Our View | Supervisors Seeking Bigger Crowns

Our View

By The Signal Editorial Board

You would think each of the five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors would feel sufficiently empowered: Governing a county with a population of 10 million, each of them represents a district with a population in the neighborhood of 2 million. 

They oversee virtually all departments serving L.A. County residents, with several notable exceptions in which the executives of specific departments are directly elected by voters.

It’s a lot.

But the board’s five fiefdoms are not enough, at least for four of them.

The Board of Supervisors took the first major step in an epic power grab on Tuesday, voting 4-1 to ask voters to approve a county charter amendment that would enable the supervisors to remove the elected county sheriff from office. 

As is too often the case, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley, was the lone voice of reason on the board and cast the only dissenting vote.

Correctly, Barger noted that the move was obviously driven by politics, in reference to the supervisors’ open disdain for current Sheriff Alex Villanueva. 

Barger noted that her objection was not about whether she thinks Villanueva is doing a good job — she actually shares some of the same concerns her fellow supervisors have about Villanueva.

As it happens, we believe the sheriff is doing a good job at his primary function: Policing the county and holding bad guys accountable. 

But that’s not the point. As Barger pointed out, the supervisors’ action on Tuesday, if ultimately successful, would enable the board to undo the results of future elections.

“This proposed charter amendment sets a dangerous precedent and creates a slippery slope for the Board of Supervisors to override the will of the voters,” Barger said. “The sheriff of Los Angeles County, as in all other counties across California, is a constitutionally elected officer, democratically elected every four years. Considering that the current sheriff is less than four months away from their election, the timing of this action seems highly political.”

Indeed, Villanueva is up for re-election on the November ballot — the same ballot on which the supervisors are now asking the voters to grant them the right to remove an elected sheriff, by a four-fifths vote of the supervisors.

Message? “Voters, we don’t trust you.”

Barger also didn’t buy her colleagues’ claim that this was all about accountability, not politics — particularly since voters have the chance to hold Villanueva accountable on the November ballot, if they so choose. 

And, if voters want to hold an elected official accountable mid-term, they can mount a recall drive, as has been done against District Attorney George Gascón, who, curiously, would not be subject to the supervisors’ proposed charter amendment despite the fact that he, more than any one person, has made L.A. County more dangerous.

“I remain concerned that this action, as approved by the board today, dilutes the voice of Los Angeles County voters and deepens voter apathy,” Barger said. “If the goal of this board is ‘Promoting Accountability and Community Safety Through Checks and Balances,’ then this action should include all county elected officials – the assessor, the district attorney and the supervisors themselves. A charter amendment focused on only one office undermines the credibility of the board and its underlying intentions.”

The four-member board majority’s underlying intentions are clear: They want the power to usurp the will of the voters. 

As Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said during the meeting, critics of the board who describe the supervisors as “the five little queens” just don’t understand the supervisors’ plight of not being able to control all that they see — and that she’d feel better if there were five sheriffs managing the Sheriff’s Department instead of one.

“I have been told this is a very powerful position,” Kuehl said. “But I have not been able to get anything through with just my own vote. Quite amazing.”

Amazing indeed. It’s all about power.

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