UPDATE – ‘No Conflict Of Interest’ With Sheriff’s Office And Montana Electronics
UPDATE - 6:00 a.m. Tuesday, March 7
The following is a message to KGVO News sent from Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott, who is currently out of town at the Western State Sheriff's Conference:
"I'm well aware that anything I do will be highly scrutinized, especially by my opponent and his group of anonymous letter writers & commenters, in an effort to insinuate unethical behavior, if for no other reason because they haven't gotten past the sheriff election of more than two years ago.
Throughout the four month purchase of ME, Jason Johnson and I worked with our personal attorneys to make sure we could move forward with this personal business endeavor in a manner that avoided any type of conflicts in my position.
That ultimately led to me seeking a written legal opinion and guidance from the CAO as an extra precautionary step.
***The Sheriff's Office hasn't done any business with ME since the purchase. The Sheriff's Office will not be doing any business directly with ME moving forward.
By the nature of the business, (ie. Motorola dealer) if it become essential for the Sheriff's Office to conduct business, I'll recuse myself from that process and any and all business will go through a different county department, such as the Office of Emergency Management. I'm still in the process of working out those details.
I take my position of Sheriff very seriously and would never do anything to jeopardize the public trust of my office."
Sheriff TJ McDermott
Former Missoula County Undersheriff Jason Johnson, who recently retired to purchase Montana Electronics, said there is no conflict of interest due to the fact that his former boss, Sheriff T.J. McDermott, is a silent partner in the business.
Montana Electronics provides communication equipment and services to a large number of businesses in the western Montana area, including Missoula County. Johnson said questions about the relationship between his company and the sheriff's office are the result of lingering hard feelings from the 2014 election.
"There are still people hanging on to their dissatisfaction over the results of the election two years ago," Johnson said. "In my opinion, they're looking for ways to harm T.J. (McDermott) as sheriff. I can add some clarity to the situation. When I had the opportunity to acquire Montana Electronics Company, I asked T.J. who is a good friend of mine and someone I have a great deal of respect for, to join me in that venture, and he agreed. There's nothing unethical happening in the midst of that."
Johnson said under certain conditions, that relationship would be considered inappropriate, but not in this case.
"What would be unethical, is if the sheriff did business with a company he owns and that has not happened since we purchased the company," he said. "And, it's not going to happen. That would be unethical. However, all the other agencies within the county are free to do business with us and that has been established through the County Attorney's office."
Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks said he provided a legal opinion on the ownership of the company.
"On February 28, Sheriff McDermott asked for a legal opinion to delineate what business could and could not be done with Montana Electronics that he is now a part owner of," Marks said. "I provided him with a written opinion essentially saying that the Sheriff's Department cannot do any business whatsoever with Montana Electronics while he is sheriff, but that there is no prohibition on any other county agencies from making purchases with that business."
Johnson said his company has plenty of other customers without having to do business with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.
"Missoula County is important to my business, because they've been a customer of Montana Electronics for a long time, but not the sheriff's office," he said. We'll be just fine without their business."