LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to give preliminary approval Tuesday to an ordinance placing a measure on the November ballot that would give the panel authority to remove a publicly elected sheriff from office for cause.
On a 4-1 vote earlier this month, the board directed county attorneys to draft the legal documents and ballot measure to put before voters in November. Supervisor Kathryn Barger cast the lone dissenting vote.
If the board approves the ordinance Tuesday, it will come back for a final vote next week, then be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The ballot measure would give the board the power to remove a sheriff “for cause” on a four-fifths vote of the five-member panel. “Cause” is defined as “a violation of any law related to the performance of their duties as sheriff; flagrant or repeated neglect of duties; a misappropriation of public funds or property; willful falsification of a relevant official statement or document; or obstruction of any investigation into the conduct of the sheriff by the Inspector General, Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, or any government agency with jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation.”
Although board members supporting the measure denied it was political in nature, the move is a clear response to repeated clashes with current Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Villanueva has repeatedly clashed with the board, accusing members of defunding his agency at the expense of public safety, while also rebuffing subpoenas to appear before the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission.
Villanueva has blasted the proposal as unconstitutional. He sent a letter to the board earlier this month saying the measure “would allow corrupt board members to intimidate sheriffs from carrying out their official duties to investigate crime.”
“This motion is a recipe for public corruption, particularly when `cause’ remains so broad and undefined,” the sheriff wrote. “Allowing political appointees with an agenda to determine `cause’ is fundamentally flawed.
“… It appears you are making yourselves the judge, jury and executioner for the office of the sheriff, nullifying the will of the voters. This illegal motion seeks to undermine the role of the sheriff and render the office subordinate to the Board of Supervisors. On its face, your proposed ordinance language is not a proper reading of the law and will be challenged on these multiple grounds.”
He called the move an effort to derail his reelection bid. Villanueva is facing a Nov. 8 runoff with former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna. All five members of the Board of Supervisors have endorsed Luna.
Barger, in voting against the proposed ballot measure on July 12, questioned the impetus behind the move, calling it politically motivated. She asked why it only targets the sheriff and not other county leadership positions. She said in a statement after the vote the proposal creates a “slippery slope for the Board of Supervisors to override the will of the voters.”
According to the motion, despite efforts to provide oversight of the department, “the board has nevertheless been limited in its ability to serve as a sufficient check against the sheriff’s flagrant disregard of lawful oversight and accountability.”
The Republican National Committee issued a statement blasting the proposal as “another prime example of how Democrats like to change the rules when they don’t get their way.”
“Not only is Sheriff Villanueva an elected official, he’s one of the few who has been willing to stand up to the board for reducing law enforcement funding and effectively endangering the lives of Angelenos,” according to the RNC. “… This decision from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors would attempt to bully the elected sheriff into doing what they want and would be yet another blow to a free and fair democracy, thanks to California Democrats.”
Villanueva is a registered Democrat.