Yesterday, the Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”) issued a decision voiding the vast majority of a recently enacted measure broadening the powers of an independent civilian law enforcement oversight body in Sonoma County.
The decision, Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, et al. v. County of Sonoma (2021) PERB Decision No. 2772 M, strongly affirms the labor rights of law enforcement associations to bargain proposed oversight schemes, and sends a clear message to law enforcement employers that collective bargaining rights matter – no matter the political moment.
For approximately five years, Sonoma County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (“IOLERO”) primarily audited Sheriff’s Office operations and internal investigations, and provided non-binding advice and recommendations on policies and procedures. However, in August of 2020, the County’s Board of Supervisors adopted a ballot measure for voter consideration for the November 2020 election seeking to significantly broaden IOLERO’s
Specifically, the measure sought to afford IOLERO the authority to, among other things: independently investigate misconduct complaints against DSA members and make disciplinary determinations, independently subpoena DSA members for testimony and documents, directly access member personnel file information (to include prior complaints), and attend internal affairs interrogations.
The Sonoma DSA learned of the intentions of the Board of Supervisors through media reports a few days prior to the Board’s vote on the matter. Within 48 hours of the DSA becoming aware of the plan to advance the proposal to the ballot, RLS sent a strong objection letter to the County based upon the lack of compliance with the mandates of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, Government Code section 3500, et seq. (“MMBA”)
The County refused to comply with the DSA’s demand to meet and confer and placed the measure on the November ballot. The voters overwhelmingly adopted the measure.
As referenced in RLS’s demand letter of August 6th, the County never provided advance notice to the DSA nor the opportunity to meet and confer, obligations the County owed the DSA under the MMBA. Instead, and in response to the DSA’s demands to meet and confer, the County asserted it was “not in the community’s interest” to do so – an obvious reference to the politically-driven false narrative that law enforcement cannot regulate itself.
In an effort to hold the County accountable and protect the DSA’s bargaining rights, the DSA filed an unfair labor practice charge with PERB, alleging the County violated its obligations under the MMBA. Following the lead of the DSA, another law enforcement association filed its own charge, making the same allegations, three days later. The case was consolidated before PERB, and expedited for consideration. Somewhat unusually, the full PERB board heard and decided the matter.
PERB agreed with the DSA that the County violated the MMBA. Of note, PERB held that “taken together, [the amendments] establish a parallel investigative scheme for County peace officers. [The DSA has] a right to bargain before the County subjects employees they represent to such a parallel investigatory process…”
Remarkably, to remedy the County’s violations, PERB found no less than 12 provisions of the measure passed by the voters void – including those affording IOLERO the expanded authority to independently investigate, interrogate, and subpoena DSA members, and access their personnel files.
In short, the County’s interest in accommodating political agendas of elected officials was soundly defeated. The DSA and RLS secured a victory for all public employees by holding the County responsible for putting politics over the law.