Back in January, Undersheriff Tom Lopez stunned many, particularly his boss Ed Prieto, when he decided to challenge the five-term incumbent sheriff. After a tumultuous few weeks, Ed Prieto, right after he filed for re-election, decided to back out and announced he would not be seeking a sixth term after all. But he had filed the paperwork and remained on the ballot.
In the past week, the Woodland Daily Democrat, Davis Enterprise and CBS 13 have all done stories on the sheriff. Late last week the Vanguard meet with Ed Prieto to clarify where things stand.
He said that he decided to leave his name on the ballot to “let the people make their own decisions.”
He explained to the Vanguard, “What’s important to note (is) that Tom (Lopez) came to me so late that my statement was already in and paid for when he told me that he’s running for sheriff.
“I did it strictly for the organization , the uncomfortableness of the situation,” he explained. “I felt it wasn’t worth it.” He said, “The organization and the wellbeing of the organization is number one.”
Ed Prieto felt like the campaign was tearing the organization apart. Everyone was picking sides and it became a world of Tom Lopez vs. Ed Prieto. He said that there were no complaints about morale before. He felt people were content and he cited a lower than industry standard turnover rate as evidence.
He said, “The main reason was the organization – it was affecting the personnel of my organization.”
Now he says people are more relaxed since he decided not to campaign.
However, as he pointed out, “I’m not totally out of it… I’m absolutely on the ballot.”
So what does it mean that he is not campaigning? He explained that meant he is not walking door to door, not having fundraisers, not having signs all over the county, not out at Farmer’s Market.
“That’s what I mean,” he said. “I’m in the race by the mere fact that my name’s on the ballot.”
When it was pointed out that some see this as a ploy to avoid a nasty campaign in which his actions would be under scrutiny, he responded, “What scrutiny?”
He said, “What can I be criticized for that Tom wasn’t right next me for the last 11 years?”
Ed Prieto argued that for every decision he has made in the last eleven years, Tom Lopez has been right there with him. “There is no separation between him and me.”
But there is one glaring issue. It is the issue of the lawsuits.
On his website, Tom Lopez alludes to it: “We are no longer the wild west. It’s time for change and time for the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office to become a progressive, contemporary law enforcement agency.”
In the Enterprise, Mr. Lopez cited the 2014 Yolo County grand jury report characterizing the sheriff’s office as having a “wild, wild west” chaotic environment.
“It’s about the way things are in our organization, the way people are treated and not respected,” Mr. Lopez told the paper. “Morale is a big issue to me. I want all of our employees to feel
respected, and that they’re treated with dignity and fairness.”
He claims that the work environment has not changed much in the four years since the report came out.
Ed Prieto responded that the notion of “wild, wild west” was ridiculed even by critics on the Board of Supervisors. Matt Rexroad, for instance, pointed out that the report is so poorly written that it is hard to know what is a verified fact and what are accusations made by employees.
Ed Prieto points out that every single lawsuit was dismissed at the federal level except for one – the most recent one that the county settled, but in that one Mr. Prieto was dismissed as a party. YCPARMIA (Yolo County Public Agency Risk Management Insurance Authority) was the one which settled it, and the sheriff verified that the county did not pay a dime and its premiums did not go up as a result of that.
As County Counsel Phil Pogledich confirmed to the Vanguard, “an outside law firm retained by our local agency risk management authority (YCPARMIA) handled all aspects of the defense and settlement of this case. My office had no role in the settlement or the litigation.”
He added, “Sheriff Prieto was dismissed prior to the settlement and the County was the only remaining defendant at the time of the settlement.”
The sheriff also questioned what Tom Lopez would do if elected. In addition to arguing that Tom Lopez supported every thing he had done over the last 11 years, he also pointed out that Lopez has not taken many clear positions.
He said, “If you ask him a question on his website, he says give him a call.”
That led the sheriff to ask, “What’s his platform?”
One thing he pointed out is his opponent has talked about bringing back resident deputies.
Mr. Prieto responds, “That’s not going forward, that’s going backwards.” He argued, “Resident deputies are absolutely not cost effective.”
He pointed out that in the past, you needed resident deputies because you didn’t have enough personnel to cover rural areas like Esparto. But these days, Cache Creek Casino already pays for four of them to be on duty in that area.
He also challenged the idea of bringing back the gang task force. He stated, “I just disbanded it because the other cities didn’t want to participate.” He pointed out that most of the gang activity is in Woodland and West Sacramento rather than the unincorporated areas. He said, “They do cross borders, but those are so limited” that there is no need for a sheriff’s based gang task force.
Mostly he is resigned to his fate either way. He said, “I’ll be glad when this is behind me. I’m still the sheriff until December 31.”
If people decide to re-elect him, he will continue to serve.
But he’s not going to actively campaign for it. He says, neither is anyone else.
“No, absolutely not,” he said when asked if anyone is campaigning for him. “I give you my word.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting