Sheriff candidates Joe Cortez and Ian Parkinson agreed wholeheartedly on one issue during a forum Wednesday in Arroyo Grande: Marijuana should not be legalized.
But on other issues — from their law enforcement experience to their plans for the County Jail to how they would “instill an attitude of professionalism” among sheriff’s deputies — they differed, sometimes widely.
The candidates spoke during a luncheon presented by the Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach chambers of commerce.
Cortez, Pismo Beach’s former police chief, and Parkinson, a San Luis Obispo police captain, will face each other in the Nov. 2 election because they were the top two finishers in the June primary. They are running to replace outgoing Sheriff Pat Hedges, who is retiring after 12 years with the department.
They seek to oversee the 368-member Sheriff’s Department, which has a $57.2 million budget and patrols about 3,200 square miles in the unincorporated areas of the county. The annual salary is $182,104.
The two candidates were given 10 minutes to speak at the start of the forum before answering a few questions. Cortez used some of his time to criticize Parkinson, while Parkinson focused on things he would do if elected.
“While he was serving his community well as a police officer, I was serving my community as a police chief,” Cortez said, adding that he’s the only candidate to have his bachelor’s degree and be a certified emergency manager through FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.
Cortez received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration in 2000 from Bellevue University, a Nebraska-based university that offers online classes, and is working on a master’s degree in leadership.
Parkinson said he is working on a bachelor’s degree in police administration through Columbia College, which has a satellite office at Cuesta College, and hopes to finish within a year.
“In my administration, you’re going to see change within the first 30 days,” Cortez said, knocking Parkinson for reportedly saying it would take several terms to turn the department around.
Parkinson clarified the point, saying he meant he would “be around for two to three terms” working on today’s problems as well as preparing for “tomorrow’s issues.”
Parkinson said he would increase the number of deputies on the street, possibly using part-time reserves, address any growing gang problems, and re-establish the department’s internal affairs unit.
“I am going to change the look of the Sheriff’s Department and make you proud of it as well,” he said.
Cortez also said he wants to re-establish internal affairs, which existed before Hedges’ election in 1998. After that, Hedges divvied up the work among a handful of sergeants and lieutenants.
Cortez said, unlike Parkinson, he wants to bring in someone from outside the organization to run the unit. That person would report directly to him.
Cortez said his 15 years of serving as police chief gives him the experience to serve as sheriff. He was Pismo Beach’s chief from 2001 to 2008. Before that, he served as police chief in Brush and Aspen, Colo.
He said he trimmed the Pismo Beach department budget through attrition, by eliminating one position and reducing four corporal positions to officers, earned the department national accreditation, and “never lost a nickel or dime of taxpayers’ money through lawsuits.”
Parkinson stressed his leadership abilities, noting he’s been involved in managing the San Luis Obispo police department’s $15 million budget and currently oversees about 45 people. He was named a police captain in 2005 and has served as an associate faculty member at the police academy at Allan Hancock College for about 10 years.
He said he’s also managed multiple administration projects — some in the multimillion-dollar range — as early as the 1990s, when as an officer he was tasked with outfitting the department’s first SWAT van, a $50,000 project.
The candidates answered other questions, including:
• How their experience will benefit them when dealing with administrative work.
“This is exactly what I’ve done for 15 years,” Cortez said, adding that he has taught students attending police academies at Allan Hancock College, Colorado Mountain College and Northeastern Junior College, also in Colorado, and a for-credit class through Columbia College.
He said he was involved in the hiring process of a majority of the police chiefs in the county and would use those relationships to work collaboratively with the different departments.
Parkinson said moving through the ranks during his 22-year career with the San Luis Obispo Police Department gave him a better understanding of employees’ roles at each level.
“The key to administrative work is experience, not just behind a desk but in the field,” he said. “Joe has spent the last 15 years in administration. I think I have a better understanding of what needs to be done.”
• Their plans for the County Jail.
Cortez said he wants to do a top-to-bottom review of the jail and make sure the right number of employees are working there. He also wants to focus on programs that provide help to those with mental health problems and drug and alcohol issues and keep them out of jail.
Parkinson said there’s money available for expanding the jail, but no funds to increase staffing. Currently, he said, one correctional officer supervises 100 inmates in a housing unit.
He lauded the county’s home detention program, which brought nearly $400,000 in revenue last fiscal year to the county though fees paid by those using the program.
He also said the department’s computer program needs an overhaul, and the honor farm program — which gives inmates with nonviolent and nonserious offenses job skills — should be expanded for women.