This is the liveblog for Night 2 of the Parker Area Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidates event in Parker on July 27th, 2016. For schedule, format and coverage questions, go HERE first. The below was reported live in real time by John Wright.
6:13pm– We’re almost ready to rock! The crowd is lively! Will there be rotten tomatoes thrown? Will there be jeers and boos? Will there be laughs? Will anybody walk out like they did last night?
6:15pm– Mary is on stage.
6:19pm– County Assessor candidates first. It’s Ana Camacho and incumbent Sharon Schuler. Ana’s up first! She says she worked at the assessor’s office and is familiar with its operations. She’s a public servant, not a politician, she says. We need to bring back public servants as a concept. She grew up in the valley, her dad was a farmer. Retail management and care of employees – allowing employees to grow and nourishing their talents is important. Leadership, integrity, transparency and great customer service are the 4 areas of focus for Ana. “I know a lot about mobile homes.” She talks about cross-training and the direction of the office.
6:21pm– Now Sharon! She’s been at the assessor’s office of over 30 years. The website is one of Sharon’s recent accomplishments. She’s now giving directions on how to use it. “It still has a long way to go but it’s getting there.” Notices can now be emailed instead of using snail mail, she says. Treasurer’s office can now email tax bills too. In 2012, Prop 117 was voted in and kept the limited value from going up more than 5 percent a year (unless you make changes to the property). “This is good for the taxpayers.” And she’s almost out of time! Counties are an arm of the state, she says, and that limits the assessor’s values and actions. She’d like to serve another 4 years.
6:26pm– The first question from the audience of the night! It’s about qualifications for the job. The candidates are setting out their qualifications and experience for the job. Ana also mentions that, compared to other counties, mobile home values are too changeable. Sharon cites additional qualifications and experience. Another question is for Sharon about the website; the site was outdated when the questioner tried to use it, she says. Sharon has an answer about the year of the taxes due being a pertinent factor and other technical details. Ana says she’s gone through the websites of other counties and La Paz County needs an upgrade.
6:34pm– A third question is about Ana’s training and whether she’s up-to-date with her appraiser education hours. Ana says people should ask the assessor why she didn’t get the updates to the training she should have had; Sharon replies that she wasn’t the assessor at the time, it was George Nault. A fourth questioner is asking a question about when the last time the entire county was reassessed together, and Sharon says it was 1992 (which drew audible gasps from the audience). Sharon says it’s a huge job.
6:36pm– Another question is about transparency, asking Ana what she thinks isn’t transparent at this point. Ana replies she used to get in trouble for spending too much time with the taxpayer. She said she believes the taxpayers should have all their questions answered. Another question is about what the candidates would keep the same and what they would change if elected: Sharon says she’d keep her staff, and change the website provider; Ana says she would change the website too, and would keep the staff but train them better.
6:38pm– And we’re done with Assessor! County Attorney is next, and it’s Kathy Field and incumbent Tony Rogers. Kathy’s up first.
6:40pm– She says the County Attorney and police officers are a team, and the team is broken. Dismissals have skyrocketed, she says. Officers have to watch many they have arrested walk out. She says she’s had decades of practicing law in CA’s offices in Arizona and has much experience, compared to her opponent who has only the past 3.5 years. “My roots are deep in La Paz County and Arizona.” Community ties. Teamwork. She’s saying that humans can do amazing things and cites the space mission Juno.
6:43pm– Tony Rogers is up now, saying that he works with authorities but works for the people. He says he hit the ground running as County Attorney. He says he changed his 4-day work week back to a 5-day work week when he was elected and his staff rose to the occasion. Efficiency and effectiveness of the staff led to better child support collections. “We were collecting so much money that we were the talk of the state”; over a million dollars a year, he says. He gets a round of applause for that. He’s talking now about establishing a veteran’s court and gets a round of applause for that too. Other things: “We do more than double what we used to do.” Cheers at the end of his platform.
6:45pm– A first question for the County Attorney candidates is about procedure. Tony lays out the way the system works, with officers playing one role and the County Attorney’s office playing another in the same team. Kathy says there is training that can happen between both departments and “that has not happened”; in the past 3.5 years there has not been one such training. Nothing on supplemental reports, updates on case law, how they’re charging or citations and arrests. She’d like to change that perception.
6:49pm– A paralegal asks a question, starting by saying there’s a problem with communication. Tony says he talks loud, he talks often and he talks with everybody. He says he doesn’t have a problem with communication. “I speak English very well.” “I have an open-door policy.” Tony also defends his training record, saying there are frequent trainings. Kathy says she isn’t talking about trainings around the state; she’s talking about local training. On communication, she says it takes a lot of teamwork and effort to break down barriers and get things done. Encourages sharing between departments.
6:52pm– A questioner asks Tony if his job is affected by having to ‘conflict out’ on a lot of cases. Tony responds by saying that he made friends with a lot of prosecutors from around the state who came for the cost of “a tank of gas and two hotel rooms” instead of $500,000 that it would’ve if he didn’t know how to make friends. Kathy says they help you, you help them, and it’s common procedure, and wouldn’t have cost the county anyway.
6:54pm– A question now about the drug court, looking for a summary. Tony says the drug courts are for people who fall into the trap of non-violent addiction. He’s setting out how it would work. “The real goal of a drug court is to get you off the drugs.” Kathy replies saying she’s “definitely” for drug court and she has studied alternative courts and has attended training on that. Judge Vederman is interested in establishing such courts, she says, and she says it takes a lot of effort and time, and she definitely supports it.
6:56pm– A questioner asks how to reduce recidivism rates. Tony goes back to the drug court issue and says he wants to correct the record: Judge Vederman had a drug court for 2 years, he says. Regarding recidivism, he said the roots of crime need addressed rather than the symptoms. The root is often drugs, he says. Kathy says if more people were successfully prosecuted and sent to prison, there would be less of an issue. Reducing recidivism requires services, she says, that we don’t have. We need to do what we can, she says, to bring those services.
7:00pm– A question asks about the “increasing” public defender’s budget (Kathy’s current office) and the “decreasing” County Attorney’s office. Budgets are decided by Dan Field, the County Manager, Tony says (an obvious jab at Kathy’s husband). Tony says his office is as tough as any County Attorney’s office in the state. Kathy says those budgets are not increasing and decreasing as the questioner implies, citing $1.3 million for the County Attorney’s office. She cites facts and figures on how many prosecutions and the money spent.
7:02pm– Another question relates to Tony’s office bringing in a sex trafficking educator to the schools and the community and what Kathy would do. Kathy says there are lots of educational providers, she hasn’t prioritized them yet until she hears from the community on that. Tony goes into detail on the sex trafficking going on through the internet.
7:04pm– And we’re done with County Attorney candidates!
7:06pm– School Superintendent candidates are next, and it’s Armando Heredia and incumbent Jacqueline Price. Armando is up first and starts by citing his community background and his family, saying that he is well-rounded. He worked 22 years with the Parker Unified School District as a teacher. He talks about being part of the adjunct staff with AWC and work with CRIT. “This position is to provide services to all schools in La Paz County”, he says. And he’s out of time.
7:09pm– Jacqueline is up, and says she was unanimously appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2014. Says she has been a teacher, principal and superintendent. Says she is a fiscal conservative. She cites program development and best practices. She’s been updating procedures and financial practices. Updated software and data storage. She lives in Ehrenberg with her husband who is involved in the community. “I employed Armando because he’s excellent…” She says she is committed to public service. She’s also citing her recent accomplishments in the office.
7:12pm– Questions. One: what would the candidates do to further arts and technical education to the County. Armando says there are cutbacks on the arts, which is unfortunate, but “the best we could do” is to speak to the school districts about what can be done to increase those areas. Jacqueline says the superintendent doesn’t get involved in what exactly the districts decide to offer to students, but if the districts needed more support they could look for extra funding like from grants for STEM and arts initiatives.
7:15pm– A question wants a clarification for the public on the difference between County school superintendent and district school superintendents. (Parker Live will let the reader look this one up.)
7:17pm– Another question is about how parents can “get above” the school district superintendent when they have questions, conflicts or problems. (Answer: the school board is the highest authority with regard to such issues.)
7:20pm– Another question states that the absenteeism rate is “abysmal” and asks what the candidates are going to do about it. Things have gotten better, says Armando. There are procedures for legal action that courts will entertain now, he says. The questioner wasn’t satisfied with the answer and moderator Mary Hamilton intervened to tell him the format isn’t a debate. Jacqueline sets out the process, including letters to parents, County Attorney, “we have been successfully turning this problem around” and “we are making headway”.
7:23pm– A question about providing computer training to elementary students. Armando says the trainings the County School Superintendents deals with are given to teachers, so that they can provide services. Jacqueline agrees, saying training is provided to educations: teachers, aides, administrators. Says her office would entertain working together with districts to look for grants.
7:25pm– And we’re done with that! And finally, it’s County Sheriff! Four candidates are on their way to the stage.
7:26pm– Up first, it’s John Drum, the incumbent. “A lot of the candidates will tell you what they’re going to do if elected,” but “let it sink in” that “there is no money in the county”. So he has relied on grants, he says. Things that have been grant-funded: computers in patrol cars, certified K-9, body armor cameras, matching professional uniforms, updated training, helicopter, dispatch center radios, jail security updates, software updates. Cites the task force as a recent success, with CRIT on board and it’s “working great”. Cites accountability.
7:29pm– Bill Risen is up next, saying he is a veteran of the army and other police departments, including lots of positions at many levels. He works for the Colorado River Regional Crisis Shelter. Lots of certifications. He is a veteran’s advocate. Veterans court and Lions Club, boards and committees; involvement in the community. Volunteers and supports the troops. He says the jail budget is “$3.1 million in the red”. Hal Collett was “in the black”, he says. “We need to go back to going out and finding people who want to utilize our services” – “instead of being in the red”. Truth, honesty and ethics. “I don’t believe in transparency, that’s a political term.” Says he didn’t use his paid time off in previous jobs and will bring that to the County.
7:33pm– William Smith is up and says he is retired from Riverside County Sheriff, having held many positions there. Grant procurement. A fire chief. Teaches criminal justice for over 20 years and holds three degrees including criminal justice. “Slow response for service” around this county, he says. “They are our customers” and need “treated with respect”, he says. He believes in an open-door policy, he says, and need better communication between local agencies. Grant money. “Criminals don’t draw boundaries between county lines, state lines, city lines.” We need many changes, he says. “Blue lives matter.”
7:36pm– Frank Vidrine says he was born in Parker. He was in the army 22 years and says he resigned from the La Paz County Sheriff’s Department after 26 years of working “every department” – “I know every aspect” of the office. He says it’s “not fun anymore” and there is “no leadership”. His last three years were terrible, he said. He’d like to make it fun again, increase the morale (which he says is low) and with trust, respect and not intimidation. He says he has a doctorate degree in common sense and a masters degree in street smarts and knows the community well. The audience laughs. “My goal is education, education, education.”
7:39pm– A first question for the Sheriff candidates is about what the candidates will do to retain qualified Sheriff’s deputies. John Drum says quality people are hard to find but “we do retain” such people. Bill Risen says we can’t pay them more but can procure more benefits and make the job more fun. 70 percent new hires over the last 4 years; we need to keep people so they know the community better. William Smith says he questions the leadership that takes place, and cites a “bully” in the office that makes people quit their jobs. Frank Vidrine says there is no accountability or leadership at the top: “You have no leadership at the Sheriff’s Office at this time.”
7:43pm– Another question is about favoritism toward certain individuals in the workplace. (This is from a recent former employee.) John Drum says favoritism in the workplace is “nonexistent.” Bill Risen says there’s no room for it; testing and knowledge is the basis of hiring, and it’s not based on testing and knowledge now. Wants “women in police work” to advance. He says he wants the best-qualified for the job. William Smith says he hears about nepotism and “special favors” going on. Says he agrees with Bill Risen. “It also causes morale problems.” Frank Vidrine says, “You want to talk about favoritism? There isn’t one lieutenant in the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office who has tested for that position,” and singles out the current jail commander for special criticism.
7:50pm– A question about education being made local rather than at the state. John Drum says there are a lot of classes at the local level and people in related fields can sign up. Bill Risen says he’s taught classes and they’ve all been open to everyone so that the public can understand what police do. Then says Parker PD, Quartzsite PD and others have been at his classes but not the Sheriff’s Office. William Smith says it may depend on who sponsors the classes. Frank Vidrine says education is the “name of the game”. He wants officers to know what their job is, and “you don’t need to send somebody to school.”
7:54pm– A question from someone who’s “worked with 5 sheriffs” about what “open-door policy” means. John Drum says he has an open-door policy for the general public but he also has a chain of command. Bill Risen says there is a chain of command, but “that doesn’t alter the fact that the sheriff needs to know what’s going on.” And: “I wouldn’t punish the officer for telling me what others are afraid to tell me.” William Smith says he would be very concerned about that, and staff personnel changes may be necessary. He says he’s always had an open-door policy to the point that his secretaries were frustrated by the stream of people coming in and out. Frank Vidrine says people don’t want to talk to a chain of command, they want to talk to the sheriff, because “that person who I want to talk about is in your chain of command! He gets applause. “The sheriff is never there. That’s a proven fact.”
7:59pm– Question: would you fire the employees? John Drum: No. Bill Risen: No (and jokes that he’s not going to be the only person patrolling a 4500 square-mile county). William Smith says there’s a process. Frank Vidrine: “Just like every election, everyone’s going to get fired. That’s not the process.” All the candidates seem to agree that employees are protected in law from firing without cause.
8:01pm– Another question about what the candidates are going to do to increase the staff in the jail. Bill Risen says it’s not an open process now so he needs more information, but staffing levels are an issue, and he says the jail staff are good and “work their hearts out”. William Smith says he would begin by determining what the needs and goals are. There may be grants. Frank Vidrine says we need to start hiring people who can pass the test. John Drum says there used to be federal inmates which provide “big money” but it’s dried up. Says he met with the feds yesterday and there should be federal prisoners coming again.
8:04pm– A questioner asks why we continue to hire officers from other agencies when we can’t pay our own officers. John Drum replies that training an officer is huge money now, so why not hire laterally from other agencies? “Damn right I’ll take that officer.” Bill Risen says we don’t have an explorer program, we aren’t getting our kids indoctrinated into being officers. “Our benefits and wages are so low that we’re [a training ground for other agencies].” The questioner clarifies his question, asking why we aren’t putting the money there to hire from within. Drum goes back up to say the money is budgeted for hiring from within when people can pass the test; they just need to be able to pass the test. Risen adds that the labor laws say we have to pay employees the due pay they work for. If it’s not happening “we need to do something about it.” William Smith says he’s heard that people will get the position but not the pay for the position, he says “I don’t understand it”. Frank Vidrine says we have an academy 35 miles away and asks why we don’t have people from here going to those academies. Drum shakes his head. Vidrine says the Sheriff’s Department is in dire straights.
8:10pm– A recent former 911 dispatcher implies that an 80-mile roundtrip to and from work in La Paz County is not worth the “McDonald’s” wages and criticizes the Sheriff’s Office. John Drum replies we’re down 10 dispatchers and the county will not fund Dispatch properly. Bill Risen says he’s been a dispatcher and “we’re going to have to be inventive” about finding money, and dispatchers need to be treated like human beings and not “robots without any feelings”. William Smith talks about the importance of trying to keep high morale and his experience with administration and employees. Frank Vidrine cites the case of a dispatcher who was terminated and couldn’t even get an answer from supervisors or the sheriff to her question.
8:15pm– Second-to-last question, and it asks for the definition of ethics. John Drum says there is no current employee on the Brady List (meaning a mark against them or complaint). “I am proud to say I have no-one on [that list].” Bill Risen: “Ethics is the backbone of police work.” “Is it against the law, is it fair, how would you feel if your decision was published in the newspaper?” He asks if we are ethical and implies that we are not. “If the people can’t trust us, who can they trust?” William Smith referred to Brown in St. Louis and Gray in Baltimore, and he said ethics is about truthfulness and trustworthiness. Frank Vidrine says he has first-hand experience with La Paz County Sheriff ethics department, and referred to lies in the chain of command and lawsuits pending.
8:20pm– A final question, and it’s about how to get more money and what the candidates would do with it. John Drum says his knees are bloody from begging the Board of Supervisors for funding. “I wish I could go open a door or window, anything, to fix it.” He says the task force brings in a lot of necessary money, and cites an example “just today” where the helicopter was used to rescue someone in the desert because of that program. Bill Risen says the current Sheriff’s Department does not play well with others “in the sandbox”. He says more money would come if the Sheriff was better at working with others. William Smith says he is tired of getting taxed and wouldn’t increase tax. Frank Vidrine alleged that deputies are told not to work with other agencies and that’s part of the problem.
8:24pm– And we’re done with questions, and we’re done! Thanks for joining us! For Night 1 coverage including Supervisor candidates, go HERE.