Before the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday (July 12) to appoint Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos to fill the remaining two-plus years of retiring Sheriff Greg Munks' term, they were read a letter jointly written by two members of Congress who represent the county.
In the letter (reproduced at the bottom of this story), representatives Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier both of whom are former San Mateo County supervisors advocate for a process that would open the door to potential candidates to compete with Mr. Bolanos.
"For a long period of time, there have been rumors that Sheriff Munks would retire early and pave the way for the Undersheriff to take this position," according to a copy of the letter provided to the Almanac. "Whether these rumors are true or not, this has been a perception. We believe that our mutual constituents support a decision making process that is absent a perception of a pre-ordained outcome."
If the supervisors had decided to hold an election, Ms. Eshoo and Ms. Speier say in their letter, the potential advantage would be for Mr. Bolanos, given that he has been campaigning for the office "for more than a year."
"We do know that there are members of law enforcement who would be willing to compete for an appointment but who feel severely disadvantaged to compete in an election under the present circumstances," the congresswomen say.
The supervisors should undertake an appointment process that allows candidates to "openly apply and to be reviewed," they say, adding: "This seems especially important in light of the recent public concerns about policing practices throughout the country."
Mr. Munks, 61, announced July 1 that he would step down July 16 for health reasons. His term ends in December 2018. He was already on medical leave and Mr. Bolanos has been acting as sheriff in his absence. Mr. Munks had announced in November 2015 that he would not be running for a fourth term.
In announcing his early retirement, Mr. Munks said that while his condition is not life-threatening, health problems have affected his quality of life and his ability to maintain a full-time work schedule.
Voting with the majority to appoint Mr. Bolanos were supervisors Don Horsley, Warren Slocum and Adrienne Tissier.
Supervisors Dave Pine and Carole Groom dissented. Mr. Pine preferred a 30-day appointment process and Ms. Groom wanted an election.
Mr. Bolanos has been undersheriff in San Mateo County since 2007, shortly after Mr. Munks' election. Previously he was chief of the Redwood City Police Department for 12 years. He has also worked in the Salinas Police Department and the Palo Alto Police Department in his 37-year law enforcement career.
Asked to comment on the congresswomen's letter, board president Warren Slocum reiterated his earlier view, after the board announced plans to consider how to fill Mr. Munks position.
"Had there been potential candidates who had emailed us or called us to say that 'I'm interested,'" Mr. Slocum said, "I think that the (board) conversation might have gone differently.
"That's not to say that there might have been somebody to come forward" had the board decided on opening up the process to interviews, Mr. Slocum added.
Text of the letter by Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo:
July 12, 2016
The Honorable Warren Slocum, President
San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
Redwood City, CA 94063
Dear President Slocum and Members of the Board:
We are unaccustomed to weighing in on County matters outside of measures and initiatives or local policy discussions, such as the recent ones about housing or sea level rise, that involve broad federal and local policies. Many of you, from time to time, have asked us to join you in support of these and other public policy efforts.
Some of you, independent of each other, have also recently asked us to comment on the decision before you todaywhether to appoint or to call for an election in the matter of a replacement for the Sheriff. For a long period of time, there have been rumors that Sheriff Munks would retire early and pave the way for the Undersheriff to take this position. Whether these rumors are true or not, this has been a perception. We believe that our mutual constituents support a decision making process that is absent a perception of a pre-ordained outcome.
The office of the Sheriff is a critically important job, as we all know. We know that you share our belief that the public has a right to be heard. The question is whether an election within such a short time frame, and with one announced candidate -- the Undersheriff who has been working for more than a year to become Sheriff, would allow for an even playing field on which to compete. We are not sure.
We do know that there are members of law enforcement who would be willing to compete for an appointment but who feel severely disadvantaged to compete in an election under the present circumstances. We therefore believe an appointment process should be undertaken which allows for candidates to openly apply and to be reviewed. This seems especially important in light of the recent public concerns about policing practices throughout the country.
We believe that a way to build public confidence would be for the Board to conduct an open and transparent search for a successor. We also realize that the timeframe for appointment is very short and would require you to either extend it (which may not be allowed under the charter) or to add additional board meetings to your schedule in the next month so that the public is able to participate through those meetings and perhaps, if permissible, the selection process itself.
We realize that selection of the Sheriff is customarily made by voters and have for decades always supported this process. In this instance, the voters themselves may best be served by a method that increases competition for the position and that creates a zone of evaluation that is informed by rigorous, public analysis of multiple persons.
As we all seek to increase the confidence of the public in the administration of justice, we also seek ways to demonstrate to the public that its interests are at the heart of our decisions. Inviting applications, establishing a public interview and discussion with applicants, and assuring the public of a transparent selection process will, in our judgment, help to increase confidence in the administration of justice in San Mateo County.
All the best,
Jackie Speier Anna G. Eshoo
Member of Congress Member of Congress
● Earlier story: Decision on new sheriff up to supervisors.