Christianson merits re-election as sheriff

Four years ago, Adam Christian- son was elected Stanislaus County sheriff in a tough and nasty battle against a fellow lawman.

With the hard-fought victory, Christianson made a huge jump in responsibility, going from being a lieutenant to leading of one of the largest and most significant agencies in the county.

Since then, we've seen Christianson work very hard, reach out to individuals and neighborhoods, collaborate effectively with other agencies and organizations, and make some very difficult budget decisions.

And we've also seen him make a few missteps.

As he seeks a second term, Christianson acknowledges that he still has much to learn. We agree -- but we also think that he is the better choice in this race, for several reasons.

Christianson is being challenged by Rob Jackson, a former sheriff's department employee who is now one of two captains in the Turlock Police Department, an agency about one quarter the size of the sheriff's office.

Jackson comes across as a sincere and thoughtful candidate, but he has offered few specifics on exactly how he would change the department.

He has pledged to restore morale and regularly consult with employee associations and other stakeholders. And he has advocated more communication and planning.

All of that sounds good, but falls short on specifics. More important, it shows a naiveté in thinking that in today's tough economic times, a leader can gather employee consensus on budget cuts and other painful and unpleasant decisions.

For the current year, the sheriff's office had to cut its budget 5 percent, while most other county departments were reduced 12 percent. Headed into 2010-11, the sheriff's office is facing the same percentage cut as the other departments. With public safety representing such a large percentage of the county's general fund spending, it is impossible to spare the department again; thus, for the coming year, it could lose as many as 52 people.

Some of Jackson's supporters seem to think he will be able to protect the Sheriff's Department from layoffs and other reductions. That simply is not going to happen.

And with an even more grim budget forecast for 2011-12, based on property and sales tax income and other factors, it's likely that even harsher cuts will be needed down the road.

Christianson, like other elected leaders, already has had to make some tough budget decisions, and we think he has mostly made the correct ones.

He has been a forceful advocate before the Board of Supervisors and the Legislature, arguing to retain funding for the sheriff's office and its many programs.

At the same time, though, he has moved to adapt to leaner times. For example, he shifted to a decentralized structure that has deputies reporting out of area commands. His opponent and the patrol deputies' union think he moved too quickly, but Christianson's action gives deputies more time on patrol and responding to calls.

We've also seen Christianson work effectively with other law enforcement leaders, especially on instituting the gang injunction, which seems to be having results in south Modesto.

While gangs and drugs remain major problems, the county has seen a reduction in overall crime -- something Christianson points to with pride in his campaign.

Finally, he has earned the respect of the agriculture community, and the endorsement of the county Farm Bureau for his effectiveness in responding to rural crime.

Does this mean it's been all smooth sailing for Christianson and the department? No.

Is there friction in the department? Yes. Some of what has surfaced during this election appears to be left over from the 2006 race that created a bitter division in the department between supporters of Christianson and those of his opponent, Mark Puthuff.

Are there morale problems? Yes. But as with most public agencies -- and private companies -- many of those can be attributed to the stresses and uncertainties of the horrible economic times.

Have there been some black marks on the department? Yes. Several sexual harassment lawsuits were filed by former and current female employees, and while the county won the most recent case, it has paid out settlements and substantial legal fees. But at least some of the cases, in our view, resulted from efforts to clean up the department's culture and demand accountability.

Does Christianson have his critics? Of course. Some simply have differences of opinion. A few, such as former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino and Riverbank Councilman Jesse James White, hurl absurd conspiracy accusations that are without merit. In the end, though, criticism comes with the territory for the sheriff or any elected official.

Does Adam Christianson deserve re-election? Yes.

Over the past four years, we have seen him mature, and are confident he'll continue to grow as a leader, in spite of -- and perhaps because of -- the hard decisions he's had to make.

There are tough times ahead, and Christianson's leadership, experience and performance in his first term make him our choice for sheriff.