Monterey County sheriff’s campaign needs your attention before it’s too late

| ANALYSIS

By Royal Calkins

RELATED STORIES: Q&A with Jeff HoyneQ&A with Tina NietoQ&A with Jose Mendoza

The race for Monterey County sheriff will be held during the primary election in June. Unless one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two candidates receiving the most votes will compete in a runoff as part of the November 2022 general election.

Some of the erudite types who regularly scan Voices of Monterey Bay have asked why they should care about the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. My offhand reply has been to ask if they have been paying attention to the transgressions of Sheriff Steve Bernal’s administration. Most said they knew there had been trouble of some sort but that they really hadn’t paid much attention.

This needs to change.

I hate to begin a piece with a civics lesson, but many of you need this now, at the start of Monterey County’s next sheriff’s campaign, not next June or November, when voters misled by various forms of campaign shenanigans could well pick a new sheriff based on stylistic factors that don’t really matter. Now is when alliances are being formed, checks are being written, lies are being told, conspiracies are being played out and some good candidates are being pressured to stay out of the contest.

The need for diligence early is amplified by Bernal’s recent announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2022. An open seat produces a political free-for-all with the advantage going to the political forces that gave us a Bernal administration in the first place, a regime marked by allegations of sexual misconduct, illegal spending, blatant cronyism and mediocrity. With the public paying little attention and a woefully depleted media corps providing scant news coverage, the likeliest course is that the people who gave us Bernal will impose their will on us again.

There will be many candidates, a confusing assortment, which gives the advantage to the best-organized camp and the best-financed candidate. Not necessarily the best candidate. Start paying attention.

Though Monterey County is politically progressive for the most part and enjoys a serious Democratic majority, the local Republican Party has shown itself more adept at local politicking than the Dems. That has given us more than our share of GOP officeholders locally, Bernal among them. At one point just a few years ago, all 13 mayors in Monterey County were Republicans. This in a county where less than 29 percent of the voters cast ballots for Donald Trump last year. The GOP may pretend that it likes an informed electorate. Believe that at your peril.

Policing in this era isn’t just about locking up all the bad guys. It’s also about humane treatment of everyone, victims, perpetrators, those with mental disorders, etc., and it’s about logical rather than heavy-handed approaches to crime and corrections. Bernal has shown little understanding of any of that and it is time, past time, for Monterey County to take a much broader view of what it expects from law enforcement. With Bernal’s upcoming departure, it is a perfect time for the community to have a conversation about its needs rather than just electing whoever acts toughest.

Bernal was elected with a huge assist from the Republican Party along with South County oil and ranching interests to whom he is loosely related. Also in his camp were ag, development and hospitality interests, the latter two of which would not seem to have any clear interest in a sheriff’s election except as an investment in search of political favors.

Make no mistake, when an elected official refuses to answer to the press, in essence it’s refusing to respond to the public. Bernal has not responded to you in years.

This lesson is largely meant for those of you in the cities and on the Peninsula, in or out of the cities. Many of you mistakenly believe that what the sheriff and the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t matter to you. The people who anoint sheriffs hope you will continue thinking like that.

A retired sheriff’s official recently recalled working the phones to help get out the vote for then-Sheriff Mike Kanalakis.

“I’d call and they’d say, ‘What, we have a sheriff?’”

You should know that the sheriff administers an annual budget approaching $150 million, money that comes from you, yes you, even if you live in a city. Your property taxes and your landlord’s property taxes taken from your rent pay for county government as well as city government. Even those of you in the most charming parts of Carmel, the most scenic streets  of Seaside, the most remote corners  of King City. You in the giant houses of Pebble Beach, you’re paying your share when the sheriff goes on a junket or buys overpriced services from a campaign contributor.

When a sheriff spends taxpayer money on things like shooting demonstrations and taxi rides for dozens of visiting sheriffs, like Bernal did, you’re on the hook. When a sheriff, such as Bernal, flies all over the place without leaving any public record of where he went, you’re paying for it. Some of the trips were likely legit but there’s no way of knowing. Bernal and his top lieutenants barely speak to the press any more, forcing reporters to rely on public record laws to try to extract information from the fortress.

Make no mistake, when an elected official refuses to answer to the press, in essence it’s refusing to respond to the public. Bernal has not responded to you in years.

You likely don’t know that the biggest and most expensive function of the Sheriff’s Department is to run the county jail. You probably think it doesn’t matter because you don’t plan to go to jail. But did you know that when someone dies under mysterious circumstances there or when a guard rapes someone, or an escapee hurts someone, the cost of the resulting litigation is picked up by you? Those things happen in many jails but they seem to have happened more and more often during Bernal’s seven years in office.

If a sheriff’s deputy arrests someone unfairly or doesn’t help someone who can’t speak the language, that may not cost you directly but it should be on your conscience if you voted for the current administration. When department bigwigs sexually harass female underlings, an apparently common practice even in this enlightened age, that’s on you as well, if you weren’t paying attention in the last election.

Throughout the state, good old boys in cowboy hats lead urban departments that should be run by law enforcement professionals.

Did you know that when a sheriff hires a buddy from another department, or promotes a buddy, it sometimes has more to do with padding the buddy’s retirement package than it has to do with competence? Who pays for the fluffy retirement package? Guess.

If you live in a city, most of your law enforcement comes from your friendly police department. If you live outside a city, however, you need to call the Sheriff’s Department if someone steals your car or blows up your mailbox or punches your son in the nose, whether he deserves it or not. And if the Sheriff’s Department has already spent too much of your money on shooting demonstrations and taxi rides, flights to who knows where, and wrongful-death lawsuits, that likely means a deputy won’t arrive to make out a report about your stolen car until you have almost forgotten you had called.

Why’s that? It could be because the deputy assigned to your area is filling in at the jail that’s outdated because the sheriff is way overdue completing the new and improved jail that you’re already paying for.

There’s talk around California about ending our system of electing sheriffs and having them appointed instead. Probably by county boards of supervisors, a practice that certainly could have some unintended consequences. But Bernal’s upset victory at the polls seven years ago despite his glaring lack of qualifications, and the current scandals staining the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, support the notion that a different selection process is a good idea. Throughout the state, good old boys in cowboy hats lead urban departments that should be run by law enforcement professionals.

The information vacuum surrounding sheriffs’ campaigns also gives outsized influence to law enforcement unions, such as the Monterey County Deputy Sheriffs Association. The candidates covet endorsements by groups such as the DSA, largely because it would seem that the organization is backing the most anti-crime person in the race. There is an element of that but the public should realize that groups such as the DSA are, first and foremost, unions whose primary function is to represent the interests of the members, financial and otherwise.

So far there are four announced candidates to replace Bernal. As a nonprofit news organization, it is not Voices’ place to recommend a successor but there is nothing to prevent us from telling you what we know about the candidates so far so you can start paying attention.

The first to announce his bid was sheriff’s Capt. Joe Moses, who filed his campaign papers an hour after Bernal announced he wouldn’t run again. Moses is largely unknown outside the department but he did make a name for himself three years ago by leading a successful effort to smear Bernal’s 2018 opponent, sheriff’s deputy and former Salinas City Councilmember Scott Davis. Moses, a commander at the time, joined with two other commanders to publicly accuse Davis and associates of crimes that had not been committed.  It was a case of political guerrilla theater at its worst.

Soon after Bernal’s re-election, he promoted Moses and he is now supporting his campaign.

Voices sent a couple of specific questions about Moses’ record to him early this month and hasn’t heard anything back yet. We’ll be sending him a longer list of more generalized questions shortly.

Also in the race is sheriff’s deputy Justin Patterson, a newcomer on the political stage. His father-in-law, Fred Garcia, has run for sheriff in the past.

Also, Del Rey Oaks Police Chief Jeff Hoyne, who also runs the Monterey Peninsula Airport police department, is in the race. He is a product of the Port of Seattle police operation and is said to be a competent chief with deeply conservative political views.

There is also former sheriff’s Commander Jose Mendoza, who began planning his campaign before Bernal’s announcement. Mendoza was briefly a candidate three years ago but pulled out to support Davis. He left the department partly because of Bernal’s failure to promote him over others who had backed Bernal politically.

Mendoza has been sharply critical of the Bernal administration. He spells some of that out in the sidebar accompanying this piece.

There will be other candidates, perhaps several.

With this article is a Question and Answer piece featuring Mendoza. We’re asking the other candidates to respond to sets of individualized questions as well. Those who are willing to participate should contact me at calkinsroyal@gmail.com or (831) 595-8899.

Featured image: Monterey County Sheriff’s Badge | Provided

Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter or leave a comment below.

SUPPORT NONPROFIT JOURNALISM

GET OUR FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

One thought on “Monterey County sheriff’s campaign needs your attention before it’s too late

  1. sounds like the usual BS from Calkins, yellow journalism at its worst.
    Why would anyone talk to such completely biased and rumor mongering “journalist”
    Bernal asked myself and another person , a Latino leader, in the community to serve on the North County Citizens Committee to get feed back from the Community directly to him… When Castroville had a serious rash of break ins, smash and grab in homes businesses and even the Water District office ect… I called the Sherriff for help, he said he was on-it.
    We had immediate results and several individuals were arrested and the break-ins though out or community stopped.
    hmmm no mention of that from our wantabe journalist, just a bunch of horrendous things like giving a visiting Sheriff a ride or unsupported gossip and innuendo.
    I really support independent journalism but it makes me shudder to think this is considered “fair and honest reporting”, strikes me more of disgruntled bias

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *