Investigate sheriff campaign, grand jury says |

Investigate sheriff campaign, grand jury says

Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

El Dorado County should establish an independent commission to investigate political campaign violations that allegedly took place prior to the March 5 primary election for sheriff, a grand jury has recommended.

In its report, the 19-member 2001-2002 El Dorado County grand jury found “some inappropriate electioneering behavior and possible violations of law” during the primary race between El Dorado County Undersheriff Jeff Neves and Sgt. Larry Hennick.

In the contentious race that was won by Neves, Hennick accused his opponent of using illegal campaign tactics such as threatening business owners who posted Hennick posters in their places of business.

Hennick also claimed that retiring Sheriff Hal Barker allowed department volunteers from the Sheriff’s Team of Active Retirees to solicit votes for Neves while on the job.

The law prohibits county employees from participating in political activities while wearing uniforms.

The jury reports that internal battles were waged during the campaign, resulting in “bad feelings” that affected relations among the department’s personnel and the public.

“There are residual bad feelings among some of the sheriff’s personnel,” the report states. “Many believe it will take years for healing to take place.”

Prior to the election, Barker instructed the county’s human resources department to draft a policy that would specifically state what is appropriate or inappropriate campaign behavior, the report states.

That policy was sent to the county counsel’s office for review but was never adopted.

The policy “should be immediately reviewed, approved or revised and then disseminated and implemented,” the report states. “The policy should be incorporated into all sheriff’s department training programs.”

According to the report, managers were directed to discuss the draft policy in their managerial meetings, and sergeants were directed to discuss the draft policy in pre-shift meetings.

While managers and sergeants had follow-up discussions, at least one did not, the report states.

Jurors were vague regarding allegations of intimidation but suggested that Barker had followed up and dealt with those allegations.

Last February, the owner of a Placerville towing company said a customer said he didn’t like the Hennick sign and that he would not use the towing company if it continued to allow the sign to be displayed.

The owner took down the sign, saying he didn’t want his business to be politicized.

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