As the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Council meltdown escalates from name-calling to dueling lawsuits, one political candidate has officially stepped forward to challenge Sheriff Jim Anderson for his job. Lieutenant Ugo “Butch” Arnoldi, a 32-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, confirmed he would run against Anderson in this coming June’s election. Arnoldi, who came up short in a bid for sheriff four years ago, charged, “Morale here is at an all-time low. It’s never been worse. We need some real leadership and new vision.”
Arnoldi faulted Anderson for mishandling the ongoing fracas within the Sheriff’s Council — the private nonprofit made up of deep-pocketed volunteers who raise funds for bulletproof vests, search-and-rescue helicopters, and other big-ticket items — but insisted he would have run anyway. While Arnoldi is regarded with respect and affection in local law-enforcement circles, he is not perceived as the serious threat to Anderson that Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Commander Dominick Palera or Lompoc Police Chief Bill Brown might be. On Monday, Chief Brown confirmed he’s interested in running for sheriff, but said he hasn’t yet made up his mind. Palera had been widely expected to run, but after meeting with Anderson on Tuesday, the 23-year veteran of the department decided against it.
Turmoil has continued to dog Anderson despite his efforts to distance himself from the unraveling Sheriff’s Council. Immediately following Anderson’s sudden, inelegant disavowal of the council in mid-December, five former Sheriff’s Council presidents filed a lawsuit seeking to freeze the council’s bank accounts, alleging that current council president-elect and Anderson ally Helen Jepsen used a previous employer’s business credit card to misappropriate $123,000. The lawsuit also charged Jepsen refused numerous requests to see the Sheriff’s Council books and financial records, and demanded a forensic audit be prepared. Jepsen denied ever withholding access to any council business records to any member or director, stating, “That’s absolutely false.”
Jepsen was equally emphatic in denying claims she misused the credit card belonging to her previous employer, Dr. Bill Meller, who had filed a complaint with Santa Barbara police, who in turn declined to take action after investigating the charge. Likewise, the District Attorney’s office dropped the matter after concluding it could not prove intent to steal because Meller had allowed Jepsen to use the company credit card for personal uses. Jepsen said she planned to sue Meller for defamation of character and declined to discuss specifics of his allegations upon advice of her attorney, Pete Bezek, who vowed to make Jepsen’s accusers “put up or shut up” by providing evidence supporting their charges.
As for the “Anderson Five,” Jepsen dismissed her adversaries, charging they were roiled by the notion of a woman as council president. Jepsen also alleged the five were in league with former sheriff Jim Thomas, whom she charged was on a mission to bring down Anderson, who defeated Thomas’s hand-picked successor, Dave Dorsey, in the last sheriff’s election. Thomas has made it clear he wants Anderson gone, indicating he’ll run if no credible candidates emerge. But Thomas, who founded the Sheriff’s Council, expressed profound displeasure with the council’s decision to provide badges to members who donate $10,000. “Badges just aren’t for sale,” he said. “There’s always an expectation by the people who get them that they’ll be treated differently.” Thomas was also angered by Anderson’s decision to allow the Chumash to place their stickers on search-and-rescue vehicles in exchange for a $125,000 donation to the council. After a similar outcry by many of his command staff, Anderson reversed himself and the rescue vehicles remained unadorned.