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Appointment of New Sheriff Raises Opposition

Audio

Aired 6/19/09

There's going to be a new Sheriff in town, and not everyone is happy about it. We discuss the timing of outgoing Sheriff Bill Kolender's retirement, and the politics behind the appointment of new sheriff Bill Gore.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
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Above: Bill Gore speaks on the record about being appointed County of San Diego Sheriff, followed by reaction from local editors.

DOUG MYRLAND (Guest Host): Good morning. I'm Doug Myrland, sitting in for Gloria Penner here on the Editors Roundtable. The editors today joining us are JW August, managing editor for 10News. Good morning, JW.

JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, 10News, KGTV): Good morning, Doug.

MYRLAND: Tom York, who's the editor of the San Diego Business Journal. Good morning, Tom.

TOM YORK (Editor, San Diego Business Journal): Good morning, Doug.

MYRLAND: And John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint. Glad to have you here, John.

JOHN WARREN (Editor and Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint)

WARREN: Thank you, Doug.

MYRLAND: Well, we want to start with talking about the sheriff's appointment. And San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender's retirement is effective July 2nd, and on Tuesday, the County Board of Supervisors appointed Undersheriff Bill Gore as his successor. Now that all sounds simple enough, and from a procedural viewpoint it really was, but from a more political point of view, the timing couldn't have been better for the new sheriff. And, JW, you've been following the story so can you tell us about the political leg up aspects there?

AUGUST: Sure, it's eleven months to the election, so he has eleven months in office to present – provide the public this image of him as the acting sheriff instead of the undersheriff, which is always an advantage as an incumbent coming in. It may – the possible problems he's going to have is that he's never campaigned before. This is his first campaign and he may have, you know, some problems on the stump but he does clearly have an advantage right now.

MYRLAND: And you've been following this story. There are several other declared candidates already.

AUGUST: And interesting group. All of them have experience in the sheriff's department except one which is Chief Bejarano or former San Diego City Police Chief Bejarano. And they all have strong law enforcement backgrounds. LaSuer, the east county former legislator, he has those strong political grounding, too, because he ran for, you know, state assembly.

MYRLAND: Well, we want to invite you to join this conversation, too, if you have a comment or a question.

1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. So what could the board of supervisors have done instead of appointing him?

AUGUST: Well, if they had – You mean if they didn't appoint – they've got to pick somebody else. I think one of the candidates that wanted to be the temporary sheriff, didn't plan on running in the general election, they might've done that. But Gore's done a good job. I think this was kind of a payback. He had the support of Mayor Sanders, the D.A. The law enforcement power structure clearly supports Mr. Gore.

MYRLAND: Well, John and Tom, let me kind of throw out the philosophical question here: Is there anything wrong with that?

YORK: I don't think so. I think it's, you know, it's the kind of thing that's done all the time in politics. It sounds like that Bill Gore is a qualified candidate and it, you know, he's being – was being kind of groomed, and given his qualifications and, you know, probably his connections to the law enforcement community, this seems to be the way to go, I guess, for a lot of politicians.

MYRLAND: John?

WARREN: Well, a sheriff's position is always – it's a very coveted position. It's a very powerful position considering San Diego County is one of the largest counties in the state, and when you look at the history of it in terms of the men who held the position, sort of a passing of the baton. And it's really not a question of electoral popularity, even though the process requires the people to vote, but the sheriff's department works very closely with the board of supervisors, especially when it comes to those things like drug enforcements and the sharing of loot from those endeavors. And so, I mean, it's – the arguments made by those who weren't selected really have fallen on deaf ears. The decision is made. Gore will be elected, I believe, when the election is held in '10, 2010, and the rest of this will just be a playing out of sour grapes that seems to follow that department but never really changes anything in it.

MYRLAND: JW.

AUGUST: And I think that it's pretty much, as you said, a tradition, John, that department and they're very tradition seeped and Bill Kolender is basically passing the baton under his – to his chosen person, which is Bill Gore, both of them longtime law enforcement history in the community, their families who are in the – law enforcement. So from a traditional standpoint and a position that usually tradition plays a heavy role in picking the sheriff, he does have a hands – you know, he's got an advantage, clearly has got an advantage.

MYRLAND: Now four of the five supervisors voted in favor of the appointment. I think it was Diane Jacob who voted – No? It wasn't?

AUGUST: Ron Roberts.

MYRLAND: Ron Roberts, okay.

AUGUST: Yeah, Ron. He – his chief of staff, he was supporting him. And his chief of staff has a longtime law enforcement family, community name, Duffy. I mean, his dad was the sheriff.

MYRLAND: So let me just, before we move on, just throw out kind of a general question: Is it a good idea to elect the sheriff this way? Or should it be an appointed position to begin with since it really is the judgment of the supervisors and along – you know, when you look at the history of the sheriff's election there's always been somebody running for sheriff but there always seems to be a very strong frontrunner so does it need to be elected? Could it be appointed?

AUGUST: You can always appoint somebody but any time – I'd rather go to the people. Anytime you have an opportunity for the people to vote, I say let the people vote and make the decision.

WARREN: The sheriff's department, as with the District Attorney's position, those positions should be elected. That's where the checks and balances come into play. Just as judges, once appointed, are elected even though when their elections come up it's so closely guarded that citizens don't realize it until it's a done deal. But the idea is still there and I think it's an important ideal of law enforcement.

MYRLAND: Okay, well, let me play devil's advocate then. If it's so important to have the people speak, doesn't that kind of strengthen the case of the people who are complaining, the other candidates, and saying, look, we should've appointed somebody on an interim basis who wasn't going to be a candidate and that way we could sort of have a fair and free election.

AUGUST: You can't have an election for an eleven-month vacancy. I don't think it's practical. It's just not a practical solution.

MYRLAND: Well, we've got Lori in Pacific Beach who wants to weigh in. Lori, we'd like to hear from you.

LORI (Caller, Pacific Beach): Hi. Thank you. Good morning. Well, I wanted to remind listeners that the County Assessor was just appointed under similar circumstances and we have had the same type of representation. Our county supervisors, Greg Cox was appointed mid-term and then elected and he's been there now for 12 or so, maybe 16 years? I've lost track. And so what you're seeing is a pattern in the county where a person retires mid-term then the person who is appointed to replace them gets the advantage of running as an incumbent and, in the case of the supervisors, we haven't had a new supervisor for 16 years in this county. So I think what you're seeing is not just about law enforcement, it's about a pattern within county leadership to have leaders retire during their terms, have an appointee then done by other people who have often been appointed and then they get to run as an incumbent and that's just – we don't have any real turnover and real change in the county.

MYRLAND: Well, Lori, thanks very much for bringing that up. Tom.

YORK: Well, I agree with that. I think it's what I would call front door politics as opposed to backroom politics where, you know, it's all set up, it's pretty much visible and this is the way government's run more and more at the local level and the state level and, in some cases, the national level.

MYRLAND: And JW, do you think Lori's correct? That that's a clear pattern in the county? It's…

AUGUST: Oh, absolutely. We haven't seen a new face on a board in awhile. Roberts is going to be leaving, that'll probably be the next new face as far as the board of supervisors. And, frankly, most people in the know would say that the minute Mr. Gore was brought over from him job at the DA's office, he was going to be the successor to Bill Kolender, so it was a matter of – just a matter of time.

MYRLAND: Maybe I'm stretching things too far but it's almost as if they're sort of using a version of the strong city manager government on county where the folks in those positions go ahead and make the decisions and the people in elected office are kind of acting that way.

AUGUST: Yeah, truly, it does. It does. Without the formal setup.

MYRLAND: And, John, I'm just going to ask you a question. Is this a bad thing or a good thing?

WARREN: Well, you know, Shakespeare says it's neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so, so it's a matter of where you sit. I think one of the issues here is we have 17 cities and unincorporated areas in what is a charter county. Some of the cities in our county, like the City of San Diego, is chartered. And so what that means is that when you start dealing with county government, the perception of county government differs from city to city or area to area depending on the people and their involvement. So our perception of the importance of the sheriff here in the city of San Diego is not as important as the unincorporated areas or the back country in terms of all those cities that contract, like Lemon Grove or Poway, with the sheriff's department. And those things play into this scenario when we start talking about what the public thinks of what. The system is there. We should have fair elections. Fair is subjective in terms of what people see. I don't see it making a big difference in eleven months and if those who are objecting can rally the votes, then they have an opportunity to do so. The issue is not going to hinge on the personalities as much as how the sheriff's department handles some crisis such as the shootings that occurred in north county, the number of incidences that they've had clashes with the Latino community, and whether or not those things have been fairly treated. The instances of hate crimes in east county where the sheriff's department has failed to file any charges or do anything in the past two months where, in different instances, African Americans were beaten by blatant identified racists with all kinds of name-calling and yet nothing is done, those are the things that are going to galvanize pockets of the community in terms of a vote. The politics that we're talking about, the everyday person could care less about until they are impacted.

MYRLAND: JW, you've been nodding all the time John's been talking.

AUGUST: Well, the…

MYRLAND: I'll take that as agreement, right?

AUGUST: Well, on most of the things. I have to say under the Kolender administration there hasn't been one bad, terrible incident or crime or murder case that blew up or something like that. And I agree with you that, east county, they should do something about the hate crime but I don't think we – I don't know if the sheriff's department brought that to the DA and the DA's not acting.

WARREN: Oh, no, it's the sheriff's department. And I beg to differ, there have been incidents under Bill Kolender, it's just been a question of how they were handled. These last two instances that I've mentioned have been within the last sixty days.

AUGUST: No, true.

WARREN: And the public has not been – the sheriff's department has to bring it to the DA before the DA can act. The sheriff's department does not have a habit, in San Diego County, of identifying or following up on matters that are reported as hate crimes. For the most part, those things have to be taken to the U.S. Attorney's office and they have to push for an investigation outside of that contact. So I think we need to keep those things on the table when we start talking about this good ole boys club and who's going to sit in granddaddy's rocking chair and rule over the county.

MYRLAND: Can I jump to the conclusion, John, that you think that is going to be an issue in the election? That that will be something that all the candidates are going to have to talk about and address?

WARREN: I do believe it will be, and I certainly will do everything, as a journalist, to make it an issue because it affects the people who I represent in terms of reporting their stories and concerns.

AUGUST: Well, I'll change my mind on that as soon – if I have more opportunity to look into the hate crime issues. I still think that the District Attorney doesn't do a very good job either on hate crimes, not anymore.

MYRLAND: Okay, well, we'll have to leave it there with time to move on in the program. Our editors joining us today are JW August, managing editor for 10News, Tom York, editor of the San Diego Business Journal, and John Warren, editor and publisher of the San Diego Voice & Viewpoint. And we'll be back with more on Editors Roundtable right after this break.

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