What is certain is that come 2022, there will be a new sheriff in town. After two terms, Sheriff Steve Bernal is retiring. That’s a good thing for multiple reasons. For one, it’s time for new leadership. Bernal’s relationship with other elected officials has soured to the point that he treats the county supervisors like a minor pest, and they have reacted by censuring him – basically an official reprimand. For another, while the county jail has taken measure to contain Covid outbreaks, outbreaks keep happening along with other health crises, such as suicides, that under a 2015 class-action settlement agreement over conditions at the jail are supposed to have come under control.

There’s also the politics of the sheriff’s office and the tradition of bitter campaigns for the seat. Here’s to hoping that 2022 is different – and there is reason to think it will be.

That’s partly because of the five candidates so far in the running, two are external to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office – Marina Police Chief Tina Nieto and Del Rey Oaks/Monterey Regional Airport Police Chief Jeff Hoyne – so the internal politics are not part of their world.

Nieto says she was heading toward retirement when the dysfunction at the sheriff’s office motivated her to run. “I just want to restore confidence in the office of the sheriff by collaborating with the Board of Supervisors,” she says. “I am looking to create clear channels of communication.” Hoyne sees running as a higher level of public service, and wants to build upon the massive turnaround he’s made in a department that was known most for corruption before his arrival.

There are also candidates from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. Jose Mendoza, a retired commander, has his differences with Bernal (he unsuccessfully challenged the outgoing sheriff in 2018). Joe Moses, a captain, has 27 years of experience in the department and says he’s proud of policies implemented in the jail to contain Covid outbreaks before they got worse. Justin Patterson, a current patrol deputy, has 21 years of experience and says a number of his colleagues have encouraged him to run.

What’s also different about this year’s race, at least so far – more candidates may still run – is who isn’t running. There is no member of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, which in the past two years has supported a deputy for office (Bernal was a deputy when he first ran, and beat the former sheriff, in 2014) and has been deeply politically involved. In some ways, the election became a forum to battle out disagreements over working conditions that should be handled in negotiations.

As current sheriff’s office employees, both Moses and Patterson are members of unions – the Monterey County Sheriff’s Management Association and the County of Monterey Patrol Association (COMPA), respectively. COMPA is newly certified, and includes about 60 members who are patrol deputies, detectives and others. The DSA is still active, and represents the larger portion of Monterey County sheriff’s deputies who work in corrections at the county jail.

COMPA’s president is Scott Davis, who ran against Bernal in 2018, and who is not planning to run this time. He says there was impetus to create a new union given the different jobs and training requirements for corrections deputies and patrol deputies. And he pledges that it will not get embroiled in politics.

“COMPA wasn’t designed to be a political entity, it was designed to represent the needs of our patrol deputies,” Davis says. “COMPA wishes the best to all the candidates, and we hope the race will be a clean race where ideas and thoughts can be represented in a public forum. It’s an extremely important position and a position that now, more than ever, needs to be looked at.”

And indeed, the public will be looking. There are a lot of substantive issues to get into – safety at the jail and determining the right number of deputies on patrol (depleted by more than 50 percent over the past decade) among them.

The sheriff’s office deserves strong leadership. I’m disappointed none of these candidates say they would enforce the county’s vaccine mandate – but they all say they would handle it with more of a problem-solving approach than their predecessor. At least that’s a start.

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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