Sanpete sheriff selected to head up Department of Correction
By Ben Lasseter
Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson has been nominated to serve as executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections.
The announcement came in a press release from the office of Gov.-elect Spencer Cox listing 19 new cabinet and staff members. Nielson will have a hearing with the Utah Senate for approval after Cox is sworn in on Monday, Jan. 4.
“I am extremely excited to go to work in the Gov.-elect Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Henderson administration,” Nielson said. “They have top-notch character, leadership and an exceptional drive to improve the lives of all Utahns.”
The sheriff will leave in the middle of a four-year elected term, having served two full terms before the current one, a total of 10 years. He was first elected in 2010. In recent practice when an elected official has left a county-official position mid-term, the county commission has opened applications to the public and chosen a replacement to serve until the end of the term.
As executive director, Nielson will oversee 2,379 employees. The Department of Corrections includes the Utah State Prison in Draper and the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. Including the state prisons and state inmates in county jails, there are 5,496 incarcerated individuals in the state, according to Kaitlin Felsted, communications director for the Utah Department of Corrections.
Cox was a Sanpete County commissioner from 2008 until 2013, when Gov. Gary Herbert selected him to replace the lieutenant governor who had just resigned, Greg Bell. If confirmed, Nielson will take over the vacancy left by Mike Haddon, who stepped down Nov. 19 to work for the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
Jennifer Napier-Pearce, Cox’s communications director, said Cox selected Nielson in part because of his “track record of dedicated service in Sanpete County.” Nielson and Cox had three years of overlap in Manti offices while serving the county.
“The governor-elect was very impressed with the way the [Central Utah Department of Corrections] has been run in Gunnison, and his experience in running that facility,” and the same goes for the Sanpete County Jail, Napier-Pearce said. “The Department of Corrections are completing a new prison and will continue to work closely with counties.”
Nielson broke a cycle of single-term sheriffs in Sanpete County that lasted about 28 years.
Prior to the 2010 election, Nielson worked as the school resource officer and did patrol with the Gunnison Police Department, both of which he also did in Salina. He was also formerly a probation officer with the Utah State Courts and worked crime scenes for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
He is known for “improving local agency communication and working relationships” and strengthening relationships with county, state and federal departments and agencies early in his tenure, according to a 2014 endorsement from John Christensen, former Mayfield mayor of 15 years.
“I have been truly honored to serve the citizens of Sanpete County for the past ten years,” Nielson said. “I can’t say enough about the dedicated public servants who work at the sheriff’s office.”