SALINAS >> With early election results counted, voters will possibly see a Monterey County Sheriff’s captain and a Marina police chief facing off for the top county law enforcement slot come November.
With a little more than 16% of the precincts counted, Marina Police Chief Tina Nieto had a decisive lead, and with securing 49.3% of the 31,655 votes counted as of 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nieto is pushing close to the 50% plus one tally needed to win the election outright.
Monterey County Sheriff’s Capt. Joe Moses, the next closest candidate, had 28.4% of the early returns.
If Nieto can’t top 50% when all the votes are counted, then she will likely be headed into a faceoff with Moses in November. If no candidate breaches the 50% mark then the two top vote-getters will move on to the general election. If she does make it past that threshold then she will be the new Monterey County Sheriff.
Reached at her election watch party at the Carpenters Hall in Marina Tuesday evening, Nieto said she was feeling overwhelmed by the support she was receiving from voters. Voters are wanting change in the Sheriff’s Office and that is being reflected in the initial results, she said.
“I’ve been up and down the county talking to groups and the one thing I keep hearing is people really want change; they want it to be different,” she said. “The Sheriff’s Office needs to talk to people and to the Board of Supervisors. The leadership needs to move in a different direction. Deputies want ethical leadership and so do the people.”
Moses reached at his election watch party at Spreckels Memorial Hall said it was too early in the election to comment directly on the results, but that he knew going in that he would likely be headed for a runoff.
“We’re going to get up in the morning, look at the results and resume campaigning,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office has seen its share of rancor over the past few years, with sitting Sheriff Steve Bernal having been censured for what the Board of Supervisors considered inappropriate spending. Moses himself is facing lawsuits relating to the 2018 sheriff’s race when he supported Bernal. One lawsuit alleges Moses publicly defamed several members of the Monterey County Deputy Sheriff’s Association because the union supported Bernal’s opponent.
Nieto seized on the frustration and distrust she said people, including deputies, have with the Sheriff’s Office leadership.
“At the core of the many issues facing the (Sheriff’s Office) is the lack of trust among the members of the organization and its own executive leadership team, the distrust between the (Sheriff’s Office) and the Board of Supervisors, and the distrust with some of our communities and an agency sworn to protect them,” Nieto told The Herald in an earlier interview.
Nieto, the only woman in the race, said she follows an adaptive leadership model by anticipating challenges and addressing root causes, an approach she’s garnered during her 33 years in law enforcement. Change in law enforcement is inevitable and Nieto notes that modern law enforcement is rapidly changing, with transparency chief among those changes.
Moses earlier told the Herald that he is also a champion of transparency, particularly among different law-enforcement agencies.
“In order to build and maintain those relationships, we have to be able to trust each other,” he said last month. “The only way I know how to build that trust is through transparency. Be open and honest about why or how we go about solving problems, and sometimes why we can’t share information. (That) is what true transparency means.”
Candidates Justine Patterson had 14.42% of the early total, while Jeffrey Hoyne had 7.88%.
Nieto said Tuesday evening that she is a woman of faith, and that she had prayed that “if I win, have God give me the strength to do the right thing for the right reasons. This whole experience has made me closer to God.”
Contributed by local news sources