Yesterday morning, the Yolo County Grand Jury cited Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto with a wide variety of issues, ranging from mismanagement, bad behavior and poor leadership, to non-compliance with county policies and procedures.
In addition to the original complaint, the Grand Jury also found acts of nepotism, favoritism and management by intimidation, ineffective training, and a sheriff’s department burdened by poor morale. However, “the Grand Jury did not find acts of willful or corrupt misconduct that rose to the level that warranted an accusation.”
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors has responded, noting that the report “follows a grand jury investigation in response to a referral from the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors requested this review after having received numerous serious complaints and allegations from employees about the Yolo County Sheriff and the work environment in the Sheriff’s department.”
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors “believes the report is not responsive to the concerns brought forward by county employees. Furthermore, the Board believes the grand jury’s findings, in many cases, are superfluous to the more serious allegations.”
The BOS continues, “Along with those more significant matters of concern, the Board of Supervisors will also seek clarification to the Yolo County Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations concerning the Yolo County Sheriff.
“The California state constitution provides independent authority to elected department heads, thus limiting the role of county administration. Appointed county staff strive to provide advice and assistance whenever possible. Despite the independent nature of the Sheriff’s office, on three occasions, county administration initiated investigations in response to employee concerns. These investigations helped inform the advice and counsel that county administration provided the Sheriff. Ultimately, however, the Sheriff is an independently elected department head and not directed or evaluated by county administration.
“’The Board of Supervisors has a strong commitment to ensuring a safe work environment and a culture of support for all employees of Yolo County, regardless of the department in which they work,’ said Yolo County Board of Supervisors Chair Don Saylor. ‘We are deeply concerned about the grand jury’s findings and the results of investigations previously initiated by the county.’
“Yolo County will respond completely to all findings and recommendations in the Yolo County Grand Jury report concerning the Yolo County Sheriff. The Board of Supervisors will also be formally requesting additional information from the grand jury.”
The Vanguard spoke late yesterday afternoon with Supervisor Matt Rexroad. He said that he has been aware of the problem for quite some time and is anxious to read the Grand Jury Report. “It’s not exactly a work of art, but it certainly should provide a great deal of concern to residents and taxpayers in Yolo County,” he stated.
He agreed with his colleagues that the report underplayed some of the more serious concerns. He noted that buried in the section on poor morale is a discussion of baseball metaphors. “A felony arrest is a home run, so we have some sort of cultural incentive to jack up charges to arrest somebody for,” he noted.
The Grand Jury report noted, “During manager and supervisory meetings the Sheriff openly discussed employees who had made alleged claims of sexual harassment against him. He would ridicule, accuse the employees of lying and berate them in large group meetings. Those attending would then be threatened with ‘whatever is said in this meeting stays in the meeting.’”
Supervisor Rexroad expressed concern that such cultural threats would tend to lead to a lack of willingness by employees to come forward for legitimate complaints.
He noted that the nepotism complaints go back ten years but represent about one-third of the report.
“This thing is written so poorly that I can’t tell whether …” he started. “There’s certainly enough in here for my mind that gives us every reason to go in and look at this operation very carefully.” However, he was concerned as to whether all of these statements by the Grand Jury were facts that they verified or whether these are accusations.
Supervisor Rexroad said that “the reason we had to go to a Grand Jury… is that the Board of Supervisors is the one that made the complaint to the Grand Jury, which I’ve never been a part of before. We made the complaint because our previous two investigations had been undermined because people indicated that they were unwilling to tell the truth unless they were subpoenaed.”
They needed the Grand Jury with subpoena power to place them under oath.
“Any other non-elected department head, we would fire for this exact same report,” Supervisor Rexroad stated. If they determined that these allegations were factual for any other employee, “we would terminate them on the spot. And rightfully so.”
He added, “HR has spent more time with the Sheriff’s Department than any other by a mile. We have done everything you can imagine to help counsel him and that office in terms of HR policies. For the Grand Jury to place this on HR is misplaced.”
He noted that a 360-evaluation would be useless when people are reluctant to come forward even for a subpoena. “Do you think they are going to respond to a survey monkey when we had a difficult enough time getting them to respond to a subpoena?”
“The grand jury took it about halfway there, in my mind,” he stated. “It leaves a lot of questions that are unanswered and I think we have a responsibility to follow up on that.”
He said that the sheriff does not want another investigation, but he sees no way around it. At this point, they have not discussed the possibility of a separate independent investigation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting