Tells Board of Supes where its authority begins and ends
By Victor Meier
Tuesday morning Dec. 10 during the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting Sheriff Ralph Obenberger addressed the Board in a very frank manner reminding the body that it “does not determine the type of law enforcement services provided to the citizens and/or visitors of Mono County, that is the purview of the Sheriff.”
In his open letter to the Board of Supervisors as well as the citizens of Mono County, the Sheriff wrote, “The Board of Supervisors has two responsibilities in dealing with my Office. One is to provide a yearly budget and the second is to authorize the number of employees. These responsibilities are delineated in California Government Codes and within those codes it specifically states that the Board shall not affect or obstruct the independent functions of the Sheriff.” Obenberger was responding to the Board members Dec. 3 questioning of his office’s tactics regarding negative press surrounding Mono County law enforcement and Burning Man earlier this year.
In August, complaints stemmed from Burners (Burning Man attendees) who felt targeted by law enforcement when driving through Mono County on their way to this year’s Burning Man, held Aug. 26-Sept. 2.
The California Government Code explains the relationship between Sheriff and Board in further detail. California Government Code 25303 does state what the Sheriff claimed. However, it also reads, “The board of supervisors shall supervise the official conduct of all county officers, and officers of all districts and other subdivisions of the county, and particularly insofar as the functions and duties of such county officers and officers of all districts and subdivisions of the county relate to the assessing, collecting, safekeeping, management, or disbursement of public funds. It shall see that they faithfully perform their duties, direct prosecutions for delinquencies, and when necessary, require them to renew their official bond, make reports and present their books and accounts for inspection.”
After the Sheriff concluded with the Board he walked out with five uniformed officers and ten plainclothes individuals. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the people present were in the boardroom to show their support of the Sheriff and his office. An unnamed Mono citizen offered their support to the Sheriff and was quoted in the Sheriff’s letter as saying, “I wonder how many date rapes didn’t occur because you took the drugs off the street?”
As the Board members stated their concerns and objections to the idea of sobriety checkpoints in Mono County (especially during travel times for Burning Man) the Sheriff expressed his direct and open objection by interrupting then stating that the checkpoints in question were constitutionally upheld by the Supreme Court.
The Sheet contacted the Sheriff’s office to ask the following questions. (All answers are in their original form with no editing.)
Sheet: In your letter you state that the Sheriff’s office is an independent, constitutional office. What do you mean by that? What is a “constitutional office?”
Sheriff’s Department: A constitutional office is one that is operated and run by an elected official. Every member of this Office has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California.
Sheet: Is it not the function of the board to supervise that county and therefore their solemn duty to call into question actions they do not support?
SD: The Board of Supervisors has the right to their opinion, and those of their constituents. They do not have the right to dictate how the Sheriff’s Office conducts their operations and performs their law enforcement duties throughout the county.
Sheet: I counted 14 empty chairs after the Sheriff spoke yesterday then exited with most of the people in the room; including five uniformed deputies. What was the purpose of that showing?
SD: The men and women that were in the Board room on Tuesday, were there to show their support to Sheriff Obenberger and the Mono County Sheriff’s Office. Everyone present showed up on their own accord and were not required to be there by the Sheriff in any way. The purpose of the “showing” was of support for the department.
Sheet: During that display of participation how many officers were on duty and patrolling?
SD: There was no lack of patrol coverage throughout the “showing” in the Board room. All staff members present are assigned to the Bridgeport area, and Bridgeport offices. Other department members were there to show support on their own time and day off. There was absolutely no interruption to public safety during the time in question.
Sheet: Does it concern the Sheriff to take deputies away from police work in order to place them in a centralized location?
SD: The Sheriff did not take any deputy away from performing police work and ensuring the safety of our public for the time in question. As stated above, there was absolutely no interruption in our patrol force and to public safety.
Sheet: When conducting sobriety checkpoints are deputies taken away from patrolling during that time? How many officers are on patrol during sobriety check points?
SD: The Mono County Sheriff’s Office does not conduct sobriety checkpoints.
Sheet: How do feel about the assertion that conducting sobriety checkpoints during the “Burning Man” festivities is profiling?
SD: As previously stated, the Mono County Sheriff’s Office does not conduct sobriety checkpoints. For any assertions you are looking for, you will need to contact an agency that conducts these sobriety check points.
Editor’s Note: The Mono County Sheriff’s Department was responsible for a saturation patrol effort during the time period in question (Aug. 22-25).
The California Highway Patrol held a Driver’s License Checkpoint on Aug. 24.
These two law enforcement patrols were blamed for the negative press.