Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf spoke with me at length via telephone late this afternoon about his decision to put $12,500 of his own money into a mailer targeting incumbent Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho. I also spoke with Piepho and asked for her response to the sheriff’s remarks. (Click here to see my earlier blog entry on the subject, which includes copies of the mailer.)
I’ve put some of this content in my column for Sunday but since there have been so many questions for Rupf about the mailer on among the comments and the election is so close, I decided to post a more lengthy version here than space will allow in the newspaper.
Rupf says he was inspired to write a big personal check on the cost of the mailer after he read the Contra Costa Deputy Sheriffs Association endorsement letter of Piepho, calling its representation of her record on public safety “180 degrees from reality.” He says the union is pandering to Piepho because it is currently in contract negotiations with the county and believes its support will translate into support at the bargaining table.
The sheriff is a vocal supporter of Piepho’s challenger, outgoing Assemblyman Guy Houston of San Ramon.
“I feel even more strongly than the money,” Rupf said. “We are in a hole that is driven by a lack of leadership and a lack of support for public safety services … At the same time, I believe there is a concerted and calculated effort by the Piephos (Mary and her husband, Discovery Bay Community Services District member David Piepho) to blame the sheriff for a lack of staffing and service.”
Rupf’s mailer says the budget shortfall forced him to “lay off deputies while Mary Piepho gave herself a whopping 60 percent raise at the expense of your safety.”
It’s true. Piepho voted in 2006 with her colleagues for a pay raise from $59,000 to $95,000 a year.
But Rupf has not laid off any deputies. He cut 16 civilian positions this year, although he says budget shortfalls have left him with 70 vacant deputy positions over the past four budget cycles.
“ ‘Laying off’ might not fit the classic definition here but my frustration is that we’ve cut back or laid off every collateral service… and we’re only marginally able to cover the 911 beat and our jails,” Rupf said.
The Deputy Sheriffs Association rejects this argument. Click here to read its letter.
The push to fund the retiree health care liability out of existing service levels and ever declining dollars will further exacerbate the situation, Rupf continued.
“Everyone on the board is running for something else or interested in something else and no one is running the business of the county,” Rupf said.
If the trend continues, Rupf says he will run for the Board of Supervisors in 2010 despite the drop in “pay and prestige” and the likely ire of his wife. (He earns $185,000 a year as sheriff.)
For Piepho’s part, she calls it patently unfair to put the blame on her shoulders for declining county revenues and defended her public safety record.
She says the sheriff’s numbers of vacancies is a “slight of hand” designed to make it appear as though he been shortchanged when the board has actually helped him with recruitment and retention through the creation of a two-tier retirement system that’s less expensive for new hires.
“My first year on the board, the Sheriff’s Department was slated for cuts and I went to bat for him,” Piepho said. “This is not about my record. It might be about personality, but it’s not about my record.”
Rupf’s unhappiness with Piepho clearly extends beyond her vote on the pay hike or even the budget. He has endorsed her colleague, Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg, who has a nearly identical voting record.
Their conflict has its roots in Discovery Bay after vocal residents, including David Piepho, voiced dissatisfaction with law enforcement levels in a manner the sheriff considered unproductive, to put it politely.
The chasm expanded and the sheriff formed his own citizen advisory committee in far East County, bypassing the locally elected board. Piepho said he undermined the community leaders and has repeatedly rebuffed her efforts to create a collaborative relationship.
The two later sparred publicly over a no-tow ordinance in the Delta and their split is seemingly irreparable at this point.
As to the question of whether the sheriff can legally finance an independent expenditure in a supervisor campaign, Rupf said he consulted with an attorney was told he could do it with the use of personal funds.
If Piepho or someone else files a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, he says he is ready to answer their questions.