There’s a new undersheriff in Valencia County.
After former undersheriff Mark Kmatz retired from law enforcement earlier this year, Sheriff Denise Vigil looked to a long-term member of the department, someone who was a friend of nearly two decades and most recently, a political opponent.
Vigil appointed Chief Deputy Jeff Noah to the position, citing his years of experience and ability to be a part of the team within the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office.
“I feel that he can help me train our officers and build a lot of them up to higher positions,” Vigil said. “We have to build them up for the future, and think about the future of the sheriff’s office. I think between us and our command staff, we can take our people into the next step of leadership.”
Vigil and Noah have known each other for 18 years and worked together for the VCSO at one time, In 2018, they faced off in the race for sheriff.
At the time, Noah was the chief deputy and Vigil was a deputy with the department. Working together while running for office was stressful, emotional and awkward, Noah said.
“But it wasn’t an adversarial thing in any way. We didn’t talk a whole lot because it was just awkward,” he said. “But when it was all said and done, and everything was decided, we talked. She wanted me to stay on and help. I enjoy my job. I have always tried to make the sheriff’s office a better place.”
The preliminary results of the election set up a very different scenario. Initial results put Noah ahead by 80 votes, but when the results were canvassed, the clerk’s office discovered not all of the county’s data had been uploaded to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website.
After the official numbers were announced, the race flipped in favor of Vigil, putting her 40 votes ahead of Noah.
“We both knew what it was like to lose — knew how it hurt,” Vigil said. “I sat here, as a deputy prior to this, directly across from him in an office, and I watched what he did and how many hats he wore.
“It’s going to be difficult, but he’s going to have to pull off those hats and give them to other people. In this new position, he’ll be able to talk to the community a lot more and help me get out there as well. We haven’t been able this past year to really go out into the communities and talk to people.”
As the undersheriff, Noah said one of his primary duties is to make sure things are running smoothly in the department and identify problems that need to be brought to the sheriff.
“The undersheriff, they’re the one that’s going to make things happen, to take the sheriff’s direction and make it work,” he said. “Ideally, my job would be to hopefully show somebody everything I do, to explain to them what I know so they can do it and run myself out of a job.”
Noah joined the VCSO in 1996. A graduate of Hobbs High School, he joined the Army right after getting his diploma. After a four-year stint in the Army, he attended Western New Mexico University.
He took a job with the Mountainair Police Department, leaving there as chief after 18 months before coming to Valencia County, where he’s been ever since.
Passing on his knowledge and experience, advancing his fellow officers in their career, are goals Noah puts as a top priority. Twice during his career he has experienced a flip-flop in the hierarchy.
“When I started, there was somebody while I was a sergeant who left and came back. When he came back, I was his lieutenant,” he said. “Then this time it was the opposite — (Sheriff Vigil) was a deputy working for me, now she’s my boss. So if you’re a supervisor, you have to treat your people right and fairly because you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Vigil is also looking to the future and to grow leadership within VCSO. With a year-and-a-half left on her first term and hopes of winning a second one, the sheriff said it’s critical for the department to have solid, experienced leaders beyond herself and Noah.
“We have to; we aren’t going to be here forever,” Vigil said.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.