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Candidates for Sheriff Attack Baca at Debate

Politics: The two sergeants mostly agree on plans for the department while criticizing their boss.


The two candidates hoping to replace Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca faced each other Tuesday evening in what was expected to be the one and only debate before the March 5 election. The only missing person was the incumbent.

Baca backed out of the event at East Los Angeles College last week and has said he will not debate his two sergeants, Patrick Gomez and John Stites. The sheriff spent Tuesday evening in Sacramento, attending Gov. Gray Davis' State of the State speech.

Gomez and Stites, meanwhile, wasted no time bashing their boss for what they say are his weak leadership abilities and poor budgetary decisions. Both called for audits of the department, more flexible work schedules and a revamped promotional policy.

They criticized their boss for what they called his nontraditional programs, such as a recovery program for domestic violence offenders and his proposal for a women's jail that would allow infants.

"We're catering to these inmates," Gomez said. "These are people who . . . shouldn't be in this resort, park-like atmosphere."

Gomez ran against Baca four years ago and received 12% of the vote. He is assigned to the training division and works at the Inmate Reception Center at Men's Central Jail. He has worked for the department for 20 years.

Stites, who ran against former Sheriff Sherman Block in 1994 and garnered 7% of the vote, also took issue with Baca's spending and what he called Baca's "social" programs. Stites is assigned to the court services division at the El Monte Courthouse; he has worked for the department for 22 years.

"We need to dissolve all these hand-holding units," Stites said, adding that he would take all deputies working in nontraditional jobs and place them back on the streets.

The 90-minute forum was held by the 6,600-member Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn., which includes active and retired members of the sheriff's department and the District Attorney's Office.

Baca's campaign manager, Parke Skelton, had said that the sheriff initially believed that the peace officers group was holding a private endorsement interview and that he did not want to participate in a group debate.

The two sergeants mostly agreed on their proposals for the department, and they saved their attacks for their boss, not each other.

In fact, they frequently said, "As John said," or "Like Patrick said" in answering questions.

Baca's challengers are not the only ones who have taken aim at the sheriff for his spending habits. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has raised concerns about Baca spending more than $25 million over his approved budget at a time when he also purchased a $2.4-million airplane.

As an independently elected official, the sheriff has full control over the department's staffing and policies. But the supervisors control the sheriff's budgets and approve lawsuit settlements.

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