San Mateo County voters who want to cast ballots in the race for sheriff have three candidates to choose from. Two are on the ballot: Appointed incumbent Carlos Bolanos and challenger Mark Melville, a county sheriff's deputy on active duty. A third, write-in candidate, Heinz Puschendorf, is also on the Sheriff's Office roster, listed as a deputy, disabled.
Those who remember and continue to be troubled by Bolanos' 2007 escapade in Las Vegas, when he and then-sheriff Greg Munks were detained at an illegal brothel, face a dilemma in this election. Should your vote go to an experienced law enforcement administrator whose generally progressive policies are a good fit for the county, but who has yet to adequately explain just what happened in Las Vegas, or apologize to the public for how the county was ill-represented by his widely reported actions? Or should you support a candidate whose administrative experience is dwarfed, if it exists at all, when what's at stake is the functioning of a multi-million-dollar public safety agency with, according to the Sheriff's Office website, more than 800 sworn and civilian employees?
We are among those who remain disturbed by Bolanos' lack of accountability for the Las Vegas debacle, but see him as the only viable choice among the candidates to run a huge bureaucratic agency whose level of functioning has serious consequences for our communities.
Why were there no better choices in this race? Some of the blame must be placed on the trio of county supervisors – Don Horsley, Warren Slocum and Adrienne Tissier – who in 2016 appointed Bolanos, then undersheriff, to replace Munks after his mid-term retirement, refusing to allow others to apply for the job and ensuring that Bolanos would have an incumbent's advantage in this race.
The slim board majority pushed through Bolanos' appointment despite the urging of community members – including former county supervisors and now congressional representatives Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier – to conduct an open process and invite applicants for the position.
The two congresswomen wrote at the time: "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."
To vote in this race for either of the challengers, whom we find to be unqualified for this important job, would be understandable from the perspective of a desire to vote against Bolanos – wanting to cast a feel-good protest vote. But one only needs to consider the consequences of so many past protest votes, including the instability of governance in Washington, to realize how destructive they can be.
If you vote, cast your vote for Bolanos, and hope that next time we have real choices.