Former County Commissioner and former Sheriff Chris Hoffman was honored last week for his 18 years of leadership and dedicated public service. In that leadership role he served as Ravalli County’s Sheriff from 2003 until 2016 when he chose to drop those reins and run for the position of Ravalli County Commissioner for District #2.
He served in that capacity until he banged the gavel at his last meeting on December 31, 2020 after serving two two-year terms.
Although the plaque honoring him mentions 18 years of leadership, the public service part of Hoffman’s career began a long time before he assumed his leadership positions. He began his career in law enforcement as a Ravalli County Sheriff’s Deputy. Later he joined the Hamilton Police Department and served as the School Resource Officer when that program started.
“Looking back on it, I am amazed at the trust that people put in me to do the things I’ve gotten to do over the last 30 years,” said Hoffman. “It’s a little bittersweet walking out the door. If you don’t put anything else in your story,” he said, “ I’m just grateful for the 18 years of elected service and the trust that people placed in me.”
Hoffman, who also served as Coroner, said that law enforcement was really a “people business.” He said what he remembers most are the times that he was able to help people who were struggling, whether it was a death in the family or someone missing, and “maybe having the ability to comfort somebody.”
He said one thing he really cherished in his years at the Sheriff’s Office was the camaraderie. “I remain proud of my co-workers in the sheriff’s office to this day. To a man, the ones that remained and the ones that stuck with it, their concern really was first and foremost the community. My takeaway is that I got to be part of that.”
Hoffman’s retirement from public office was not a surprise. He announced last January that he was not going to be running for re-election in 2021. About this decision, he recounted some words of wisdom he had recently heard about it being ‘better to walk out the door four years too early than to walk out 15 minutes too late’. “I guess that’s where I’m at,” he said.
Although he is retiring from public office, Hoffman said he is not done working. “I still want to make a difference but maybe in a different way.”
As far as his two terms as County Commissioner, Hoffman said it was a real learning experience. He said he did come with some ideas from his years of service in the Sheriff’s Office about some changes that he thought needed to be made “for the other side of the table.”
“But those changes couldn’t have been made if the other commissioners didn’t agree. Or weren’t willing to listen,” he said.
The bottom line, he said, is that the job of commissioner and the job of sheriff are both “people businesses,” adding that “the success of the businesses depends on how we treat people in our dealings with them. That was our simple philosophy. To treat people the same way we wanted our own families to be treated.”
Hoffman said the Sheriff’s Office is a big part of the county’s budget, but it is not the whole picture that you have to look at as a commissioner. He said serving as a commissioner has been a real education in that respect.
If he had to compare the two positions, however, he said, “I feel like we were in a better position to be able to help people and solve problems as a law enforcement entity or Coroner’s office than you are as a commissioner.
“I feel like I have said ‘no’ more times this past four years as a commissioner than in all my years a s a peace officer,” said Hoffman.
As for the future, Hoffman said he is too young to retire and will find something else to do.
“It’s going to be important to do something that makes a difference somehow, something apart from his life’s career.