Los Angeles voters will soon vote on a proposal that would give the L.A. County Board of Supervisors the authority to remove a sheriff for unlawful actions and abuse of power.
The proposal comes after a longstanding feud between L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Board of Supervisors.
The five-person board voted 4–1 to add the proposal to the ballot for the general election on November 8.
If approved, the L.A. County Charter would be amended to allow the board to remove by a four-fifths vote a sheriff from office if he or she engages in “serious misconduct” and is determined to be unfit for service.
The proposal describes such misconduct as “flagrant or repeated neglect of duties, misappropriation of funds, willful falsification of documents or obstructing an investigation.”
Villanueva in a letter to the board called the measure a “cheap political stunt” designed to hurt his re-election chances. He is running against retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in November.
Throughout his first term in office, the sheriff often had disagreements with the board, particularly when it came to his enforcement of COVID-19 policy.
“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,” Supervisor Holly Mitchell said last month after proposing the motion with Supervisor Hilda Solis.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that not just the sheriff but the board and other elected County officials should be held accountable as well. “I just want to caution us all that this action has broader implications than one individual, as I strongly disagree with the action,” she said. “I think it ought to apply not only to one elected [official] but to all — and if we’re going to do it for the sheriff, we should do it for the assessor we should do it for the DA and quite frankly, maybe for this board as well.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who is associated with a criminal investigation started by Villanueva, said that the sheriff holds too much power. “I don’t see the assessor getting people killed,” she said. “It’s really about the ability to hold someone accountable when they have a very powerful position.”
In his letter, Villanueva said the measure bypasses constitutional rights. “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,” he said.
The board currently controls the size of the sheriff’s budget, which is around $3.5 billion. In addition, the board appoints a civilian oversight committee that can subpoena the sheriff but cannot force the sheriff to take action.
In response to attacks against him, Villanueva has begun a criminal investigation into the board-appointed inspector general Max Huntsman regarding county contracts with a nonprofit run by an oversight panel member and is associated with Kuehl.
Kuehl and Commissioner Patti Giggans have both called Villanueva’s resignation.