As Election Day approaches, one of the most controversial and at times ugly races has been the November runoff for the District 1 supervisorial seat between Merced County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Pacheco and incumbent Supervisor John Pedrozo.
The two have clashed on everything from public safety to the economy and use of discretionary funds. The political attacks escalated to anonymous mailer ads in June and press releases blasting each other's political and personal decisions.
Pacheco recently took aim at Pedrozo's decision to add a public affairs position for the county, which would cost taxpayers $100,000.
"I think the county needs more police officers on the street, and we could have foregone the public affairs officer to put more deputies on the street," Pacheco said, claiming Pedrozo cut four deputy positions. "I think the money would be better spent on law enforcement than on press affairs. We can always use more policemen on the street."
Pedrozo called Pacheco's claims "totally untrue," insisting that no cuts were made to the number of deputies on the street and that the four eliminated positions were vacant. He said streamlining allowed the addition of the public affairs position.
"We combined some positions on the third floor in the CEO's department, so we had a vacant spot," Pedrozo said, adding that the number of clerks went from 10 to seven. "This position will be an eighth person, but it's still a cost saving to the county of over $25,000. As far as actually taking deputies off the street, I can tell you, and I'll tell anybody, that we've never done that."
Still, many have questioned the need for a public affairs officer when the supervisors, who get paid upward of $90,000 a year, could handle media and press inquiries themselves. But Pedrozo responded that most California counties have a public affairs person and whoever fills the position would do more than handle phone calls from reporters.
"This person is an outreach person for the county, not just for the Board of Supervisors." Pedrozo said, noting the position existed before budget cuts. "We need someone at the county that can outreach and go to Sacramento." Pacheco rebutted by saying "As a supervisor, that's your job -- to do outreach and meet with other officials."
Agreement on priorities
The candidates may never see eye to eye on the public affairs position, but they identified the same issues as top priorities this election season: public safety and jobs.
Pacheco, who works in law enforcement, said not enough focus is placed on getting gangs off the streets of Merced. "Our biggest problem right now is gang violence," he said. "I live in Le Grand and I hear the gunshots and see the gang members in the park. In District 1, this is our biggest problem right now."
Pedrozo responded Thursday, saying, "Drugs are still No. 1. I'm not saying gangs aren't No. 1, but drugs and gangs go together." He added that judges at the courthouse say more than 80 percent of their trials are drug-related. "I know there's an issue with gangs," Pedrozo said, "but it's not just District 1."
The issue of jobs has created a big rift between the two candidates, especially when it comes to the Wal-Mart distribution center and the high-speed rail project, both of which mean potential jobs for the county.
Pacheco said Pedrozo is against the Wal-Mart distribution center because he's not been "vocal and engaged" in his support. Pedrozo denied that, and said Pacheco is against the high-speed rail project, which he said would create jobs and help "get our economy in Merced back to where it was."