From: Bay City News Foundation
By: Jeremy Hay
The Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs' Association on Monday charged that county supervisors broke state law in the way they placed a measure on November's ballot that would strengthen the watchdog office that oversees the Sheriff's Office.
The legal action - filed with the state Public Employment Relations Board - was the latest confrontation between law enforcement and the supervisors over the oversight ballot measure.
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick last week told the supervisors he is considering legal action against the county over the same measure.
The deputies association's legal action on Monday aims to force supervisors to rescind or nullify the measure placed on the Nov. 3 ballot. Dubbed the Evelyn Cheatham Ordinance, the measure, if successful, would give the oversight office increased access to personnel records and camera footage from body cameras, among other new powers.
Key to the legal charge is that the ordinance would affect working conditions for deputies, ranging from how investigations are conducted to how disciplinary matters are handled, said Rocky Lucia, an attorney with the firm representing the association. Because of that, government codes required that the county meet and confer with the association before placing the measure on the ballot, which it didn't do, said Lucia, of Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, a San Francisco law firm.
"We are in support of efforts to increase the public's confidence in the Sheriff's Office and the law enforcement services it provides," Mike Vail, the association's president, said in a statement. "However, it takes both parties' willingness to communicate for a workable partnership and make this mutually-desirable goal a reality. We were never given any formal notice prior to the Board's passage of this ordinance."
That's the central legal argument the association is making against the measure and how it ended up on the ballot. The deputies' association says it only learned that the Board of Supervisors was considering the ordinance on Aug. 6, the day the board took up the issue. Supervisors, rushing to get the measure on the ballot by the Aug. 7 deadline, did not meet to confer about it with the association before they tackled the question of whether to put it on the ballot, said Lucia. That violated state labor laws about how employers have to deal with public employee unions, the association argues in its filing.
Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said in an email Monday: "In passing the ordinance, the County Board of Supervisors acted well within its policy making authority and the county is very confident the Board's action will withstand legal review."
Goldstein added: "At this time we are reaching out to the Association to schedule a meeting to address the association's concerns, and the county is equally confident that those concerns will be addressed in a mutually satisfactory manner."
"The only remedy they can exercise to make this right is to pull it back off the ballot," said Lucia.
A divided Board of Supervisors last week rejected the sheriff's request to hire outside counsel to review his legal options against the measure. Essick is entitled to appeal that decision in court but hasn't said whether he will.
He said the ordinance, were it to pass, would violate laws governing how county funds are allocated and personnel records, among other legal flaws, and would hurt his ability to carry out his duties.