The two men who have announced they will run for Stanislaus County sheriff in the June election presented contrasting perceptions of the department at a Wednesday night debate.
Turlock police Capt. Rob Jackson said the department is managed without much input from its employees.
"You guys really do have the best ideas," said Jackson, who is a former lieutenant with the department. "One of the things I want to bring back to the department is the voice for the employees."
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said the department has as much employee input in management decisions as he promised to have before he was elected in 2006.
"From the very beginning, I've offered an open-door policy," Christianson said. "We have not suppressed that voice."
The Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff's Association invited the challenger and the incumbent to answer questions about issues affecting the union, which represents about 220 deputies who work in the jail facilities.
Other sheriff's employees were invited to the event, which was not open to the public. About 60 people attended the debate held at Brenden Theatres in downtown Modesto.
One stark contrast between the candidates was their views of the department's decentralization plan, which was implemented by Christianson's administration in February and shifted sheriff's officials to four offices around the county.
The plan was designed to provide a greater presence and improve services to outlying areas near Patterson, Riverbank, Salida and Waterford.
Also, the plan was created to allow deputies serving those areas to avoid having to report back to the sheriff's headquarters in south Modesto.
"What I'm hearing back from the troops is that it works," Christianson said.
Some deputies, he said, have complained about having to drive somewhere else to get to work, but the plan has improved the service to those communities.
Jackson said the decentralization plan isn't working because of the way it was designed and implemented. He said the plan was modeled after Fresno County's decentralization plan, and that county is much larger than Stanislaus County.
"It should have been a pilot program," Jackson said about decentralization. "You should've tested the waters first."
But if he was elected sher- iff, Jackson promised, he would not scrap decentralization right away. He said he would re-examine the plan and see if changes could be made.
The union members will vote on whom the union should endorse, and an announcement should be made within a month, said Mark Cardoza, president of the deputies' association.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.