The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors July 26 approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow voters to decide whether the board should have the power to remove a county sheriff from office under certain conditions.
The ordinance, introduced by Board Chair Holly Mitchell and Supervisor Hilda Solis, received a 4–1 vote, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger dissenting. The board has to vote again on Aug. 2 to put the measure before county voters on November 8.
If passed in the general election, it would allow the board to remove an elected county sheriff “for cause” by a four-fifths vote.
The “cause” is defined in the measure as a “violation of law related to a Sheriff’s duties, flagrant or repeated neglect of duties, misappropriation of funds, willful falsification of documents, or obstructing an investigation.”
Under the county’s current system, a sheriff can be removed through regular elections, recall elections, a civil grand jury, or a legal challenge issued by the attorney general.
The motion was modeled after San Bernardino County’s 2002 ordinance that gave its Board of Supervisors the power to remove not only its sheriff but all other elected officials in the county government for cause by a four-fifths vote.
At the previous board meeting, supervisors who supported the motion said it is not targeting the current Sheriff Alex Villanueva but is a way to hold a county sheriff accountable for his or her actions.
“The voters deserve an opportunity to decide whether this is the right way to enhance accountability of the Sheriff and protect the lives and liberties of County residents,” Mitchell said in a July 12 statement.
Barger, who cast the only dissenting vote, said the move was politically motivated as it should not target just one elected position.
“If this is about holding accountable across the board, as it relates to elected, why is it just the sheriff?” she said during the July 12 board meeting.
Villanueva’s campaign released a statement July 8 saying that “the sheriff is an elected position, just like the supervisors. Just as the sheriff has no business asking for power to fire the supervisors, the reverse is also true.”
In a letter to the board last month, he said the motion is an effort to sabotage his election campaign and “a recipe for public corruption, particularly when ‘cause’ remains so broad and undefined.”
Villanueva, a registered Democrat, is up for reelection in November, facing off with former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna, who has been endorsed by all county supervisors.
Villanueva has repeatedly clashed with the board this year over his law enforcement tactics and not requiring his deputies to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
He accused the board of defunding his department at the expense of public safety and refused to attend the county’s Civilian Oversight Committee meetings over lawsuits alleging deputy gangs and excessive use of force under his leadership.
The board also imposed a hiring freeze on his department while voting to terminate unvaccinated county employees, including sheriff’s deputies, in February.
City News Service contributed to this report.