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Sheriff, Legacy Church reach impasse; Houston leaves

HOUSTON: Was high-profile church member
HOUSTON: Was high-profile church member
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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Facebook post reveals rift

The seven elders had three demands.

Sheriff Dan Houston won’t say what they were. But he does say he couldn’t meet them, and that left him at an impasse last Friday night with the leaders of Legacy Church.

By Monday, the elders had dropped two of their demands, Houston said in an interview this week.

“But there was one other, and we could not come to an agreement on it,” he said. “And so we just respectfully … disagreed, and it was understood that I was not to return to the church.”

Houston has been among the highest profile of Legacy’s 20,000 members since being elected to the top law enforcement job in Bernalillo County in 2010. He has been celebrated as a man of faith and principle from the megachurch’s pulpit, by no less a figure than Legacy’s charismatic, controversial pastor, Steve Smothermon.

Another high-profile member of the church, political veteran Teri Baird, helped Houston get elected. She was paid $4,500 as a consultant and fundraiser for his campaign.

Prior to becoming sheriff, Houston was Legacy’s director of security.

His ties to the church and to Smothermon ran deep. So did those of several members of his department.

But somewhere along the way, Houston fell from favor.

Another consequence of Houston’s meeting with the church’s elders earlier this week: His wife resigned after seven years as an executive assistant at Legacy.

No one’s talking about how it started. Houston, in a brief interview, wouldn’t discuss specifics, and Smothermon hasn’t returned repeated telephone calls.

The dispute spilled into public view on Aug. 12 when Houston penned a Facebook post that mixed religion and politics and hinted at the church’s role in local politics.

Titled “The Truth,” Houston’s post described a “movement within my own church by a few to unseat me as Sheriff and give support for the position to someone else.”

In the interview, the longtime lawman confirmed that he had authored the post but refused to name the person he says Legacy plans to back in next year’s election for sheriff.

Likely opponent

One name, however, has surfaced as a likely candidate.

Scott Baird, who is Teri Baird’s husband and a close confidante of Smothermon’s, retired from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday. Three and a half years ago, Scott Baird was a lieutenant with the department.

Within a few months of Houston’s taking office, the sheriff promoted him to captain, a controversial move because of Teri Baird’s role in Houston’s campaign.

Subsequently, Houston gave Scott Baird another promotion, this time to chief deputy, BCSO’s highest sworn rank.

Scott Baird’s retirement letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Journal, made no mention of a rift between him and Houston.

He declined in an interview to say whether he plans to run against Houston, or whether he believes the sheriff was referring to him in the Facebook post.

He said he hadn’t discussed a potential run for the office with the church’s elders, but wouldn’t comment on whether he has had such discussions with Smothermon.

And the Journal obtained a copy of an auto reply to an email sent Thursday to Scott Baird’s county email account.

“I have retired and this email is no longer active,” the auto reply says. “Please feel free to contact me at SheriffBaird@gmail.com … Chief Deputy J. Scott Baird (ret.)”

As for the demands put to Houston by Legacy’s elders, Baird said: “I’m not prepared to talk about that.”

“I’m not prepared … to discuss anything like that,” he said after being asked about whether he plans to run for sheriff. “I just want to enjoy my retirement and spend time with my wife, my children and my grandchildren.”

Sheriff’s ‘post’

In his Facebook post, Houston talked about his Christian beliefs and about his duties as sheriff.

“I also want you to know this, I am a Christian and I have never denied my faith in Christ nor will I ever,” he wrote. “I am not a pastor, I am the Sheriff, and I took a solemn oath that ended with, so help me God, that as Sheriff I would treat and represent ALL people fairly and impartially regardless of anyone’s lifestyle or religious beliefs … I believe with all my heart God expects me to keep that oath and conduct myself in like manner.”

Houston decried the movement within the church to support someone else in the sheriff’s race.

“For me it is betrayal and I would be lying to say I’m not disappointed, but I get it, this is a man’s man job and opposition and trouble is a daily part of what I do,” the post says. “I am forbidden by law to discuss personnel issues, which clearly puts me at a disadvantage at times … I am an elected official, or a politician, to be quite frank, and there’s a lot of lies out there, most people see it for what it is; it comes with the job.”

In his interview with the Journal, Houston said he stood by everything in the post but declined to elaborate on any of the statements.

Legacy’s ties to BCSO have been the subject of past sermons by Smothermon.

In 2010, when Manny Gonzales was sheriff, Scott Baird was instrumental in taking a BCSO cadet graduation to Legacy.

The next year, Houston held another graduation for the department’s cadets at the megachurch. That drew the ire of the New Mexico affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and of the union that represents sheriff’s deputies.

During a sermon that year, Smothermon praised Houston for “standing up” to the ACLU.

Houston later discontinued the practice of holding graduations at Legacy.

Smothermon said in a Journal interview in 2011 that Legacy is not “a political church by any means” and that he is “really not involved with politics.”

Political insiders, however, have said Legacy has emerged as a good place to try reaching socially conservative voters, both Republicans and Democrats. It’s clear that candidates themselves view Legacy as influential, given the number who show up during election season.

Others who have drawn the ire of Smotherman include Mayor Richard Berry for signing a proclamation for an LGBT parade and Gov. Susana Martinez for appointing a gay man to the Public Regulation Commission.

Smothermon has said the politicians come to him, and that he offers them a place to reach a large swath of like-minded voters.

The pastor has described the separation of church and state as a “worldly” concept.

“Whoever said the church shouldn’t be involved in the political things of our day?” he said from the Legacy pulpit. “That’s the question. Let me give you the answer. … God’s word never said that.”

Full text of Sheriff Dan Houston’s Facebook post

August 12, 2013

THE “TRUTH “
The truth is, many of you already know, that there is a movement within my own church by a few to unseat me as Sheriff and give support for the position to someone else. For me it is betrayal and I would be lying to say I’m not disappointed, but I get it, this is a man’s man job and opposition and trouble is a daily part of what I do. It’s pretty ugly at times to say the least. My hat is off to all the men who held this job before me and to whoever will follow. This is no place for the faint of heart. I also want you to know this, I am a Christian and I have never denied my faith in Christ nor will I ever. I always gratefully acknowledge the support of Legacy Church in my election and all those who helped. I am planted and rooted in my job and my church and I will fight for both. I was born and raised here and there are many Christians and non- Christians that supported me in becoming Sheriff. I am not a pastor, I am the Sheriff, and I took a solemn oath that ended with, so help me God, that as Sheriff I would treat and represent ALL people fairly and impartially regardless of anyone’s lifestyle or religious beliefs. You can see that oath now at sheriffhouston.com. I believe with all my heart God expects me to keep that oath and conduct myself in like manner. I am forbidden by law to discuss personnel issues, which clearly puts me at a disadvantage at times. I have never violated any moral or criminal laws as Sheriff. I have done nothing to purposely dishonor my constituents or God. I acknowledge God every morning in all my ways and ask for His wisdom to do this job right. I have made mistakes, no doubt about it, and I continue to learn from them. I believe I’m a better person from those lessons. I am doing my very best to serve you with the utmost of integrity and honor. I am an elected official, or a politician, to be quite frank, and there’s a lot of lies out there, most people see it for what it is; it comes with the job. I have given you the truth today and no one will prove otherwise. I purpose to not have ill will against anyone and to walk in forgiveness and grace. God Bless Dan

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