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Duane DeWitt speaks to the Supervisors during the Public Hearing

Board of Supervisors Discuss Sheriff's Oversight, Extend Emergency Planning Contract, More

Dec 4, 2018
by Will Carruthers

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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors discussed the future of a Sheriff Office oversight body, approved an extension of a contract with an emergency preparedness consultant and listened to a policy update from Assemblymember Jim Wood at its Tuesday, Dec. 4 meeting.

Consultant's Emergency Planning Contract Extended

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to extend a contract with a consultant to oversee the County’s emergency planning efforts. 

The County’s Fire and Emergency Services Department first entered into a contract with Tetra Tech, a Pasadena-based engineering and consulting firm, in March 2018.

"Due to the need to expedite the work on the Community Alert and Warning Program, County Emergency Staff training program, Operational Area Emergency Council review, and County Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), the County contracted with the vendor to provide staffing support," a county staff report states about the necessity for the contract.

In June, the Board of Supervisors amended the County contract with the firm to last until the end of 2018, with total costs not to exceed $496,000.

Christopher Godley

Under the contract, Christopher Godley, an employee of Tetra Tech, serves as the County's interim Emergency Services Manager for a cost of $239 per hour. Other Tetra Tech employees are available upon request to support the department's work and emergency planning efforts for a total cost not to exceed $170,000.

On Monday, Dec. 3, Sheryl Brattonthe County administrator, announced that she will recommend Godley as the County's permanent emergency manager at the Board's Dec. 11 meeting. If approved, Godley would begin the role on Dec. 24.

Under the extension passed Tuesday, Tetra Tech's contract will last until March 31, 2019 at no extra cost as the county continues to reorganize the department and searches for permanent staff to replace the consultants.

New Safety Measures Coming Next Meeting

Beginning Tuesday, Dec. 11, attendees of supervisors' meetings will be required to walk through a scanner and submit to a search before entering the chambers. Those who refuse the search will not be allowed to enter the chambers.

The change is meant to quell staff safety concerns, according to a staff report

"In September of 2016, a break-in to Human Resources and County Counsel spaces in the Administration Building occurred. The incident highlighted prior questions of the safety and security of staff, officials and county property," the report states.

The change in policy was approved by the supervisors at an August 7 meeting. 

The screening equipment cost $69,961 and the ongoing service is expected to cost $55,000 in the first year of service.

Assemblymember Briefs Supervisors on State Political Agenda

During a briefing about legislative progress and plans for the coming session, Assemblymember Jim Wood announced that he had introduced legislation to change the state's fire response planning processes.

Assembly Bill 38, introduced Monday, December 3, would establish a statewide Community Fire Preparedness Council and smaller regional councils to create and advise local governments on best emergency alert systems, evacuation procedures and public education efforts.

The bill would also establish a $500 million fund to offer low- or no-interest loans allowing homeowners to pay for programs reducing the flammability of their homes, known as fire hardening procedures.

“We must confront [the devastation created by California's wildfires] head on to make sure our policy reflects the increasing crisis of climate change and do everything we can to protect Californians and our communities from the wreckage that has resulted from these fires,” Wood stated in a press release released Monday.

Wood, the former Mayor of Healdsburg, represents the 2nd Assembly District, which stretches along the coast from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. 

Sheriff Oversight Agency Progress Discussed

After an uncontroversial initial report last year, the relationship between the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and a new watchdog agency degraded this year according to dueling progress reports by the two agency's leaders presented at the Board of Supervisors' meeting Tuesday.

Jerry Threet, outgoing director of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), and interim Sheriff Robert Giordano, outlined their disagreements over a September report from the watchdog agency covering the Sheriff's performance between June 2017 and June 2018. 

Opened in April 2016, IOLERO is tasked with providing "effective and independent review" of the Sheriff's Office, making policy recommendations and conducting public outreach.

In his September report, Threet referenced "ongoing trust issues" between the Sheriff's Office and the new oversight agency in the past year due in part to a renewed public conversation around the need for law enforcement reforms during a political campaign between two men vying to be elected Sheriff in June 2018.

"As the election dynamic played out, the Sheriff's Office also began to react with suspicion and distrust to the regular, ongoing work of IOLERO in pursuing its civilian review missions," Threet wrote. 

On Nov. 6, the Sheriff's Office published a response to IOLERO's September report that noted a "fundamental flaw" in the oversight agency's current structure.

"At its core, the perceived success of IOLERO depends, at least in part, on the perceived failure or short comings of the Sheriff’s Office," the Sheriff's response states.

In the year covered by the most recent report, IOLERO completed 19 audits and disagreed with the Sheriff's Office's analysis ten times.

A graph showing the number of audits filed in Fiscal Year 2017-2018.

During his comments on Tuesday, Giordano conceded that his office had made mistakes in some cases reviewed by the auditor and said that he agrees with the need for policy recommendations and changes. However, he disagreed with Threet's desire to have greater access to the Office's database of incident reports, citing privacy restrictions under state law.

Both men also disagreed about what constitutes a complete investigation by the auditor and what evidentiary standard the auditor should apply in its reports.

One disagreement was around a case in which an individual reported multiple alleged Constitutional violations by Sheriff's Deputies over a five-month period.

The Sheriff's Office reviewed and provided IOLERO with the incident reports from the time period in question, but did not include reports on cases with the same complainant in the past, according to Threet.

"If you're called upon to say 'this is a complete investigation,' it's impossible to do that without access to [the past reports]," Threet said Tuesday. 

Giordano agreed that the Sheriff's Office's investigation into the case had been "incomplete" because the Office did not review previous incident reports involving the complainant. However, it would be adequate for Threet to mark the Office's investigation "incomplete" rather than reviewing all of the department's past interactions with the complainant, Giordano said.

"It's a shortened version [of the audit], but the reality is we were wrong, and that gets to the heart of it," Giordano said.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said that the discussion and dueling reports left her unsure about what to believe, referencing a "he said-he said" dynamic because of conflicting statements in the reports.

"I think that we tasked IOLERA an impossible task, which is that we gave you an entire wish list, inadequate staffing and funding, and a lack of clarity around our priorities," Hopkins said.

Both men are leaving their positions in the coming months. Asked how the supervisors could help their replacements, the outgoing  officials agreed that their replacements could use more guidance on IOLERO's goals, priorities and access to documents.

During the public comment period, activists and members of IOLERO's Community Advisory Committee spoke in support of the oversight agency.

The supervisors did not vote on any changes to the oversight agency, but several supervisors referred to ways the agency's funding could go be spent more efficiently or possibly expanded in the future.

"I think the Board has made a mistake in not devoting the resources that we needed to last budget cycle," Supervisor Susan Gorin said. "I think we need to give IOLERO more funding support and more staffing support to work closely with the Sheriff's Office and the community."

IOLERO's report and the Sheriff's response are available to downloadhere.

The meeting agenda is available here.

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