A personal objection or defense of turf? Mono County courthouse watchers are kicking that one around when it comes to a Supervisor’s wish to delve into the Sheriff’s Saturation Patrol in August and the Sheriff’s mind-your-own-business response.
Supervisor Tim Fesko mentioned in a Board meeting earlier this month that constituents and others had complained about the stepped up patrol and the perceived targeting of Burning Man participants. Supervisor Larry Johnston wanted to talk about sobriety checkpoints. Mono Sheriff Ralph Obenberger was sitting in the audience on other matters.
Later, Supervisor Fesko told Sierra Wave Media that there were questions from the Board about constituent concerns. Said Fesko, “It’s our job to go ask those questions so we have proper answers.” Fesko said locals and visitors questioned the increased Sheriff’s patrols during the Burning Man event in Nevada. The Sheriff said the Board should not have brought up those questions in public.
On December 10th, Sheriff Obenberger showed up in the Boardroom with a phalanx of officers to read an open letter to the Board. The short version – He is in charge of his Department and the Supervisors have no say over his policies. They do vote on his budget and numbers of employees. The Sheriff wrote, “The Board of Supervisors 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,” he said. The Sheriff’s letter says that his office is “an independent constitutional office, and as such, we work for the constituents of Mono County.”
Supervisors Fesko and Johnson said they just thought dialogue on law enforcement matters would help. Sheriff Obenberger told Sierra Wave that it “irked him that the Board was questioning his staff’s professionalism.” As for discussions in the Boardroom on law enforcement, Sheriff Obenberger said, “If there’s an issue, they should bring it to my office and to me personally.” Supervisors Fesko did go to Obenberger’s office on December 9th to talk about these issues. After saying Fesko had never come to his office, the Sheriff said, yes, he did come over to “apologize.”
The Sheriff said he took it that the Supervisors want control of his Department. He said, “The only one who can control policy is the Sheriff.” Obenberger said the Board “went too far.”
Supervisor Larry Johnston wanted to talk about DUI Checkpoints, but the Sheriff pointed out his Department does not conduct those events. Johnston said he would like to have a discussion with the Sheriff on these matters and feels such a discourse is proper. Said Johnston, “I hope the Sheriff sees we’re not being disruptive of his organization or making accusations.”
Supervisor Fesko said he was trying to explain what he had heard about the Saturation Patrol and arrests. He said he just wanted to know why there was such a large enforcement this year. Said Fesko, “A discussion needs to take place in an open, fair, unthreatening manner.”
December 10, 2013 (Letter from Mono Sheriff Ralph Obenberger)
To the Honorable Mono County Board of Supervisors and Citizens of Mono County,
At the December 3rd 2013 Board of Supervisors meeting two of you questioned law enforcement actions taken by my Office, at points referring to individuals associated with ‘Burning Man’. Supervisor Fesko, you said you wanted to have a discussion about policy referring to law enforcement techniques, specifically traffic stops. Supervisor Johnston, you wanted to possibly change policy relating to the use of sobriety checkpoints, and said you were aware of trade-offs if such changes would occur.
The Office of the Sheriff is an independent constitutional office, and as such, we work for the constituents of Mono County. The Board of Supervisors 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. 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.
As Sheriff, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, the Constitution of the State of California and am also guided by the California Government Code. I have to maintain a jail, provide civil services, coroner services, search and rescue, court security and manage emergency services for the county. Coupled with that, I have various specialized details such as Boating, Off Highway Vehicle patrol (OHV), Mono County Narcotics Enforcement Team (MONET), and K-9 that augment routine patrol services. All of these are done with the budget you the Board of Supervisors approves on a yearly basis and/or with state and federal grant funding.
The Sheriff’s Office has received both written and verbal ‘thank you’ letters, phone calls, and other correspondence for the services we provide, even relating to the numerous arrests that were made on or around the ‘Burning Man’ festivities timeframe. Some of the correspondence stated ‘Keep doing what you are doing,” and “I wonder how many date rapes didn’t occur because you took the drugs off the street.” These positive comments have come from residents, visitors and various agencies that we deal with on a daily basis.
I expect and demand from my staff professional, courteous and fair law enforcement and I am confident they are providing it. I have given them discretion to handle their encounters with the public to both serve the individual and the public at large using their judgment, the law and their years of training and experience to ensure fair administration of justice. Any type of encounter with law enforcement can be uncomfortable and stressful for both the citizen, and sometimes the deputy, but the Sheriff’s Office has a job to do. We get that job done, even though we cannot make everyone happy, all of the time.
As the Sheriff I value and appreciate any feedback, positive or otherwise, from the public that could enhance the operations of the Sheriff’s Office as it is my intention to make the Mono County Sheriff’s Office the best it can be.
I will continue to use any lawful means available and productive in protecting the people of Mono County from crime.
It is an honor to serve the residents and visitors to Mono County.
Sheriff, Mono County