City Council Opposes LA County Charter Amendment

At its July 19 regular meeting, the Beverly Hills City Council unanimously opposed a proposal by the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to change how a duly elected sheriff can be removed from office. Specifically, on July 26, the Supervisors will consider calling a special election on Nov. 8 to vote on an amendment to the county charter that would allow an elected sheriff to be removed by a four-fifths vote. 

Members of the Beverly Hills City Council denounced the proposed amendment to the county charter on the grounds that it would allow the Board of Supervisors, which is comprised of elected officials, to remove another elected official from office without the say of registered voters.

“They’re saying that you have four people, out of a county of 10 million, who want to be able to make a decision to overturn an election,” Mirisch said. “That is wrong on so many levels, and it’s beyond wrong. It’s hypocritical.”

“I was mortified when I heard of this proposal,” Bosse said. “I feel like this is a disgusting overreach of power. The sheriff is an elected position. The county supervisors, which are five members, are also elected … four out of five people should never, ever overturn an elected position.”

The LA Sheriff’s Department has experienced numerous use of force investigations and manages the nation’s largest jail system. Former Sheriff Lee Baca is currently serving a three-year term in federal prison for his role in a scheme to obstruct a federal investigation of abuse and corruption in county jails. LA County Supervisors pointed to concerns with the “sheriff’s power and the lack of accountability and oversight by the current and previous sheriffs.” They specifically referenced Baca’s actions and those of former Sheriff Peter Pitchess, who was elected six times and resisted involvement in the first internal investigation of “deputy gangs.”

Conflict between the Supervisors and the current sheriff, Alex Villanueva, has existed for some time. Villanueva has also been criticized by the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and its investigative branch, the Office of the Inspector General, for refusing to share information with them related to investigations of alleged excessive use of force by deputies. At the meeting, Councilmember Lester Friedman referenced the tension between the two governmental bodies.

“What troubles me about the action of the Board of Supervisors is the fact that this is really a kneejerk response to the antipathy between the [Board] and the Sheriff’s Office,” Friedman said. “It really should’ve never gotten to that point where there is that much animosity between those two public offices, but for them to take the action of going as far as taking away the will of the voters just isn’t right.”

In the drafted letter of opposition, Bosse said that consolidating the ability to recall the sheriff to the Board of Supervisors would be an “affront to democracy,” and that they would be “granting themselves broad latitude to override the choice of the voters in Los Angeles.”

“Why would people ever feel that they should vote if they know that there are four people that can, by their vote, overturn what the will of the people is?” Bosse said.

The Council’s newest member, Sharona Nazarian, voiced an interest in having a diplomatic conversation with other leaders but said that overriding the will of the people who voted Villanueva into office was unfair. The July 19 meeting was Nazarian’s first since she was sworn into office on July 12. 

The Board of Supervisor’s motion comes several months before the next sheriff’s race as Villanueva will run for a second term in November’s runoff election. Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Julian Gold approved the drafted opposition letter but requested a preface be added to clarify that the Council has taken no position in the sheriff’s race, and that the contents of the letter should not be construed as an endorsement or non-endorsement of any candidate. Other councilmembers agreed to the addition, though Bosse added that she felt the letter in its current draft didn’t hold any biased language.

Before concluding the discussion of their opposition to the Supervisor/s motion, Mirisch asked other councilmembers what else they could do besides sending their opposition letter, such as reading the letter publicly to the Supervisors or contacting other cities to collaborate.

“This is wrong, and I think we need to oppose this in the strongest possible way,” Mirisch said. “It is awful governance. If it’s not unconstitutional, it should be unconstitutional.”

The Council directed that the letter of opposition be sent immediately to the Board of Supervisors. While the Council can’t spend public funds on election issues, such as the amendment if the motion is passed, Beverly Hills City Attorney Larry Wiener said they could lobby against the motion by hiring a lobbyist at the county level.