An ad hoc committee of the Monterey County Board of Trustees, Wendy Root Askew and Glenn Church, convened a community listening session to discuss organizational options for a Monterey County Sheriff Oversight Committee. This type of oversight committee was made possible by a new state law, AB1185. The supervisors want to hear whether the oversight should be provided by an Inspector General, a citizens committee, or both.
The meeting was prompted by a request from a coalition of organizations that have concerns about deputy sheriff-citizen interactions. Currently the county is under a legal order because it lost a court case, the Hernandez decision, and it is now required to meet certain obligations for staffing the prison and providing prisoner healthcare.
Recently elected Monterey County Sheriff, Tina Nieto, was there to hear public input as well. Prior to public comment she indicated that she doesn't really care how the oversight is structured although she had concerns about paying for it because her budget is impacted by costs from the Hernandez decision, up to $800,000/year. She also indicated that her own office had responsibility to do various types of oversight. She went on to reveal that last year, prior to her tenure, the Monterey jail had failed its certification last year, although now it had been certified. While it is good that our jail is now certified, it is troubling that the public didn't know until now, highlighting why more public oversight and transparency is needed, for the Sheriff's Department and for the county overall.
There were excellent speakers from the public, almost all of whom advocated for the importance of oversight and for both the Inspector General and Citizens commission model.
I was the only currently elected official who spoke (former Supervisor Jane Parker also spoke up for the IG + Citizens Commission), and below are my remarks:
"My name is Alan Haffa, Monterey city councilmember and candidate for District 5 Supervisor.
I would urge the board of supervisors to give serious consideration to the input of citizens groups including NAACP, ACLU, League of Women Voters, LULAC, MILPA, NAMI and others. These organizations have long histories in Monterey County and their concerns with respect to transparency and oversight are extremely important.
Please try to find a way to have both an Inspector General to provide professional guidance and service to the committee as well as public commissioners to ensure that the work of the commission is accountable to the public and responds to public concerns. The commission gives credibility to the work of the IG, and the IG gives investigative expertise to the work of the commission.
It needs appropriate funding to do the necessary work. What that funding mechanism is open to discussion and it is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to figure out how to fund. I understand the concern the sheriff may have about not losing so much of her budget that she can’t fund other important functions of her office. But it is also important for you to understand that this commission and its function is important to the community.
Above all, whether you go with IG, commission or both, it must be independent of the Sheriff’s office. Lacking that independence, it cannot satisfy your responsibility as a county board to provide oversight, nor will it satisfy the public’s interest in community oversight. As Marianne Gawain Davis noted, if we had had an independent citizen’s oversight commission in the past, we might not have made the mistakes we did that led to the Hernandez settlement. In the long run, good oversight will save money and lead to better public safety outcomes."