Feb 27, 2018
By Daniel Kerbein
People in Sonoma County have arrived at a moment so rare and decisive, it’s not an exaggeration to call it once in a lifetime. With the early departure of former Sheriff Steve Freitas, we are presented with the opportunity to elect someone who will turn transform this beleaguered department, or keep the status quo. Which way things will go, now lies in the hands of the voters.
This year, there is indeed a choice - for the first time in decades. In the first contested election in 25 years, three candidates are vying to take the position of Sonoma County Sheriff. All three have substantial career backgrounds in law enforcement, and each brings something different in their priorities and outlook.
John Mutz is a retired Los Angeles police Captain and Station Commander, who was in charge of patrol at the Foothill Division when a car chase suspect named Rodney King was beaten by four officers - resulting in a horrific and costly four-day riot. That experience opened his eyes, and since then he has worked to establish and work with civilian oversight of police matters.
Mark Essick, a Field Services/ Administrative Captain currently serving in the Sheriff’s Office, who recently took part in the formation of an independent citizen review body, where he represented the Department.
Ernesto Olivares, a member of the Santa Rosa City Council since his retirement as a Lieutenant in the Santa Rosa Police Department, where he made violence prevention his specialty.
These candidates are competing to shoulder a major undertaking. The department operates with a $180 million budget more than 45% of Sonoma County’s general budget, and employs 650 people.
The Sheriff Department’s main difficulty is its own need to change. As Sonoma County becomes more richly diverse and progressive every day, and any new Sheriff must act out of an understanding of this. Outmoded attitudes toward immigrants have driven too many bad policies, resulting in broken families and widespread community distrust.
Our new Sheriff will have to come in with clear policies and an action plan to clean up the legal troubles and bad conduct that have been left on the doorstep of local voters. Over the years the department has been plagued by lawsuits that charge excessive force, overall violations of civil rights and low morale. These incidents reached their pinnacle with the high-profile shooting of 13-year old Andy Lopez by Sheriff’s department patrol officer deputy Erick Gelhaus.
Transformation will be measured in community trust. The new Sheriff will not only need to pinpoint exactly what needs to change in that often secretive, even fortress-like Sheriff’s Department and put together a team responsible for addressing community concerns. This emerging leader will also need to walk a mile with the experiences of people in this county, and traumas they’ve experienced. That will be the only way to cultivate the trust that is true transformation.
Are voters ready for fair policing in Sonoma County? This remains to be seen at the ballot box on June 5th.
Many Candidate forums are coming our way - one hosted by the Russian River Chamber of Commerce on Monday, March 5th at the Rio Theater in Monte Rio by the bridge on Hwy 116 West. Topics are oriented toward issues that are impacting the Lower Russian River area. INFO: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sheriffs-candidate-forum-russian-river-chamber-of-commerce-tickets-43298926254?ref=eios&aff=eios
Attending these forums and staying in touch with the candidates' web and social media pages will help us learn who they are.
All three candidates have agreed to answer reader questions from Gazette readers. Please send your questions to email@example.com for the April(by March 16) and May(by April 20)editions. We will choose two questions for April and two for May. Each candidate will have 300 words to answer each question.
Our future will depend upon the next Sheriff’s value system and approach toward leadership. This is one of many ways to learn how they plan to lead us into the future.
JOHN MUTZ FOR SONOMA SHERIFF: johnmutzforsonomasheriff.com
MARK ESSICK FOR SHERIFF: essickforsheriff2018.com
ERNESTO OLIVARES FOR SHERIFF: olivaresforsheriff.com
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