Sonoma Co. sheriffs' association says supes broke labor laws by putting oversight measure on ballot

The Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs' Association says county supervisors broke state labor laws in placing a measure on the November ballot aimed at increasing the powers of the watchdog office that oversees the county Sheriff's Office.

The association will try and overturn the supervisors' action, 
officials said in a statement Tuesday.

"We're not opposed to oversight, transparency or reform, but there 
are rules of engagement like any other process and they have to follow the rules," Rocky Lucia of Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, the law firm representing the association, said in an interview.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place the measure on the ballot last Thursday, the last day it was legally able to; advocates whose efforts to qualify the measure for the ballot were halted by the pandemic had campaigned for the board to take the action.

If the measure passes, it would strengthen the ability of the 
Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, or IOLERO, to investigate use of force by sheriff's deputies and complaints against Sheriff's Office personnel, as well as to do community outreach.

The association's central stated argument against the ballot 
measure is that supervisors, rushing to get it on the ballot, did not confer about it with the association first. That violated state labor laws about how employers have to deal with public employee unions, Lucia said.

"It's understood by everybody that there are procedures that have 
to be followed and what Sonoma County has done is they just ignored the law," Lucia said.

The association plans to file a legal claim against the county 
unless supervisors remove the measure from the ballot and meet with the association, Lucia said.

If supervisors were to do that, it would effectively kill any 
chance of the measure appearing on the ballot because the Aug. 7 deadline to place it before voters in November has passed.

The claim will be filed with the state Public Employee Relations 
Board, or PERB. Lucia said he believes the claim will likely not be resolved prior to the November election. In that case, if PERB's decision goes against the county, the measure, had it passed, could be nullified.

County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said in an email that the county 
followed "required policies and statutes" and that the association raised the issue on the day the board considered placing the measure on the ballot.

He said the county is scheduling a meeting with the association to 
address any labor relations issues that the ordinance may present.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick appears ready to also challenge the ordinance, though for different reasons. He has said it violates laws governing how county funds are allocated and personnel records, among other things.

Essick has indicated his office will "explore potential 
litigation" related to the ordinance, and has previously said he would challenge it on constitutional grounds.

Essick's request for $50,000 to hire legal counsel was on the 
supervisors' agenda at their meeting Tuesday, but along with some other items was rescheduled to a Wednesday meeting.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Misti Wood said that the funds are in 
the department's budget already but the sheriff is requesting approval to hire outside legal counsel because it would be a conflict for county lawyers to advise him about challenging the ordinance.