Dead heat

No one yet knows which sheriff candidate will end up with the coveted Deputy Sheriffs Association endorsement

Sheriff Scott Mackenzie (left) worked the television cameras with Butte College fine-arts major Pravda McCroskey before a candidates’ forum Feb. 12.

Sheriff Scott Mackenzie (left) worked the television cameras with Butte College fine-arts major Pravda McCroskey before a candidates’ forum Feb. 12.

Photo By Tom Angel

Board to tears:
Want to know exactly who’s on the Deputy Sheriffs Association Board of Directors? The board is made up of Victoria Coots (president), Greg Keifer (vice president), Bill Prossett, Allen Smith, Steve Willis and Rick West.

What a mystery!

With less than three weeks before the election, it’s still unclear which candidate—comfy incumbent Scott Mackenzie or scrappy challenger Perry Reniff—will walk away with the coveted endorsement of the department’s rank-and-file union.

A whopping 54 members of the 131-member union (the meetings have notoriously low turnouts) attended a special meeting Feb. 11 to discuss a disputed earlier endorsement, which Mackenzie narrowly won, and an independent report on the procedure that produced it performed by the Gridley Police Officers Association, said Deputy Sheriffs Association President Victoria Coots.

Coots declined to discuss the contents of the report, but Reniff confirmed after the meeting that it did find inconsistencies in the endorsement vote taking. The report, completed Feb. 8, found that the Dec. 12 endorsement meeting indeed wasn’t properly noticed “in at least one place,” Reniff said.

Gridley Police Officers Association President Dean Price, who wrote the report, didn’t articulate exactly where the meeting wasn’t properly noticed, though.

After two hours of “heated” discussion about the report, Reniff said the members took a vote on their confidence in the report. Amazingly, it came back dead even. Fifty-four members of the union voted, so the vote was 27-27.

Sgt. Perry Reniff tests his microphone.

Photo By Tom Angel

“Can you believe that?” Reniff said in disbelief. “A tie. I still can’t believe it.”

The issue was tabled until the union’s next meeting on Feb. 21, Coots said. That means the final winner of the disputed endorsement won’t be announced until a scant 11 days before the election.

The union voted to endorse Mackenzie on Dec. 12, but Reniff’s supporters made a media blitzkrieg after finding that the vote to endorse the controversial sheriff was just 20-21 in his favor.

They charged that DSA board members supportive of Mackenzie slanted the vote by not properly noticing the meeting to Reniff’s supporters. Those same board members, they also charged, also required proxy votes (which, like all votes, are supposed to be anonymous) gathered by deputies on patrol the night the vote was taken to include voters’ names—effectively bullying Reniff’s supporters.

At least one sergeant who was working on the night the vote was taken confirmed that he was required to put names on the proxy votes he gathered. He said he was uncomfortable with the requirement—new, as far as he knew, this election cycle—but did it anyway. He asked to remain anonymous.

Coots, who has supported Mackenzie’s administration, agreed to commission an independent investigation of and report on the endorsement and a subsequent meeting to either reaffirm or reject Mackenzie’s endorsement. However, she vehemently denied any wrongdoing and maintained that the meeting was indeed properly noticed to all union members. She said that the endorsement meeting was announced at the previous month’s meeting, on Nov. 14, and that subsequent announcements were made by email and on department bulletin boards with flyers.

She added that there were nine total proxy votes taken on Dec. 12, all according to the union’s rules.

“There was no wrongdoing at any time, by anyone," she said. "The allegations that some things were done wrong just aren’t true."