Morale cited as an issue in the upcoming sheriff's race.
Thursday, March 5, 1998
In 1990, Bud Cook was Monterey County''s Sheriff. His main challenger was Lieutenant Sheriff Norm Hicks, a 25-year department veteran with strong "on the street" expertise, a stated regard for keeping the sheriff''s office open and apolitical, and a political platform that included rapping Cook for poor department morale.
Eight years later, as Hicks tries to make a bid for a third, four-year term, two apparent challengers from within his department are trying to unseat him. Both allege that the sheriff''s department is plagued by low morale and that Hicks is an intransigent manager out of touch with the needs of the men and women fighting crime.
"The present administration has lost contact with the working force of the department," says Gordon Sonn, a Monterey County Sheriff''s Deputy and 27-year department veteran who challenged Hicks in the three-way, June 1994 primary, only to finish dead last. "It''s a them-versus-us atmosphere."
"It appears that everyone is happy [with Hicks], but quite frankly, there''s an in-house knowledge that things aren''t happy," says Bill Cassara, a deputy sheriff and field training officer who has been with the Monterey County Sheriff''s Department for 17 years. (Cassara has taken out papers to run against Hicks, but as of CW presstime, had not returned them.)
"There is a morale problem to a degree," says Ed Hibbs, the current president of the Deputy Sheriffs Association (DSA) of Monterey County. "Some of the deputies do feel alienated by management."
Hicks says he''s "comfortable that the DSA will endorse me"--as it has in the last two races. But in a Dec. 10, 1997 DSA memo to "all concerned," Hibbs cited two instances of being summoned by a chief within the sheriff''s department who specifically said the sheriff was interested in learning who the DSA would support for sheriff in 1998. According to Hibbs'' memo, both meetings took place on duty time.
"I think what we have here is a conflict between two individuals [Hibbs and the chief]," says Hicks, who maintains that the chief alluded to in the DSA memo is "very dedicated to the department and to keeping things running smoothly. By merely asking questions, he wasn''t trying to pressure anyone."
According to Hicks, morale within the sheriff''s department is "no worse than it''s been in the past--[and] may be better," thanks in part to what he describes as "a major emphasis on open communications," enthusiasm for the department''s focus on "community policing," and a 21 percent raise Hicks says he was able to secure for the deputies a few years ago--"the largest [deputy] raise in the state," says Hicks.
Nevertheless, although Cassara and Sonn contend they aren''t on a Hicks-bashing quest, they both paint a picture of a sheriff who often makes decisions that benefit him politically at the expense of prudent crime-fighting. Specifically, they both maintain that the sheriff has taken needed personnel off the streets to deploy people on projects that are "all political and all for show," says Sonn.
"I''m asking why it''s more important to take away patrol deputies from their primary function," adds Cassara. "He [Hicks] has little pet projects that he has taken important manpower for." As an example, Cassara points to the DARE drug education program. "Nobody is against DARE," adds Cassara, who nevertheless asserts that the program is currently being staffed by "four officers, including one deputy supervising the other deputies."
Hicks says there are just three deputies assigned to DARE--one for the Salinas Valley, one for the Monterey Peninsula, and one for North County--adding that those who criticize the use of officers for crime-prevention projects "are very narrow-minded in terms of what is fighting crime." Such assignments consist of those who "are fighting crime on the front end," says Hicks.
The actual number of sheriff department employees has risen in the past five years, from 385.5 positions (268 of which were deputies) in 1992-1993 to 497.5 positions (317 of which are deputies) in 1997-98. But Cassara maintains that because of Hicks'' special deployments, "the people out there [the sheriff has] sworn to protect are getting shortchanged for the tax dollar." Cassara, who is currently assigned to training department rookies, also maintains there are "less deputies assigned to patrol on the Monterey side" of the county than were there 15 years ago. He adds that people in "Pebble Beach are under the illusion they have their own patrol" when in actuality, the beat includes Carmel Woods, Jacks Peak and "all the way through Chamisal and Laguna Seca."
Hicks adamantly insists that response time is better than when he took office, and that communities all over the unincorporated parts of the county from "Big Sur to Cachagua and Pajaro" are well protected.
Themes like response time, morale and community policing are all significant in the sheriff''s race. But what will largely determine how well those messages are communicated will be the campaign contributions each contender receives. Hicks--a veritable fund-raising powerhouse--was able to raise and spend in excess of $60,000 during his last campaign. Sonn, who finished behind both Hicks and two-time challenger Detective Andy Enni, raised just $6,101. Sonn says he''ll need $30,000 to $35,000 to win this time around. Cassara says he expects it will take a "minimum of $50,000" to pull off a victory--money that he says will come from "restaurants, resorts and some big-name celebrities"--some of which used to support Hicks.
The incumbent sheriff himself says his goal is to raise $75,000, and he says those dollars will come from "a base of supporters" that includes all levels of financial ability--"from people on Social Security who give me a $5 bill to people with money who give hundreds of dollars.
"I''m a candidate for all people," adds Hicks. "I''m available and accessible and will continue to be."