During their first meeting, the new Merced County Board of Supervisors got an earful from residents angered about the possibility of using money from the county’s budget to help the Merced County Sheriff’s Posse participate in the presidential inauguration parade.
But before the item came to a vote, Sheriff Vern Warnke – wearing a red, white and blue shirt – made an announcement: The community had raised enough money to fully fund the posse’s trip without the county’s help.
In total, about $60,000 was raised for the posse’s trip to Washington, D.C., next week, said Laurette Locke, the group’s secretary-treasurer. At least $25,000 was needed to transport the horses 2,400 miles in temperature-controlled trucks.
“The outpouring of support has been unimaginable,” she said. “We’re so proud.”
Originally, Warnke said the group sought $80,000 for the trip. It was unclear just how much money would cover costs, Locke said.
This will be the third time the posse has participated in a presidential inauguration. The first time was in 1971 for President Richard M. Nixon, and the second was in 2005 when George W. Bush took office. The posse also participated in the nation’s 1976 Bicentennial Celebration.
The posse is sending 15 riders and horses, and about 25 family members will make up its support team.
Many residents at the supervisors meeting came prepared to protest, but instead voiced their relief that public money wouldn’t be needed to send the group. They shared their opposition to President-elect Donald Trump, noting the majority of county voters supported his opponent, Hillary Clinton. They said they thought the money could be better used elsewhere.
The sheriff and posse members said they decided they wanted to participate in the inauguration before the election, and no matter the results.
County Executive Officer Jim Brown explained that the $10,000 on the supervisors’ agenda came from an advertising section of the budget intended to market and promote tourism within the county.
The board members, most of whom voiced support for the posse, voted to pull the item from the agenda because the money already had been raised.
Board Chairman Daron McDaniel, supervisor for District 3, said the posse’s representation could be valuable marketing for the county.
As for participating in the inauguration celebration, he said, “It’s not about the person, it’s about the process.”
Warnke told the Merced Sun-Star that a joint $500 donation from Los Banos Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2487 and American Legion Post 166 early Tuesday put the posse’s fundraising over its goal.
“The community is supporting us going back,” Warnke said. “With the VFW and American Legion’s donation, we’re right there. We’re honored and flattered by the support.”
The posse also raised $25,000 to $30,000 at a weekend fundraiser at the Elks Lodge in Merced, and nearly $12,000 more was raised on a GoFundMe page.
Warnke said the posse would graciously accept additional donations, but that the group doesn’t want to be “gluttonous” and solicit taxpayer money.
Members of the Los Banos veterans organizations surprised Warnke and members of the posse with a check Tuesday morning at the groups’ regular meeting in the Los Banos VFW Hall.
In addition to providing the $500 check, consisting of $250 donations from each organization, the Los Banos VFW and American Legion wanted to challenge other area veterans organizations to raise money for the posse.
“When we thought of this weeks ago, they needed $10,000,” VFW Cmdr. Mike Hughes said, surprised by the news the posse had already reached its fundraising goal.
“The posse has been a supporter of our Veterans Parade, and the sheriff too,” American Legion Cmdr. Alan Cotta said.
The horses and riders will meet at the nation’s capital next week ahead of the Jan. 20 ceremony.
“They’re our first priority,” Locke said about the horses. “The horses go first class, and we go coach.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477