Joe Fath
Joe Fath
For the first time, Vilas County Sheriff Joe Fath faces opposition with a challenge from Captain Gerard Ritter on the republican primary ballot Tuesday, Aug. 9.

Only the primary winner will make the general election ballot in November as no democrat or independent candidates are running.

Fath, 62, of St. Germain, is married to Maryann and has three adult children. He has lived in St. Germain for 50 years.

Fath was appointed sheriff in 2013 and ran for reelection in 2014 and 2018 unopposed. He first joined the sheriff’s office more than 40 years ago in 1981 under contract with the town of Lac du Flambeau and then assigned to dispatch and the jail for two years. Since then he spent almost eight years in patrol, six years as detective sergeant and 18 years as chief deputy until his appointment to sheriff in 2013.

Fath graduated from Northland Pines High School and obtained an Associate’s Degree in Police Science from Northcentral Technical College. He’s also received a Certificate of Achievement in Criminal Justice Education from the University of Virginia, School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Additionally, he has participated in more than 13,000 hours of training while at the sheriff’s office. Fath also previously served as an assistant SWAT team leader, firearms instructor and drug investigator with NORDEG (a northern Wisconsin anti-drug task force). He is also a member of a wide variety of law enforcement and leadership committees and associations.

Fath’s statement: “I am running for office to continue my work to keep the people of Vilas County safe and secure. I had a priority when first elected to hire the best people and train our staff to be the best team possible. This has required a lot of work. We have attracted and recruited some of the brightest people in law enforcement. We have been successful in promoting our staff and I have a very effective command staff that is involved and engaged with our personnel and with our communities.”

Ritter, 51, of St. Germain, is married to Stephanie and has three children. He has lived in St. Germain for 21 years.

He joined the sheriff’s office 21 years ago as a patrol deputy. He has since served as a patrol lieutenant for 10 years and five years as the patrol captain.

Ritter received an Associate’s Degree in law enforcement from Fox Valley Technical College and was certified as a Public Manager from UW-Wisconsin.

He is a certified field training officer and a previous 10-year member of the tactical team where he served as an operator and assistant team leader. Ritter has overseen the Recreational Patrol Program and developed the full-time recreational patrol position. Additionally, Ritter is responsible for creating the sheriff’s office Citizen’s Academy and the Helo and Stitch 5K Run/Walk fundraiser.

Ritter co-organized the current Reading Heroes program for elementary students. For over 13 years, he has co-coordinated the recreation soccer league in St. Germain. In addition, he currently coaches a competitive high school traveling soccer team in Eagle River.

Ritter’s statement: “One of the many reasons I chose to run for sheriff is to give the community a choice in who they vote in as the next sheriff. Based on Sheriff Fath’s own comments on retiring it would indicate he will not fulfill his full four-year-term if re-elected. If that was the case, the Governor would then appoint the new sheriff, based on Sheriff Fath’s recommendation. Additionally, I have over 15 years of supervisory experience and spent the last six years as part of the sheriff’s office administration team as Patrol Captain. I listen to the needs of those protecting and serving our community daily and I want to bridge to gap between law enforcement and the community.”

Fath claims that Ritter’s allegations are not true and that he informed Ritter prior to filing he was in fact running for and intends to fulfill a four-year-term. Fath added he wants to “see some things through” including the transition of a second judge in Circuit Court and the implementation of a drug court in Vilas County.

On Ritter’s decision to run for sheriff now, Fath said he doesn’t have much to say about Ritter’s decision other than what Ritter told him.

“He told me he was running to get his name out there for future sheriff elections,” said Fath.

Ritter explained his main goal is not to get his name out there for future elections, but to be the next sheriff.

“I will bring a positive change to the sheriff’s office; listening to my coworkers on how we can do better and with an open mind,” said Ritter. “We need to grow as an agency as the times change and I have the leadership skills to continue to progress not only as a sheriff’s office but as a county.”

Voting polls will be open Aug. 9 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.