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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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The Monterey City Council voted last night to discourage older people or the disabled from shopping downtown.

That was not the intent of the 4-1 vote, of course, but the unintended consequence certainly could be elimination of any places for shoppers or other “regular people” to sit.

In an effort to keep unsightly homeless people away from stores and to prevent panhandling in places where there are people available to be panhandled, the council enacted a ban on sleeping or reclining in commercial districts. While it is true that those are places where it is common for people of all ages to sit and panhandle or sit and play guitars, etc., it is also common there for husbands to sit and wait outside while wives shop for dresses and where wives wait while husbands shop for ties.

Councilman Alan Haffa was the dissenter, arguing that banning sitting in public could be unconstitutional and clearly is unfair.

The ordinance was presented by Police Chief Phil Penko, though that does not necessarily mean it was his idea. He said it is aimed at “travelers,” drifters who pass through town looking for handouts and sometimes blocking the paths of other people. Hoping to make the new law fit into a constitutional framework, Penko said it targets behavior, not the homeless.

Other cities have struggled with the same issue for years and years. Santa Cruz, with much more of a youth culture than Monterey, attracts relatively large groups of bedraggled youth in search of community and spare change. To address that, it has wrestled with various ordinances, bans and law enforcement campaigns, at significant legal costs and less significant results.

Many at Tueday’s meeting agreed in passing that downtown could use more benches, even though it was obvious that that would never happen. How can a transient be ticketed for sitting over here while a couple of shoppers are watching from over there? Nonetheless, the council majority also agreed to pursue additional benches. How the city can travel both paths remains to be seen.

Penko said the ordinance “targets behavior,” but the way it’s written it targets the wrong thing. A wiser approach, in my humble opinion, would be to truly target bad behavior by banning aggressive panhandling and prohibiting people from blocking sidewalks or store entrances. That would do much more to help create a downtown that attracts large numbers of people to shop, eat and, when tired, sit.

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