Sheriff Alex Villanueva called the Los Angeles county board of supervisors’ attempt to pass legislation to give them power to remove him from office unconstitutional and a “power grab” after they moved ahead with their plans to draft a ballot measure for the new law.
The board passed the motion to direct county attorneys to draft an ordinance for November’s ballot that would give the board the power to remove an elected sheriff. The motion passed 4-1 with Supervisor Kathryn Barger voting against it. One more vote will need to be held once the ordinance is drafted to determine whether or not to put it on the ballot in November.
“The ill-advised measure from yesterday is unconstitutional—a massive power grab from the board of supervisors. As if they do not have enough power,” Villanueva said on Facebook Live Wednesday.
Should the motion become law, supervisors would be allowed to remove a sheriff “for cause” — such cause being 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.”
Villanueva has given significant pushback to the county’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and accused the board of defunding the police department. He also rebuffed subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission.
“The current sheriff has been openly hostile to oversight and transparency and has tested the functionality of existing oversight structures by consistently resisting and obstructing these systems of checks and balances,” reads the motion.
The motion also cites previous sheriffs Lee Baca, who was given federal prison time based on corruption charges, and Peter Pitchess, who “resisted any involvement in the first internal investigation of deputy gangs from outside the department.”
Villanueva argued that a claim by supervisors who said the sheriff’s department does not have oversight was completely false.
“I had to laugh at one supervisor in the third district discussing about the power of the sheriff,” Villanueva said. “I rely on the board for their budgets. They have the power and the authority to appoint an inspector general, an oversight commission. They can hound me relentlessly for my entire first term in office.”
Supervisor Barger, the only one to vote against the motion, cited concerns that the motion would override the power of voters in LA county and that it created a “slippery slope for the Board of Supervisors to override the will of the voters.”
“I remain concerned that this action, as approved by the board today, dilutes the voice of Los Angeles County voters and deepens voter apathy,” Barger said.
The sheriff said in a letter that the motion was an attempt at intimidation and the supervisors were using their political offices to willfully affect the outcome of an election.
“If passed, this unprecedented motion would allow corrupt Board members to intimidate sheriffs from carrying out their official duties to investigate crime,” Villanueva said. “This motion is a recipe for public corruption, particularly when ‘cause’ remains so broad and undefined. Allowing political appointees with an agenda to determine ‘cause’ is fundamentally flawed.”
In the letter, the sheriff called the motion illegal. However, it is unknown if he intends to bring legal action against it.
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