Friday, June 13, 2014
(Yolo County) Supervisors must take responsibility for ‘wild west’ sheriff
June 12, 2014
Woodland Daily Democrat
We're not sure if all the "allegations" in that scathing Grand Jury report on Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto are accurate, or — in the scheme of things — serious. But we do strongly feel there needs to be independent oversight of the Sheriff's Department and of Sheriff Prieto specifically.
The Yolo County Grand Jury issued the report titled, "Yolo County Sheriff: Leadership Practices from the Wild, Wild West," earlier this week and made nine recommendations after reaching some 14 separate findings.
The Board of Supervisors requested the review after having received numerous serious complaints and allegations from employees of Prieto, specifically that he has hired family members or friends and managed by intimidation, but apparently the Grand Jury can only do so much, if anything at all.
The important thing for Yolo County residents, is that the Grand Jury found Prieto's acts did not appear to be willful or with corrupt intention, and did not merit his removal from office. In other words, Prieto is a bad manager and needs some help.
The fact Prieto has hired friends and family to fill positions in the department has long been known to journalists in Yolo County. But while that's a questionable practice, it's not technically illegal. It has, however, made working with the department more difficult considering the lack of professionalism. Who knows what that has done to those actually working within the department. The Grand Jury report notes that some family members have used their influence to special advantage.
It's also worth noting Prieto has also been sued several times for alleged sexual harassment. Some of these lawsuits have gone away, others are working their way through the court system. Regardless, the actions raise troubling questions as to Prieto's personal integrity as well as his knowledge about management.
And because Prieto is an elected official, Yolo County supervisors have little sway over either him or his department.
The allegations in the Grand Jury indicate that morale is poor among deputies. The report also speaks of an evaluation system using baseball terms to set quotas for felony arrests. That strikes us as an example of poor leadership and while not illegal it speaks to an official either not in control, or one who has turned a blind eye.
Prieto is the highest paid public — and elected — official in Yolo County. The most recent reports we have seen indicate he makes between $253,000 and $275,000. That amount is set by Yolo supervisors. We would expect a top-level executive like Prieto to be knowledgeable about hiring practices and sexual harassment laws. We would expect supervisors to exert a modicum of control over his actions, particularly if they have a say as to his salary.
We think Prieto, who is 70, is an old-time sheriff, practicing old-time methods, who badly needs to be brought into the 21st century. To do that, there must be an independent oversight panel to evaluate his actions. It should be appointed by county supervisors in consultation with the state Justice Department. Prieto also should be attending the county's mandatory sexual harassment courses along with other managerial seminars.
This may not resolve all the problems raised by the Grand Jury, but it will give them greater public airing so voters can make informed decisions. Certainly — if Prieto is serious about being a good manager — it will give him greater guidance when the next election is held, assuming Prieto seeks office again.