This editorial was originally published Thursday, May 8, 2014
Tony Beard Jr.’s departure as the California Senate’s chief sergeant-at-arms will leave a significant hole in a troubled institution that is in transition.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg believes Beard failed him by not informing him that another sergeant, Gerardo Lopez, had cocaine and marijuana in his system when Lopez became involved in an off-duty gunfight that left three people wounded and one man dead outside his home in 2012.
Perhaps that is so. The shootout was sordid, as detailed last week by The Sacramento Bee’s Laurel Rosenhall. Steinberg’s decision to fire Lopez certainly seems warranted.
The messy circumstances of his retirement aside, Beard served California and the Legislature with class and discretion for 46 years. In addition to providing security for legislators, he helped more than a few out of jams, none of which he would discuss publicly.
Beard persevered through more than one Senate scandal, taking on the ignominious duty of escorting FBI agents who arrived in the Capitol to search the offices of wayward legislators.
Beard deserved a dignified exit, although he understands that staffers must be held accountable for their mistakes, and that they don’t have the protections civil servants and many private employees have. Lawmakers impose rules on other employers but generally not on the Legislature itself, which is itself a problem.
His departure comes at a tough time for the Senate. Two senators have been indicted on federal corruption charges, and a third has been convicted of perjury for lying about where he lived.
More could emerge. Steinberg vows to investigate allegations of nepotism among Senate aides. Lopez is the son of Dina Hildalgo, who oversees human resources for the Senate. Lopez’s wife also works in the Senate.
In the best of worlds, the most qualified people should get hired in every instance. But people in positions to hire often give jobs to people they know, and to friends of friends. On its face, there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the people getting hired are competent.
Steinberg should pursue the investigation to determine whether a housecleaning is in order.
But in this term-limited era, when lawmakers come and go relatively quickly, the Legislature’s professional staff has remained strong. That usually has been to the public’s benefit. Often, career staffers and committee consultants are more devoted to the commonweal than some of the legislators for whom they work.