Ian Parkinson prepares to take on role of San Luis Obispo County sheriff

While sheriff hopeful Joe Cortez spent his day thanking supporters, returning phone calls and removing yard signs, Sheriff-elect Ian Parkinson said he’s gearing up to start work on a plan to guide his transition into the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.

With all of the 157 precincts in the county reporting, Parkinson, currently a San Luis Obispo police captain, unofficially won Tuesday’s election, capturing 54.5 percent to Cortez’s 45 percent. He led Cortez by about 7,000 votes.

Still outstanding are 25,312 mail-in, provisional and unprocessed ballots. County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said it would be “highly unlikely” for Cortez, the retired Pismo Beach police chief, to overcome the difference. To do so, he’d need to take two votes to every one for Parkinson, she said.

Cortez proved to be a formidable opponent throughout the campaign. His grassroots approach gained him support county-wide, particularly in the South County, according to an analysis in October of some of his campaign contributions, 75 percent of which came from South County residents.

“I think we did about everything we could,” he said. “I think we had 24 or 25 forums. I was hoping to have some debates.

“At some point,” he added, “it’s like, ‘Let’s vote, let’s see what happens.’ ”

Parkinson announced his candidacy for sheriff in March 2009. He led by a large margin after the June primary and maintained support throughout what was at times a contentious campaign.

Parkinson did not, however, gain enough votes in the primary to win outright, so he and Cortez, the top two vote-getters, advanced to the November general election.

Parkinson will likely be sworn in Jan. 3. He will replace Sheriff Pat Hedges, who has been with the Sheriff’s Department since October 1977, serving 12 of those years as its leader.

“I met with Capt. Parkinson today and congratulated him on his election,” Hedges said in an e-mail. “We discussed various topics, and we will begin the transition within the next few days. I look forward to working with Capt. Parkinson as he prepares to take the helm of the Sheriff’s Department.”

In describing the department’s atmosphere, sheriff’s spokesman Rob Bryn said, “There is a lot of joy in the house today. There is anxious anticipation that we are going to be moving forward in a positive new direction.”

Among Parkinson’s first tasks is putting together two transitional plans — one to shift out of his job at the San Luis Obispo department and another to move into the sheriff position.

He plans to put together a transitional team and set up meetings so that he can determine what he wants to accomplish in his first 30 days.

Parkinson said he needs to learn what timetables are currently in place — on the budget, for example — and establish the goals he’d like to achieve.

“My plan is to get out in various parts of the community to bring them into that strategic planning process,” Parkinson said. He said he plans to continue attending community services district and advisory board meetings and will start setting up some public meetings throughout the county.

To those who voted for Cortez, he said his outreach will aim to prove that he will “follow through on what I said I was going to do.”

One of those plans includes selecting someone — either a current or past department employee — to serve as undersheriff for a period of four to six months.

At that point, once he has evaluated the department’s structure and deployment, Parkinson said he may decide to keep the undersheriff position but would staff it with a different individual.