Electing A Sheriff

This is an opinion piece about local politics in our county, but perhaps you will find it interesting anyway.
As settlers moved west and towns began to grow, they had to decide how best to live together in community.  It seemed like a good idea to elect willing persons to various offices that needed to be filled with the hope that they might do a decent job of it, at least for a while.  That’s the American way.  It’s the way that was enshrined in the State Constitution and succeeding statutes providing for the form of county government that shall be.  It’s a way that worked out well as long as the social, economic and legal environments of our communities were relatively uncomplicated.  Nothing is uncomplicated anymore and hasn’t been for decades.  But we still hold open elections for offices that require highly skilled and specialized professional leadership.  Maybe it’s time to reconsider some of them.  A case in point is our upcoming election for County Sheriff.
There are two highly visible candidates running for the open office of sheriff in our county, Mr. Turner and Mr. White.  I guess there are other candidates but none with the same visibility as they.  Mr. Turner emphasizes his local roots although he has spent most of his life in Los Angeles as an LAPD officer, and then attorney, before returning to our area to become a wine maker.  Mr. White has been a local deputy for over twenty years rising to the rank of captain.  Mr. Turner is endorsed by a wide range of community leaders, some county officials, and a number of local police.  Mr. White is endorsed by a wide range of community leaders, many current and retired deputies, and a number of local police.  Mr. Turner says he is for God, country and family values.  Mr. White advertises his life long membership in the Presbyterian Church where he has been an active lay leader.  
Other than the single fact that both are trained and experienced law enforcement officers, what does any of the rest of it have to do with whether either would make a good chief of a complex, countywide law enforcement agency?  If you were on a search committee to find the right person to lead a legally and technically complicated organization, are these the most important criteria you would examine to find her or him?  They shouldn’t be.  But they are what voters who have not a clue what might make a good sheriff will use to make their decision, if they use any verifiable criteria at all.
Most will vote according to which name they think sounds better, or whether they like or dislike the person who owns the house on whose lawn a campaign sign appears.  
The point is that it’s time to abandon elections for certain offices that require highly trained, specialized and professional leadership.  In our case it is the County Board of Commissioners who should have the responsibility for hiring the best professional they can recruit to do a job that has been well defined according to the present and anticipated needs of the department.  
Making changes such as these would require the adoption of a county home rule charter, and oh my lord what a storm of controversy that would unleash.  There are only six home rule counties in the State, which I find ironic.  Conservative individualism is the credo of local politics around here, so one would think that home rule would be just the ticket to get local county government out from under the thumb of Olympia.  Not a chance.  The prevailing attitude of “We got what we got and we’re going to keep it that way” is an obstacle of enormous size and weight.
So who do you want?  Turner or White?  Flip a coin.

1 thought on “Electing A Sheriff”

  1. Election of law enforcement and of judges was intended to ensure that the people (those who vote) would be in charge, but often it worked out in practice, especially in the South and West, that those elected just aimed at popularity. In the South, it became almost impossible for decades to get an arrest, far less a conviction, for crimes of violence against blacks, both during Reconstruction and for almost a century later. That was the price of \”democracy\” at work! The alternative, appointment of sheriffs and judges, just pushes the problem back to city or county or state office holders! The current immigration crisis, like drug enforcement (and Prohibition bafore that) raises all these problems anew! Dr B

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