In a sharp rebuke to retiring Sheriff Bob Doyle, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to replace him with a former top sheriff's official whom Doyle abruptly fired last year.
Supervisors appointed Stanley Sniff Jr., a 32-year law enforcement veteran who grew up in the Coachella Valley and was backed by the union representing sheriff's deputies. Sniff will finish the remaining three years of Doyle's term, vacated when the sheriff accepted the governor's appointment to the state parole board. He said he planned to run for the office in 2010.
The 3-2 vote by the board followed a barrage of criticism of Doyle's years in office during a public interview process, including allegations that Doyle had promoted sheriff's officials who contributed to his campaign and punished those who opposed his pick for a successor.
Monday's hearing also included a freewheeling question-and-answer session with the five candidates that exposed deep divisions, vitriol and discontent within the Sheriff's Department.
"Members of the board were concerned that things were beginning to implode at the Sheriff's Department," said Supervisor John Tavaglione.
Doyle, interviewed Monday night, called the allegations "ridiculous" and said the contention that he had promoted campaign supporters was "a total lie." The sheriff, who was reelected to a second term last year with 72% of the vote, said he wasn't surprised by the personal attacks, because candidates for the interim appointment were trying to separate themselves from the current administration.
Four candidates are current or former members of the sheriff's leadership team, and some portrayed the department as a place where loyalty to the sheriff was valued above competency, which a few supervisors called alarming.
Sniff told supervisors he was fired by Doyle shortly after the sheriff relayed to his executive staff that he would not run again and began clearing the path for his hand-picked successor -- Assistant Sheriff Mike Andrews.
"I was released because I wanted to be sheriff some day," Sniff told supervisors, arguing that that was among the chief reasons he should be chosen to replace Doyle and change the department's culture. "I was a direct threat to [Andrews] because of my stature in the department and in the community."
Sniff said that, during a department retreat in Lake Arrowhead in November 2006, a memo from Doyle was read in which he threatened to dismiss any member of his management team contemplating a covert run for sheriff. Doyle's memo explicitly stated that loyalty would be valued over competency, he said.
Doyle said Monday night that his words were taken out of context.
"Both are important to any CEO," he said of loyalty and competency. "In the context it was put in -- it was ridiculous."
He said Sniff was fired "for cause" but declined to elaborate because it was a personnel matter.
Another candidate, Assistant Sheriff Valerie Hill, who currently heads the department's corrections division, confirmed the existence of Doyle's memo on loyalty. She told supervisors that the memo also included a list of people with whom executive staff members were not allowed to speak, including union leaders.
"An underlying message was loyalty is the most important thing -- above all else," Hill said. "I was offended. . . . We owe our loyalty to the community."
Hill said she was promoted to head the corrections division only after promising Doyle that she would retire after a year -- a requirement she viewed as part of the plan to remove any threats to Andrews.
Doyle said he was not surprised by the description of his department.
"You've got two people on the inside who want the position -- they have got to separate from the administration, and bad-mouth and carry on," he said. "It's unfortunate, but that's what happens. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished."
He noted that under his leadership, the department had attracted some 500 new deputies to staff unincorporated areas.
"Look at our retention rate. They are not going other places for greener grass. . . . That doesn't add up with having a morale problem," he said. "The only issue here was the union board that was driving the misinformation. They put it out and fed it to the board."
Several supervisors were sharply critical of Doyle on Monday and said they hoped Sniff could mend the rifts.
"We've witnessed by the testimony of many here today that we have a department that's in turmoil," said Supervisor Jeff Stone, a longtime and outspoken critic of Doyle. "There are allegations of spying on executive personnel . . . inappropriate firings, inappropriate advancement policies, the selling of badges, which has upset every law enforcement agency in the state."
The candidate who bore the brunt of the criticism of Doyle's more controversial policies was Undersheriff Neil Lingle.
Supervisors uniformly praised Lingle's abilities and his day-to-day management of the department, but several said he was too closely aligned with Doyle's management style to bring change in the department.
Lingle said in his opening remarks that he was an independent thinker. If selected, he said, he would work to change the department's "culture of negativity" to a culture of respect.
Sniff, who described himself in his resume as a member of one of the pioneering date and citrus farming families in the Coachella Valley, spent four years in the Coachella Police Department before beginning his 28-year career in the Sheriff's Department.
At the time of his departure in 2006, he headed the department's patrol and field operations divisions, overseeing the aviation and SWAT operations.