Merced — District 1 Supervisor candidates John Pedrozo and James Pacheco clashed this week when Pacheco criticized his incumbent opponent over the proposed hiring of a public affairs officer by the county -- despite its tight budget.
Pacheco's concerns were raised in a news release sent out this week by his campaign.
Among the claims, Pacheco said Pedrozo "broke his word" to Merced County sheriff's deputies by voting for a 2012-13 county budget that cut four deputy sheriff positions. Pacheco said his opponent had guaranteed there would be no reduction in sheriff positions.
In the same news release, Pacheco said the more than $100,000 approved for a public affairs officer position could have been used to "keep at least one deputy sheriff on the street."
"I've always believed that a man's word is his bond, but John Pedrozo told the Deputy Sheriffs what they wanted to hear in order to get their endorsement, and then broke his word," Pacheco said in his release.
"Supervisors are paid more than $90,000 a year. They should be able to answer questions from the media themselves, instead of using scarce tax dollars to hire a press secretary to run interference for them."
Asked about Pacheco's claims, Pedrozo acknowledged voting to approve the hiring of a public affairs officer position Aug. 21. The supervisor vote on that particular action item, which include several job descriptions, was 4-1, with Supervisor Hub Walsh voting no.
However, Pedrozo took issue with his opponent's claim that he "broke his word" about cutting sheriff's deputies.
Pedrozo said the four deputy sheriff jobs Pacheco mentioned in his news release were vacant, unfilled positions -- and no deputies were laid off. "I want to reiterate that we did not take any bodies off the street," Pedrozo said this week. "No one has lost their job."
Pedrozo said he's disappointed his opponent has resorted to "negative campaigning," saying Pacheco's motivation for the release is probably fueled by his failure to garner the Merced County Deputy Sheriff Association's endorsement.
"I think his frustration is the support that I've gotten from public safety, and they're not endorsing their own," Pedrozo said. "(That) goes to show you that I've been a full supporter of public safety."
Asked why he'd support spending money on a public affairs officer when the county is strapped for cash, Pedrozo said the issue was brought before the board at the request of County Executive Officer James Brown, to provide better outreach for the county.
"It's not just the supervisor's (public information officer), it's the county's (public information officer), for all of the departments," Pedrozo said. "That person, whoever it will be, when it is filled, is a representative of the county."
Deputies on the street
Pacheco stood by the words in his news release Tuesday, saying the issue is about informing the public, not garnering an endorsement from the deputies' union. "I think the district would be better served by deputies on the street, more than a press secretary," Pacheco said.
He also said it doesn't make a difference that the deputy positions that were eliminated were vacant. "We can always use more deputies," Pacheco said. "One hundred thousand dollars, that would at least put one more deputy on the street. One more is better than not having one out there."
Pacheco said he didn't think the news release was negative campaigning. "It's out there. It's public knowledge to everybody," he said. "An informed public can make an informed decision."
Brown confirmed that the county is hiring a public affairs officer. The application period for the position opened Sept. 12 and closed Oct. 1. With benefits included, the position will cost the county about $150,000, Brown said.
Although Brown said he didn't want to get "caught up" in any issues between the candidates, he did say the public affairs officer's position isn't a "press secretary" -- the term Pacheco used in his news release to describe the job. Brown said the public affairs officer also will perform a government relations role, communicating with stakeholders and legislators in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as assist with internal employee communication and improve communication with the community.
To make the position possible, Brown said, a deputy county executive officer position was deleted. Despite the tough economic situation, Brown said a public affairs officer is needed.
"It is imperative during these times to improve our legislative efforts with significant activity in Sacramento and Washington. With all of the realignment programs that are taking place, with proposals to change county government, we need to be more proactive and increase our presence on these issues," Brown said.
Mike Harris, president of the Merced County Deputy Sheriff Association, said he was aware of the news release Pacheco sent out.
Still, Harris said, he doesn't feel Pedrozo broke any promises to law enforcement because no individual deputies lost their jobs during the passage of the last budget.
Harris said the union is still supporting Pedrozo. "We don't believe (Pedrozo) broke his word to us at all; as a matter of fact, we appreciate his support and the rest of the board's support for not cutting any deputies on the street," he said.
The Board of Supervisors in August passed a $431.7 million budget, down from $436.3 million in fiscal year 2011-12. The plan didn't dip into reserves, but does include $1.6 million in one-time revenues carried over from last year. Six layoffs were approved by the board, which included two correctional cooks. Administrative services, economic development, the library system and the health department, were also handed one layoff notice each.
The last person to hold the public affairs officer position in the county was Katie Albertson, who left in 2010.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or email@example.com.