By Lauren Westmoreland
The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization of women and men devoted to increasing civic dialogue and public involvement in democratic processes at the local, state and national levels.
The 7 p.m. forum included the candidates for District 5 supervisor as well as candidates for county sheriff and assessor. Despite the stormy weather, the event was very well attended, with others watching on social media via livestream.
The evening opened with the two contenders for the position of supervisor for District 5, Incumbent District 5 Supervisor Jeff Engel and challenger Mimi Garner, a Realtor-broker. To read that story, please click here.
To read a statement from Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister, click here.
Candidates for sheriff
The two running for the position of Plumas County Sheriff are incumbent Sheriff Todd Johns and challenger Dwight Cline, a retired sheriff’s sergeant.
Both received two minutes to introduce themselves to the room, starting with Dwight Cline.
Cline came to Plumas County in 1990 and was assigned to the Portola substation as a deputy sheriff with Plumas County Sheriffs’ Office (PCSO).
“My wife and I provide local employment to the community- we have a tax and accounting business in Portola, and besides the employment we provide financial services to the whole county. Our client assets in that business total close to $20 million,” Cline explained in his opening statement.
Cline went on to note that he has worked in Portola, Chester, and Quincy as a deputy sheriff, patrol sergeant and administrative sergeant. “By the time I retired I had trained most of the people in the office. I retired in 2017,” Cline noted. “I retired respected and trusted due to my leadership style, and the employees in the sheriff’s office initiated this run for sheriff with me based on that – it’s important to have trust in leadership.”
Sheriff Todd Johns then spoke, introducing himself as a lifelong resident of Plumas County, born in Greenville and graduating in 1985.
Johns spent time with the U.S. Air Force, after which he ultimately was hired as a deputy in 1991 with PCSO.
He worked for 12 years in the Greenville substation as a deputy, then four years as a sergeant. From there, he was promoted to administrative sergeant in Quincy, fulfilling those duties for 10 years before being appointed sheriff in 2019 when then sheriff Greg Hagwood, retired early.
“It’s been an honor serving you,” Johns said. “I will tell you that the last few years have been incredibly difficult, as everyone here knows, but through proven leadership and the assistance of the amazing employees in my office as well as the folks we serve on a daily basis- that’s the only way were able to make it through.”
“$10,000 was spent to fix the crematorium at the animal shelter, is it functional and in use? If not, how are deceased animals being disposed of?”
This question was directed to Johns, who answered that the animals go out of the county to be cremated at this time. Those animals that require euthanasia are handled by a veterinarian, not the shelter.
“The crematorium is functional, the reason the animals go out of county to be cremated is that it is incredibly expensive for us inside the county. The funds used for euthanasia are generated by outside sources, not the sheriff’s office,” Johns said.
“What is your position on constitutional carry? Could you explain how citizens volunteering and in reserve would play a role in the operation of the department?”
Cline answered, that in his opinion, if you could pass a background check and show proof of training, ‘why do you need a permit?’
“That’s my personal opinion, but the sheriff’s office is regulated by rules that are put forth by the state of California. I don’t agree with all of those; I think the sheriff should have more leeway with how the permits are issued, and would like to streamline the process,” Cline said. “I’m pro second amendment and pro concealed weapon, definitely.”
Cline then stated that currently there was ‘no real reserve deputy program’ with a lack of applicants for the academy. “I want to reestablish policies that will allow retired reserves to utilize their strengths,” Cline said. “On citizen volunteering, I think that it is incredibly important.”
Johns noted that he was also pro second amendment. “I will tell you that almost every state requires CCW license and registration,” Johns said. “Contrary to what Mr. Cline has said, we do have a reserve program at PCSO. It’s not as robust as it used to be, but we do have reserves that work for us. I am open to have any reserve come and work for us. The problem with short staffing is not having the employees to run a volunteer program.”
Johns also clarified that he would be happy to have additional help from grant writers if offered, as he had written grants himself for the department in the past.
Cline objected to John’s statement that the reserve program was running.
“Why did you make CCW permits more restrictive than it was under Sheriff Hagwood? Why must the citizen petition you or the government to exercise a god given, natural right?”
Johns answered that the only changes made were required by the Department of Justice, in the wording.
“We actually made it easier,” Johns said. “Originally CCWs and the requalification process for CCWs was 16 hours, or two days, and that was changed that to eight hours.”
“You retired and moved to Reno as your primary residence. Will you and your family move back if elected? Are you going to run the sheriff’s office from your Reno home?”
These questions were for candidate Cline, who responded that he had a son with autism, and his family found a school in Reno around 2008 that suited his needs.
“Initially my wife would drive the kids to school in Reno, come back to Portola for work, spend the night in Reno for the kids, take them to school – this was going on every day,” Cline explained. “When I retired in 2017, I did move to Reno and took that over for my wife. I spent two years there as a resident in our second home.”
Cline then noted that he came back to Plumas County after his second son had graduated.
“We have owned a home here since 1992, lived here since 1990, and on February 14 I was qualified by the elections department as a resident of Plumas County and met all qualifications to hold the office of sheriff,” Cline said. “It’s not a crime to own a second home in Nevada.”
“Did you promote an unqualified person into an administrative position by changing the policy and requirements when other members of the department were qualified for the position?”
This question was directed to Johns, who responded that he had a meeting with staff within a short time of becoming sheriff with a goal of restructuring the department. That process took 14 months due to covid.
“By that time, it had already been approved by the board, and I took it to the association who said that they did not want to do so. At that time, I had an acting undersheriff and acting patrol commander with the requirements that each have a post-supervisory certificate,” Johns explained.
One of them did not have that certificate, so Johns took the positions to the board with the request that the qualifications be made the same as the sheriff’s position requiring an advanced certificate.
“It was also included that the applicants needed to attend a POST academy school within one year of assignment which the board approved.”
Johns’ undersheriff at that time did not have a supervisory certificate; he was qualified but could not obtain the college transcripts needed due to the pandemic.
“My job as the sheriff is to be put people in positions that they are qualified to be in that will do the best job to run the department,” Johns closed.
“Why do you believe you weren’t promoted to an upper-level administrative position by sheriffs McKensey, Stoy, Gardner, Bergstrand, or Hagwood?”
This pointed question was aimed at candidate Cline, who responded that his career was mainly in patrol, with the administrative side of things not holding much appeal earlier in his career. “I was promoted to the administrative sergeants position under Sheriff Hagwood,” Cline said. “My career was mostly in patrol — I loved being out in the communities. It was my choice,” Cline stated.
“How do you plan to assist with the Dixie Fire recovery?”
This question was directed at both candidates, with Johns responding first.
“Do I have an hour on this one?” Johns quipped. He gave a rapid overview of all that he and the department have done thus far, from fostering relationships with FEMA and OES to addressing housing issues in areas affected by the fire. “As I’m moving forward, we are dealing with items on housing, and I am working to get a meeting with CalFire. FEMA doesn’t want to rebuild the roads that burned up, so I’m going to OES to help go to FEMA for that. The list goes on and on,” Johns said.
Cline responded, “He’s probably got me there; I’ve been retired for four years and I didn’t have the pleasure of living through the Dixie fire and that ordeal. PCSO did a great job, but I have no doubt I can step into any of these committees — I know where to look for and find those resources, and I will try.”
“What are your concerns and qualifications in handling a multimillion-dollar budget and what does the budget process entail?”
Cline responded that PCSO has an estimated $10 million budget, with about half from the county general fund and the rest in grants. “Your money is important to me in how it’s spent, as if it were my own money,” Cline said. “We have a financial individual in the department that runs the budget and without her, any sheriff would be lost.”
Johns responded that roughly 85-90 percent of the budget was from the general fund, with the rest as fluctuating grant amounts.
“There are actually 32 different budgets within the sheriff’s budget,” Johns said. “Cline is correct, we have an amazing fiscal officer that works for us and it is a complex issue I am very much involved in, along with administrative staff.”
“Did Plumas County Sheriffs Association endorse anyone?”
This question was directed at Johns, who responded, “From day one, when I realized I was running for office, I told my employees that I want nothing to do with the politics in the office. I’ve seen many, many elections and know it’s very hard on the staff. That being said, there was a candidates’ night that Mr. Cline and I both attended, with a vote after we both spoke.”
The vote was to either endorse or not endorse a candidate. In order for them to endorse a candidate, the rules require two-thirds vote. A two-thirds vote was not passed and so there was no decision to endorse a candidate.
“The reality is that the association does not endorse either candidate,” Johns said.
Cline added that the vote was 21-12 to endorse someone, with the process done in an open room with all employees sitting in the room. “From feedback, there were employees reluctant to vote at all, based on that,” Cline said. “The bottom line is, they did not vote to endorse the current sheriff.”
Johns took back the microphone and noted as a reminder that during the process, his son left the room, and the only vote was to see whether the association wanted to endorse a candidate at all.
“It wasn’t to endorse an actual candidate,” Johns said.
“Did you purchase your signs locally?”
To laughter, Johns responded yes, he had purchased all of his signs locally at Wild Hare Signs.
Cline responded that he had purchased his online, adding, “It was cheaper.” Some in the room hummed in disapproval.
“With so many department heads leaving, why would we vote another one out?”
This question was directed at Cline, who responded that he didn’t know that department heads were leaving in the sheriffs’ office. “The people that are leaving are the deputies and the line staff. Five recently left, and I’ve spoken to seven more who are deciding whether they want to stay or not after this election. I don’t really understand where the question of the department heads leaving is coming from,” Cline said.
Johns said, “Since I was appointed sheriff, 25 employees have resigned left or retired. I average between 65-75 FT employees. I have hired 26. I have several reserves, but I am currently one more employee than I started with in 2019.”
Johns stressed that as a whole, those are the numbers.
“How will you address and work to improve relations within the department?”
Johns responded, “Again, the last two years have been incredibly difficult, and I have made some mistakes along the way. Some decisions had some staff questioning what I did. The primary reason a lot of this occurred was a lack of face-to-face meetings during covid, the fires, and things were going so crazy that we had a lack of communication.”
Johns went on to express that he has since addressed the situation, working on ways to better communicate in the agency.
“I’ve had an open-door policy for five years,” Johns said. “I will continue to do so. I hope that the seven that might leave that were mentioned earlier will stay and give me an opportunity to mend those ties and show them what I can do when I’m not in the middle of a pandemic and a fire.”
Cline said, “That’s great, except that the pandemic and fire have been over for quite some time. The feedback I’m getting is, where has he been?” The room again erupted in murmurs, and Cline added that he had told Johns that the employees of the sheriffs’ office felt there was too much separation, which was a leadership issue that needed to be fixed.
“Did your undersheriff fail to sign his employment contract for eight months which in turn allowed him to take over $20,000 in overtime during the Dixie fire, and did you support him on that?”
This question was aimed at Johns, who stated that this was a personnel issue that he could not entirely discuss.
“At the time of the Dixie fire, the undersheriff did not have a signed contract due to numerous issues in the contract within the county,” Johns said. “The argument that I made to the board was that any employee in any county agency should have the right to obtain overtime during a disaster when those funds will be reimbursed by FEMA, with the exception of an elected department head.”
Johns went on to highlight that it will be brought to the board again shortly. “Everyone deserves to get paid for their time,” he said to applause.
“Has either candidate contributed to any grants or lost grant funds?”
Johns responded that when he had become a sergeant in Greenville, he had approached Sheriff Bergstrand at the time to ask after the OHV grant.
“I wrote that grant for the department for 15 years,” Johns said. “I also wrote what they call a buffer zone protection grant during that time. Yes, it’s your money, but it’s how we fund things. I’ve written and administered many grants from beginning to end.”
Cline said that he administered the boat patrol grant when he was administrative sergeant.
“What are you doing to recruit young, prospective deputies and raise salaries and/or benefits?”
Both candidates answered the final question of the evening, starting with Cline.
“Part of that is restoring morale in the sheriff’s office,” Cline said. “I think it’s important to also realize that other agencies are offering hiring bonuses, and I think we need to offer hiring bonuses and three-year contracts to prospective employees. Hiring bonuses speak loudly and we don’t have them here. We need it for the whole county – it’s a community issue. Tourism is likely the direction we should be going in, but nothing will happen overnight.”
Johns said that as of last week he was down three positions. “We tested last week for entry level positions and currently I have two people scheduled to go to a class in Butte County. Should they pass, they will start academy in July.” Johns explained. “My issues right now are in dispatch. The bank keeps trying to recruit my dispatchers. I went to the board three times – it’s difficult for the board to have the funds to increase wages.”
The other item Johns touched on was correctional staff. “I’m down several correctional positions,” he said. Recruitment is happening actively, Johns added. “Until the new jail is built, I think we will just have to continue to work at getting correctional officers.”
Johns closed with thanks and stated that he was ‘here for the public.’ “It’s been said that I am a self-serving leader, and I just want to put that out there that my record, from the time I started working at my dad’s grocery store, to my time in the military, to the sheriffs’ office, shows that I am here for the public and the folks that work for me. I’m running for sheriff because there’s a lot going on in the county right now.”
Johns went over the Dixie fire recovery, and the new multi-million-dollar jail soon to be under construction.
“We have no auditor, no CAO – there are big concerns, and I’m looking for the opportunity to continue to serve you and take the sheriffs’ office into the future with new computer systems, body-worn cameras- things that will make our work more efficient,” Johns said.
“There’s a lot going on, and contrary to what is being said, we are just getting out of covid and all of the agencies that we’ve dealt with have been shut down for two years. There is only so much I can do. Grants are only just now coming back to the agency. I just need some time and the opportunity to do that.”
Johns stressed that PCSO is a public entity, and he wants all staff to be happy.
Cline closed with thanks for the evening and emphasized his wish to return to building up community programs, such as the reserve program. “You deserve transparency, and you’ll all have my direct number if I am elected,” Cline said. “In regard to the jail, the board of supervisors just gave $1.4 million to a company called CGL that oversees the jail construction which is being done by public works and the auditors’ office. There is very little to no sheriff involvement in that process. It’s being taken care of.”
Cline said that he would encourage the board to focus on hiring bonuses, support tourism, and told all that the election process was vital and thanked all for being a part of it. The room applauded and with that, the forum closed for the evening.