The top four candidates for Clark County sheriff squared off Monday in front of the officers they hope to lead next year.
It was the first time candidates Las Vegas police Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo, retired Metropolitan Police Department officers Ted Moody, Larry Burns and Robert “Bobby G” Gronauer fielded questions together in a public forum.
Lombardo is the favorite and backed by Sheriff Doug Gillespie, Moody has been an outspoken Gillespie critic, Burns is a favorite with patrol cops and Gronauer was a longtime Las Vegas constable.
The debate was held at Cashman Center by Metro’s three unions, which represent the rank-and-file officers, supervisors and civilians at Metro. Members of the unions submitted questions in the weeks prior to the debate, which were asked by a moderator.
The candidates fielded questions for about three hours on topics ranging from the More Cops sales tax, their leadership qualities and department morale. Candidates were given two minutes per question, and no rebuttals were allowed.
Lombardo joined the department in 1988 and was promoted to assistant sheriff in 2011. Along with Gillespie, Lombardo is supported by former Sheriff Bill Young. He’s considered the favorite because an endorsement from an outgoing sheriff is considered a big advantage in securing campaign funds and support from the casino industry.
Lombardo has the financial edge already, having raised three times as much money as his nearest competitor. He’s collected about $500,000 since October, receiving $10,000 donations from George Maloof, Langley Productions and five Station Casino properties.
Young, whom Lombardo considers a mentor, is vice president of security for Station Casinos.
But Lombardo said he isn’t a Gillespie or Young clone. He said he’s working to educate people who don’t know him or think he has a gruff demeanor.
He acknowledged that officer morale at Metro is “probably the worst in its history.” Lombardo wants to give some power back to the middle managers in the department, he said.
Unlike Gillespie, “I don’t need to have the answer to every question,” Lombardo said. “I don’t need to micromanage. … Our supervisors work two levels below (their rank). They need to work at their level.”
Only Moody, 52, can claim more executive experience at Metro than Lombardo. But unlike Lombardo, Moody distanced himself from Gillespie’s administration.
Moody, hired in 1983 and promoted to assistant sheriff in 2008, made headlines when he abruptly retired in July after Gillespie’s decision not to follow the Use of Force Review Board’s recommendation to fire officer Jacquar Roston, who shot an unarmed man in November 2012.
Moody was tasked with revamping the board — long considered favorable to police — and increasing officer accountability. He told the Review-Journal that Gillespie’s choice to override the board’s decision undermined its integrity. Moody has since been supported by some local civil rights groups who question the department’s sincerity in overhauling its use-of-force policies.
“The best thing we can do for our cops is to prevent them from getting involved in life or death situations,” Moody said. “What better gift for them and their families? We need to raise the bar for performance, not lower it. We need to enhance accountability and transparency, not reduce it.”
Burns, who retired in December from his position as captain of the Bolden Area Command, most recently oversaw the Sherman Gardens Initiative, which is an extension of Safe Village, a program begun in 2006 to reduce violent crime in West Las Vegas, a poor, historically black neighborhood. Burns did not create the initiative, but crime in the area continued to drop under his watch.
He joined the department in 1986 and is considered a popular choice among patrol officers, receiving 91 percent of the vote in a recent union straw poll. Burns, like Lombardo, also has the support of a former sheriff, Jerry Keller, who was sheriff before Young.
But his critics, including Moody, questioned whether the likable captain would hold officers accountable.
Burns, 56, is also one of the most respected tacticians at Metro and was its longest-serving SWAT commander.
He said he’ll listen to officers and create a more open, respectful workplace where officers enjoy coming to work. The best ideas in policing have yet to be imagined, and he probably won’t be the person to think of them, he said.
“We need to wake up and listen and go to work. Listen to the front line,” Burns said. “From young minds and sometimes older minds come the very best ideas that will drive us forward. We need to be progressive and innovative. Believe it or not, we can get better. And we will.”
Gronauer, 66, is a retired Metro sergeant. He’s also the only candidate who has previously won an election.
The former cop spent 24 years at Metro, then ran the Las Vegas constable’s office for a decade before losing to John Bonaventura in 2010.
Gronauer started a private investigation business specializing in disability and worker’s compensation fraud cases.
He dismissed the idea that Metro was broken.
“Metro doesn’t need to be fixed. It doesn’t need to be rebooted,” he said. “The only thing I reboot is my computer and hope it comes back up.”
This was the second debate for some of the candidates in just a few days. Moody, Burns and Gronauer participated in a debate at the El Cortez on Saturday, which was sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Nevada and moderated by Richard Mack, former sheriff of Graham County in Arizona.
Chris Collins, executive director of Metro’s largest union, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said organizers initially expected a few hundred officers and their families to attend.
But news of the event spread on the candidates’ Facebook pages, leading to a larger turnout. Lombardo and Burns held pep rallies in the parking lot prior to the debate.
No TV cameras or other recording devices were allowed inside.
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283. Follow @blasky on Twitter.