Judge Sides with Fresno County; Settles Dispute on Authority over Sheriff’s Dept

Who has the ultimate management authority over the sheriff’s office: the sheriff or the board of supervisors? This question (or better put, power struggle) has been at the center of a legal battle between Fresno County and Sheriff Margaret Mims since 2010, when Mims filed a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors when she was ordered not to cut jail guards, a move that Mims made after the board cut the Sheriff’s operating budget. Mims has argued all along that staffing decisions, such as the layoffs of jail guards, should be under her control. The sheriff felt the county was interfering with how she wanted to operate the department because she wanted to preserve patrol deputies with her limited budget while supervisors wanted the positions of correctional officers to be preserved instead.

However, a ruling has finally been handed down on the matter and the court sided with the Board of Supervisors. For future policy decisions, the edge now lies with the board. A judge emphasized that supervisors not only decide the amount of funding the sheriff receives but also how those funds can be spent, whether it’s on certain programs or staffing choices. The case was closely watched because it was “a test of where the lines of authority lie between the two independently elected offices,” according to the Bee. The judge did note that the board does not have control over “specific functional tasks,” such as whether a certain part of a jail is closed or open.

In light of the ruling, Supervisor Henry Perea called for the board to be more involved in the department’s operations. It’s not yet clear if Mims will appeal the decision. As for the taxpayers, they may be displeased to learn that the dispute has led the Sheriff’s Office to spend close to $350,000 and the county spent $100,000 of staff time on the matter. Critics of the legal power struggle argue that it has hindered both sides from working collaboratively on law-enforcement issues.

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