LA County Sheriffs Department via Facebook

With Sheriff Alex Villanueva refusing to enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate among his deputies, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would give the county’s chief personnel officer the power to discipline any employee. which does not comply with the requirement.

Villanueva condemned the proposal, calling it a “death blow to public safety” that would result in the layoff of 4,000 members of his department.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Holly Mitchell introduced the motion, saying countywide compliance with the employee vaccination mandate “remains a challenge four months after it was released.” They noted that as of Feb. 1, 81.5% of the county’s 100,000 employees were fully vaccinated, as required by the mandate.

But in the sheriff’s department, less than 60% of employees were in compliance with the vaccination mandate.

“Unsurprisingly, approximately 74% of the more than 5,000 workers’ compensation claims related to COVID-19 filed by county employees as of January 29, 2022 were filed by employees of the Sheriff’s Department,” according to the motion. “These data illustrate the vital role of vaccinations in limiting the spread of COVID-19 and therefore the urgent need to increase vaccination rates across the county’s entire workforce.”

The motion directs county prosecutors to work with the CEO and chief personnel officer to develop proposed amendments to county civil service rules, giving the chief personnel officer “primary authority to discipline employees of any department of the county for non-compliance with county policy or policy-related guidelines.” These proposed changes will be reviewed by the Board at its March 15 meeting for final review.

The motion was approved by a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger abstaining.

The power to discipline — or fire — employees who violate the warrant currently rests with individual department heads, such as the sheriff. The motion states that such an arrangement “has allowed for inconsistent application and enforcement of the policy and wide variety from department to department.”

Villanueva, who has encouraged people to consider getting vaccinated, spoke out against the county’s vaccination mandate, saying it would decimate the ranks of what he calls an already depleted department. He said MPs should be given the option of regular testing rather than being forced to get vaccinated.

The sheriff spoke by phone at the start of the board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday and called the proposed change in disciplinary authority a “mortal blow to public safety in Los Angeles County” that would have little impact .

He said 9,881 members of the department are fully vaccinated and in the past 30 days, 342 have tested positive, for a positivity rate of 3.46%. Of the 5,766 unvaccinated members, 221 tested positive in the past 30 days, for a positivity rate of 3.83%.

“Your motion is going to seek to cause us to lose 4,000 employees, for a grand total of 0.4% improvement in positivity rate,” he said. “(That) isn’t exactly a benefit to public safety. We’re coming off two years of a historically high 94% increase in the homicide rate, a 64% increase in the number of auto thefts. And it’s just not sustainable. The current situation is not sustainable. The hiring freeze is not sustainable.

“…It’s misguided, illogical and probably illegal in the long run,” Villanueva said. “And by the time we determine the legality of it, we will have passed the pandemic, which will make the result irrelevant. I urge you to defuse, call back the rhetoric and find common ground – test or vaccinate, and we are doing that right now.

On Monday, an attorney for the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association sent a letter to the council opposing the proposal, saying it would violate the county charter and amount to exceeding the council’s authority.

“Any attempt to take over the sheriff’s ability to oversee the disciplinary process of his employees, he submits, would certainly not survive legal scrutiny by the courts which would likely fine the BOS who exceeded his authority under of well-established legal principles,” attorney James Cunningham wrote.

Citing a 1977 court ruling, Cunningham added: “Such supervisory control by the BOS would directly conflict with the warning that ‘the council has no power to exercise the statutory duties of county officers’. for them or to direct the manner in which the functions are carried out.

When questioned by Kuehl, a county attorney said emphatically on Tuesday that the board had full legal authority to transfer disciplinary authority for the vaccination warrant to the chief personnel officer. Kuehl said the employees’ refusal to get vaccinated or at least seek an exemption “really puts the life of the county at risk, and that’s just unacceptable.”

“To protect the lives of the county…we must enforce this mandate,” she said. “Every department head needs to be serious about enforcing departmental and county-wide policies. … Not all of our department heads have recognized that this policy is absolutely necessary and will save lives. … We are not going to allow the life of the county to be endangered by an individual decision not to comply with county policy. If you, the head of the county department, don’t take this seriously…the county personnel manager is ready to do it.

Barger abstained in the vote, saying she did not support a change in policy in response to the actions of one person, Villanueva.

“To replace an individual or a manager now, I don’t think is appropriate,” she said.

She suggested county administrators need to do more to work with the sheriff’s department and union leaders to reach a solution that won’t result in mass layoffs of essential workers.

Supervisor Janice Hahn said she hopes the proposed policy change will motivate more people to buy into the mandate, saying she hopes “once they understand what the end game is, they’ll take it to themselves.” get vaccinated”.

Hahn also said the county should consider lifting the hiring freeze in the sheriff’s department and increasing recruiting academies to ensure the agency can maintain public safety if large numbers of deputies are laid off due to the vaccination mandate.

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