San Mateo County voters have two choices for their sheriff in the upcoming June election: current San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos and his challenger, Montara resident and current San Mateo County Deputy Sheriff Mark Melville.
Both have roots in law enforcement. Bolanos got his start nearly 40 years ago as a police officer for the city of Palo Alto; Melville served as a patrolman for the Half Moon Bay Police Department for two years beginning in 1978.
Bolanos has also served as the police captain for the city of Salinas, chief of police for the Redwood City Police Department and has been with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office since 2007. That’s when he was appointed undersheriff and ran the day-to-day operations of the organization. Bolanos has been serving as the San Mateo County Sheriff since 2016 when former Sheriff Greg Munks retired.
Melville comes with city management experience as well. He served as chief of police and city manager for the city of Gustin (Merced County) and city manager and director of public safety for the city of Livingston. Melville also served for four years on the Gustine City Council.
“I’ve done a lot in the public sector,” said Melville, who is 61 years old. “That’s been my life.”
Melville is calling for honesty and transparency in the Sheriff’s Office. He is critical of Bolanos’ relative silence about a 2007 incident the FBI called “Operation Dollhouse.” In the course of that investigation, Munks and Bolanos were briefly detained at an illegal brothel in Las Vegas.
“He actually lied about where he was,” Melville said. “They found him inside the house.”
For his part, Bolanos refers to an earlier statement made by then Sheriff Munks indicatin that Bolanos was never in the establishment.
“I don’t know that there’s much to say about nothing that happened 11 years ago,” Bolanos said.
Still, the incident has given local leaders pause. Half Moon Bay Mayor Deborah Penrose and Half Moon Bay Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock have each withdrawn their support for Bolanos.
Ruddock says she has had positive interactions with Bolanos when working on city issues, but said the more she thought back to the 2007 incident, the less inclined she felt about giving her support.
“I felt I couldn’t put my personal stamp of approval on that sort of behavior and that incident,” Ruddock said.
On the flipside, Half Moon Bay Councilman Rick Kowalczyk spoke highly of the work Bolanos and the Sheriff’s Office as a whole have done for the Coastside. Kowalczyk highlighted what he said was Bolanos’ good communication and emphasis on community policing. He said he viewed the Operation Dollhouse talk as “election noise.”
Kowalczyk said current Sheriff’s Office leadership has invested time and energy in the city. “I want to keep that good momentum,” he said.
Ruddock said she has heard from Coastside residents who would like to see more community policing.
Bolanos said Sheriff’s Office deputies attend many community events, including the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival and Mavericks surf contest. He said, while there’s always room for improvement, he believed that his deputies were already doing an outstanding job with those efforts.
“Half Moon Bay is a very striving community with a lot of events,” Bolanos said. “Many of the things the Sheriff’s Office provides you won’t find in the contract.”
There are currently close to 61 unfilled positions with the Sheriff’s Office. Melville says that if he is elected sheriff, he will increase recruitment efforts by targeting college students and recent military veterans.
Bolanos said, with recent restructuring, a new position will be aimed exclusively toward recruiting and staffing needs.
Bolanos, 59, lives in Redwood City. He enjoys playing tennis, fishing and spending time with his two grandchildren.
Melville is also a grandfather. He is a big fan of classic cars and performs regularly at community events as an Elvis impersonator.
The sheriff is one of the most highly compensated positions in local government. Last year the sheriff earned $263,329.50 in regular pay, according to transparentcalifornia.com, which requests salary data from localities. Bolanos’ total compensation for 2017 was $457,331.90.