The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which has repeatedly clashed with Sheriff Alex Villanueva on a variety of topics, directed its attorneys to draft a proposed ballot measure that would give the panel power to remove an elected sheriff from office for cause.
"The issue of sheriff accountability before us is both urgent and systemic," said Supervisor Holly Mitchell.
The board claims the sheriff has ignored oversight and accountability and has disregarded subpoenas to appear before the county's Civilian Oversight Commission.
"Indeed we need better checks and balances over the sheriff in instances in which immediate intervention by county governance is needed," said Supervisor Hilda Solis.
The proposal directed county attorneys to draft the required documents and ordinance to put before voters on Nov. 8 that would allow the board to remove an elected sheriff "for cause" with a four-fifths vote.
This comes as Villanueva's bids for a second term in a November runoff against former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger questioned the impetus behind the proposal, calling it politically motivated.
She said she does not support the sheriff but feels this action by the board is wrong.
"The sheriff in L.A., and all of the counties quite frankly throughout the state, is an elected official voted in by the people who they represent. And trying to take power away from the voters and give power to this board, I think is inappropriate," says Barger
The issue will still need to return to the board for final passage before it goes before voters in November. The proposal was passed Tuesday on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Barger casting the lone dissenting vote.
In a written statement to the board, Villanueva blasted the proposal as unconstitutional said he is ready to go to court.
"It appears you are making yourselves the judge, jury, and executioner for the office of the sheriff, nullifying the will of the voters. This illegal motion seeks to undermine the role of the sheriff and render the office subordinate to the Board of Supervisors. On its face, your proposed ordinance language is not a proper reading of the law and will bechallenged on these multiple grounds."
Under the motion approved Tuesday, county attorneys were asked to draft a ballot measure that would give the panel power to remove a sheriff "for cause." Such cause is 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."
The motion does not mention Villanueva by name, but states, "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."
Supervisors were also critical of Villanueva during the meeting.
Mitchell accused him of having "flagrant disregard of lawful oversight and accountability." Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said that the board probably would not have brought up the proposal had Villanueva "not been so egregious in his behavior."
"It is an important thing because this particular elected office is more powerful," Kuehl said. "I don't see the assessor getting people killed. It is not for me just about this sheriff. It's really about the ability to hold someone accountable when they have a very powerful position."
The motion also refers to previous sheriffs Lee Baca, who was sent to federal prison on corruption charges, and Peter Pitchess, who "resisted any involvement in the first internal investigation of deputy gangs from outside the department."
County attorneys will now draft the necessary paperwork to put the issue on the November ballot, then return to the board for a July 26 vote on whether to move forward.
City News Service contributed to this report.