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Board weighs likely sheriff choices

Riverside County supervisors are pondering Bob Doyle's successor even as they wait for his letter of resignation.

August 24, 2007|Maeve Reston and Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writers

Confronted by the surprise resignation of Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle, several county supervisors said Thursday that Neil Lingle, the sheriff's second-in-command, is a leading contender to serve the remaining three years of Doyle's term.

Doyle stunned members of his staff and many county officials Wednesday when he announced that he would accept a gubernatorial appointment to the state parole board within a few weeks. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not announced the appointment, which could come as soon as today.

Supervisor Bob Buster said the five-member board would strive to maintain continuity in the Sheriff's Department and try to "fulfill the voters' will" when they reelected Doyle. He said Lingle appeared to be an obvious choice.

"We don't want the department upended with a whole new cops staff," said Buster, who called Lingle "a good ambassador" for the Sheriff's Department. "You really have to know the turf here, and Neil Lingle does. . . He's very familiar with most if not all the major issues."

Supervisor Roy Wilson described Lingle as "very qualified" for the post.

"He's a straight shooter, he's very knowledgeable," Wilson said. "He's very in tune with running the department."

Lingle, who is undersheriff, had planned to retire Sept. 25. But he said Thursday that he had told board Chairman John Tavaglione that he would "be privileged to be considered to stay on as interim or as an appointed sheriff for three months or three years," whatever was needed.

Lingle said he had not considered running for sheriff in the next election and had been entertaining offers of faculty appointments at local colleges as well as offers from the private sector.

The county attorney advised the Board of Supervisors that once Doyle submits a written resignation, their appointee will serve the full three years of the remaining term. It was unclear when the board would decide.

Doyle, a 32-year law-enforcement veteran, was unavailable for comment Thursday. Doyle was elected in 2002 with 66 percent of the vote and cruised to a second term with 72 percent of the vote in 2006.

Doyle's successor faces myriad challenges in Riverside County, where the population recently topped 2 million. The court system is severely overloaded, and every year federal restrictions on jail overcrowding force the Sheriff's Department to release hundreds of inmates early.

Lingle said that although Riverside County supervisors are committed to building a regional jail, it still will not provide as many beds as the county needs.

"We need some solutions to the early release of prisoners in this county -- I'm very concerned about that," Lingle said.

He said the department also needs to work on a "genuine succession plan" to deal with the constant reshuffling of personnel caused by deputies' retiring early to take advantage of the lucrative retirement system.

"It's pushing people out too early," he said. "We want to make sure our people are prepared for the responsibilities that are in front of them. I think any good leader wants to make sure there's a legacy and that it's one of capability and competency."

Many county officials praised Doyle's accomplishments, including increasing the department's staff to meet the explosive growth and his pressure to advance a $148-million communications system, due to be working in 2010.

Buster credited Doyle and his team with crafting the plan to expand the Smith Correctional Center in Banning, which he said was a quick, logical and cost-effective way to address the overcrowding crisis.

"He's really gotten a lot of things going that will take the Sheriff's Department to the next level," said Buster. "Whatever the issue was in this diverse county, Sheriff Doyle would begin to work on it and find a way to address it."

Doyle's experience working in so many different parts of the county gave his solutions added credibility, Buster said.

Assemblyman John Benoit said Doyle had also laid an important foundation by pressing sheriff's officials to work cooperatively with other agencies, such as the Coachella Valley Narcotics Task Force and the county gang task forces.

"He was a very strong people person, he was very motivated," Benoit said. "Not many people can put together a proposal like Bob Doyle."

Other county officials, however, welcomed Doyle's departure.

When Doyle was reelected to his second term in June 2006, the sheriff's union did not endorse any candidate. His term was marred by allegations that the department awarded civilian badges to campaign contributors. "Morale is at the lowest level I think I've ever witnessed, and we need a change from the top to the bottom," said Supervisor Jeff Stone, a vociferous critic of Doyle.

The two first clashed publicly in 2005 over Stone's suggestion that jail inmates be housed at the closed Eagle Mountain prison, some in tents, to stem the number of early releases.

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