Our View: Sheriff’s politics intriguing, confusing

Written by Triplicate Staff January 16, 2012 04:05 pm

The political evolution of Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson is intriguing, and in some cases confusing.

Intriguing because a high-profile law enforcement officer is openly staking out partisan political positions, on the job. Confusing because some of those stands seem to have little to do with law enforcement, and yet he contends that he wouldn’t be doing his job as sheriff if he wasn’t addressing them.

Wilson’s contention that the federal government has been heavy-handed and obtrusive in its dealings with local jurisdictions such as Del Norte County may resonate with a lot of local residents. While there are nearly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats here, this is a conservative electorate that supported McCain over Obama even while the latter was winning the presidency in a landslide in 2008.

Many locals will tell you things are unbalanced here thanks to outside meddling. It’s not that they want to cut down all the old-growth redwoods in an effort to stimulate the logging industry and give ourselves an economic shot in the arm. But they sure as heck think there should be more public access, for recreational and economic purposes, to a lot of the other publically held land that makes up about three-quarters of the county.

Of course, there are also plenty of people here who would contend that federal and state involvement in Del Norte has been more positive than negative in terms of protecting the environment, preserving natural resources and making the area more attractive to tourists.

It’s been an ongoing debate here for a long time, and Wilson siding with what is likely a local majority on the issue of the feds in Del Norte is just that, one more person taking a public stand. Using one’s office as a bully pulpit is an American tradition.

The question is how much of our sheriff’s time do we want taken up with partisan politicking instead of the nitty-gritty work of policing a geographically big area with very limited resources. Wilson says his department’s budget might not be so tight if federal regulations were loosened, resulting in a local economic resurgence. But it goes beyond worrying about law enforcement resources. Wilson is implying that his duty as sheriff is to pursue political change to protect the overall health and welfare of the citizenry.

Are we better served by having our sheriff speak to hundreds of people at what was clearly a politically partisan rally in Yreka, or by having him in his office or at least somewhere in Del Norte, leading the day-to-day efforts of his staff?

It should be noted that Wilson said he paid his own expenses for his Yreka appearance. But he was wearing his Del Norte County uniform, and he was in essence on company time.

As an elected official, it’s up to Wilson how he spends his workdays as sheriff. And when voters re-elected him in 2010, they knew he was the founder of the local Tea Party. Neither of those facts proves that his increasing political involvement is necessarily good for Del Norte.

Better to be in the office or on the stump? Really it’s a question that could be asked of any of our public officials, many of whom travel outside the county for what they perceive as job-related duties.

That’s why the Triplicate this week requested the travel records of all top county and city officials for an upcoming report on who travels where, and why, and at what cost.

— Del Norte Triplicate