The San Mateo County Supervisors deliberated Tuesday on plans to grant themselves more oversight over certain other elected officials in the County. Those officials include the Tax Collector-Treasurer, the Coroner, the District Attorney, County Controller, the Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder – all important jobs that affect us here in Woodside. This all came up, of course, due to the scandal involving the sixth elected official on the oversight list – the County Sheriff.
You may recall in April of last year that Sheriff Greg Munks and his undersheriff Carlos Bolanos became involved in a scandal in Las Vegas – Munks was picked up, although not arrested, while in an illegal establishment in Las Vegas on his own time, whilst his undersheriff was outside (here’s a Chronicle article on the subject).
After a quick denial of breaking the law, and calling the incident a ‘personal embarrassment’, for the better part of a year no official pushed for an investigation. The matter rested there until Congresswomen Eshoo and Speier revived interest in the case in April of this year, with Speier stating, “This cries out for a comprehensive external investigation, because the highest law enforcement officer in the county should not be under any suspicion of illegal activity at any time, ever.”
Munks was never charged with a crime. Additionally, the Board has an inability to punish Munks because he was not formally charged with any crime.
With a fire lit under them by our County’s Congresswomen, the Board of Supervisors sought options for responses. County Counsel Mike Murphy – San Mateo County’s lawyer – outlined several options to the Board. According to the documents attached to the Board’s agenda from Tuesday, his office found that “there is currently no authority for the Board to remove an elected official under the County Charter and that, even with a Charter amendment providing the Board with that authority, the State Constitution does not authorize discipline of elected officials short of removal.” Therefore, the County Counsel’s report focused on methods of removal of elected officials.
The Board heard the Counsel’s report, and members of the Board showed interest in the creation of a five-member independent ethics committee that would be tasked with investigating complaints against elected officials in the County, as suggested by Board members Jerry Hill and Adrienne Tissier. They felt this would be a better option given the difficulties tying their hands outlined above. The citizens’ committee, tasked with investigating “serious misconduct,” would have the power of subpoena and could hire teams of investigators on its own authority. While the ethics committee wouldn’t have the power to remove any officials on its own, it could recommend the creation of a grand jury, which would have that power.
There were some concerns that this proposal might spur ‘witch hunts’ unless the purview of the committee was defined precisely – therefore, the proposal is going to be tweaked and brought back for the August 5th meeting of the Supervisors, hopefully with properly defined goals and duties.
We think this plan is a great idea. It is important to have the ability to investigate wrongdoing by officials.. There is nothing worse than the abuse of power by government officials, people elected or selected to do the people’s business.
Perhaps such an idea could be expanded – after all, there are more than a few things that need investigating around Woodside!
More info on the proposal available here.