Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas included a commendable request in his retirement announcement this week.
Freitas, who is stepping down 17 months early due to undisclosed health issues, asked the Board of Supervisors to appoint Rob Giordano to run the 650-employee department until a new sheriff is elected next year.
Giordano is a capable and experienced law enforcement officer, with more than two decades of experience with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, including the past three as assistant sheriff in charge of the law enforcement division.
More important is what Giordano is not: a candidate for sheriff.
Sonoma County hasn’t had a contested election for sheriff since 1990 — when the elder George Bush was president and nearly a decade before members of this year’s high school graduating class were born. Four interim and permanent sheriffs have held the job since then, each hand-picked by his predecessor and other top brass in the Sheriff’s Office.
By comparison, 19 of California’s 58 counties had contested elections for sheriff in 2014.
Six candidates for Sonoma County sheriff quickly emerged earlier this year when Freitas announced that this term, his second, would be his last.
They are Windsor police Chief Carlos Basurto, sheriff’s Capt. Mark Essick, Santa Rosa City Councilman Ernesto Olivares, retired Sheriff’s Capt. Dave Edmonds, San Francisco Sheriff’s Deputy Jay Foxworthy and retired Los Angeles police Capt. John Mutz.
The filing deadline for the June primary is almost nine months off, so the field could swell or shrink before voters go to the polls.
Some of the declared candidates are better known than others, though none of them has had much of an opportunity to lay out their views for the public. So, as a matter of fairness to the candidates and to the voters, no one who plans to run should be given the advantage of incumbency that would come with an appointment to serve through next year as interim sheriff.
All of the candidates have law enforcement credentials — a prerequisite for the job.
Giordano also is qualified, and he might make a fine sheriff. But he has told The Press Democrat that he won’t run for job, and Freitas made the same point in his retirement announcement. “So his appointment should have no affect on the people’s vote for the next sheriff,” Freitas said. Before appointing him interim sheriff, the supervisors should publicly ask for the same commitment, although it wouldn’t be legally binding.
Freitas’ departure extends an unfortunate pattern of Sonoma County elected officials stepping down early. The county, for example, has had three auditor-controller treasurer-tax collectors since the 2014 election. But health issues are a legitimate reason to resign from a stressful, demanding job such as sheriff.
Freitas became a Sonoma County deputy sheriff in 1991, the year after the last contested election. His 6½-year tenure in the top job was marred by lawsuits alleging civil rights violations in the jail and the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a deputy who mistook the teenager’s toy gun for a real firearm. Those controversies shouldn’t overshadow his accomplishments, including guiding the office through a recession that forced difficult budget cuts, and his cooperation with the county’s new law enforcement oversight agency should be an example for his successor.