Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Yolo County Sheriff responds to Grand Jury allegations

August 13, 2014
Daily Democrat
By Sarah Dowling

Yolo County Supervisors are seeking answers months after a Grand Jury investigation found longtime Sheriff Ed Prieto demonstrates poor leadership.
The board is asking a newly impaneled grand jury to further review allegations that Prieto practiced favoritism, nepotism, and gave preferential treatment to his employees. Prieto responded to the report last week, denying these claims.
"We ask this newly impaneled grand jury to review the assertions made in the report, ensure that those assertions are supported by evidence, and (if so) to ask that the grand jury recommend appropriate actions consistent with the findings and related evidence," says the board's letter, signed by Chairman Don Saylor.
The letter, penned Tuesday, was sent after Yolo Supervisors received new Sheriff's Office complaints, which will be forwarded to the panel for investigation, though these allegations were not specified.
Meanwhile, an independent working group, led by former Woodland Mayor Skip Davies, is charged with completing an evaluation of the issues identified in the grand jury report, making recommendations where appropriate. It is not known if Davies or the panel has been making any progress in his evaluation.
Last week, Prieto responded to the report, denying his use of favoritism and preferential treatment of his employees. The report, published on the heels of Prieto's re-election, found the sheriff has exhibited nepotism, management by intimidation and his office suffers from poor morale.
However, the jury did not find that Prieto's acts were willful or with corrupt intention, and do not merit his removal from office, according to the report.
The Grand Jury initiated the investigation this past year after receiving a complaint about the Sheriff using favoritism as well as other possibly questionable acts.
As a result of its investigation, the jury learned that on multiple occasions "employees were threatened, intimidated and had experienced adverse employment actions as a result of challenging the Sheriff's agenda."
In his response to the report, Prieto noted the conclusions reached by the grand jury were based upon interviews of approximately 16 members of the Sheriff's Office out of 265 employees.
Prieto also found the "wild, wild west" title of the report to be unprofessional, creating an "atmosphere of a joke" while diminishing the document's importance.
Prieto disagreed with these findings, quoting county policies, which justified his actions. He "partially agreed" with only three of the 14 findings, noting many of them did not apply to the Sheriff's Office directly, but to other county departments, which drafted separate responses to the report.
The first finding deals with employee moral, stating "favoritism, nepotism and preferential treatment of employees have adversely affected employee morale in the Sheriff's Department." The jury found that these practices by the sheriff involve hiring, promotion, assignments and discipline.
Prieto disagreed with these allegations, stating hiring and promotional processes are handled by county human resources, although Sheriff's Office staff do conduct interviews after a candidate list is formed.
The Grand Jury also found he used or created provisional or extra help positions to employ personal friends and relatives. Prieto disagreed, noting all department heads work with the county human resources director to fill these vacancies.
Prieto "partially agreed" in hiring immediate family members, but stated these hirings followed county policy and protocol, and "selections were made based solely upon the knowledge, skills and abilities of the candidates."
Prieto detailed the employment of two family members. One resigned after human resources found a violation of the county nepotism policy, but was rehired after the Yolo County Board of Supervisors revised the policy in 2003.
The second family member was hired after the policy changed, and worked in four different positions within the department, maintaining four levels of supervision between herself and Prieto.
At this time, Prieto issued a directive that any future employment issues involving his family members will be handled through the Office of the Undersheriff.
Prieto also responded to Grand Jury recommendations, which called for collaborations with human resources to revise employee evaluation standards and implement internal training programs to reinforce county policy.
"While no specific issues were raised relative to the current evaluation standards, it should be noted prior to the Grand Jury's report, the Sheriff's Office evaluation standards have been used as a model by county HR for the purposes of evaluating employees within Yolo County," Prieto wrote.
In addition, the jury recommended that elected public officials, such as Prieto, submit themselves to the 360-degree evaluation process used by all other department heads in the county.
In his response, Prieto notes that many elected officials are not required to participate in this evaluation process. "The Sheriff as an elected official, is cognizant of his tremendous responsibility to the citizens of Yolo County who have repeatedly placed their trust in him as is evident by the fact he has been re-elected four times." Prieto was reelected without opposition June 3 to his fifth term.
"This is not something the sheriff takes lightly, and to that end, the sheriff remains responsive and accountable to those very citizens he has been given the honor to serve and protect," Prieto concluded.
Contact Sarah Dowling at 530-406-6234.

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