Motion would remove sheriff’s vaccine mandate enforcement powers

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday moved to take COVID-19 vaccine mandate enforcement responsibilities away from Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has repeatedly said he would not fire deputies who refuse to get vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Department is the only department in the county that’s refused to implement this policy,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who supported the proposal to change civil service rules to give the enforcement authority to the county’s personnel director. “I think we were left with no other choice.”

Hahn and three supervisors voted to approve the motion; Supervisor Kathryn Barger abstained. The board asked for a draft of the new rules by next month.

In remarks at Tuesday’s virtual board meeting, Villanueva called the move “ill advised,” saying it would serve a “death blow” to public safety in the county.

“I just urge you to de-escalate and dial back the rhetoric, and let’s find some common ground — testing or vaccination, and we’re doing that right now,” Villanueva said.

On social media the night before, Villanueva made dramatic claims framing Tuesday’s vote as a motion to fire 18,000 county employees — including 4,000 from the Sheriff’s Department — for not being vaccinated.

Though the rule change would apply to all county departments, it allows the personnel director to give enforcement control back to department heads who are complying with the mandate, and the county’s policy gives employees five opportunities to comply with the mandate before they would face termination.

As of Tuesday, a county spokesperson said, 83% of the county’s roughly 100,000 employees were fully vaccinated. Fifteen full-time employees and 133 temporary or seasonal workers had been fired for noncompliance.

“I can see why he wears a big hat, because he pulls a lot of numbers right out of it, most of which can’t be substantiated,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the motion’s author, said about Villanueva. “We’ve increased the people who work for him, we’ve increased the budget. And in this case, we have an absolute right to say these are our employees, not yours.”

Hahn suggested that the board lift the hiring freeze for the Sheriff’s Department and increase the number of academy classes for new deputies to make sure the agency maintains adequate staffing levels.

Villanueva has repeatedly criticized the vaccine mandate, saying he won’t force his deputies to get inoculated. He has said he is requiring unvaccinated employees to get tested weekly and has threatened to discipline employees for insubordination if they refuse to share their vaccination status.

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