San Luis Obispo County sheriff candidates Joe Cortez and Ian Parkinson traded barbs Wednesday at a public forum that covered a wide range of topics, from the candidates’ experience to overcrowding issues at the County Jail.
Their meeting was more contentious than the previous two dozen forums they’ve attended throughout this year’s campaign.
Cortez, a retired Pismo Beach police chief, stressed his 15 years as a chief in California and Colorado, and said he’s an outsider who is “beholden to no one but you, the voters of San Luis Obispo County.”
Parkinson, a San Luis Obispo police captain, said working up the ranks in the department since 1988 gives him critical middle-management experience that Cortez lacks.
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“I think what’s important is understanding the needs of this county,” he said.
Cortez and Parkinson will face each other in the Nov. 2 election. 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 two candidates answered 35 questions at a forum in San Luis Obispo hosted by the Sheriff’s Advisory Council and the League of Women Voters.
Both candidates said if elected, they’d intend to serve for some time.
Cortez said he’d like to serve three terms, or 12 years, and Parkinson also said he’d also like to serve that long, or “as long as I’m capable of performing the job.”
Cortez also pledged not to take any pay increases as sheriff, nor take the county’s health benefits. Instead, he said, he would funnel that money back to the department.
When asked how much time he’d spent learning about the organization, Cortez said he’s limited his visits to the department substations because he doesn’t want to take people away from their jobs.
“There will be plenty of time to learn,” he said. “I think I’m ready to go on day one.”
To that, Parkinson responded: “It’s contradictory to say you’re ready to lead on day one but don’t want to go out to the agency that you’re going to take over.”
Parkinson said he’s spent hours learning about the department.
Cortez and Parkinson on other issues:
How they would meet the department’s needs during difficult budget times: Both mentioned grant funding. Cortez suggested working more collaboratively with the county’s police departments; Parkinson mentioned using unpaid reserves and volunteers.
Their plans for addressing overcrowding in the woman’s jail: Cortez said alternatives, such as work release and home detention programs, need to be studied. He also suggested county officials work with Santa Barbara on helping expand its proposed new jail to house some of San Luis Obispo County’s inmates. Parkinson said plans for the jail can’t be put off, but inmates should also be exposed to more job skills.
Questions about the candidates’ education were also raised. Cortez received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration in 2000 from Bellevue University; he is working on a master’s degree in leadership. Parkinson is working on a bachelor’s degree in police administration through Columbia College.
Whether they would grant concealed weapons permits: Parkinson said people would be issued permits but only after several standards are met. Cortez said the department would issue permits.