The candidates for Merced County sheriff and District 3 supervisor took the stage Thursday night, sounding off on topics such as selling groundwater, corruption in the county, supervisors’ discretionary funds and the volatile protests happening in Ferguson, Mo.
Sheriff’s candidate Pat Lunney, the Merced County district attorney’s chief investigator, kicked off the forum, hosted by the Merced-Atwater Tea Party. Lunney told the crowd he knew early on that a career in law enforcement would be his “life’s work.”
Lunney said the biggest problem facing the Sheriff’s Department is a financial one. He said jobs at the Sheriff’s Department don’t pay as well as other areas, pointing to eight openings in the department that are still vacant. Lunney said he’s worked with large budgets and has the high-level management experience to lead the department.
Lunney was asked how he would handle large-scale protests and crowd unrest, similar to what’s happening in Ferguson. He responded by saying he’s dealt with similar situations and would prepare his deputies ahead of time.
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“I’m responsible for your safety and your property,” Lunney said, adding that he would increase bail amounts for the out-of-state protesters.
Taking a few friendly jabs at his opponent, sheriff’s Sgt. Vern Warnke took the stage next. Warnke said his 30 years of experience working in the department make him the best choice for sheriff.
Warnke spoke of poor employee morale at the Sheriff’s Department, saying deputies support him because he’s not a “good old boy.”
When asked about combating the county’s drug trafficking, Warnke said stopping the demand for drugs will put the dealers out of business. “We have these people moving in and selling dope because people keep buying it,” he said.
Warnke said being sentenced to jail time in Merced County should be a “miserable” experience to deter people from breaking the law.
Dossetti and McDaniel face off
The two candidates running for Merced County District 3 supervisor were next to take the stage.
Tony Dossetti, a Merced city councilman and former police chief, touted his “proven” track record as an elected official and his law enforcement experience, while Atwater businessman and congressional aide Daron McDaniel spoke of his business relationships and experience in a variety of fields.
Dossetti said his experience on the Merced City Council will help him tackle several big issues plaguing the county: budget constraints, retirement reform and groundwater management. Dossetti opposed selling groundwater out of the county, saying officials need to create an ordinance against it.
When asked about his experience as a former police chief, Dossetti said he was a “straightforward” administrator and did what was right – even if that meant he wasn’t liked by everyone. Dossetti said he also upgraded police equipment during his tenure.
Dossetti said he supports the supervisors’ discretionary funds, a $40,000 yearly allotment given to each supervisor to spend on projects within his or her district. It can help support a number of worthy causes, Dossetti said, but shouldn’t be rolled over each year.
“I believe whatever you haven’t spent goes back into the general fund,” Dossetti said.
McDaniel took a strong stand against the discretionary funds, saying he can see the value in using the money to upgrade buildings and structures, but using it to help nonprofits makes it a re-election fund.
McDaniel also took a stand against selling groundwater, although his position as a congressional aide to Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, has him working with many of the Stanislaus County water agencies that are buying Merced County’s groundwater. Hiring a water expert to draft a Merced County ordinance was a “step in the right direction,” McDaniel said.
He also pointed out that some local farmers will benefit from the water transfer because one of the Stanislaus County water districts covers about 9,000 acres in Merced County's west side.
About four years ago, McDaniel said he was approached to run against Mike Nelson for District 3 supervisor. McDaniel said he wasn’t ready at the time, but spent the next four years preparing for the job by studying the issues affecting Merced County.
When asked how many Board of Supervisors meetings he’s attended, McDaniel said he could not attend very many because they are held on Tuesday mornings.“When I become a supervisor, I will create night meetings,” he said.