On Tuesday, I covered an Inyo County meeting regarding an issue which predates my local residency.
As Nancy Masters described in a letter submitted to the Board, Measure A, passed in 2000, reads as follows: SECTION 2: Whenever an ORDINANCE is adopted which creates, eliminates, combines, separates, restructures, or reorganizes any county department(s) or office(s), said ORDINANCE shall not become effective until it has first been submitted to the voters of Inyo County and approved by a majority of those voting on the measure.
She said A was passed at the time because the Board of Supervisors had quietly attempted to consolidate elected offices with no public outreach and discussion, and had also desired to create appointed instead of elected officials.
Measure A passed by a sizeable majority of 62.5%.
Here’s why Measure A was back in the spotlight Tuesday.
According to the staff report attached to agenda item #22, the County’s purpose in introducing the item was to move the VSO (Veteran Services Officer) position back under the purview of the CAO (County Administrator) from the Inyo County Sheriff.
As the staff report says, “Normally the movement of a position like the VSO would be routine business for a county board of supervisors. However, Inyo County is in a relatively unique spot here given the existence of “Measure A” and Inyo County Code Chapter 2.07, which codified Measure A. Measure A generally provides that no Board ordinance changing the structure of a County department or office is effective until it is thereafter approved by the voters.”
Problem is, neither County Counsel Marshall Rudolph nor his assistant John Vallejo believe Measure A to be constitutional.
Further, no one’s really bothered paying attention to Measure A since its passage.
From the staff report: “Notwithstanding Measure A being passed, in 2001, the Board moved the Veterans Service Officer into the Sheriff’s Department without adhering to the requirements of Measure A. Additionally, in 2004, the Board reorganized the Environmental Health Department via consolidating (1) the Animal Control Program with the Sheriff’s Department and (2) the Mosquito Abatement Program with the Ag Department, also without adhering to the requirements of Measure A.”
In 2006, the Board codified the substance of Measure A as Chapter 2.07 of the Inyo County Code. No reorganization has been attempted since.
Masters thinks it’s all a matter of convenience. As she wrote, “The Board of Supervisors [at the time A was passed] balked at what they viewed as a constraint on their powers, expressing personal opinions and beliefs that Measure A is unconstitutional, and therefore relieving themselves of the duty to adhere to its requirements and refusing to place it in the County Code.
Now, the same opinion regarding constitutionality, not supported by any substantial evidence, is purveyed as a reason to “repeal” the codified Measure A.”
In regard to the Veteran’s Service Officer, Masters offered “two courses of action that avoid the train wreck of decodifying Measure A.
1. If the BOS holds that the State Attorney General’s opinion is correct regarding the status of the VSO as an employee, not an officer, then simply place that employee in any department desired, with no ordinance necessary.
2. If the BOS does not agree that the VSO is an employee, but is a public officer, then place the VSO directly under the Board, as all of the other appointed officers are.
In both cases, repeal the action [made in 2001] of consolidating VSO with Sheriff.”
Supervisors sided with Rudolph and Vallejo over Masters and Mary Roper (see letter page four).
Vallejo opined that Measure A is stand-alone regardless of whether or not Supervisors deleted codification chapter 2.07 (which they indeed did on Tuesday).
Roper replied, “I’m reeling from Counsel’s opinion.”
She added, “This is the Board ignoring election code. You can’t repeal 2.07 unless it’s placed on a ballot.”
The optics are not good, she said, especially as If this ends up in court; the taxpayers would ironically end up paying for the County defense.
Vallejo rejoined that authority to determine organizational structure is “delegated to your Board by the state legislature.”
And Supervisors agreed. Supervisor Matt Kingsley said, “I’ve been waiting to do this for three years …[ former CAO] Clint Quilter wanted to do it. It’s a high priority of mine to to give future boards leeway in reorganization. The VSO move is just one of a few changes being contemplated.”
Further, “The optics would also be bad if we mismanaged the County by not acting. This is what we’re elected to do.”
In public comment, Josh Nicholson said veterans shouldn’t be pawns in this issue.
Supervisor Jennifer Roeser outlined two key questions for her.
1. Is A constitutional?
2. Is the will of the voters more relevant than Constitutionality?
Legal people consulted since 2000, said Roeser, say A is no good. And, she says, abiding by A is inefficient.
“We wanted to move the VSO under the CAO. We would have had to wait ‘til an election to do that. And we’d been waiting many months already.”
Supervisor Rick Pucci said A aside, “My goal was to find a better way to serve vets.”
From Supervisor Dan Totheroh: “I choose to accept Counsel’s advice that this action does not impact A.”
The vote to repeal chapter 2.07 codifying Measure A was 4-1, with Roeser ultimately kowtowing to Masters and Roper, who are voters in her district.
A second vote to move the VSO position back under the CAO’s supervision passed unanimously.
One final note in regard to the Inyo Supes meeting: It looks like the 2020 census will shake up the Inyo Supervisorial districts a bit.
District 1 – 3939 (+157 from 2010)
District 2 – 4024 (-149)
District 3 – 4531 (+494)
District 4 – 3183 (+11)
District 5 – 3339 (-43)
District 3 is Supervisor Rick Pucci’s district. 4 is Roeser’s. 5 is Kingsley’s. Sure looks like Districts 4 and 5 will need to skew north in order to bring district sizes back in balance.