A room filled with Merced County residents on Thursday applauded, cheered and sometimes debated with the candidates running for District 3 supervisor at a forum hosted by the Merced-Atwater Tea Party.
Incumbent Linn Davis, along with challengers Daron McDaniel and Tony Dossetti, sparred on topics ranging from high-speed rail to combating gang violence and a code of ethics for the Board of Supervisors.
Davis, 70, told the audience his goal was to continue doing what he’s done the last three years on the Board of Supervisors. “We’ve been moving District 3 and Merced County forward,” Davis said. “I’m not looking to change anything in how I’ve done things in the last three years.”
The audience seemed both pleased and at times aggravated with Davis, with one person telling the supervisor — who tended to go over his allowed time — to let the other candidates speak on the issues.
McDaniel, 49, relied mostly on his experience as a private businessman and aide to Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, while Dossetti, 64, touted his track record as an elected Merced City councilman and former police chief.
The candidates differed on the topics of the county’s increasing gang violence, shootings and homelessness, which fired up the debate.
Davis appeared to support former Sheriff Mark Pazin’s strategy of combating drugs as a means to reduce gang violence. He pointed to the county’s passage of a medical marijuana ordinance that limited the number of plants a person can grow on their parcel to 12.
“The biggest issue is drugs. My stance on marijuana is if you use it, you’re not in my court,” Davis said. “I think in the next few months, the issue with gangs will decrease drastically, and that’s because of the marijuana ordinance.”
McDaniel said he supported having all the police departments and sheriff’s department work together to solve the issue.
“Gangs are organized. The gangs are more organized than we are,” McDaniel said. “We need to connect with other agencies and work together.”
If elected, McDaniel said, he would give his district’s discretionary funds to public safety efforts — a $40,000 allotment given to each supervisor to use as they please — which he called a “slush fund.”
Davis fired back, saying the discretionary dollars helped support community projects and improvements to facilities in District 3, calling McDaniel’s idea “big-time politics.”
Davis also said District Attorney Larry Morse II, who recently criticized the Board of Supervisors for not allocating more funding to gang suppression efforts, refused to prosecute marijuana cases.
Dossetti called on his 30 years of experience in law enforcement, saying he would be the only board member with law enforcement experience. He said he would work with the Sheriff’s Department to help them combat the problem and work on getting people who have information about crimes to come forward.
Atwater resident Jeff Pennington asked the candidates to share their thoughts about high-speed rail, asking if they support the multibillion-dollar project.
Davis said he doesn’t support high-speed rail, but if state and federal agencies move forward with the project, he wants Merced County to have a piece of the pie. He pointed to the 1,500 maintenance jobs that would be created by the project coming to Merced.
McDaniel said he originally supported the project when it was backed by private investors and didn’t use precious farmland, but could not support it anymore.
Dossetti agreed with Davis about the number of high-paying jobs the project could bring, and said he wanted Merced County to be on board if the project moves forward.
Atwater resident Wayne Wallace asked if the candidates would support a code of ethics for the Board of Supervisors.
“The board does have a code of ethics, we just don’t live by it,” Davis said.
McDaniel said there needs to be a code of ethics and he would support having one.
Dossetti agreed. “Without a doubt, it’s incumbent on anyone that holds public office that you don’t lose the public trust,” he said. “If you don’t have the public’s trust, you might as well go home and call it a day.”
On the topic of jobs, Davis pointed to the increased activity at Castle Commerce Center, including the lease of a site by Google to test its driverless car program. Davis credited the county’s one-stop center, which streamlined the permitting process for businesses, and his work with county staff members.
“One of the issues was that staff was not doing its job,” Davis said, adding that he came down hard on the people managing that department. “When I first took office, people didn’t want to come here. Folks, that has turned around.”
McDaniel said he’s had people ask him to relocate his private business to other states and he knows how to keep business in the county.
“It’s not so much are we going to bring more business to Merced,” McDaniel said. “It’s how we’re going to keep business. It’s my job right now for the congressman (Denham) to go business to business and ask them what we can do for them.”
Dossetti said he believes government does not create private sector jobs and supports making the county a business-friendly environment.
“We need to make it easier to expand,” Dossetti said. “We have to make ourselves competitive not just with other counties, but also with other states.”
The primary election will be held June 3; a runoff will be held in November if one candidate doesn’t have more than 50 percent of the vote, according to the county’s election office.