Undersheriff’s job called excess

Sheriff’s candidate Ben Hall says he would eliminate the position of undersheriff should he be elected and redirect the more than $150,000 saved toward officers on the street.

If Hall, a 35-year department veteran, were elected and carried out his proposal, the county could be without both Sheriff Pat Hedges and his right-hand man, Undersheriff Steve Bolts, at the top of the department food chain a year from now.

Bolts and Hedges have been at the center of various Sheriff’s Department controversies in recent years, including the surreptitious taping of a department chief deputy, Gary Hoving. It cost the county $600,000 to settle that suit after Hoving took them to court.

But Hall, a Cal Poly graduate who holds the rank of patrol commander, is not aiming his proposed change at the performance in office of the two incumbents. He says the job is simply superfluous.

“I understand the Sheriff’s Department, and I don’t need an undersheriff to run my department,” he told The Tribune.

Further, Hall said, an undersheriff insulates the sheriff from employees of lesser rank, and he believes those lines of communication should remain open.

Hedges named Bolts undersheriff in 2004. The department had not had the position for almost 30 years.

The job pays between $140,000 and $170,000 a year plus benefits.

Bolts did not respond to requests for comment.

Hall’s plan to eliminate the undersheriff position is part of a larger scheme to streamline the department and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy, he says.

Hall also released the results of an unscientific online survey that showed residents consider property crimes the “major problem facing law enforcement in the county.”

The poll also revealed significant concern about gang activity and a belief among more than 50 of those who answered that there should be random drug testing of high school athletes and students.

Hall has six opponents: retired CHP Sgt. Michael “Tex” Teixeira; Sheriff’s Deputy Mark J. Adams; former Pismo Beach Police Chief Joe Cortez; entertainment broker Kevin Faircourt; former county supervisor and San Luis Obispo police Lt. Jerry Lenthall; and Ian Parkinson, a San Luis Obispo Police Department captain.

The sheriff oversees a staff of 392 and a $55 million budget. The department patrols about 3,200 square miles in the unincorporated areas of the county.