On Thursday, two newspapers that cover Yolo County – the Sacramento Bee and the Woodland Daily Democrat – weighed in on the Grand Jury’s Report and the Board of Supervisors’ response to the practices in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department.
The Sacramento Bee would question the description of Yolo County as being out of the “Wild, Wild West,” writing, “One would reasonably expect to hear tales of brutality and lawlessness among the ranks of law enforcers. Or at least of outlaws shooting it out in, say, Woodland and Davis. But the grand jury report released this week didn’t deliver any smoking guns, let alone any evidence of a Dodge City-like atmosphere in Yolo County.”
The Bee’s editorial board writes, “At most, it accuses Sheriff Ed Prieto of being a lousy leader and bad manager whose imposing presence quashes any criticism or complaint among his staff. Plus, he might not have complied with some county-mandated training.”
“For other county department heads, those deficiencies would be enough to be fired by the Board of Supervisors,” the Bee adds. “But in this case, supervisors, who requested the grand jury report, have little power to enforce it.”
The editorial continued, “However, its misleading title aside, the report did raise issues disturbing enough that they need both a public airing and an outside review. The most troubling are the allegations of poor morale among deputies and the existence of an evaluation system that uses baseball metaphors and appears to be a type of quota system for felony arrests. This comes on top of three previous investigations of management practices of the department and two pending sexual harassment cases against Prieto.”
The write, “The loudest voice calling for an outside review should come from the sheriff himself, who has a lot to lose if his department’s professional credibility is damaged. Prieto told The Bee’s editorial board Wednesday that he is taking the findings in the report seriously and wants to see some sort of an independent review of the allegations made in the report.”
And though the grand jury “did not find such acts of willful or corrupt misconduct that rose to the level that warranted an accusation,” the Bee writes, “it did suggest some reasonable recommendations for the Sheriff’s Office to take to correct the alleged transgressions. They included the suggestion that county elected officials undertake a ‘360 degree’ evaluation in which employees receive confidential, anonymous feedback from co-workers and bosses.”
The Bee concludes, “That’s a good idea, but a better one is for an independent audit, which Prieto suggested. The Board of Supervisors should also consider supporting the idea and permanent oversight for the Sheriff’s Office. Other local governments have used citizens commissions and inspectors general to help repair their relationships and reputations with community members.”
“In any case, this report has cast a dark shadow over county government that supervisors and the sheriff can’t ignore,” they add.
Meanwhile, the Woodland Daily Democrat writes, “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 Daily Democrat notes, “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,” they continue.
“The fact Prieto has hired friends and family to fill positions in the department has long been known to journalists in Yolo County,” the Woodland paper writes. “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.”
They write, “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,” they add.
The Daily Democrat continues, “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.”
They write, “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,” they write.
The Daily Democrat concludes, “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.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting