Sheriff Mark Napier is supportive of Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez's idea to replace a current law enforcement commission with a new one that would report to him.
The topic is on the Board of Supervisors' Sept. 17 agenda.
Unlike CLEPC, which is focused on reviewing grants, the new commission would focus on policy and open dialogue with the sheriff's department and not deal with any grant review issues, Napier said.
The Community Law Enforcement Partnership Commission was formed in 2018 when the board began arguing over whether the county should accept a grant from the federal government that promotes cooperation among Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies, and finances overtime, mileage and equipment.
The group of 15 citizens appointed by the board was created to look at the Operation Stonegarden grant, and others, and make recommendations to the board as to whether they should be accepted.
However, the board has been bogged down with inaction and controversy since it launched. The group has been accused of being anti-law enforcement by Republican Supervisors Ally Miller and Steve Christy and has failed to make quorums at several meetings after Miller, Christy and Supervisor Sharon Bronson either failed to fill their seats or instructed their appointees to not to attend.
During the board meeting on Aug. 19, Valadez suggested replacing the commission with a new one that would report to Napier rather than the board.
Napier said in an interview Wednesday he supports the idea of having an advisory board made up of community residents, but doesn't want a repeat of CLEPC.
A commission reporting to him would be focused on dialogue and policy, Napier said.
Any new commission should have a good mix of community members and avoid becoming political, he said.
"It shouldn't be political, it should be driven by community concerns about the activity of the sheriff's department and guidance on the nature of what community concerns are and possible policy directions," Napier said. "That's kind of what CLEPC started as and then it evolved into grants and it evolved into a political platform."
However, the board would still be responsible for selecting the members as they currently are with CLEPC. According to Valadez during the meeting, each supervisor would select two members.
But removing politics from a law enforcement commission may be difficult.
Having a law commission is going to be political whether it's reporting to the board or the sheriff because both are elected political offices, Valadez said.
"What is it that we do that isn't political," Valadez asked. "That argument is, at best, a distraction. The truth is, what do we do that isn't political? Everything we do is political."
Napier doesn't need to go to the Board of Supervisors to create his own advisory board, but taking the selection process out of his hands will give the recommendations made more credibility than if he personally selected commissioners, he said.
"I would rather that the district supervisors picked two people to represent their district and perhaps the sheriff could pick two people and then that group comes together," Napier said. "That way it's not like I'm cherry-picking people that will agree with me."
Despite discussions for a new commission reporting to Napier and not the board, Christy said he is not comfortable with the supervisors being involved.
"My position is that I'm going to discuss this with the sheriff and see what his level of agreement is on this issue and pretty much follow his recommendation, but I'm not particularly enthusiastic about the involvement of the Board of Supervisors," Christy said. "Even if it's been measured down somewhat from what it was."
With the board involved in making appointments to the commission it would be difficult to separate politics from who is selected and it's bound to end up political, he said.
"I don't fear it," Napier said. "I think it's certainly possible to form a group of people that could be functional and professional and communicate a lot more effectively than we did with CLEPC."
Aside from Valadez's statements at the Aug. 19 meeting, no definitive model or framework has been presented.
However, on Friday, county administrator Chuck Huckelberry released a memorandum which provided examples of other sheriff advisory bodies including those in Mohave County, Maricopa County and others around the nation. He also made seven recommendations for the new commission.
Huckelberry recommended that the sheriff not be bound to follow advice from the commission. He also suggested monthly meetings, quarterly reports to the board and commission terms that end when their appointer's term ends. Lastly, he recommended creating a mechanism to remove a commissioner by super majority.
The sheriff cares about constructive dialogue and to bridge the gap between a "non-functional" CLEPC and a productive forum it's appropriate to form a community-driven and diverse advisory commission, Huckelberry stated in the memo.
During the Aug. 19 meeting Supervisor Richard Elías said he wanted an independent commission which had authority and had shared power between the board and the sheriff.
"I actually addressed that issue on the dais, this board does not have oversight over the sheriff," Valadez said. "That is the sole responsibility of the voters. It's not only unconstitutional it's non-existent."
Despite Napier wanting the board to select the members he also said sharing the power or having any oversight from the board wouldn't be possible.
"My boss is the people of the county and if they think I'm doing a bad job they un-elect me and that's fine," Napier said. "But to relinquish constitutional and statutory authority of the office of the sheriff is not something I'm prepared to do nor should any sheriff any more than I would expect the Board of Supervisors to relinquish their constitutional and statutory authority."
However, Elías said it's important for any new board to have an independent legal auditor and commissioners.
"I think that's an important facet of it all otherwise it just looks like it's just a dog and pony show," he said. "I don't want control over it, the sheriff can have control over it, but it has to have an independent factor set into it. I don't want to infringe on his duties or responsibilities. Honest dialogue with the community that is meaningful is what really matters."
Need for a commission
Creating a dialogue is a key goal for Napier, he said. A commission is an opportunity to learn concerns the sheriff's department may not have been aware of and for the community to hear reasons for the department's policies which may help alleviate concerns, he said.
"When CLEPC was more functional, they brought concerns to me that I was unaware of and since I heard them I was able to act on them," Napier said. "There was a concern that we had deputies stationed at Border Patrol checkpoints."
After investigating the matter, Napier said he found out deputies did stop at the checkpoints during Stonegarden operations and found it disquieting their presence didn't serve any purpose. A policy adjustment was able to be made as a result of the community concern, he said.
With more attention around the nation on policing, there is going to be more movement towards these types of commissions and given the factors in Pima County there is a need to do it before a high-profile incident occurs, Elías said.
"I think when you look at the issues that surround our community, we have big communities of color that live here, our proximity to the border, all of those factors create situations where police actions are questioned," Elías said. "I think that's healthy, I think it's good and I think that the community deserves answers. I think it's critical."
Bronson and Miller did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.
CLEPC was created as one of five conditions to accepting the Stonegarden grant last year. Despite rejecting the grant the commission remained and was expanded to review all state and federal grants for the sheriff's department.
The controversy over CLEPC grew when it recommended supervisors reject the Operation Stonegarden grants from Homeland Security this year. The board ultimately went ahead and approved it with conditions.
This year's Stonegarden grant has still not been distributed to the sheriff's department as all the conditions have not yet been met.