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3 Sonoma County sheriff candidates promise collaboration, oversight, leadership

A virtual forum hosted by a small neighborhood group Tuesday evening was inundated by nearly 100 other Sonoma County residents eager to hear from three of four candidates in the upcoming race for sheriff.

Dave Edmonds, Carl Tennenbaum and Kevin Burke took 30 minutes each to present their visions for the office — of inter-agency collaboration, community oversight and leading by example, respectively — to the crowd gathered over Zoom.

While South Park Coalition, the southeast Santa Rosa group that organized Tuesday’s forum, initially said it would endorse a candidate, its leaders opted not to do so following the event.

Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram, the fourth candidate in the June election, was not included in the event. His absence was the subject of controversy ahead of the forum and in the chat box during the presentations, with some people calling the decision unfair.

"Is there a reason not all the candidates will be there? The only person of color not invited to a community that has always been a multiracial community???“ wrote one commenter, named IV Rosario, under the Facebook post publicizing the event.

“You explain the racism within the Sheriff's Office, but why not have the only Black candidate have a chance to talk about his ideas and why he wants to serve his community?” wrote another, Erin Connors.

Only the candidates who reached out to address the neighborhood group were included, coalition representative Annette Arnold told The Press Democrat, saying that Edmonds, Tennenbaum and Burke each individually asked over the last few months.

“We do not mean to exclude anyone,” Arnold said. “I do feel bad about that and I do take responsibility for not inviting everyone, but it’s not my job to be courting candidates — it’s their job to be courting us.“

Previously, Arnold told The Press Democrat that “we’re not quite a fan of Eddie Engram’s. We’re hoping to get someone else in there to replace the current regime.”

In a conversation before the event, Engram said he thought his omission was an obvious offense, especially because the discussion would likely include “the relationship of the Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement with communities of color.”

“I am the only candidate that is a person of color, and I think that my perspective is important,“ Engram said. ”I do work for the Sheriff’s Office. I’m in law enforcement, but 24 hours a day I’m a Black man. I’m a resident of this community. I have children of color in this community — those things are important to me.“

Following the event, Tennenbaum — a former San Francisco police sergeant — wrote in an email that he agreed Engram’s absence was not “a good look.”

“Any organization that is interested in the political process should include all candidates in debates or candidate forums. I don't believe that there was any racial motivation for excluding Eddie Engram, and I have to take Annette Arnold at her word,” he said.

Arnold added that because the event was already scheduled to be an hour and a half, people would probably “get edgy and start leaving” before a fourth candidate could say their piece.

The Zoom event remained at capacity through 8 p.m., after the three contenders delivered their speeches and took questions from attendees.

Edmonds, a retired Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office captain and the first to present, focused on the Sheriff’s Office’s “systemic dysfunction at the leadership level” and his “super high performance expectations” for people under his command.

“People are saying to me, ‘I’m not afraid of Santa Rosa police ... but I’m a little bit afraid of the Sheriff’s Office,” Edmonds said. “That’s not something to be proud of.”

He also argued the need for collaboration among all law enforcement agencies and offered ideas, including a countywide mental health response team to expand on Santa Rosa’s recently launched inRESPONSE mobile support program.

Tennenbaum’s presentation highlighted oversight and transparency as his key goal at the Sheriff’s Office. He said he was a “staunch and active supporter” of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach and of Measure P, which gave the watchdog agency more oversight authority over the Sheriff’s Office.

“There should be no secrets here,” Tennenbaum told the group.

Finally, Kevin Burke promised residents that if elected sheriff, he would lead his office “by example,” citing his decade as Healdsburg police chief before retiring last year.

Burke said he spearheaded initiatives as chief that demonstrate his chops for leadership and community outreach — including his partnership with Corazón Healdsburg to engage with the Latino community and his support of a mental health response team.

“I hope voters will look at what I’ve actually done and my track record and support me,” he concluded.

Each of the candidates also fielded questions about the “old boys club” and culture of racism some audience members believe exists at the Sheriff’s Office. Each answered similarly: that they would not tolerate bigotry under their leadership.

South Park Coalition will host another forum to include all candidates if people are interested, according to Arnold. Engram said he would be more than happy to attend if invited.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety, The Press Democrat  

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

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