Pictured: Current Mono County Undersheriff Ralph Obenberger (right) and Town of Mammoth Lakes Manager Dave Wilbrecht at the opening of the Mammoth Track. The Mono County Board of Supervisors chose to promote Obenberger to Sheriff even after a citizen suggested they recruit MLPD Chief Dan Watson for the job, instead. (Photo: Kirkner)/
With Mono County Sheriff Rick Scholl on his way to retirement (his last day is Dec. 20), it was time for the Board of Supervisors to review the appointment of a new Sheriff to fill the remaining two years of the elected term.
It seemed that Undersheriff Ralph Obenberger was a shoe-in for promotion, having the support of Scholl, but a suggestion from a citizen took the conversation at Tuesday’s Board meeting in a different direction, if only briefly.
Supervisor Hap Hazard stated that he had received an email from a citizen asking that the County consider recruiting Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Dan Watson for the Sheriff position. The idea had also been floated in comments at local media websites as a way to “stop the incestuous promotion of unqualified people from within.” Get Watson in there and break up the good ol’ boys’ club in the Sheriff’s Department was the logic behind the comments.
However, Hazard was not in favor of the idea.
“I don’t support going outside of the department,” Hazard said. “It causes turmoil when you hire outside of the ranks.” Hazard added that with the MLPD being decimated by the Town of Mammoth’s restructuring plan from the Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition settlement, the County is going to face a relationship with the MLPD. It was Hazard’s opinion that negotiating with a new Chief of Police would be just another tough piece of an already unpleasant puzzle.
“Obe has worked hard and deserves this appointment,” Hazard added, affectionately calling Obenberger by an apparent nickname.
Board Chair Vikki Bauer said she supported Obenberger’s promotion, as did the rest of the Board, but warned him that he would be stepping into a whole new political realm and cautioned him to go slowly and ask for help if needed.
On Wednesday, Hazard further explained to The Sheet that the citizen who had contacted him felt that Watson would be an asset as Sheriff. “It was a controversial decision,” Hazard said. “Should we consider Watson and put the decision on hold.” The Board ultimately agreed that Obenberger was the best choice and will officially approve his promotion and swear him in as the new Sheriff at the Dec. 11 Board meeting in Bridgeport.
“Officials know they are going to retire during their four-year term,” Hazard told The Sheet, likening it to the recent retirement of Mono County District Attorney George Booth. “So they get their number two guy in place to be appointed [for Booth it was new DA Tim Kendall]. That way people can see him and know if they want to work with him. They know he has his predecessor’s values and it gives him incumbent status.”
The Sheriff position will be up for re-election in 2014.
As for Watson he said that he’s flattered that his name came up, but that he’s not interested.
“I was recruited for the Mammoth Lakes Police Department,” he said. “We are at a critical time and it wouldn’t be healthy for me to leave. I have an obligation to the Town of Mammoth Lakes, to the people that hired me.”
Watson said that there is a difference in his salary as Police Chief and the salary of the Sheriff. While he wasn’t sure the exact difference, he did know that the Sheriff’s salary was less than his current salary.
“But that’s not a factor,” he said. “I have a 1.9 mile commute that I enjoy and I like the people I work with. I want to see us through these challenging times. The Town of Mammoth is at the bottom of the barrel and it’s not going to get any worse. We’re starting the road to recovery and that overshadows any other offers.”
According to Mono County’s website, “Undersheriff Ralph Obenberger began his Law Enforcement career in 1985 with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. In the year 2000 he moved his family up to Mono County and started his Mono County career as a June Lake Resident Deputy. Over the past years he has worked a variety of assignments with both Departments ranging from Field Training Officer, Dispatcher, Special Assignment Deputy, Helicopter Observer, Sergeant, Lieutenant and Chief Deputy Coroner. He was promoted to his current rank of Undersheriff in January of 2008.”