Coastal Voices: Wilson is working for us

By Aaron Funk January 28, 2012 06:00 am

Allow me to bring some much-needed clarity to the blurred charges that Sheriff Dean Wilson is stepping beyond his authority and engaging in “political” activities.

In his Jan. 12 letter to the editor, “Wilson should make up his mind: be sheriff or politician,” Richard Wendt called for Sheriff Wilson to “be a politician or the Del Norte County sheriff!” Apparently Mr. Wendt played hooky during his high school civics class. The California Constitution calls for each county to have an elected sheriff, and by definition any elected government official is a “politician.”

 Mr. Wendt admonishes Sheriff Wilson that he “should spend more time being the sheriff than promoting (in uniform or not) your political beliefs.” To the contrary, as chairman of the California State Sheriff’s Association’s Finance Committee, Sheriff Wilson is directed to work “on issues of statewide concern and interest.”  The 700 people who assembled in Yreka gathered for a panel discussion of county sheriffs addressing such issues.

I can accept a member of the public being less than informed on an issue, but I find it difficult to understand why a newspaper editorial (“Sheriff’s politics intriguing, confusing,” Jan. 14) also veers away from the facts.

Sheriff Wilson is said to be “openly staking out partisan political positions, on the job,” and of speaking at “what was clearly a politically partisan rally in Yreka.” If Sheriff Wilson is guilty of this, so are the sheriffs of Siskiyou, Trinity, Tehama, Shasta, Lassen, Plumas and Modoc counties, all panel participates.

“We’re not sitting up here just as individual sheriffs, we’re sitting up here as a united group,” stressed Trinity County Sheriff Bruce Haney.

At no time during the panel discussion was any political party or agenda mentioned. The only injection of partisan politics has been the Triplicate’s reference to “Republicans and Democrats” in its editorial.

The statement that “some of [Wilson’s] stands seem to have little to do with law enforcement” is also in error. Issues of statewide concern and interest discussed by the sheriffs at the forum included protection of personal, property, water, forest, mineral and recreational rights. These are all valid law enforcement concerns as are numerous CSSA–targeted legislative topics highlighted on its website, including elder and animal abuse, treatment of the homeless, sex offender social networking, ski resort safety, juvenile sexting, tribal gaming and victims’ rights, ad infinitum.

The editorial continues to misstate the facts when it claims that “Wilson is implying that his duty as sheriff is to pursue political change …” The truth is exactly the opposite. Sheriff Wilson’s oath of office includes the promise to defend the Constitution, which is a document designed specifically to severely limit political change. All seven sheriffs (plus two more unable to attend) are adamant in their pledge to defend the citizens of small Northern California counties against the crushing regulatory onslaught of both state and federal government bureaucracy. Those in support of Big Government locking up the people’s resources are those in pursuit of “political change.”

Although Sheriff Wilson paid his own expenses he is reproached for “wearing his Del Norte County uniform” at the meeting. Sheriff Wilson was invited to join the forum as a sheriff to join together with other sheriffs to discuss job-related topics. Wearing his uniform was certainly appropriate and he was not alone in doing so.

The editorial swipe ends with asking, “Better to be in the office or on the stump?” This adage is a reference to an active candidate for elective office on the campaign trail seeking votes among his constituents. By no stretch of the imagination should it be slung at an elected law enforcement officer while participating in an out-of-town forum of his fellow sheriffs during mid-term.

A sheriff’s authority reaches beyond the confines of his county, extending throughout the state of California. Similarly, his responsibilities to meet, plan and cooperate with his contemporaries do not end at the county line. The County of Del Norte official job description for sheriff includes as an “essential duty” that he “Attends out-of-town law enforcement meetings and conferences to represent the County and improve the County’s law enforcement capability.”

The sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer in the country with greater authority than city, state or federal officers. His job is to protect the people of his county and his state from any threat to their safety and well being. His job is not to just arrest, gather information, testify and imprison wrongdoers. His job is to protect us from the ongoing, bureaucratic, job-strangling theft of our rights to fish, hunt, log, mine, farm and recreate. Would the Triplicate have him to do anything less?

Aaron Funk of Klamath owns Kamp Klamath RV Park and FunBus Tours.