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, 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."
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Bolanos said he had no comment.
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.
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."
Mr. Bolanos said he had no comment.
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."
Another focus: 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 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' 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."
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