Hennick is best choice in sheriff’s race
Choosing wisely in the March 5 election requires digging beneath the campaign rhetoric. That hasn’t been an easy task in the race for El Dorado County sheriff.
For one thing, both Jeff Neves and Larry Hennick claim to have backing from law enforcement and firefighters. Endorsements don’t tell the full story, however, since neither candidate has unanimous support from members of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA) or other groups representing public safety employees.
Listening to accusations isn’t helpful, either, for they’re based more on gossip than reality. Despite what you may have heard, Neves is not a corrupt toadie and Hennick is not a deceitful whiner. They’re both honorable men who have served this county well for more than 20 years. Either man would make a fine sheriff.
Some of the passions this election has raised can be attributed to retiring Sheriff Hal Barker, who has given Neves his endorsement and considerable financial help. Barker and the department’s personnel policies were criticized by the Grand Jury last year. The DSA’s pre-emptive strike supporting Hennick gave Barker further reason not to seek re-election.
True or not, the perception of favoritism in the Sheriff’s Department is a taint that cannot be ignored. One reason for that is Hennick’s long-running dispute over being denied a promotion to lieutenant. The county Civil Service Commission granted Hennick’s appeal because of problems with a “promotability panel” overseen by Neves. If the commission didn’t find the smoking gun of discrimination, neither did it find adequate procedures to ensure all job candidates get a fair shake.
In contrast, Undersheriff Neves has had no problem climbing the career ladder under Barker. We’d like to believe it was entirely based on merit, for Neves has quite an impressive resume, but we have to think office politics played at least a small part.
Politics, indeed, has been central to this race. Before climbing onto the Neves bandwagon, Barker tried to recruit a Sacramento County sheriff’s captain to run against Hennick. Since then, Neves has benefited from Barker’s fund-raising prowess, tapping some big money outside the county. Sgt. Hennick’s primary contributor is the DSA, which represents the department’s rank-and-file.
Some observers describe this race as a conflict between management and labor. It’s a simplistic view but fairly useful in this case. Neves is polished, professional and plugged-in. Hennick is brash, outspoken and not afraid to shake things up. Specifically, Hennick makes the stronger case for community-based services, both for economic reasons and as a crime-prevention tool.
While neither candidate has universal support, it’s telling that more front-line deputies support Hennick over Neves. The Sheriff’s Department needs more than a good manager; it needs a strong leader who can heal old wounds and bring new ideas to the table.
Larry Hennick is such a leader. He deserves to be sheriff of El Dorado County.
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