Undersheriff Tom Cavallero to be the next sheriff of Merced County

12/17/2013 6:18 PM

12/17/2013 8:53 PM

The Board of Supervisors unanimously appointed Undersheriff Tom Cavallero to complete the final year of Sheriff Mark Pazin’s term in office, but the 49-year-old confirmed Tuesday he won’t run for sheriff next year.

Last week Pazin announced plans to leave office after more than a decade to accept a position in Sacramento with the governor’s administration. His last day is Dec. 29, according to county documents.

Pazin, 57, is stepping down to accept an appointment as chief of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Law Enforcement Branch.

Cavallero, who’s spent nearly 30 years in law enforcement at the Sheriff’s Department, will take the reins from Pazin on Dec. 30 and serve until Jan. 1, 2015.

County supervisors Tuesday applauded Pazin’s accomplishments while in office and expressed confidence in Cavallero’s ability to lead.

“You have some big shoes to fill, but I think you’ll do it very well,” said District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo during the board meeting.

District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, chairwoman of the board, echoed that sentiment Tuesday. “I was very pleased you stepped up,” she told Cavallero. “You have demonstrated your leadership for decades.”

Cavallero said he was a “little nervous” about the appointment Tuesday but trusted the Board of Supervisors to make the right decision. Now he looks forward to the next 12 months of service, when he will concentrate on plans to build a new jail and keeping his team focused amid the election season.

The county was recently denied $40 million in state funding to build a new jail, but Cavallero said the department might appeal the decision. “The jail situation is critical because the facility we have here was never intended to house the type of inmates we have now,” Cavallero said. “This isn’t something we can wait on – it’s that critical. As you know, we had an escapee a couple days ago.”

As the election season approaches and a number of candidates announce plans to run for sheriff, Cavallero said his mission will be to keep his team of 300 employees on task with regard to the department’s goals.

“(Elections) can be distracting because overnight you have a new boss,” he said. “I’m going to go out of my way to not be involved in this and remind people that our mission is not the election cycle – it’s public safety.”

Cavallero said that’s one of the main reasons won’t throw his name in the hat for the race for sheriff next year.

“I’m not a political person, and I’d rather spend the next 12 months doing something meaningful than campaigning,” Cavallero said. “It’s really something that at this point doesn’t seem interesting to me. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities here and it doesn’t get better than this.”

Pazin said Cavallero will be the “stabilizing” force in the department during a tumultuous election year. He said Cavallero can call him with any questions once he takes over the position.

“He has my phone number if he needs any assistance,” Pazin said. “I’m not leaving the planet. I’ll be up in Sacramento and I’ll be working with him on and off. I wish him well and I know he will do well.”

There might be a few differences between the departing sheriff’s leadership style and that of Cavallero, Pazin said. The sheriff said he is more of a “conceptual” person while Cavallero is more hands-on.

The names of a few potential candidates for sheriff have circulated since the announcement of Pazin’s departure.

Frank Swiggart, 47, a longtime sheriff’s deputy who has been head of the Merced College Police Department for the last three years, said he intends to run for sheriff in 2014.

All indications are that Pat Lunney, chief investigator at the Merced County District Attorney’s Office and a former Merced police chief, will also make a bid for sheriff. Lunney, 66, said he’s holding a news conference at noon Thursday at the old courthouse to announce his decision.

Cavallero will be sworn in to his new position upon Pazin’s departure in two weeks.

Pazin said a new undersheriff will not be chosen until a new sheriff is elected.

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