Board of Supervisors Seek Power to Remove an Elected Sheriff from Office
The LA County Board of Supervisors recently voted 4-1 to draft a charter amendment allowing them to remove an elected sheriff from office. Voters will consider the proposed amendment on the November ballot.
The Supervisors want the ability to fire the sheriff "for cause" with a four-fifths vote.
What is "For Cause"?
The amendment states that the Board of Supervisors would be able to remove the sheriff for these reasons:
- Violation of any law related to the performance of a Sheriff's duty
- Flagrant or repeated neglect of a Sheriff's duty defined by law
- Misappropriation of public funds or property as described in California law
- Willful falsification of a relevant official statement or document
- Obstruction, as defined in federal, State, or local law applicable to a Sheriff, of any investigation into the conduct of a Sheriff and/or the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department by any government agency, office, or commission with jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation.
Reason for the Proposed Charter Amendment
The Board of Supervisors is seeking an avenue of accountability between Sheriff Elections.
According to the motion, the Supervisors feel "establishing meaningful checks and balances on the County Sheriff is long overdue."
Currently, the department budget is the primary way for the Supervisors to express accountability—the power of the purse strings.
However, budget changes could negatively impact the county's public safety. Additionally, such a move may still not stop offensive actions by the sheriff.
Other measures, such as oversight boards, also have their limits.
Only the voters can remove an elected sheriff from office by a special recall election or the regular election cycle.
However, the four Supervisors in favor of this want more checks and balances and "immediate intervention" when needed.
It is something the Board and other governing bodies wish they had during Sheriff Alex Villanueva's term.
In November 2020, the Board of Supervisors voted to direct city staff and attorneys on what viable options they had to remove a sheriff before an election.
It was reported that same year that at least two members of the Board were "actively looking to remove his role…."
While there were unable to oust him from office before the 2022 election, the Board still believes that the ability to remove the sheriff is a good idea.
The decision to place this initiative on the ballot was not unanimous, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger being the lone dissenting vote.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger expressed skepticism about the value of an initiative that singles out the sheriff. Although she does not support the current sheriff, she believes shifting power from the voters to the Board is wrong.
That was a common concern amongst many, and Barger believes it could lead to a "slippery slope for the Board of Supervisors to override the will of the voters."
Supervisor Barger wasn't the only individual to disagree with the proposed amendment.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who's up for re-election in the fall, echoed Barger's sentiment. He claims the amendment would be "nullifying the will of the voters" by making the Board of Supervisors "judge, jury, and executioner for the office of the sheriff."
The Proposed Charter Amendment's Effects and Next Steps
The amendment requires the approval of LA County voters. Once the final language is approved, the proposal will appear as an item on the November 2022 ballot.
Under the proposal, removing the sheriff for cause would require four-fifths of the Board of Supervisors' support.
The motion lists some possible causes the Supervisors can cite to remove the sheriff. But the overall language gives them wide latitude to define "cause."
The final amendment language was considered at the July 26th Supervisors' meeting.
On August 2nd, the Board will return to officially approve it to be placed on the ballot this November.
The incumbent sheriff is facing re-election on the same ballot as this initiative. Therefore, it remains an open question how this initiative will impact the race for sheriff.
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