Recruited by Sheriff Bob Brooks and law enforcement unions, Camarillo Councilman Mike Morgan announced this week that he will challenge incumbent Kathy Long for her seat on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
Morgan, 56, said he was encouraged to run by Brooks and representatives of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff's Assn., who are upset that Long voted to alter a public safety funding ordinance and thus slowed the growth of their budgets.
"They came to me," said Morgan, who has lost two prior races to Long. "The sheriff talked to me. I said, 'I wasn't planning on running. You're going to have to convince me.' And he did."
Buoyed by law enforcement's support, Morgan said he decided to mount a third challenge against Long in the sprawling 3rd District, which stretches from suburban Camarillo to the farm-rich Santa Clara Valley.
This is the second supervisorial race that the politically powerful law enforcement lobby has weighed in on. The deputies' association and other police unions have backed Oxnard Councilman John Zaragoza in his bid to unseat longtime county Supervisor John Flynn, who sided with Long and Supervisor Steve Bennett on the public safety issue.
Brooks, however, said he has not endorsed anyone in the Flynn race because there are three candidates, including Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez, in that contest. He said he might endorse someone after the March primary.
The sheriff said he decided to endorse Long's opponent because she had violated the public trust by "misappropriating tax dollars" specifically designated for public safety. The resulting budget shortfall forced him to close a women's jail and eliminate crime-prevention and enforcement programs, Brooks said.
"It's very difficult for an elected sheriff to endorse against a sitting incumbent," he said. "You have to have a terribly compelling reason. But I believe decisions made over the past couple of terms have had a crippling effect on county finances and have impacted our ability to protect the public by taking deputies and prosecutors off the street. For this reason, I believe we need a change in leadership."
Long and other board members have vehemently denied misappropriating funds. She said she remained a strong supporter of law enforcement but that being fiscally responsible "doesn't allow for an open checkbook for any agency."
"I understand that we disagree on issues that have put them in the position of supporting Mr. Morgan," Long said. "But I think the voters look at your full record. The full record still honors public safety but brings balance to all the work that county government is responsible for."
Morgan blamed Long for helping to lead "the assault" on an 8-year-old public safety ordinance that steers all the proceeds from a half-cent sales tax to four departments -- sheriff, district attorney, public defender and probation. The four departments also receive inflationary increases paid by the county's general fund.
The inflation factor is the major point of contention between law enforcement and the county board. For years, supervisors allowed the public safety departments to include salary and benefit hikes in the funding formula, resulting in annual inflationary increases of 7% to 10%.
But in 2001, a majority of the board voted to alter the formula to reflect the Consumer Price Index, capping growth at about 3.75%. Brooks and Dist. Atty. Greg Totten have argued that the board's action was illegal and have sued the county, which has counter-sued to abolish the public safety ordinance.
Morgan also criticized Long for supporting the 1998 botched merger of the county's mental health and social services agency that resulted in $15 million in federal fines, and more recently for imposing a living wage ordinance on government contractors at a time when the county is struggling to balance its budget.
Under the wage ordinance, anyone contracting with the county is required to pay employees at least $8 an hour, plus health benefits, or $10 an hour without the benefits.
The mandate applies only to contracts worth more than $25,000.
"The living wage ordinance is costing the county about $1 million," Morgan said. "That's money they are taking out of the general fund."
If elected to the county post, Morgan, who is in his sixth term on the Camarillo City Council, said he would aggressively seek new sources of revenue. He advocated redeveloping unincorporated areas such as El Rio, Nyeland Acres, Piru and Somis to generate more money for county services.