The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set Tuesday to vote on whether to look at options for removing elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the county’s top lawman, rather than waiting to see if voters will do so in 2022.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl co-authored a motion — first presented to the board two weeks ago — recommending that the county direct its lawyers, inspector general, civilian oversight commissioners and acting CEO to look at possible avenues for removing the sheriff or cutting back his responsibilities.
“Under the current sheriff, hard-fought vital progress is being undone, and community trust is rapidly eroding,” their motion states. “While the board has been able to navigate challenging times with previous sheriffs, this sheriff’s actions demonstrate the dire need to explore options for removing a sheriff who refuses oversight or, at a minimum, mitigating damages caused by unacceptable behavior.”
A vote on the matter was postponed by Ridley-Thomas when it appeared there might not be sufficient support for it. The termed-out supervisor — who was elected last week to replace Herb Wesson on the Los Angeles City Council — said two weeks ago that he was concerned his colleagues had not had sufficient time to consider the proposal.
The fact that it is back on the agenda would seem to indicate he believes he now has the votes he needs. However, his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said at the earlier meeting that her vote would not change, though Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas only need one more supervisor on their side.
“Understand that I still stand by my belief that the sheriff is elected, and that in 2022, unless there’s (an) … effort to vacate that seat prior to that, that’s where the voters have a right,” Barger said, apparently allowing for the possibility of a recall campaign.
Supervisor Janice Hahn plans to oppose the motion because she believes that power is in the hands of the voters, according to spokeswoman Liz Odendahl. Hahn thinks that those backing the move would have a strong case for recalling Villanueva, if they wanted to suggest that to voters, her aide said.
The board and the sheriff have long been at odds, but some supervisors now seem prepared to raise the stakes and consider changes that would extend beyond Villanueva’s term. The motion calls for looking at all options to gain additional control, including amending the state constitution to move to an appointed, rather than elected sheriff. A constitutional amendment would affect all 58 counties.
Other possibilities to be considered include pulling some of Villanueva’s responsibilities and appointing a county police chief. The motion points to the fact that the city of Los Angeles — and almost all municipalities other than California’s 58 counties — has an appointed chief.
“With an elected sheriff, the county has had to maneuver different ways to create checks and balances on the sheriff,” the motion states. “However, it has become increasingly clear that the sheriff’s blatant disregard for transparency and accountability requires a more forceful response.”
During his comments at the Oct. 27 meeting, Villanueva urged the supervisors to meet with him privately.
“We are a county family and when there is collaboration we can do great things,” the sheriff said. “Let’s set aside the past and work out our differences … I look forward to finding common ground we can all stand together on in the interests of public safety and fiscal responsibility.”
In comments a day earlier, the sheriff took a more aggressive stance.
“Rather than allow the voice of the voters to stand, those same members are now exploring ways to [undo] the results of a lawful election, outside of the established constitutional methods of: voter recall, grand jury indictment or defeating me in the next election,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
The board motion came after the civilian oversight commission called for the sheriff’s resignation. Villanueva has dismissed the commission as a political tool — though it was instituted in response to jail violence that predated his tenure — and accused the group of punishing him for investigating potential county corruption.
In making the argument for taking more drastic action, Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl highlighted what they characterized as Villanueva’s “inability to balance the LASD budget,” pointing to his unilateral moves to cut youth programs and eliminate the parks services bureau, actions that have also drawn criticism from the deputies union.
Though the union that represents rank-and-file deputies has had its own issues with the sheriff failing to confer with them about major staff transfers, it appears for now to support Villanueva.
In comments to The Times two days after the board’s last meeting, the president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy Sheriffs, Ron Hernandez, slammed the board motion.
“I think they are blinded by their frustration and focused on the personality conflict instead of the safety of their communities,” Hernandez said. “Any elected body who is focused on finding a way to override the voters has lost touch with the constituents they serve.”
The Times editorial board has opined that the sheriff of the largest local jurisdiction in the U.S. should not be an elected official.
In a separate matter to be considered Tuesday, acting CEO Fesia Davenport has asked the supervisors to request that the sheriff and the parks department sign a new agreement by the end of this month to provide security at county parks through June 30, 2021.
LASD management has told its employees that redeployment of parks deputies is set to take place Dec. 6, according to Davenport. If a new agreement is not signed by Nov. 30, Davenport has proposed reallocating roughly $18.5 million from the sheriff’s budget to the parks department to pay for security services.