Parkinson wins race for San Luis Obispo County sheriff

Ian Parkinson was all smiles as he spoke with supporter Vicki Shelby at Mother's Tavern shortly after the initial election results were released.
Ian Parkinson was all smiles as he spoke with supporter Vicki Shelby at Mother's Tavern shortly after the initial election results were released.

San Luis Obispo police Capt. Ian Parkinson will be the county’s next sheriff, as he overcame a challenge by Joe Cortez on Tuesday for the post.

In a bruising campaign against Cortez, the retired Pismo Beach police chief, Parkinson positioned himself as having gained a better understanding of the county and its needs by rising up the ranks to become a captain at the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

Parkinson, the highest vote-getter in the June primary, took the lead after the first group of ballots was counted Tuesday evening and held it throughout the night.

As of 11:37 p.m., voter turnout was 45 percent out of San Luis Obispo County’s 156,504 registered voters.

Parkinson won with support from a wide range of local elected officials and the two unions representing sheriff’s deputies, correctional officers and other employees.

“I think our plan of running a clean campaign and sticking to the issues as best as we could paid off,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson said he’d now start planning his transition, including drafting a list of objectives and a timetable to accomplish them.

“I feel excited,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of change that needs to take place and I think they (department employees) are excited about it.”

The two candidates sought 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.

Outgoing Sheriff Pat Hedges is retiring after 12 years as the department’s leader.

Cortez and Parkinson said during their campaigns that they would restore accountability and transparency to the department.

Throughout the campaign, Cortez positioned himself as an outsider and criticized Parkinson for never having led a department.

“We just had a tremendous amount of support up and down the county,” Cortez said early Tuesday evening at the SLO Down Pub in Arroyo Grande, where supporters, many wearing blue campaign shirts, listened to bluegrass music in one room and watched returns in another.

Having Parkinson as sheriff could mean a focus on a better relationship with the Board of Supervisors than Hedges, whose relationship with the county’s top elected leaders could be called shaky at best.

Four of the five county supervisors — all but Katcho Achadjian, who ran for state Assembly — endorsed Parkinson’s campaign. Achadjian did not endorse a candidate.

Parkinson has said one of his first priorities as sheriff is to re-establish the department’s internal affairs unit, which was disassembled when Hedges was elected.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.