Right at home in a new role

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By SCOTT PESZNECKER

A brass nameplate on the door still identifies the office as Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum's.

But inside, the desk is strangely clean. All Downum's belongings are gone, except for a pair of bronze rodeo statues on top of a cabinet.

Undersheriff Randy Grasmuck said Downum left the statues for him to watch over during his year as interim sheriff which started yesterday.

It's Grasmuck's office now.

"I've been in here so many times, but under different circumstances," said Grasmuck, 54. "It's a unique way to end up as sheriff."

On Monday, Grasmuck was sworn into office in front of the county Board of Supervisors and a number of friends and family members.

He'll serve as sheriff until next January of 2005, when Downum returns from overseas. The incumbent took a year's leave of absence to join more than 1,000 other United States peace officers to train the new police force in Iraq.

"I will miss him as my boss and I will miss him as a good friend," said Grasmuck, adding that Downum called him to wish him luck Monday night from his training base in Virginia.

Although Grasmuck learned of Downum's plans several months ago, he said he didn't know until less than a month ago that he would take over as sheriff.

Grasmuck was left with something less than a bed of roses: The state is embroiled in a budget crisis, and at stake could be millions of dollars of county general fund money which makes up about 80 percent of the Sheriff's Department budget.

County Administrative Officer Tom Mitchell has said the budget cuts may force the county to consider layoffs.

But Grasmuck is calm.

"I think the budget is maybe going to force the county to make some unpopular decisions, and the Sheriff's Department will be right in the middle of that," said Grasmuck. "For me, personally, I don't consider that a downer at all. That's just a challenge we face."

Grasmuck said he has the green light from Downum to do whatever he needs to help the department. However, he said his plan is to maintain the status quo until Downum returns.

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The Union Democrat
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