Bad rap

Politics is a dirty business. Ask Perry Reniff. In his campaign for sheriff, Reniff has questioned the management style of his opponent Scott Mackenzie. That is to be expected in a political race. And he’s made some good points. But this week he lost probably the most important endorsement in Butte County—that of the Chico Enterprise-Record. In a wishy-washy editorial the E-R says it can’t back Reniff because his campaign has further divided an already split Sheriff’s Department. To us, Reniff has run an aboveboard campaign. Yes, he’s criticized his opponent, but guess what? That’s what you do in a campaign. That’s why you run for office, because you think you can do a better job than your opponent. So you point to your opponent and say, “Look, that man is failing at his job. Let me try to do it.”

Now comes a story in the Feb. 28 Paradise Post about a stress-related leave of absence that Mackenzie took 20 years ago. It’s a story that’s been floating around orally for a while now. It does not come from Reniff. I’ve heard it from a number of other sources. The Post got it this week from Lt. Bill Anderson of the Sheriff’s Department. The story says that 20 years ago, when budget cuts and layoffs were on the horizon, Mackenzie went out sick with a stress-related illness. While some deputies were laid off and higher-ranking officers were demoted to take their places, Mackenzie continued to collect a paycheck. When the budget crunch was over, the story goes, Mackenzie started feeling better and came back to work. Now Reniff finds himself in a no-win situation. When I told him Anderson had dropped off a letter recounting the story, Reniff winced. “Oh man, that guy writes with a poison pen. I don’t want to be associated with him.” The next day the E-R’s illogical reasoning for endorsing Mackenzie came out. Now Reniff fears people will think he is behind the sudden surfacing of the stress-leave story. He called me and asked that I not write it. When I had asked him about it earlier, his reaction was, “Well, that was 20 years ago.”

I called former Sheriff Mick Grey and asked him about the story. Grey said that, as he recalled, “Mackenzie collected worker’s comp while everyone else either quit, was laid off or was belted back to a lower rank.” Mackenzie, he thought, had been busted back earlier from a sergeant to a correctional officer in the jail. That’s when he went out on sick leave. “Then he was back up to sergeant, and he was sergeant for quite a while,” Grey said. “I brought him back out of the jail and made him a training sergeant.” He was never promoted above that rank, Grey said. “He tested several times [for promotion] but never made it. Only the top three test scores can get promotions. He could have been successful maybe if he’d studied a little harder.” I called Mackenzie about the story. “Absolutely not true,” he said. “I had an ulcer and was gone for three weeks. I went through the whole layoff process. [Former Sheriff] Larry Gillick had promoted me to sergeant. I was laid off and came back as a deputy. Then I was promoted by [former Sheriff] Leroy Wood back to sergeant. This [story] is nothing but politics. If this was true it would have come out during the last election or while I was sheriff.” Mackenzie says his health has been fine since that ulcer attack.

Last week from Frank Nijin, owner of the U.S. Market off The Esplanade called and boy was he steamed. Seems there had been a stabbing in the neighborhood a few blocks from his store. But when the generic local morning television news bits called Wake Up told the story the next day, it used the U.S. Market for its video footage, giving the impression the crime had been committed there. And that, for good reason, made Frank really mad. "I have no crime at my store or in the parking lot," Frank said. "Why would they do this?" I suggested the TV news people were using his store as a familiar landmark so viewers could orient themselves as to the general vicinity where the crime took place. I told him to call one of the local television stations—either one would do since their news programs are now the same. The next day Frank called again. And again he was mad. Seems the E-R ran a little story on the stabbing and reported the crime took place "near" the market. Bummer, Frank.