Board and even drew the endorsement of Lee County's congressman, Adam Kinzinger. The County Board's backing surprised me a bit, given that Varga has minced no words in criticizing the board's handling of budget issues. Perhaps the board likes someone who tells it as it is.

The 1983 murder recently made headlines in our newspaper. We wanted to do an update on last year's arrest of Steven Watts, 56, of Berryville, Ark., who is accused of killing another man and dumping the victim near Franklin Grove.

His arrest is a year old, so we figured it was time for another story. After it was published, Dixon police Lt. Brad Sibley, the police department's second-in-command, sent us a letter to criticize the sheriff for sending a news release to Arkansas media about Watts' capture in Arkansas. "[S]heriff Varga might as well have called the other murder suspects and told them to run and hide!"

Police Danny Langloss said he didn't disagree with anything in the letter. He said he backed Simonton "100 percent."

Our story gave Sibley and others an opening. If we hadn't done an update, though, this issue was bound to be refought before the election.

After publication, some readers asked why we would do a story on Sibley's letter. They contended it wasn't news.

Of course, it was. Law enforcement agencies often talk about the importance of cooperation, so when the leaders of one department criticize the head of another, that's news. It's not an everyday event.

As it stands, Dixon police officials back Simonton. And so do some other officials, including 911 director Shelley Dallas and Kevin Lalley, the county's emergency management director.

So far, though, no sheriff's employees have publicly backed Simonton. Does that imply they back Varga? Or are they afraid to speak out against the boss?

I don't know, but if employees decided to make a public statement, it'll likely happen before the election, not afterward.

David Giuliani is a news editor for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dgiuliani@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 525. Follow him on Twitter: @DGiuliani_SVM.

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