State

Challenger backs more collaborative leadership style

In Rob Jackson's eyes, differences between Adam Christianson and him come down to style versus substance.

"I'm not interested," Jackson said, "in the title of sheriff. I want the job of sheriff."

It was apparent from their days as K-9 handlers that Christianson, now the sheriff, wanted to go places, said Jackson, now a Turlock police captain. He thought for a few moments about a proper description for his opponent, settling on "hard charger."

"His style is less collaborative, more dominant," Jackson said, "and that's kind of a recipe for disaster."

Results, Jackson say, include a host of legal troubles that cost Stanislaus County at least $2.6 million in recent months, premature launching of a decentralized command structure

and low department morale.

Under former Sheriff Les Weidman, the department became the first among 27 in the county to opt out of conventional sexual harassment training in favor of conducting its own. Christianson stands behind the training, saying it exceeds state requirements. Yet 10 women who work or worked for him have brought legal challenges, far exceeding the ratio for any other county department.

Employees fight back in court when they don't feel valued in the office, Jackson said, describing a "culture created when employees meet with an adversarial-type approach from management. As sheriff, you have to look at the health of the organization. You don't fight with your staff."

Decentralization in 2008 pushed the patrol deputies' union away from their boss. Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association President Vince Bizzini said deputies reporting to satellite stations instead of central command created confusion and resentment. Christianson said the financial crunch is forcing a return to central command.

Jackson said the outlying offices appeared to be "someone's pet project," pushed through without much input from the rank and file, then abandoned.

Morale is "at an all-time low," Jackson said. He suspects that management canceled a department survey in 2009 because responses from a survey the year before were critical of Christianson's command.

The department suffers from a lack of vision, Jackson says. He says he would empower employees by casting a wide net to gather input and mapping out a clear plan for the next few years.

"My skill set and leadership style is less reactive and more proactive," Jackson said. In weekly Web postings to supporters, he often emphasizes "ethics, integrity and professionalism."

Jackson recently said the sheriff flip-flopped on his policy for granting concealed weapons permits in an attempt to win votes among firearms advocates. Christianson earlier this month stunned a standing-room-only crowd by signing a pledge suggesting he'll grant more permits based on self- protection justification.

In an August letter to department employees, Jackson wrote, "I won't make a bunch of political promises just to get your vote."

Jackson also tires of the sheriff laying much of his department's trouble at the feet of the recession, saying, "We can't blame it all on the economy."

Born and raised in Ceres, Jackson now lives in Oakdale, where Gary Hampton was police chief before taking the same position in Turlock. Arriving there, Hampton hired Jackson to run one of three divisions -- he oversees detectives, internal investigations and animal services.

Former Assistant Sheriff Mark Puthuff had appointed Jackson as chief of police services in Waterford, a city that contracts with the county for law enforcement. Although Jackson had supported Puthuff in the 2006 election, Christianson kept Jackson in the prominent Waterford role and there were no hard feelings when Jackson left for Turlock in November 2007, both men say.

"I didn't ask Rob to leave the Sheriff's Department," Christianson said.

Should he win June 8, Jackson would not take office until the end of the year, fulfilling a commitment to give Turlock at least three years, he said.

Jackson is grateful that some department employees are publicly supporting him, including three lieutenants, four detectives, three sergeants, three retired sergeants, nine deputies, three retired deputies and retired former Assistant Sheriff Myron Larson.

"I appreciate the fact they're willing to step up in that environment, put their necks on the line and say, 'This is what's best for the department,' " Jackson said.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star

  Comments