Candidates announced for sheriff-coroner race
by Joe Shreve
Mar 13, 2014 | 3215 views | 0 0 comments | 207 207 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The race for the seat of Santa Cruz County Sheriff is shaping up to be a three-horse race, as Chief Deputy Jim Hart, retired Lt. Robert Pursley, Jr., and retired Lt. Roger Wildey are set to appear on the June 3 ballot.

The incumbent, Sheriff Phil Wowak, will not appear on the ballot and is planning to retire after 32 years in law enforcement at the end of the year.


Chief Deputy Jim Hart

Hart, who announced his candidacy last week, has been a member of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office since 1988.

In his 26 years with the department, Hart said he has worked under four different sheriffs, and was promoted by each one, managing “every bureau within the department” during that time.

He said that, since being promoted to Chief Deputy, he has worked alongside Sheriff Wowak in implementing the state-mandated prison realignment, and getting the department's new Live Oak headquarters completed.

“I've been training for this position for 3 years,” he said. “I'm fully prepared to continue taking this department in the direction it's heading.”

Hart said that, if elected, he would work to increase staff levels to bolster the number of deputies on duty in the five substations throughout the county.

“One of my goals is to get community policing up to full levels,” he said. “We're working with 17 fewer deputies since 2008.”

Education for children and reducing recidivism in the county are two of his other priorities, he said.

“Reach out to the kids on the front end (of crime), and to those convicted on the other end,” Hart said. “It can really impact and lower the crime rate.”

Hart has already secured a number of endorsements, including that of Wowak.

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Lt. Robert Pursley, Jr. (ret.)

Pursley, who retired as a lieutenant from a 33-year career with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office in 2013, said he was inspired to enter the race after reading in the newspaper that Wowak would not be seeking re-election.

“There hasn’t really been an open election for sheriff in over 20 years,” said Pursley, who lives in Aptos. “Most people don’t run against an incumbent.”

During his 33 years as a lawman in Santa Cruz County, Pursley said he's “worked in pretty much every facet of that organization,” including time as SWAT team commander, bomb team commander, coroner units, and gang task force.

“I know the inner workings of the office, and I know the community,” he said.

Pursley said that, if elected, one of his goals would be to work toward improving response times by finding ways to get more deputies on staff and out on patrol.

“I'd like to restore the community’s faith in the office,” he said. “Right now, we're running at 1980s staffing levels.”

Pursley said that school and community safety would also be among his priorities, and that he would like to open a “truthful dialogue between the sheriff's office, schools and communities.”

Pursley officially declared his candidacy on Wednesday, March 12, noting that news of Wowak's pending retirement was not announced until Thursday, March 6 — less than a week before the Wednesday, March 12 deadline for candidates to file with the Santa Cruz County Elections Office.

“I saw the announcement in the paper and I saw how close it was till the filing deadline,” Pursley said. “There wasn’t time for anyone to mount an effective campaign.”

He said he looks forward to a “fair and democratic” election.

“There's time for change within the department and I think I can bring that change,” he said. “All I'm looking for is a fair election.”


Lt. Roger Wildey (ret.)

Wildey, who retired as a lieutenant from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office in 2005, said that he'd been entertaining the notion of running for some time, but did not enter his name into the race until Wednesday, March 12 because he also believed the incumbent Wowak would handily win re-election if he sought it.

The Santa Cruz native was first hired by the Sheriff's Office in 1979. Over the next 26 years, he “worked in virtually every area of the Sheriff's Office,” which included stints working undercover, conducting training, leading the SWAT team, search and rescue, and the bomb squad.

Since his retirement, Wildey has remained on-staff as a paid “extra” deputy — serving as courthouse security and as a courtroom bailiff.

He said that experience has been invaluable to him, because it allowed him to see the way things were run from a low-ranking deputy's perspective — as well as hear opinions from others who would not have spoken so openly had he still been a lieutenant.

“It was a real eye-opener for me,” Wildey said. “I learned how important it was to solicit information from the troops … there are so many things that need fixing.”

He said that he believes that the Sheriff's Office currently is focusing too much on large, multi-million-dollar projects — such as the new Live Oak headquarters, and the re-purposing and refurbishing of the Watsonville jail facility — at the cost of deputies and day-to-day technology.

“They're out of touch with the basic needs of the deputies and the community — they just think they know,” he said. “We have less deputies on the street than we did in 1994.”

Describing himself as a realist, Wildey said that the department has allowed idealism and wishful thinking to prevent it from acknowledging the real situation with the rising crime rates — which he attributed to the prison realignment forcing the county jails to place nonviolent, but often recidivist, criminals back on the street.

“I'm the kind of person who wants to look at thing without ideology involved,” he said. “If you analyze it realistically and plan ahead, then you're ahead of the game.”

He said that, if elected, he would make every effort to reach out to the community to raise awareness of the department's true situation.

“I would go public and try and galvanize the public as to our needs — improve communication and training between agencies and improve technology in patrol vehicles,” he said. “Those kinds of things are practical, easy to do and haven’t been done.”

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