Almanac

News - July 30, 2008

Supes plan panel to investigate misconduct by elected officials

by Marion Softky

Spurred by renewed attention to a visit by Sheriff Greg Munks to a Las Vegas brothel more than a year ago, San Mateo County supervisors appear ready to authorize a new panel to investigate future misconduct by county elected officials.

At their July 22 meeting, the supervisors weighed their options when other elected officials are suspected of serious misconduct. They asked County Counsel Michael Murphy to prepare an ordinance creating an independent Citizens Review Panel that could investigate allegations and report back to the board with recommendations for action.

"We're trying to avoid a witch hunt," said Supervisor Jerry Hill. He and Board President Adrienne Tissier suggested authorizing creation of such a panel on an "as needed basis." It would not be a permanent panel.

"Otherwise it would be viewed as political," Supervisor Tissier said. "We want to make sure we have tools in our tool box. The board will make the final decision."

The board agreed to act on the proposed ordinance at its next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 5, starting at 9 a.m. at 400 County Center (corner of Hamilton and Bradford streets) in Redwood City.

Under present law, the board has no authority to discipline or remove another elected official, such as the sheriff, or treasurer/tax collector, or assessor, or coroner, Mr. Murphy reported in a long analysis of options.

An elected official can be removed only by three methods, Mr. Murphy stated: a recall vote of the electorate; a conviction for specified crimes; or an accusation by a civil grand jury of "willful or corrupt misconduct in office."

Sheriff Munks, whose detention in a raid on a Las Vegas brothel in April 2007 triggered the issue, will likely not be affected by the proposed ordinance. Neither he nor Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos, who was with him at the time, was arrested.

Mr. Murphy said the intent of the ordinance was to look forward to the future, not to go back.

Supervisor Hill agreed, "We're looking at this prospectively, not retroactively," he said.

Review panel

As proposed by Supervisors Hill and Tissier, the Citizen Review Panel would be made up of five members, although it could be three or seven. Members would be government professionals, such as retired judges, former county or city administrators, grand jury forepersons, or district attorneys. To perform its investigations, the panel would have powers to subpoena witnesses and obtain documents.

The panel would make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, which could then take final actions. Recommendations could include such actions as censure or a vote of "no confidence." The case could be referred to a law enforcement agency for prosecution, or to a civil grand jury to determine if the official should be removed from office.

The other supervisors seemed to support creation of the proposed panel, with some reservations. "It will be good to have a process in place," said Supervisor Mark Church.

However, Mr. Church asked for a more detailed listing of what constitutes "serious misconduct" by an elected official. He suggested the list should include things such as abuse of power, misappropriation of funds, or moral turpitude, but not insubordination.

"We need something for the county counsel, so we know what we're investigating," he said.

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