- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

BEND, Ore. (AP) - It wasn’t the pork steak that Christie Gorsline had a beef with.

It was the outfit on the cook.

In a photo posted to his campaign’s Facebook page July 14, Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson was shown grilling pork steaks at the La Pine Frontier Days celebration. Nelson was wearing an apron festooned with the American flag over his sheriff’s uniform.

“Cooking in uniform isn’t exactly protecting the citizens, it’s campaigning in uniform,” Gorsline, a Wilsonville resident who said she learned about the ongoing sheriff’s race when visiting the Sunriver area, wrote in a comment. “Does anyone else see a problem with this since his opponent is NOT allowed to do the same?”

The comment provoked further comments, first from a woman who’s done publicity for Nelson’s opponent, Eric Kozowski, and then responses from Nelson’s campaign manager.

The exchange eventually stalled out after Nelson’s campaign invited Carol White, who also commented on the story and has done outreach for Kozowski’s campaign, to discuss the matter privately. White said in an email Tuesday that she declined the offer.

The Kozowski campaign made an issue of Nelson’s custom of wearing a uniform to public events.

However, the sheriff said Tuesday he complies with both state law and county policy when he wears his uniform during public appearances.

“In representing the sheriff’s office as the sheriff I am within the law and policy to use the uniform in campaigning,” Nelson said. “Campaigning is part of the sheriff”s official capacity, and it’s my duty and my desire to be elected as the sheriff and continue serving the supportive citizens of this county.”

The rules on wearing a police uniform while campaigning or otherwise engaging in political activity differ for public employees who do and don’t hold elected office, Nelson said.

Kozowski is a deputy at the sheriff’s office, and because he is a public employee and does not hold elected office, is prohibited by Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office policy from campaigning while in uniform.

Nelson said those policies regulating when employees can wear uniforms are in place to “control the message” employees send.

“The design of the policies is, we want to make sure the uniform is used for official capacity only,” Nelson said. “. My official capacity as sheriff does not end. My official capacity as sheriff is active all the time.”

Nelson - who was appointed sheriff by the Deschutes County Commission in July 2015 to replace Larry Blanton, who retired before his term ended - holds an elected office and says he is barred neither by state law nor by sheriff’s office policy from wearing a uniform publicly at campaign events.

Deschutes County’s legal counsel, Dave Doyle, said the sheriff represents the sheriff’s office “at all times.”

“In the context of Sheriff’s Office policy, I informed the Sheriff (and Deputy Kozowski) that the Sheriff is an elected official; with very few exceptions (i.e. out of area on planned vacation) the Sheriff is on duty 24/7; the Sheriff represents the Office at all times whether in uniform or not,” Doyle wrote in an email Tuesday.

Kozowski weighed in on his campaign’s Facebook page Friday.

“I have had people ask me why I don’t wear my uniform at campaign events and why I don’t have pictures of me in uniform on my Facebook page, website, and Instagram,” Kozowski wrote. “They wonder if I am not proud of my uniform. The answer is simple - it is against Sheriff’s Office policy for me to wear my uniform at campaign events or to have pictures of Sheriff’s Office logos, uniforms, or equipment on a personal web site or social media site.”

Kozowski and White frame Nelson’s uniform-wearing as an issue of “integrity,” and Kozowski contends Nelson’s practice applies a double standard.

“The cozy ‘insider’ boys strike again,” commented White, who is also Kozowski’s mother.

Kozowski said Tuesday he had not read White’s comments on the photo and could not comment on her statements specifically.

“It boils down to, for me, if you’re going to have a policy and you’re the leader of an organization, I believe you should follow the policies you ask all your employees to follow,” Kozowski said.

Nelson reiterated Tuesday that the role of sheriff was “24/7” and differed from that of unelected public employees.

Even though Gorsline, the original commenter, cannot vote for Deschutes County officials, she says that she felt the need to post the comment because the two candidates should have a “level playing field.”

Both campaigns have focused more on issues of substance facing the sheriff’s office, including personnel management, transparency and fiscal accountability.

Nelson has been with the sheriff’s office since the early 1990s, whereas Kozowski, a patrol deputy, joined the office in 2010 after six years as a Wallowa County sheriff’s deputy.

Both are running for Deschutes County Sheriff in the Nov. 8 general election.

___

Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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