California's system of electing county sheriffs, especially in metropolitan areas, does not generally serve the public well.
Santa Clara County is a good example of this, where most of the votes cast are from voters in cities served by local police departments and where the only interest in the sheriff is to make sure the jails are running smoothly and the courts are secure.
The sheriff's office is responsible for law enforcement in all unincorporated county lands (except for Stanford, where a unique arrangement delegates authority to the University's own private police force), plus three smaller cities (Los Altos Hills, Saratoga and Cupertino), which contract with the sheriff for police services.
The current campaign being waged by retired sheriff's captain Kevin Jensen against Sheriff Smith demonstrates why a better system would be for county boards of supervisors to hire a sheriff rather than having them elected.
Through mailings, robo phone calls and anonymous blog postings, Jensen and his supporters are slinging lots of accusations against Smith with little substance to back them up.
They have cherry-picked and distorted some inartfully handled incidents during Smith's 12 years in office, but their overriding argument is that deputies don't like her or her management style and believe she lacks "vision" for the department.
Not surprisingly, this criticism won Jensen the backing and financial support of the deputy sheriffs' union and the union of correctional officers, as well as most of the unions of city police departments and a contingent of retired police chiefs, including former Palo Alto chief Lynn Johnson.
Smith enjoys the support and respect of all five county supervisors, including Joe Simitian, and a long list of elected officials. Perhaps most significant is the fact she has been endorsed by almost every councilmember in the three cities that contract with the sheriff for police services, in other words, her customers.
With no one other than deputy sheriffs complaining about Smith's management abilities, the public has little reason to turn Smith out of office. The county supervisors who approve her budget and most closely monitor her work and the cities that directly receive services from her department agree she is doing a good, competent job.
Jensen, who retired last year at age 50 after 28 years in the department, is able to draw the maximum pension of approximately $150,000 a year. The sheriff earns roughly $240,000 a year.
Jensen has had a long and distinguished career with the sheriff's department, but we are uncomfortable with his campaign tactics, union backing and distorted criticisms of the incumbent. And we find little to fault in Smith's tenure except for her occasional missteps that stem more from a lack of political polish and public communication skills than from a deficiency in her management ability.
We recommend the re-election of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.
Yes on Prop. 42
Although Proposition 42 faces only token opposition, its passage is critically important to fix a problem that threatens the transparency of local government operations in California.
The measure, approved without a dissenting vote by both the state Assembly and Senate, will amend the Constitution to make local governments responsible for the costs of making their official documents available to the public.
Under current law, because complying with the Public Records Act is considered a state mandate, the state must reimburse local governments for their costs. While many, if not most, local agencies don't bother to seek reimbursement because the costs are so small, the reimbursement process has led to confusion and, recently, to a brief suspension of the law due to the state financial situation.
Prop. 42 makes clear that cost should never be a factor in whether local governments comply with the Public Records Act. As we have seen many times locally, the Public Records Act is an essential tool to ensure public accountability and sunshine on the workings of government.
We urge a "yes" vote on Proposition 42.