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Community Action Coalition

OPINION: Against the Stream

Contested Election for Sheriff

Aug 1, 2017

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By Kathleen Finigan

If you only read the mainstream press in Sonoma County, you may think that Sheriff Steve Freitas announced his August 1st resignation out of the blue. But a closer look at the facts reveals a much different story.

On March 24th at 4pm the Sheriff announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018. The Press Democrat covered the story, adding at the very end of the piece that his announcement “coincided with the launch of a fledgling effort by a little-known group of activists to recall Freitas.” The truth is that at 10am that very morning the Community Action Coalition of Sonoma County had served him with a Notice of Intention to Recall him from office. Coincidental? We’ll let you decide.

Triggered by events of the 24th, the Press Democrat on March 29th called for a contested election for Sheriff, breaking the decades long stranglehold on who could run. Since 1990, one candidate would be selected behind closed doors by the Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Sheriff’s Office and once named, no one else dared to run. However, by April 13th three candidates had already tossed their hats into the ring for next year’s election.

On July 7th, the Sheriff announced that he wouldn’t serve out his term after all and would leave office as of August 1. Although he cited health concerns as the reason and we wish him well, there’s reason to believe that many other issues were also at play – low morale in his department has long been known and a number of lawsuits against him for excessive force and wrongful death are under litigation and pending trial or settlement. In addition, his close support of the Trump administration and its harsh deportation scheme as detailed by Jeff Sessions, with whom Freitas had met personally in Washington DC, has been another very dark cloud over his head.

At this early juncture, even the old boy establishment is bucking its own stream: the Sheriff’s Association has already endorsed one of its own, Mark Essick, as its choice for the next Sheriff and Freitas has named his own choice to be Carlos Basurto, whom he had appointed Chief of Police in Windsor. Can we expect a game of chicken here? Meanwhile, Ernesto Olivares, former police officer and Santa Rosa councilman has congressman Mike Thompson’s vote and many think that the Press Democrat will jump on that wagon too.

Now, this progressive county finally has an opportunity to break the bonds of that tired mainstream of the elite with two highly promising candidates: Deputy Jay Foxworthy, born and raised in Sonoma County, who lives in Santa Rosa and is a 22-year veteran of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and Capt. John Mutz, a former commander with LAPD.

The Community Action Coalition is continuing its role as the catalyst in this ground-breaking chain of events by hosting candidates for public talks. The first was with Jay Foxworthy, who spoke on July 11th. The event was live streamed and archived on the Coalition’s Facebook page (look for July 11 live video at the Peace and Justice Center and scroll forward to the 15-minute mark).

John Mutz will appear on July 25th at 6pm at the Peace and Justice Center, 467 Sebastopol Ave, Santa Rosa. Olivares, Essick and Basurto have been invited to speak but have yet to respond.

The bottom line is that a "fledgling, little known" group of tireless, hard-working volunteer activists exercised their right to remove an unsatisfactory elected official and the clear winner here is the people of this county. This is great news, particularly for those communities which have so long been marginalized by the system, and the implications are far-reaching. It’s time to wake up, rise up, speak up! We do make a difference and we do have power. Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be quite a ride.

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