Sheriff Thomas trades badge for political run

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Sheriff Thomas trades badge for political run By Karen White — Staff Writer 9/20/02 Jim Thomas expects to “sleep a little better” after tonight. That’s when he turns in his badge and gun as Santa Barbara County’s chief law enforcement officer. His retirement will end 12 years as sheriff and some 33 years in law enforcement. “That’s enough … I have had a great time,” Thomas, now 57, said. He supervised people “who carried guns” or kept people locked up who wanted to be free. “You are responsible for it, no matter who does it … you have to be there,” Thomas said. The responsibility “weighs on you,” even when a person has confidence in his staff, he said. Thomas is moving forward to “new challenges, new things,” at least through Nov. 5. The retiring sheriff has long been active in politics. The sheriff is an elected position. Retiring three months early, Thomas has stepped from law enforcement to county government. He’s the “other” candidates in a recall and election campaign involving the 3rd Supervisorial District, representing the Santa Ynez Valley. Thomas lives in Los Olivos. Incumbent Supervisor Gail Marshall is the target of the recall. “It is good to be a part of the democratic process,” he said, giving people an option of another viable alternative, if they support the recall. “More people voted for the recall position than voted for Marshall,” he added. If Thomas wins a “new job,” he will serve six years. If he does not win, he will be looking for a job, he said. “I am not prepared to just play golf all the time,” he said. Jim Anderson, who won the election during the primary in June, is in place to serve as sheriff. He has been undersheriff to Thomas for several months, which has allowed Thomas to retire early. The sheriff’s long career had many high points and a few low spots. He remembers facing the issues of escapes from county jail, theft of guns from the sheriff’s range, and a crash landing of an airplane, with Thomas as the controls. “There have been a lot more good than bad,” he added, remembering such events as the formation of the Sheriff’s Council in 1993. This group has raised more than $1.7 million. The hard-working members also have become close friends. The new dispatch and communications center, a state-of-the-art operation, is one of the “good things” for which Thomas is taking credit. He also is happy with the aviation bureau. People originally criticized plans for this bureau, but Thomas said “we knew better” and people have now found out the value of the operation. An indoor shooting range is now used to train officers. Thomas can’t pinpoint a hometown. His dad first was in the U.S. Navy, then worked for Chrysler Co. “We moved every 18 months. I went to five high schools in two years,” he said. He also attended two colleges and worked in advertising, before he, his brother and his father purchased Southern California auto dealerships. Cars were not for Thomas. He rode along with the local police. And rode again and after three times said “I was fascinated.” Six months as a reserve in 1968 ended with a job with the Montclair Police Department in 1969. The smog and traffic drove him to Santa Barbara in 1973. He finished his education with the University of Redlands and worked his way “up the ranks.” His parents are now retired in Santa Maria, while his brother is in San Diego. Thomas and his wife have four grown children and nine grandchildren. A retirement event for Thomas will be in a building at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara Saturday night. “I have told them no plaque presentations. I will have a nice party,” he said. Anderson will present Thomas with his retirement badge. Staff writer Karen White can be reached by e-mail at :nav Source:

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