Yolo leaders launch working group to review sheriff

After calling for further action to address claims of mismanagement by Yolo County Sheriff-Coroner Ed Prieto, the Yolo Board of Supervisors said Thursday in a joint announcement with the sheriff that it has agreed to launch an “independent working group” to investigate concerns.

Prieto was taken to task last week in a grand jury report, which found intimidation, favoritism and poor morale in his department and likened the powerful sheriff’s management style to the “Wild, Wild West.” But the grand jury did not pursue proceedings that could lead to his removal.

County supervisors, who initiated the grand jury inquiry based on employee complaints, were dissatisfied enough with the panel’s report last week that they criticized the findings as unresponsive to employee concerns and “superfluous to the more serious allegations.” The supervisors promised further action that would address the problems.

The board on Thursday called the working group “a path forward.” Prieto and the board tapped departing Woodland Mayor Marlin “Skip” Davies to lead the latest review. Davies’ panel will conduct what Yolo leaders called a “comprehensive” look at hiring and training practices and processes, employee evaluations and workplace climate in the report’s wake.

The grand jury’s report found a years-long record of intimidation of subordinates and skirting hiring guidelines to place family and friends into temporary positions within the Sheriff’s Office. The grand jury recommended nine policy changes in its report filed days after the June election.

Prieto ran unopposed for the office he has held since 1998 and won re-election June 3 to a fifth term as Yolo County sheriff.

Davies intends to work quickly. He received the assignment earlier this week, he said Thursday, and has met with supervisors and Blacklock to focus the group’s tasks. Davies said the group’s makeup remains unclear, though members with “law enforcement backgrounds and credibility” will be involved.

“(Davies) is a truly independent guy, a well-respected guy, a skilled administrator,” said Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad. “He will have the support he needs to do a thorough job. I trust him and everyone else does, too.”

Prieto has called on representatives of the department’s five bargaining units to “actively participate” with the Woodland mayor in the working group.

In a joint statement with Yolo supervisors, Prieto said it was important that “all of the employees within the Sheriff’s department be provided a opportunity to be heard.”

Rexroad was especially critical of Prieto in the wake of the June report, saying the behavior of the sheriff, now in his fifth term, did not represent Yolo County values. Rexroad on Thursday echoed his criticism of both Prieto’s performance and the jurors’ report, though he said the longtime sheriff “deserves credit for taking this seriously.”

“I’m 100 percent convinced there is a cultural problem within the sheriff’s department. The culture needs to be changed. Well-run departments don’t have grand jury reports issued like this,” he said.

“He’s trying to get to the bottom of it,” Rexroad added. “We have to be able to fix the behavior (and) ascertain what the issues are.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee