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The Bernals, father and son, from Facebook

Monterey County’s personnel policies are pretty clear on the subject of nepotism.

“A county elected officer shall not employ his/her father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, or child, or the spouse of such relative within the department of such officer.”

Sheriff Steve Bernal, however, thinks an exception should be made for his family, specifically his son, who has completed police academy training and wants to be a deputy. A Monterey County deputy.

According to others in county government, Bernal began the process to hire his son only to be told by county personnel officials that it couldn’t be done because of the policy. He pushed for an exception, noting that county personnel rules do allow for relatives to be hired within departments headed by appointed officials. In those departments, relatives can be hired with the expressed permission of the Board of Supervisors.

“I’m not sure why the rules are different in different departments,” said one longtime county official who asked not to be identified because Bernal’s requests could be construed as confidential personnel matters. “But I do know that the board would never let an elected official go around hiring his family. And that’s probably especially true in the Sheriff’s Department.”

So here’s the upshot. After discussing the issue last week in executive session, the supervisors have asked the County Counsel’s Office to work on language that would prohibit nepotism across the board.

“The consideration right now is a uniform ban,” County Counsel Charles McKee said by email Tuesday.

Bernal has not responded to a request for comment.

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A piggy bank with the retirement fund theme on the sideUPDATED WITH INFO ON NEW UNDERSHERIFF

When Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal hired his friend Galen Bohner as his undersheriff a year ago, he said he knew he was the right guy because of his long resume’ and some intangibles.

“I know I can trust and count on him to get the job done — and he’ll be honest with me,” Bernal said at the time. He was so taken with Bohner that he persuaded the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to re-establish the long-vacant undersheriff position to accommodate the hire and to allow him to bring Bohner in at the top of the scale, some $208,000 in annual salary, plus benefits.

Never mind that Bohner was nearing retirement age for law enforcement officials in California, 50, or that as a lieutenant in his previous job with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department he was skipping over several links on the chain of command.

How did it work out? OK for as long as it lasted. Bohner’s gone now, retired after less than a year in Monterey County. His retirement was announced last month along with the second retirement of Chief Deputy Tracy Brown. Brown had retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2011 but was named to the department’s No. 3 spot shortly after  Bernal’s upset election of incumbent Scott Miller.

Though Bohner’s replacement, Michael Moore, won’t be retirement eligible until 2020, it appears that some key positions  in the Sheriff’s Department may have become essentially temporary jobs to be filled by those wishing to boost their pensions. It is a common practice in California and it’s known as pension spiking. Significant pay raises in the employee’s final three years of work can dramatically increase pension benefits and so can allowing the employee to receive credit for unused vacation or sick leave. The state Controller’s Office calculated in 2014 that the practice could cost state taxpayers just under $800 million over the next 20 years. Efforts to reform the system to prevent spiking have been underway for several years but most reform measures are being applied only to public employees just joining the work force.

Under San Bernardino County’s salary schedule, the most Bohner could have been making as a lieutenant was $127,000.  A spokesman for CalPERS,  the state retirement system, said his actual retirement benefit has not been calculated yet but he estimated that by retiring as undersheriff rather than lieutenant, Bohner would likely receive at least an additional $20,000-$30,000  in retirement pay annually.

Attempts to reach Bohner for comment have been unsuccessful and both Brown and Bernal have failed to respond to requests for comment.

The Partisan’s question for Bernal was, and is, whether he plans to do anything in the future to ensure that top positions in his administration will not be used as pension-spiking tools. Will he ask his appointees to formally or informally agree to remain on board for two years, three years or more?

We did not ask but perhaps should have how he feels about what he said a year ago: “I know I can trust and count on him to get the job done.”

Bohner and Bernal didn’t invent pension spiking, of course. It is a common problem throughout the state, especially in law enforcement ranks, where employees are able to retire at age 50 and receive 3 percent of their final salary for each year employed. Someone making $200,000 after 25 years service, for instance, would receive an annual pension of $150,000. You may have noticed how many California cities seem to be hiring new fire chiefs every year or so. That’s all about pension spiking.

In my email to Bernal seeking comment, I mentioned an old friend of mine, a high-ranking official in the sheriff’s department in another California county. Under California’s retirement system, he could have retired at more than 90 percent of his salary 20 years ago, but he’s still working. He once explained that he had worked hard and long to get to the position he is in, one that enables him to help protect the public, and he couldn’t imagine leaving for financial reasons. I wanted to know if Bernal might want to look for more people like that.

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Mexico refugee illegal immigration border migrant crisis economy finance war business.According to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department, Brigido Hernandez was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on charges of disorderly conduct and drug possession last Sept. 7.

But not really.

Upon further reflection, the Sheriff’s Department says Brigido Hernandez is not Brigido Hernandez, but instead is Nazario Arguello Rodriguez, who was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on Sept. 28 on charges of manufacturing counterfeit goods.

But, strike that. The Sheriff’s Department says Nazario Arguello Rodriguez is really Juan Tentle Ortiz, who wasn’t arrested by sheriff’s deputies. Instead, he made it to the Monterey County Jail by way of the Los Angeles County Jail for reasons apparently unknown, at least unknown to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department.

What is known about Brigido Hernandez/Juan Tentle Ortiz is that he/they was/were turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials late last year after Sheriff Steve Bernal reversed longstanding county policy and invited immigration authorities to set up shop in the jail.

The identities of Hernandez and Ortiz, and numerous others, became an issue after the Partisan made a public records request for information on him/them and a number of other former Monterey County Jail inmates who had been turned over to ICE for deportation.

The public information request was prompted by a Nov. 29 opinion piece written for the Monterey Herald by Michael Moore, chief deputy of the sheriff’s corrections bureau. In his column, Moore wrote that between Aug. 14 and late November 140 jail inmates had been found to have had previous convictions that qualified them for deportation via ICE.

He elaborated somewhat, saying they all met the federal criteria under Priority 1 status, meaning they had prior felony convictions and street gang affiliation, or Priority 2 status, meaning they had at least one serious misdemeanor conviction or three less significant misdemeanor convictions.

A spreadsheet provided by the Sheriff’s Department listed 160 arrests. In 42 of those cases, the only charge listed was drunken driving. In several other cases, men arrested for drunken driving also were accused of violating probation, an indication of at least some criminal history. There were, of course, numerous arrests on more serious charges including domestic violation, battery and hit and run but there also were arrests in which the only recorded charges were prostitution and providing false information to authorities. In most cases, the inmates turned over to ICE had been arrested but not convicted of any current charges.

In his Herald article, Moore mentioned that one inmate turned over to ICE was a Castroville gang member who had been arrested for murder and drunken driving. The Partisan made inquiry into details on that suspect, largely because it seemed odd that someone wanted on a murder charge would have been turned over to immigration officials rather than to authorities where the murder charge had been filed. It turned out to be another case of mistaken identity. The fellow was facing a drunken driving charge but not a murder charge.  Both his nationality and immigration status could not be determined this week.

In most cases, it is impossible for someone outside law enforcement to verify whether someone qualifies for either Priority 1 or 2 status because arrest records for previous incarcerations are considered confidential in California. Public court records would provide answers in some cases but that would require person-by-person searches in dozens or hundreds of courthouses.

“Verifying identities is one of the biggest challenges we face, every day,” said a local police official who asked not to be identified for fear of alienating the Sheriff’s Department. “But you would think they would get the names and basic data right before handing over information like that. I hope that they got the info right before they handed the people over, but I presume they did.”

A spot check of other inmates turned up discrepancies in the dates of arrest but no obvious mix-ups of identities.

The arrest that put Joel Dorante Cruz into the hands of immigration officials involved public drunkenness in a Seaside alley in September.

Ricardo Lopez’s arrest by Sand City police was for vandalism, loitering and being under the influence.

Maria Ortiz Cortez was arrested by Salinas police for shoplifting. The arrest was either Sept. 30 or several weeks earlier, depending on which department you talk to.

The Partisan’s inquiry hardly amounts to a scientific sampling but it did turn up  a string of discrepancies serious enough to suggest additional attention should be put into an examination of how the Sheriff’s Department is processing inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Immigration activists and others criticize law enforcement agencies such as the Sheriff’s Department that routinely provide ICE with access to inmates. They and some law enforcement officials maintain that fear of deportation prevents many undocumented aliens from cooperating with law enforcement, testifying in court or even reporting crimes. On Jan. 5, the Partisan requested a copy of the sheriff’s written policies on immigration holds and its interaction with ICE but there has been no response.

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3d people - man, people with a sheriff badge. PolicemanThe city of Monterey appointed an interim police chief Tuesday and, from all appearances, he is a strong candidate to replace retiring Chief Phil Penko on a permanent basis.

Monterey County officials, and Monterey County voters, can receive a valuable lesson by watching the appointment process, which beats the hell out of the process the county uses to pick a sheriff.

The interim chief is Dave Hober, who was named deputy chief in February after 25 years with the San Jose Police Department.

In San Jose, Hober’s last assignment was to oversee field operations, including patrol, and to manage a $197 million budget. He worked his way up through the ranks after earning a political science degree from San Jose State University and graduate degrees in criminal justice administration and public administration.

When he left San Jose, the San Jose Mercury News called him “a well-regarded leader known for his eloquence in explaining police procedures and tactics in an accessible way, most recently shouldering the formidable task of collecting public input on potential police use of a drone.”

Hober also was the face of the department when the decision was made to eliminate an armored vehicle that had stirred concern in the community.

Another point in Hober’s favor was that when he was named deputy chief, he was the choice of Penko, an exceptionally capable and thoughtful leader who had spent his entire law enforcement career in Monterey and who understands the community as well as anyone. His latest appointment was by the city manager, who previously was the city’s personnel manager.

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Interim Monterey Police Chief Dave Hober

Compare this process with the recent election that created new leadership for the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department, new leadership in the form of untested, untrained and underqualified Steve Bernal, a former deputy who may or may not be up to the task. The point here is not the result as much as the process. The county’s top law enforcement official was picked as the result of a campaign that caused extreme bitterness and division within the department and that featured the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it Bernal family money, money primarily used to buy negative and often misleading advertising.

Philosophically, I favor elections over appointments except in certain cases. I don’t think it generally makes much sense for voters to pick people for highly technical jobs such as county assessor or coroner. I’d rather that personnel specialists and a locally elected body such as a board of supervisors make those decisions. Once upon a time I favored elections for sheriff. Not any more.

In the old days, before sheriff’s race became big-money affairs, elections were logical. Back then, the population was small enough and voters usually could use reputation and word of mouth to choose the better candidate. These days, however, the Republican Party locally has made local elections into a blood sport and somehow the electorate doesn’t hold even the most dishonest campaign tactics against the hopefuls. I, for one, have a hard time trusting a successful candidate who used lies and deception to win.

There’s also the issue of the influence likely to be extended to those who supported the winning candidate. Do they get a break when they’re pulled over for erratic driving? Do they get first crack at jail contracts? Do they get concealed weapon permits when they don’t really need protection for anything worse than paper cuts?

Even if Bernal proves his critics wrong and turns out to be a fine sheriff, Monterey County should take some of the politics out of law enforcement and professionalize the process. There is no question the interim chief in Monterey is qualified. Should we have to wonder about his counterpart at the county level?

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Sheriff badgeIt took no time at all for Sheriff Steve Bernal’s fledgling administration to provide the Scott Miller camp with its first “I told you so” moment. In fact, Bernal hadn’t actually started when he declared that he would reverse six promotions that Miller had approved in his final week as Monterey County sheriff.

It turned out, as most knew it would, that the promotions of six deputies to sergeant had been handled appropriately and that Bernal had no authority to simply declare the six unpromoted. The are rules governing such things. It was a small victory for Miller and his supporters who had argued vigorously but vainly that Bernal simply doesn’t have the experience needed to lead a department of 400-plus law enforcement professionals.

But rather than hope for additional opportunities to be proved right, the Partisan is hoping that Bernal has learned some important lessons here and that this humbling experience has put in a new frame of mind. We’re hoping that he realizes soon that the people who got him where he is today will now be seeking their rewards, to the benefit of themselves and not the sheriff or his department.

Bernal’s decision to declare the promotions invalid was encouraged by the Deputy Sheriffs Association, the union that had worked tirelessly in support of his candidacy. If it did not occur to the new sheriff that leaders of the DSA wanted some of those promotions for themselves, let us hope that a lightbulb went off when the county personnel experts told Bernal he couldn’t do what he tried to do.

From within the department and without, Bernal surely is being peppered with suggestions and advice, and some of it is probably worthwhile. But he needs to know that most of the advice will come with a price and the suggestions will, for the most part, be self-serving. Because he had never been a manager before, he might not know that many subordinates who smile at the boss are not as kindly when the boss isn’t around. He may not know that all those invitations he receives these days are not a sign that he has suddenly become cool or popular.

Bernal will have the opportunity to appoint community members to advisory committees and such things as search and rescue squads, both real and honorary. He would be ill-advised to simply hand out appointments to those who contributed to his campaign. There are highly qualified people in the large group that did not contribute. He will be asked again and again to put his thumb on the process of approving concealed weapons. It is safe to say that a significant percentage of the South County ag types who supported his campaign would love to have licenses to carry the handguns they keep in their glove compartments. He will be told that the company that supplies linens or whatever to the jail supported Miller and needs to be replaced by a company headed by Republicans. The input will be voluminous and might seem helpful initially.

Bernal isn’t likely to see this article on his own. He isn’t yet a subscriber to the Partisan and we are not Facebook friends. But perhaps a mutual friend somewhere in the community will bring it to his attention. If so, we’ll capsulize the message here because we know he’s busy.  Steve: Don’t do anything without talking to the county personnel office first. Also, tell the County Counsel’s Office that you want the sharpest attorney there to be your legal adviser.

Bernal’s successful campaign against Sheriff Scott Miller was quite a scrap and there are many of us who remain irritated, or worse, by  the campaign techniques executed on Bernal’s behalf by his campaign management and the local Republican Party cabal. But the losing camp cannot claim any higher ground if we spend the next several months or longer simply sitting back and enjoying the gaffes. The Sheriff’s Department is a huge part of the local law enforcement establishment and bad or overly political decisions at the top can be dangerous for the community and everyone under Bernal’s command. If he listens too often to those whose goal is simply to get Republicans in office or who want to pass out get-out-of-jail cards to their friends, disasters loom.

Immediately upon Bernal’s victory, Monterey’s leading public relations practitioner, David Armanasco, volunteered his services to help the new sheriff with the transition. It may have been a nice thing to do but Bernal shouldn’t keep that relationship going any longer than necessary. The public information function for law enforcement agencies needs to be in-house and should be handled by sworn officers, the higher the rank the better. Having an outside consultant handle information or interview requests makes the process far too political.

Bernal quickly made several key appointments to his upper ranks and, to his credit, some of the chosen came from outside the department. That could prove wise because the appointees have significant experience. But if Bernal had appointed from within the department, he would have created several additional opportunities for promotion. Grumbling over that has already begun within the ranks and Bernal will learn soon that those who were quick to support his candidacy will be just as quick to turn on him when they feel they have been unfairly denied a chance to move up. He will learn soon, if he hasn’t already, that he can’t depend on political connections and friendships to help him sort out his complicated task. He has a big job to do and he needs the best help he can get.

The new sheriff in town also will have to break some of his campaign promises because if he doesn’t, the Sheriff’s Department will all but disintegrate. He promised deputies that there would be no change in overall scheduling practices without unanimous consent. In almost any organization, unanimity is an impossibility. He said deputies would be asked to volunteer for training opportunities but would not be forced into any. What if there are not enough volunteers for a specialized task. Will the task simply be abandoned?

Bernal has a big job. A week or so in, he may have some idea of just how big. Those who supported him during the race, and those who did not, should do what they can to help him succeed. The energy that people might have been put into undermining him would be put to better use wishing him well and working to convert the sheriff’s job into an appointive rather than an elected position.

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Proprietor’s note: To the surprise of many veteran political observers in Monterey County, sheriff’s deputy Steve Bernal upset the incumbent, Sheriff Scott Miller, in the Nov. 4 election. Residents of Monterey County are left with an unusually inexperienced young deputy to lead the largest law enforcement agency on the Central Coast, which has prompted some to call for taking the sheriff’s position out of electoral politics and making it subject to appointment. When asked by reporters to explain what happened and what it means for the county, Miller responded with this post mortem)

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While many contributing factors appear to have influenced voters in the election for Monterey County sheriff, the results of the race can be traced, in large part, to two major factors unrelated to the qualifications of either candidate to hold the office: 1) strategic phone polling and 2) campaign contributions, in the form of special interest money and one very rich relative.

On a quiet evening last summer during the lull between the primary and general elections I received a phone call at home from a political research pollster working for the Bernal campaign. I was asked a series of questions all prefaced with the phrase: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate if you knew…?”

There were questions related to endorsements: ”Would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate if they were endorsed by former Sheriff Kanalakis? Former Sheriff Gordon Sonne? Governor Jerry Brown?” There was a Bernal campaign favorite: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Sheriff Miller if you knew there had been eleven claims of discrimination or harassment filed against him?

Sheriff Scott Miller

Sheriff Scott Miller

And perhaps the pivotal question and the pivotal moment in the 2014 campaign for sheriff: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Sheriff Miller if you knew he had received a vote of no confidence from the deputy sheriff association?”

I asked the pollster if Sheriff Miller had actually received a vote of no confidence. The pollster ignored my question and repeated the one he had originally asked: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Sheriff Miller if you knew he had received a vote of no confidence?” After several more attempts to clarify whether such a vote had actually taken place and several more rebuffs by the pollster, I gave my answer: “I would be MORE likely to vote for Sheriff Miller if I knew he had received a vote of no confidence.”

In actuality, I just wanted to move on to see what the rest of the questions were like. I mean, who in their right mind would actually be more likely to vote for a sheriff candidate who had received a vote of no confidence? Is that a condition or attribute that engenders confidence in a candidate for sheriff? Perhaps I’d be neutral on the issue if I had other information that would override the impact of a no confidence vote, but the pollster didn’t provide “neutral” as an option. It struck me that “less likely” was virtually assured of a response near 100%, unless you were the candidate in question.

Coincidentally, they were speaking to the candidate in question. I’m Sheriff Scott Miller. I thought at the time that I was really glad I hadn’t received a vote of no confidence. That would be powerful stuff. Good thing, I thought, that I hadn’t done a thing to merit such a vote.

This polling conversation took place months before I actually received a vote of no confidence from the Monterey County Deputy Sheriff Association (DSA). At the time of the phone call no one had mentioned the possibility of such a vote taking place. Even with the typical political murmuring taking place within the Sheriff’s Office during campaign season, everything seemed to be moving along reasonably well. Positive progress during my first term as sheriff had been steady and, in some cases, remarkable when compared to the work of previous sheriffs.

Most importantly, the lines of communication between the DSA and my administration were solidly in place. There were few, if any, complaints being voiced by the DSA leadership during our regular monthly meetings about any job-related issues under my control that weren’t already addressed or being addressed. Under my watch, training had doubled, special units had been restored, better equipment had been provided, staffing had been added and patrol deputies had been moved from fatiguing 12- hour shifts to 10-hour shifts. I had obtained funding to construct a critically needed jail expansion that would improve staff safety, funding that had been sought unsuccessfully by my predecessors. I had treated staff with respect, dignity and support and had participated in every department-sponsored social event to which I had been invited. In short, none of the conditions existed that normally lead to no confidence votes.

About two months after the phone poll, I heard a rumor that the DSA board was going to press the membership to conduct a no-confidence vote on me. (They had previously voted to endorse my opponent in the general election, Deputy Steve Bernal, in a secretive and equally dubious process). I learned the no-confidence vote movement was triggered at a DSA meeting attended by only 17 members of the 300-plus member DSA and, by special invitation, my opponent, Deputy Bernal, and one of his campaign handlers, Brandon Gesicki. According to individuals present, Bernal and Gesicki addressed the group for half an hour, encouraging them to conduct a vote of no confidence, advising them (based on the results of their phone polling) of the power such an action could have in the race for sheriff and of the relevance the DSA could regain by impacting the race. At the end of their presentation the members present voted 12 to 5 to hold such a vote.

I was never notified of the pending vote by DSA leadership. I was never given an opportunity to address the membership regarding the vote or provide a rebuttal to the one-sided, inflammatory and inaccurate information given to DSA voters in support of the vote, which was apparently scripted by the Bernal team. Points made as grounds for the no-confidence vote centered largely on actions, real and imagined, of my adult son and his friends, not on my actual performance as sheriff. I didn’t learn the specifics of what DSA members were being told until after the vote had concluded, when I read the information in a newspaper account.

Having heard that a vote of no confidence might be pending, I distributed an email to department employees reminding them of the many accomplishments we had achieved together during my term as sheriff, which amounted to three single-spaced pages of meaningful organizational improvements. As a result of my email I was threatened by the DSA board with legal action for “campaigning on duty;” not directly, but through a press release they and their attorneys issued to all media outlets. DSA leadership and their lawyers had morphed from a union-like organization interested in protecting the rights of their membership to an arm of the Bernal campaign. Not only was I denied the opportunity to address the allegations made in support of the vote of no confidence, I was threatened for distributing a generic list of achievements. They wanted to block any communication between the DSA membership and me, while they and Bernal’s team had unfettered access to them. This didn’t exactly amount to a democratic process or level playing field.

I was given no opportunity to have anyone from my side participate in monitoring the vote, which was purportedly done electronically. The votes were tabulated by the DSA president and his designees, who were already in my opponent’s camp. Ultimately the DSA president reported that, based on the secret vote conducted by him, approximately a third of the membership eligible to vote had voted to support the vote of no confidence. No mention was made that two-thirds of those eligible to vote either chose not to vote or voted to support me. Also not addressed was whether the vote actually qualified as an official vote under DSA bylaws, since the amount of votes received did not amount to a majority of eligible DSA voters, a contention that in 1998 helped propel detective Gordon Sonne into office as sheriff.

Regardless of the process used to obtain it, there can be no denying that the wielding of this “vote of no confidence” became a critical element in the campaign for sheriff. There was a top-of-the-fold headline in a local newspaper trumpeting the fact that there was going to be a no confidence vote, before the vote was actually conducted, followed by top-of-the-fold headlines following the vote. It became the centerpiece for every piece of campaign material coming from the Bernal camp from that point forward. A barrage of television commercials centered on the vote, (along with my alleged responsibility for all gang violence in the county, rising property crime rates and graffiti on the former Fort Ord). The Bernal message largely became the no confidence vote. Their message reflected the strategic direction of their phone polling.

Of course, such a message would have been limited in its effectiveness without the means to distribute it to the largely uninformed masses. Deputy Bernal, who couldn’t find the money to pay his monthly mortgage or car payments, managed to amass the largest campaign treasury to run for the Office of the Sheriff in the history of Monterey County. He bragged about raising $65,000 in one evening, actually suggesting at a forum that he could do the same to help fund any shortfalls in the Sheriff’s Office budget if he were elected, (such being his naiveté regarding the office and the budget process).

Much of his funding came by way of Margaret Duflock, a ranching and oil magnate, who is the mother-in-law of Bernal’s brother. She gave Bernal hundreds of thousands of dollars, via direct donations, loans and contributions to political action committees (PACS), which then steered the money to Bernal. She reportedly gave $25,000 to the DSA, which has usually been strapped for money, following its endorsement of Bernal and the no-confidence vote, as if to pay them for their actions. With her bottomless checkbook and ability to influence other donors, the Bernal campaign was able to run near-constant campaign attack ads on every local television station, day and night, seven days a week, throughout the month leading up to Election Day.

The lack of any limitations on campaign donations in Monterey County clearly facilitated the metamorphosis of a candidate who, by any objective measure, lacked the bona fides to serve as an executive or manager in any law enforcement organization in the United States, into sheriff-elect of the largest law enforcement agency on the Central Coast. In military terms, the Army private has managed to become the commanding general overnight. What I had diligently prepared for through education, training, experience and performance over the course of 38 years, Bernal achieved by attending Thanksgiving dinner with his brother’s mother-in-law. In other words, Bernal and his donors, with the assistance of the co-opted president of the Deputy Sheriff Association, were able to buy the Monterey County Office of the Sheriff as if it were a very expensive truckload of alfalfa hay.

Those of us who care about public safety in these parts should be troubled, not only with how this campaign was won, but with the troubling thought that this may now become the model as to how sheriffs in this county are elected going forward.

The timing was perfect for the type of campaign that relies on smoke screens and misdirection. Bernal’s handlers wisely kept the candidate sequestered from direct media access whenever possible. They cancelled his attendance at public forums after seeing how poorly he performed in them. They repeatedly made claims that were without merit and easily refutable, but who stepped up to question the veracity of these claims?

Our community’s historic fact-checkers–seasoned journalists with a thirst for the truth–have largely gone the way of the dinosaur. Daily coverage of the sheriff’s race was delegated largely to inexperienced reporters who often seemed to receive little guidance from editors who, in fairness, likely had more important things to do, like figuring out how to save their newspapers.

After months-long hesitation, the local daily newspapers finally came on board. The Monterey County Herald and Salinas Californian issued strong and unequivocal endorsements for my re-election in late September. (To their credit, Californian political columnist Jeff Mitchell, Mary Duan and her staff at the Monterey County Weekly and Royal Calkins of the Monterey Bay Partisan had it right from the beginning). The endorsements used phrases like “the choice for sheriff is so clear, even the Herald got this one right;” “thankfully, this choice is an easy one;” and “Bernal is unqualified to be sheriff.” Bernal’s campaign and his handlers were categorized in various press reports as “slimy,” and “liars.” Obviously, the results of this election leave us with questions as to how many voters actually still read daily newspapers and the overall impact of (late-arriving) editorial endorsements.

Oddly, the only real issue germane to my bid for re-election–my performance as sheriff–was virtually ignored by the press. Instead, I was battered almost daily by press releases from the Bernal camp over largely nonsensical, trivial and irrelevant issues. These press releases, which in years past would have been tossed in the trash can by discerning newspaper editors, were usually published on the top of the fold after I was asked for a comment. While I provided copies of my resume, future strategic plans and accomplishments as sheriff to local media, they seemed to prefer dealing in the raucous allegations fed to them by my opponent. This strategy skillfully distracted the public from the real issues.

Broadcast news was largely missing in action, save an excellent profile piece on both candidates by Felix Cortez of KSBW, which was so revealing and instructive of the contrast between candidates that we posted it on our campaign website. KCBA Fox News doesn’t broadcast a local version of the news anymore, using instead an Oakland-based news show. Their sister station, KION News, who does, never contacted me about the election until they asked for an urgent sound bite—at 10 PM on election night, after all the polls had closed. If they ever covered the race, it was without my participation.

(After being contacted recently by a reporter from KION looking for my reaction to the latest election update, I asked her if the station had made a conscious decision to avoid covering the sheriff’s race. She told me KION station management had decided not to cover any local races, other than the fracking measure in San Benito County, because of the impact fracking might eventually have on Monterey County.)

I’ve been accorded the respect of my peers in the ranks of Monterey County law enforcement executives, who twice elected me president of our county law chief’s group and who unanimously endorsed my campaign for reelection. They universally praise the level of teamwork we have enjoyed the past four years, particularly compared to the relationship they had with my predecessor. Our interaction with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the cities in Monterey County has never been better. I have superior working relationships with every elected official who holds any sway on county issues, from the governor to local mayors. Many of them are mourning the pending change of leadership to an individual they have never met.

But while many may consider me an effective law enforcement executive, I certainly wouldn’t be mistaken for a formidable campaign manager or campaigner, at least not based on the results of this race. I made several decisions early on in this campaign that I was determined to follow, win or lose, which ultimately figured in the outcome:

First, I was asked to register as a Republican by the local party godfather-figure. (I am registered as a “decline to state” voter). I was told if I would do so, the Monterey County Republican Party would endorse and support only me, even though two of the candidates running against me in the primary, including Bernal, were Republicans. I was told the party would do their best to talk the others into dropping out of the race. I was offered the campaign management services of Brandon Gesicki, who ultimately ended up working with Deputy Bernal. I declined the proposal, choosing instead to remain independent, thus motivating county Republicans to work against me throughout the campaign.

In retrospect, if I had registered as a Republican I may have won the race in the June primary, but I didn’t want to feel compromised by a group who didn’t care about my skills as sheriff, but solely my party affiliation. Strategically, accepting the invitation would have been the smart campaign move. Of course, I wasn’t thinking like a politician. I was thinking like a cop who didn’t want to be led by the nose.

Second, I was determined to run on my qualifications and accomplishments. I was determined not to run attack ads or conduct negative campaigning against my opponent. I focused on Bernal’s lack of qualifications and experience, but avoided attacking the many vulnerable areas of his personal life and those of his campaign team. I believed my accomplishments as sheriff were substantial enough to carry the day. If the public didn’t agree, that was their call, but I wasn’t going to sling mud.

I kept this commitment, although in retrospect attack ads would have likely been more effective. I wasn’t willing to win at all costs, not being a true politician.

Third, I was determined to spend no more on my campaign than I could raise from donors. During the campaign for sheriff in 2010 I spent $122,500 of my own funds. Raising campaign funds is more difficult for some than it is for others, particularly when you are running for the office of the chief law enforcement officer in the county and you refuse to take money from people who expect favors in return. That severely limits the pool of potential major donors. I mean, who gives a candidate for sheriff thousands of dollars because of their winning smile? In any event, it became evident to me early on that I’d never be able to compete with the half million dollars or so that Bernal raised from relatives and special interests without selling my soul. I wasn’t willing to pay that price. Ultimately I spent another $40,000 of my personal funds on this race. Instead of raising campaign funds the past four years while in office, I chose instead to put my effort into running the Sheriff’s Office. Strategically, raising campaign funds through the years would have been the smart political play. Starting with an empty campaign treasury versus a bottomless checkbook obviously made the task of running a vibrant campaign an uphill climb.

My purpose in writing this piece is an attempt to provide some insight from my perspective to those who seemed baffled as to how a deputy with no leadership or management experience, no formal education beyond high school, no job development of any kind beyond entry level deputy, can win an election over an experienced, educated and highly qualified incumbent who, by most objective accounts, had accomplished more in four years as sheriff than my four predecessors combined. I invite an objective examination of my term in office to see if others agree with that conclusion. Otherwise, I’ll leave my efforts to be judged by history.

I wish the best for the people of Monterey County, particularly those who will suffer as a result of this election. Individuals who supported my administration are already being threatened with removal and intimidation by the camp of the sheriff-elect. He has looked into the personnel records of excellent current employees specifically to see if they are on probation and has intimated he will fire them, regardless of their performance, so he can replace them with his cronies. Rumors are he wants to hire family members, though he would have to violate county policy to accomplish that. He will come into office beholden to a large number of special interests and large donors, along with the architects of his largely unexpected victory, their clients and the mysterious business PACs who materialized to donate thousands to him.

My successor is unlikely to continue the community outreach efforts I had undertaken with the supporters of jail inmates, immigrant rights advocates and small neighborhood groups of Spanish-speakers in Castroville, Chualar and Pajaro. He has never participated in the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace in Salinas, the Monterey County Gang Violence Program, or any other community-based organization in Monterey County. He declined to attend a forum held by LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and, to my knowledge, has never attended a meeting of any civil rights group in Monterey County.

The sheriff-elect may not yet even realize how much he doesn’t know about the current state of the Sheriff’s Office, having overlooked reality to instead maintain his focus on campaign rhetoric. During an initial press interview with (now that the pesky fracking issue has been decided) KION News, Bernal said he will kick his administration off by improving relationships with other county police departments and communities, opening lines of communication, and so forth. He has no idea how strongly those ties already exist, albeit with an administration that will be leaving. He says he will strengthen the existing gang task force, apparently unaware that the task force is already the largest such team in California outside of Los Angeles. He says he will establish a violent crimes unit, again unaware of the mission and capabilities already in place.

And he certainly doesn’t know how he’ll pay for any of his plans, having little familiarity managing budgets, household or otherwise. The future outlook of the Sheriff’s Office budget looks pretty grim in the coming years, with expenses constantly escalating and revenues stagnant. The fact that he has never supervised a single employee means his learning curve will be immense, now that he will be responsible for more than 420 public safety employees, He will find that his new reality isn’t taking an occasional crime report and patrolling the fields of southern Monterey County; it’s now litigation, risk management, policy development, municipal budget management, managing complex human resources issues, crisis management and strategic planning, domains he knows absolutely nothing about. With luck, he’ll have the wisdom to bring in a team of experts to handle these critical issues, but they aren’t growing on trees and even the best advisors require executive oversight so as not to run amok. For the sake of public safety in Monterey County, let’s hope he chooses wisely.

I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to serve as your sheriff. I’m proud to have been in the fraternity of law enforcement professionals for thirty-one years. I will miss the profession, but I’m confident I will find other meaningful pursuits to fill my time. I wish you all the best.

 

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Brandon Gesicki

Brandon Gesicki

SEE UPDATED INFO BELOW ON WHAT BERNAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER BRANDON GESICKI REALLY MEANT WHEN HE SAID, “WHAT, WHO ME? I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.”

Many years ago, my friend Grant Sims wrote a screenplay. It was a spoof of those heist thrillers in which a highly trained team foils extreme security precautions and makes off with the giant gem.

The twist was that the crooks were disabled. The team leader, played by Mike Connors of “Mannix” fame, was in a wheelchair. Another actor pretended to be blind while another had no hands. They would snare the diamond—not despite their disabilities but because of them. Grant’s script was meant to be silly, sort of a parody of political correctness.

Remarkably, it became a made-for-TV movie, “Beg, Borrow or Steal. Unfortunately, Hollywood played it straight. Imagine “Airplane” with Leslie Nielsen actually taking the role seriously. It was a very bad movie, but perhaps some good can come of it all these years later. It has inspired me to report on politics in a whole new way. I’m going to try to follow a campaign as though it was a spoof. I have chosen Steve Bernal’s run for Monterey County sheriff.

If I watched the campaign as though Bernal and crew were playing it straight, I would become distressed. The idea of a sheriff’s deputy running to be the big boss without management experience, without a college education, without any real understanding of the position, that could make a sober observer downright uncomfortable. But, hey, now that I have convinced myself they’re playing for laughs, I’m looking forward to the next skit. I bet it will be boffo.

Last week, we saw the Bernal camp propose to eliminate most internal affairs investigations, to give jail deputies free lunches and to let the Sheriff’s Department staff make scheduling decisions. Training would become optional. I was taking things seriously then, so I was alarmed. If deputies aren’t held accountable for breaking department rules, for harassing inmates, for doing any of the things that are commonly subject to I.A. investigations, won’t the Sheriff’s Department spin out of control?

But that was then. From my new perspective, it was all pretty funny. In fact, I envisioned a cafeteria full of deputies enjoying their 4-hour free lunches, each funnier than the one before. I saw food fights and laugh riots.

In my mind’s eye, sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Richards and Mike Kanalakis were still in the department. They were slipping on baloney sandwiches and flicking applesauce at the former internal affairs fellows who were getting stuff all over their new aprons. Hilarious.

It isn’t really clear who is running Steve Bernal’s slapstick campaign, but it seems that the GOP has brought in a heavy hitter to help, Tom Shepard, whose spotty career is nicely highlighted in the San Diego Reader. That link takes you to an old article about Shepard. You can find a more recent article here. Shepard seldom ventures out of Southern California, representing a large cast of law enforcement and city council types in San Diego and Riverside counties. Usually when he heads north it is to represent development interests fighting slow-growth initiatives. He’s done that in Saratoga and Sonoma.

Before I got my perspective tuned up, I also would have worried about my favorite campaign manager, Brandon Gesicki, and his role in the Bernal movie, er, campaign, which he may or may not be running. Gesicki is coy about such things because his record as a campaign manager tends to make him a campaign issue. It also allows him to take credit for a success and to distance himself from a failed campaign, which is known in political circles as a “Brandon.”

Gesicki was involved in Bernal’s campaign in the primary election, but no, hell no, he did not set up that pseudo-organization in San Benito County in order to produce an attack mailer against the incumbent, Scott Miller. Gesicki may have done exactly the same thing in the past, but not this time, no way, because that would not be funny, OK? (This may be what planted the idea of seeing the runoff election as a spoof.)

UPDATE: Although Gesicki has denied involvement in the San Benito County committee, the Monterey County Weekly now reports that an old college chum of Gesicki’s and his wife contributed $1,998 to the committee, which put out anonymous mailers during the primary election attempting to make Sheriff Miller out as a dirty, rotten bad guy. Gesicki still maintains that Bernal didn’t know anything about it. Which means one of two things. A. Gesicki is fibbing or B. Bernal is a tool.

Gesicki ran a couple of campaigns for Abel “Sounds Familiar” Maldonado, whose schtick was to run as a Republican. In one of the Gesicki-managed races, Maldonado ran in a primary election both as a Republican and a Democrat. He and Gesicki then tried to make us believe it wasn’t a tactic. They said they weren’t trying to block any Democrats from running. Never occurred to them. Instead, they said they did it for the nicest of reasons. It seems that Abel’s mother was a lifelong Democrat and had never had a chance to vote for her wonderful son in a primary election. So they did it for love and family, OK?  Gesicki seemed to almost be fighting back tears as he explained it.

In the current race, Bernal has a rich aunt who is providing a big chunk of his campaign financing. In my new spirit of mirth and acceptance, I will not let myself become cynical when Bernal or Gesicki explain that this is not about running the Sheriff’s Department or about getting a Republican elected. No way. It is about a loving aunt, probably a madcap aunt, whose only wish is to see her fine and misunderstood nephew accomplish something for once. Heck, looking at it that way, I might vote for Bernal myself.

Sheriff’s campaigns can be remarkably contentious and nasty, especially when both candidates are working in the same department. True or not, it becomes conventional wisdom that almost everything that ever happens is a direct result of the previous election and who supported whom. If a deserving deputy is promoted, it’s because he told everyone he had voted for candidate A even though he really voted for candidate B. If a supporter of the sheriff gets fired for something minor like never coming to work, it’s because the sheriff doubted the deputy’s sincerity during the campaign. If a sergeant gets sent home for dripping chocolate syrup on his uniform at lunch, it’s because he didn’t contribute to so and so’s campaign.

The old, dour me would have worried about what will happen if Bernal wins. For instance, what if he had 60 supporters within the department but only 10 promotions available. How would he pick? Since he has spent his career in South County and the jail and didn’t work with most of the staff, would he go with test results and the recommendations of interview panels? Not in this show. He’d have some good clean fun by changing the way promotions are made and how the department is organized. Remember, his campaign slogan is “Change Everything and Don’t Forget Your Socks.”

This is where I choose to enjoy the spoof rather than sweat the small stuff. In this script, deputies might get to choose their own ranks and assignments. Always wanted to be a detective? Go for it. Patrol, schmatrol. Solve something.

Undersheriff? Arm wrestle you for it. Head of Internal Affairs? Hey, never mind. We don’t need that any more (laugh track kicks in).

Like you, I’m looking forward to it and I’m glad to know all of this so far has just been rehearsal. Campaign season doesn’t really start until September, which gives Bernal’s writers time to come up with some really solid stuff. It will be more “Barney Miller” or Barney Fife than “Hill Street Blues,” but who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh now and then?

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When candidates for sheriff receive an endorsement from the Deputy Sheriffs Association, they’re hoping the public thinks it means the deputies are backing the most competent contender, the one best able to protect the public. They’d rather that voters not notice that the association’s focus isn’t public safety. It’s a union and it wants what’s best for the union members, the deputies.

Schooled by campaign handlers who know how the system works, deputy Steve Bernal, a candidate for Monterey County sheriff, made a set of outlandish promises to his fellow duties in his successful bid for the association’s endorsement. At the top of Bernal’s list of promises he can’t keep is using seniority to award weekends off for deputies working in the county jail and to determine who gets first pick for the most popular vacation schedules. That is a good goal, but Bernal takes it one large and silly step farther. In an email to the jail deputies, he wrote that “any changes to this policy should be unanimously decided on by the employees.”

“Any changes to this policy should be unanimously decided on by the employees.”

In other words, if the Sheriff’s Department administration needed to shuffle shifts around to ensure that deputies with the appropriate skills and training were on duty at the right times, it would need to get the approval of every deputy in the jail.

Why’s that? Bernal explains that “management should not be allowed to arbitrarily dictate your schedules.” Perhaps this would be a good place to mention that Bernal has never been a manager. Incumbent Scott Miller, on the other hand, has been a manager for most of his career.

Those are not Bernal’s worst ideas. Because jail deputies are always having to worry about internal affairs investigations arising out of complaints from the public, inmates and other deputies, Bernal promises to make some of those investigations disappear. Internal affairs investigations would be initiated only when it appears a crime has been committed. Such things as insubordination, breach of policy, undue absences or tardiness, harassment of inmates or their visitors would not qualify. Waste of time, that’s how Bernal sees it. He doesn’t say how non-criminal complaints would be handled. Maybe the deputies could take a vote?

There’s more. Bernal says deputies should be offered training to make them more versatile or to improve their chances for career advancement. But only on a “purely volunteer basis.” If a supervisor feels a deputy needs training with, say, weapons or writing reports or interpersonal skills, the deputy could just say no thanks.

Deputies assigned to work as bailiffs in court would be allowed to keep those coveted assignments for as long as they wished. Though they might really have to think about it, because if they were working in the jail in a Bernal administration, they’d get free meals.

As a sheriff’s deputy, Bernal is among the lowest ranking members of the Sheriff’s Department. His candidacy is a creation of partisan politics. The Republicans were casting about for a candidate and in Bernal they found a presentable young man with access to campaign money. If he is elected sheriff in November, he would jump over sergeants, commanders, lieutenants, captains, and the undersheriff to become the guy in charge.

Things like that do happen, in places like Indiana and Louisiana, where the political patronage system is still in style. It doesn’t make any sense there, however, and it certainly doesn’t make any sense here. If Bernal truly wants to be sheriff, he should volunteer for every training opportunity, work his way up the ranks and try again when he has picked up some management experience and a clue or two.

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