Editors note: Sheriff Carlos G. Bolanos responded to requests for comment after the March 28 issue of The Almanac went to press. His comments and Mr. Melville's emailed rebuttals are included in this online version of the story.
Deputy Mark Melville of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office is on a road less traveled. In the June 5 primary election, he's a challenger for an elective office in which challengers are rare in San Mateo County: the election for county sheriff.
It's a matter of civics for Mr. Melville. "Everybody keeps getting the job handed down to them," he said. "This has got to stop. We have got to have an election."
Elections Office records show a pattern of sheriff's races in which there is no opposition, and in recent elections the second in command, the undersheriff, has gotten the job when a sheriff retires.
Don Horsley, now a county supervisor, ran unopposed for sheriff in 1993, 1998, and 2002, records show.
Greg Munks, Mr. Horsley's successor and his undersheriff for about 14 years, ran unopposed in 2006 and 2010, and won with a 98.56 percent majority in 2014, with the 1.44 percent going to then-deputy Juan Pablo Lopez, a write-in candidate.
Mr. Lopez, who had candidate filing problems, "was going to try to make a true election of it. It didn't happen, unfortunately," Mr. Melville said when asked to comment.
The current sheriff, Carlos G. Bolanos, served as undersheriff for Mr. Munks for 10 years. While the election on June 5 will be his first, he is running as an appointed incumbent. The Board of Supervisors in July 2016 voted 3-2 to appoint him sheriff when Mr. Munks decided to retire early. The appointment was made with no opportunity provided for interested people to apply for the position.
That split vote notwithstanding, Mr. Bolanos now has the endorsement of all five supervisors as well as the elected officials in Sacramento who represent the Peninsula, the county district attorney, and a long list of other local officials and people in law enforcement.
Asked about that long list in a phone interview, Mr. Melville replied, "Carlos got all of his endorsements when there was only one horse in this race. The county seems to roll over and endorse the incumbents. ... It's an uphill battle. I'm not letting that discourage me."
When asked to comment, Mr. Bolanos said he continues to get endorsements on a regular basis. "Many folks have endorsed me because they know I'm the most qualified person for the position," he told The Almanac. "Mark Melville made his intentions known about a year ago. He's had every opportunity to go out and get endorsements if he chooses to and if people are willing to endorse him."
In an email seeking further comment, Mr. Melville said he's spoken to many elected officials "who told me they endorsed Mr. Bolanos because they did not know there was another candidate in the race." He recalled someone telling him, "I thought it was a done deal once he got appointed." He said he continues to seek endorsements.
Asked why contested elections for sheriff are so rare, Mr. Melville said he didn't know but had an opinion. "The county machine is a well-oiled machine," he said. "The political machine in this county is pretty tough to crack."
After then-deputy Lopez took on Mr. Munks in 2014, within a year he had been arrested twice and charged with conspiracy in connection with a jail inmate having access to a cellphone, and with violations of election law, including perjury. A judge recently dismissed the conspiracy and perjury charges, but Mr. Lopez still faces several election law-related charges, with a trial set for May 14. Mr. Lopez's attorneys describe his case as retaliation by county officials over his run for sheriff.
When the Board of Supervisors elevated Mr. Bolanos to sheriff in 2016, there were a couple of notable complaints. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park - both former county supervisors - co-signed a letter saying they knew of people in law enforcement who would have competed for the job, and that the incumbency bequeathed to Mr. Bolanos would leave competitors "severely disadvantaged" in an election.
"Her comments were right on the money," Mr. Melville said of Ms. Speier.
He said he sat down with Mr. Bolanos to let him know that he had a challenger. "He was very cordial," Mr. Melville said. "We talked about differences of opinion and philosophies. We agreed to disagree amicably. There hasn't been any animosity between us."
A principal point of disagreement is management style, Mr. Melville said, noting that he manages from the bottom up and that Mr. Bolanos does the opposite.
"I don't recall us having a discussion about management philosophy," Mr. Bolanos said. "He told me very politely he was going to run for sheriff. I said good luck and that was it."
Mr. Melville's recollection differs. "In our meeting, we talked about my predictive policing model. The predictive policing approach will not replace traditional policing. Instead, it enhances existing approaches such as problem-oriented policing, community policing, and hot spot policing, predominately done at the line level."
As head of the Sheriff's Office, which employs about 400 deputies and corrections officers, "You have to run the organization from the top because you're the leader," Mr. Bolanos said. "As the leader, I do manage the organization from the top. I don't really know what (bottom-up management) means."
Mr. Bolanos, Mr. Melville said in an email, favors intelligence-led policing, which is more hierarchical in nature and emphasizes a top-down approach. "The street officers gather information, which is studied by analysts and is then passed up to the executive level where it is reviewed and a plan is formulated. This solution is sent back down to operations for implementation," he said. "This was discussed," Mr. Melville added.
He described bottom-up management as a process where “team members are invited to participate in every step of the management process.”
Mr. Melville also said he would prefer that Mr. Bolanos not make high-level appointments in the department until after the election. "He might tell you that those promotions are necessary now, and I would disagree with that," Mr. Melville said. "If he wins fine. If I win, then I'll make the promotions."
"We do disagree," Mr. Bolanos said. "I've been running the office for two years. I know how difficult it is to run a complex organization like the Sheriff's Office."
He has named an undersheriff, two assistant sheriffs, three captains, six lieutenants and nine sergeants. Many of the vacancies came about as a result of promotions, he said. "I'm unclear how someone could run the organization without filling these positions."
Mr. Melville in an email said he agreed that the Sheriff's Office "is a complex operation to run."
"Putting the right personnel in the right position makes managing the operation that much easier," he said. "Since I've worked here, we have added management and supervisory positions that in my opinion are easily questioned."
A debate is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at the Woodside Methodist Church at 2000 Woodside Road in Redwood City.
Mr. Melville, a deputy since 2008, is a former police officer in Half Moon Bay and Brisbane; a former fire captain in Brisbane; a former police chief, city manager and elected city council member in Gustine, California; and a former city manager and director of public safety in Livingston, California.
If elected, Mr. Melville said he would bring transparency to the Sheriff's Office. "We in law enforcement do a horrible job" at transparency, he said.
Asked to explain what he means by transparency, Mr. Melville said he was referring to responding to complaints and educating the public. "Officers have to understand that everybody gets treated with dignity and respect. Period. I won't tolerate anything less than that. ... I'm not saying that they're not (being so treated), but we're going to be better at it. ... It's community policing taken to a higher level."
Mr. Bolanos said he thought the Sheriff's Office was doing "a very good job" at transparency, including through social media, the website and "constant engagement" with the community. "We strive to be very transparent," he said. "Ask any question and inquire about any system or policy and we'll respond with the information if we have it."
In an email, Mr. Melville said that transparency "starts with who we are on the street, meeting and dealing with the public."
"We meet and deal with folks on the street every single (day) and we as an agency are who we are perceived to be by each and every contact," he said. "Everyone will be treated with dignity and respect and nothing less."
"We will be much more engaging in our policing efforts," Mr. Melville added.
Mr. Bolanos, he said, "stated that, 'We strive to be transparent.' In my opinion, that is not enough. We will be transparent, we will tell you what we do, why we do it, and how we do it, and open ourselves up to the public as to how we can do it better. I'm not discounting social media, it does serve its purpose, but the face-to-face contact is where we earn respect."
Another focus for Mr. Melville: Putting the right people in the right positions. "It's not my organization," he said. "It's their organization. This is not about Mark Melville. This is about the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. We can be better than we are."
Addressing human trafficking is another priority. Mr. Melville said he recently attended a presentation on the subject in San Mateo. "I was, like, wow," he said. "I was surprised. We need a unit that investigates all these massage parlors, all these low-end motels, and (to) try to ID, obviously with the help of the public, persons that might be involved in this. ... We have to protect our children. That's really big in my book."
Mr. Bolanos' campaign website includes community policing and combating human trafficking as priorities.
In 2007, before Mr. Melville joined the department, Mr. Bolanos and Mr. Munks were detained by Las Vegas police in connection with an FBI sting operation involving illegal brothels. Police found Mr. Munks inside a brothel he said he thought was a legitimate business. He apologized for his "lack of judgment," adding that neither he nor Mr. Bolanos had broken any laws.
Both men were detained, but neither was charged with a crime.
Mr. Melville said that while more information about the incident is coming out, he declined to review it. "We know that the incident did occur," he said when asked about the atmosphere inside the sheriff's office. "I would say that it's something that concerns everybody, but nobody wants to talk about it."
Asked for a comment, Mr. Bolanos replied in an email "I will continue to focus on running the Sheriff's Office and my qualifications to continue to be the Sheriff."