Saturday, May 18, 2024

Your guide to Measure A, which would allow L.A. County supervisors to oust sheriff

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has been battling with Sheriff Alex Villanueva since he took office almost four years ago over issues ranging from hiring and management to what critics say is his resistance to reforms.

The sheriff is independently elected, so there has long been debate about what powers the board actually has over Sheriff’s Department operations.

But voters could change that.

Measure A would amend the county charter to allow a sitting sheriff to be removed from office. To kick out a sheriff, at least four of the five supervisors would need to agree that he or she is not fit for office.

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What Measure A would do

Under the proposal, the board would have the authority to remove a sheriff for serious misconduct, including “flagrant or repeated neglect of duties, misappropriation of funds, willful falsification of documents or obstructing an investigation.”

The language about obstruction is particularly relevant to the supervisors’ conflict with Villanueva, who has repeatedly refused to appear before a civilian oversight panel when it has subpoenaed him to answer questions under oath about groups of deputies that are said to resemble street gangs, and other problems in the department.

While the Board of Supervisors controls the size of the sheriff’s annual budget, which currently is about $3.8 billion, it traditionally has had relatively few avenues to check the power of whomever voters elect as sheriff every four years. The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, a panel whose members are appointed by supervisors, cannot compel the sheriff to take action, although the board empowered the commission in 2020 to issue subpoenas as it battled with Villanueva.

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A long history

Clashes between the board and the Sheriff‘s Department pre-date Villanueva.

But it came to a head this year.

Tensions between Villanueva and board members have roots in his upstart campaign to become sheriff, when several supervisors endorsed the man he was vying to unseat, former Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Villanueva’s term has been marked by a steady stream of controversies and clashes with the board over a myriad of issues, including the budget as well as what several supervisors see as his distaste for accountability and oversight, and his rehiring of deputies who had histories of misconduct.

Villanueva has pursued long-running criminal investigations into the board-appointed inspector general, Max Huntsman, and into county contracts involving a nonprofit organization that is run by an oversight panel member and is associated with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Both Kuehl and the oversight commission member, Patti Giggans, have called for Villanueva’s resignation.

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What both sides say

Critics: Villanueva called the move to curb his authority a “cheap political stunt” designed to hurt his bid for reelection. He suggested that he may mount a legal challenge, saying he believed Measure A would be deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

“The Board is attempting to cheat the system and create a ‘fast-track’ pathway to remove a duly elected sheriff, one which circumvents the law and the foundational principles of due process enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment,” a letter he wrote to the board said.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger questioned why the proposal applies only to the sheriff and not the other seven elected county officials, including board members.

Backers: They say this offers an important check on the sheriff.

“The voters deserve an opportunity to decide whether this is the right way to enhance accountability of the sheriff, of the elected sheriff, and protect the lives and liberties of county residents,” said Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who co-authored the plan.

Kuehl has argued that oversight is needed because the sheriff holds an exceptional amount of power. “I don’t see the [county] assessor getting people killed,” she said. “It’s really about the ability to hold someone accountable when they have a very powerful position.”

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L.A. Times Editorial Board Endorsements

The Times’ editorial page publishes endorsements based on candidate interviews and independent reporting. The editorial board operates independently of the newsroom — reporters covering these races have no say in the endorsements.

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How and where to vote

Ballots have been mailed to all 22 million registered voters in the state. Californians can return ballots by mail, drop them at collection boxes or turn them in at voting centers. They can also cast ballots early at voting centers or wait until Nov. 8 to vote at their neighborhood polling places.

Californians can register to vote or check their status online.

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