Guest Commentary: Yolo County District Attorney Budget Increases Dramatically with Little Explanation

By Don Saylor

Budgets are tangible expressions of our values. I believe we need to invest in youth development, housing affordability, climate resilience, and strengthening local businesses and our communities. On September 1, 2020, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors will receive an update on the 2020-21 budget and conduct a workshop in advance of adoption of the Final Budget on September 29, 2020.

Typically, the Final Budget addresses uncertainties such as final year end fund balances, impacts of state budget actions, and updated revenue and expenditure projections from the time of our Preliminary Budget approval in June 2020.This year, the Final Budget will also address reduced revenues and expenditures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the Board of Supervisors discussions about the Preliminary Budget on June 9, 2020, I raised several questions pertaining to the proposed 2020-21 budget for the Office of the District Attorney (DA). The District Attorney is an elected department head with authority over their operations and accountable to the voters. Nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors is responsible to oversee the budgets for all county departments, included those managed by elected officers.  On September 1, I will continue to pursue greater transparency about the proposed budget of the Yolo County DA.  The DA proposes $23.8 million in total spending for 2020-21, an increase of $5.6 million or 31% over 2018-19 actual spending of $18.2 million.  The DA’s request for County General Fund for 2020-21 is proposed to increase to $9.2 million, an increase of $1.8 million or 24% over 2018-19 actual spending.

The DA budget proposal can be found at pages 137 to 146 in the 2020-21 Recommended Budget.  The material provided in this section of the Yolo County budget is strikingly vague, in comparison to information provided by every other county department. For example, the Goals and Strategies presented to support total expenditures of $23 million, including $9.2 million in County General Funds occupies about half a page (page 143). The 2020-21 strategies are listed as

  1. Become more transparent to the Citizens of Yolo County.
  2. Continue to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to develop balanced criminal justice policies and procedures.
  3. Continue to use Genealogical DNA testing – Cold Cases.

While these strategies may be laudable, they are not described in any manner or linked to any budget detail.  The bulk of the DA budget presentation is devoted to descriptions of existing grant programs and not to a discussion of General Fund expenditures.  This is in contrast to detailed descriptions of Goals and Strategies presented by the Probation Department (pages 150-155), Public Defender (pages 170-171), and Sheriff (pages 180-181).

Knowing that the September adoption of the Final Budget would allow additional review of the overall budget and individual departmental proposals, I indicated on June 9, my interest in more information about the DA’s budget prior to final adoption. In order to be sure that my questions about the DA budget were clearly understood and fairly presented, I sent a detailed set of these questions to DA Jeff Reisig on July 10 so that his office would have plenty of time for consideration, response and discussion prior to September 1. What follows are some of the questions I transmitted via email to DA Reisig on July 10, 2020.

  1. Overall Increase. What will the General Fund $9.2 million proposed funds be used for? What accounts for the $1.8 million proposed General Fund increase over the 2018-19 actual spending?
  2. General Fund Increase. The DA is responsible to administer of several special funds, including Consumer Fraud and Environmental Protection settlements and fines, Tobacco Enforcement, and Seized Asset funds. As of June 30, 2019, fund balances within the discretion of the DA had a combined balance of $12,696,452, with the lion’s share of $9.8 million resting in the Consumer Fraud fund. In the 2019-20 budget, the DA tapped $1.4 million in fund balances to use for operations. The proposed budget only allocates $400,000 from these funds. Why is the level of fund balance allocation anticipated in the 2020-21 budget reduced by $1 million, given the current fiscal challenges facing the County General Fund? What is the DA’s plan for use of these funds?
  3. Neighborhood Court. How many people are served through the Neighborhood Court program? How many for each offense category, jurisdiction and race and ethnicity? Given that the Neighborhood Court program is 90% funded by a three-year Edward Byrne grant and the DA has well over $12 million in fund balance, how would a reduction of $115,540 in General Fund impact the DA’s ability to divert or prosecute misdemeanor cases?
  4. Asset Seizure. How much money has the DA collected through asset forfeiture, on average per year? Could assets seized by the DA be used to fund youth development, diversion or rehabilitation?
  5. Consumer Fraud. Revenues to the Consumer Fraud and Environmental Protection Fund are gained by pursuit of those who do harm to the community. Doesn’t it make sense that those funds would be reinvested to directly benefit members of our community?
  6. Victim Services. The Budget Book (p 138) indicates the Victim Assistance Program’s Expenditures are fully covered by designated Revenues and there is no net county cost. Therefore, any General Fund budget cuts to the DA’s Office would not affect the Victim Assistance Program, correct?
  7. Demographics of Charging and Incarceration. Does the DA keep ethnicity and racial statistics on charging practices and incarceration?

I believe the substantial increase in proposed funding is worthy of scrutiny. The questions I have raised are appropriate matters of inquiry and within the reasonable scope of exercise of my responsibility as a member of the Board of Supervisors.  At a time with constrained resources, we must evaluate the best-use of our limited funds. We should weigh the priority for County General Fund investments in youth development, climate resilience, and strengthening community and local business to more effectively achieve our shared goal of long-term public safety.  Further, I believe that a full and transparent response is a reasonable expectation of any elected official.  This is especially reasonable, given the stated strategy of the Yolo County District Attorney to “Become more transparent to the Citizens of Yolo County”.

Don Saylor is the Yolo County Supervisor, District 2

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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42 Comments

  1. PhilColeman

    Fair and reasonable questions all, and Don giving the DA advance notice to allow adequate preparation as needed is an especially considerate gesture.

    Two critical leadership positions of the county criminal justice system, namely the Sheriff and District Attorney, are publicly elected. The others, Probation and Public Defender, are appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

    The Board is the source of funding for all county operations, the only leverage they have over the elected DA and Sheriff is approving the proposed annual budget. In some counties, the elected criminal justice persons (especially sheriffs) enjoy much more public popularity and longevity than any particular supervisor. Sometimes an elected criminal justice head can affect the election outcome of a supervisor candidate to his/her political advantage.

    If we were ever to go into a long-overdue reform mode in the operation of county government, a key component to effective county operations would be to have the governing body of a county appoint all heads of the criminal justice system, except judges.

  2. Robb Davis

    If we were ever to go into a long-overdue reform mode in the operation of county government, a key component to effective county operations would be to have the governing body of a county appoint all heads of the criminal justice system, except judges.

    I was thinking the same thing this morning Phil.  It is past time. Thanks for the primer on County government.

      1. Richard McCann

        Voters are overwhelmed by the details of governing. The stupidity of many initiatives illustrates this problem. (Why should we vote on a labor dispute relating to ambulance services, or how dialysis services should be provided?) We are in a democratic republic where we deputize elected officials to make decisions for us. That certain individuals disagree with the majority and then institute electoral measures that give themselves 2 votes to 1 vote for their opponents is a further travesty of this process. Having too many elected officials dissipates responsibilities and keeps voters from being able to hold elected officials accountable.

  3. Keith Olsen

    So when the school board tried to appoint an interim board member we heard that was wrong and the people should have a vote even though the board members followed all the rules.

    Now we hear the just the opposite, that the people shouldn’t have a vote when it comes to electing a DA, that the DA should be appointed.

    So which is it?

        1. David Greenwald

          I see.  The way I see comments normally it’s hard to follow.  I wouldn’t be supportive of a non-elected DA position.  The biggest reformers among DA’s across the country were not supported by the BOS.

        2. Eric Gelber

          The biggest reformers among DA’s across the country were not supported by the BOS.

          Is there data (other than anecdotal) showing that the voting public is more likely to choose reform-minded DAs than governing boards? Regardless, why should that outcome be the primary criterion for determining how DAs should be selected?

          1. David Greenwald

            I don’t know. I just know that people like Chesa and Larry Krasner would not be DAs if it were up to their counties. Nor would Dean have won in Yolo. For years of course the problem was DA’s were rarely challenged and challengers have rarely won. This year, the races I’ve been tracking seeing traditional DA incumbents going down overwhelmingly.

        3. Alan Miller

          > why should that outcome be the primary criterion for determining how DAs should be selected?

          When you can’t win within the rules of the system, change the system.  Or, burn it to the ground!

          Right?

        4. Keith Olsen

          When you can’t win within the rules of the system, change the system.  Or, burn it to the ground!
          Right?

          I was thinking the same thing Alan.  Or maybe get a petition going where the official ends up getting nullified.

    1. Bill Marshall

      False equivalency, KO… in DJUSD, a Board member was appointed for a two year term, with an election ~ 6 mos. away…  that was wrong, in my opinion , and I was one of the signers of the referendum… [and, was disappointed that the appointee did not chose to run in the election… it was not about her, but the process!]

      Also, in the DJUSD case, initially the motion for appointment process didn’t even get a second… the motion for an election got a second, and failed on a 2-2 vote… yet, on a 3-1 vote they got to ‘appointment process’… I still don’t “get” that…

      Not saying I have an opinion, at this point, as to the offices of DA and Sheriff (voted or appointment), whole diff thing than the Spring actions of the DJUSD Board, and subsequent reaction… your argument/comparison is like throwing a horseshoe to a peg in Esparto… not even close…

      1. Keith Olsen

         it was not about her, but the process

        Maybe for you, but for others it was about her and her being a white woman.

         your argument/comparison is like throwing a horseshoe to a peg in Esparto… not even close…

        You’ve never seen my arm or my horseshoe ability so don’t judge.

        I’ve been known to:

        Throw Really Outrageously Long Leaners

         

         

        1. Bill Marshall

          Well, Keith, all I can answer for is the 2 members of the household who signed the petition… process, not individual… race/gender was not a factor, explicit or unconscious… ‘process’…

          We do not vote on racial/gender lines… to imply we do, borders on “fighting words”, frankly (altho’ I’m not)… I am coming to believe that folk who accuse others, generally, as acting on racial/gender prejudices, should ‘look in the mirror’, FIRST…

          Guess you are clairvoyant as to others… good for you, to read mind/motivations… a new great Karknack (int.) … you may be correct, but as I don’t have a list of all the signers, I won’t even hazard a guess as to motivations… but, in your ‘wisdom’ you have… OK… your right… sometimes very right… at least between 1st and 2nd deviation on the spectrum…

        2. Keith Olsen

          We do not vote on racial/gender lines… to imply we do, borders on “fighting words”, frankly (altho’ I’m not)

          BM, sometimes you have a problem with your reading skills.

          Read my post again:

           it was not about her, but the process

          Maybe for you, but for others it was about her and her being a white woman.

          I never said or implied you do vote on racial/gender lines.  Quit being so paranoid.

  4. Dave Hart

    Is the D.A.’s office the only source for how the special funds mentioned in the “General Fund Increase” can be used?   I can only imagine the restrictions and limitations that the state or federal government might have put on how these funds can be spent. But it would not be hardball, in my opinion, if the county held up the D.A.’s budget entirely until this is clearly explained in plain language.

    1. Bill Marshall

      ‘Defunding’ the DA office?  Interesting concept… no DA’s office, no one to prosecute… no one to prosecute, no reason to file charges… no need to file charges, no need to detain or arrest…

      But it would not be hardball… if the county held up the D.A.’s budget entirely until this is clearly explained in plain language.

      Clearly explained to whose satisfaction?  Majority of the BOS?  ‘super-majority’ of BOS?  100% of BOS?  The public?

      The concept is interesting, and may prove/disprove domino theory… an interesting experiment…

      Or are you assuming all the DA’s office, including staff, etc. be furloughed, with no funding, or volunteer (no salary/benefits), until it is resolved by your method?

       

       

  5. Robb Davis

    I do not understand the logical link between school boards and DAs.  Why the election of one implies the other should also be an elected position is not clear.

    By that logic, we should also be voting for the Public Defender, the Director of Health and Human Services, and possibly any other director position.  Why, besides tradition, should the DA be elected?  Why should they not be under an elected Board of Supervisors? Would that not act to attenuate their power and make them more responsive to the citizens they serve?

    Make some arguments besides “we need to vote for them.”

    1. Keith Olsen

      It goes the same for either way.  Why not appoint school board members too?  Why elect them?

       Would that not act to attenuate their power and make them more responsive to the citizens they serve?

      They”ll be more responsive to the citizens they serve if they have to win their votes.

       

      1. Ron Oertel

        Why not appoint school board members too?  

        Apparently, because it results in a skin color that some don’t like (even if they happen to share that “undesirable” color).

        Why elect them?

        Apparently, because it might lead to a more desirable skin color (or at least – a “voter-approved” skin color).  😉

        Hopefully, with a more “desirable” gender, as well (though that seems to be secondary).

        No – I’m not making this up. It’s been acknowledged.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Hey – I’m not the one who advocates for this. I think it’s an outright embarrassment for the city of Davis, and the leaders behind this.

          Same thing for anyone who supports someone based upon skin color, gender, gender identification, disability status, etc.

          You’ve already acknowledged that it’s true. Are you saying that this is a “good” thing?

          If so, do you recognize how that “reads”?

        2. Ron Oertel

          Now, I realize that some have different reasons for supporting that petition, but that is not the “genesis” of it (which was already acknowledged to be based upon skin color).

        3. Eric Gelber

          Same thing for anyone who supports someone based upon skin color, gender, gender identification, disability status, etc.

          I would not use any of the above as the sole criterion for voting or not voting for a candidate. However, life experiences and the diverse perspective a candidate would likely bring to an elected position or legislative body are legitimate and relevant considerations.

        4. Ron Oertel

          I would not use any of the above as the sole criterion for voting or not voting for a candidate.

          I would not use it at all.

          However, life experiences and the diverse perspective a candidate would likely bring to an elected position or legislative body are legitimate and relevant considerations.

          Life experiences don’t matter to me, as much as actual positions and ability.  And, those are generally part of a stated platform/position.

          I’ll give you an example:  There were historically a lot of “old guard” (generally white males) who I’d never support (e.g., regarding development issues).

          Now, could it be that someone of my age, skin color, and gender (might) generally have more similarities with my views than someone who doesn’t share those attributes? Possibly, possibly not.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Or, as the “other” Ron might put it – what’s their position on paid parking?  (Just attempting a little levity.)

          Sure, I can see how background might impact positions/concerns, but I’d focus on the latter.

          Pretty sure that there’s some I’d never support – even if they closely match the attributes I was born with. Pretty sure there’s some on this very blog.

      2. Robb Davis

        It goes the same for either way.  Why not appoint school board members too?  Why elect them?

        The comparison does not hold. I guess the question would be appointed by whom? That’s the whole point.  There is an elected board who oversees county functions and they hire an overall administrator who then hires his or her staff. The school board is an elected body who hires  a superintendent to run the school district    They hire their staff. There is no comparison between a school BOARD and a district attorney (staff). The district attorney is a staff person who carries out programs at the will of an elected body: or should do so in my view.

        1. Eric Gelber

          In addition to what I posted earlier, I don’t think a DA functions as “staff” to the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors determine their budgets and determine general policy; but DAs exercise independent discretion in charging and prosecuting cases. They represent “the people,” not the BOS. County Counsel may be staff to the board, but the DA is an independent constitutional official.

        2. Eric Gelber

          Sure. Theoretically. But the chances of a 2/3 vote of the Legislature and then a majority of voters approving a constitutional amendment to remove the right to vote for DAs are slim. Snowballs and hell come to mind.

        3. Bill Marshall

          In addition to Eric’s most recent post, there are also “unintended consequences”… with the passage of such an amendment, there may be counties that appointments will result in even more entrenched ‘regressive’ DA’s and prosecutions… old adage… “be careful what you ask for”…

          If Yolo County could act on its own, I’d seriously consider pros and cons, and might be persuaded to go the appointment route…

          Now, if an amendment was proposed to let each county decide, as to election vs. appointment… it might get just enough votes in the legislature, and the general public… but to make it ‘global’, see Eric’s metaphor re:  snowballs… never hurts to ‘try’, but…

    2. Eric Gelber

      Elected prosecutors are unique to the U.S., but prosecutors weren’t always elected. In the mid 19th century, state and local governments switched to elected prosecutors on the rationale that it would prevent patronage appointments and make prosecutors more accountable to voters and local community priorities. The rationale proved to be somewhat dubious, however, as prosecutors quickly became involved in and co-opted by partisan politics, which, because of prosecutorial discretion, significantly impacted the administration of criminal justice. (Tammany Hall was a notorious example.) Nonetheless, the practice persists throughout the U.S.

      1. Eric Gelber

        By the way, election of district attorneys in California is required by the State Constitution. Art. 11, Sec. 1.b.: “The Legislature shall provide for county powers, an elected county sheriff, an elected district attorney, an elected assessor, and an elected governing body in each county.”

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