County officials hope voters approve Measure A on June 5, as it would resolve a legal quandary over a restructuring of the county's jails two years ago.
In 2010 the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors transferred control of much of the county's jail system to the county sheriff in a restructuring that has saved $7 million a year. Opponents of that decision, including Supervisor Liz Kniss and the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association, said the move violated a 1988 amendment to the county charter and therefore needed a public vote.
After two lawsuits claiming the board's 2010 decision was illegal, including one from the correctional officers association, the board is finally requesting that public vote. Measure A would confirm the 2010 restructuring and give county supervisors the leeway to make such restructuring moves in the future.
Measure A asks voters to "reaffirm the recent restructuring, ensure compliance with the law, and clarify and broaden the Board of Supervisors' discretion in determining how to most efficiently operate the county jails" says the argument for it, signed by all five county supervisors.
"I firmly support Measure A," said Kniss, whose district includes Mountain View and Palo Alto. "When the proposal was made to move the Department of Corrections under the jurisdiction of the sheriff, I voted against it. I believed then as I do now that only the voters can reverse the arrangements they put into place when the Department of Corrections was made a separate department in 1988."
Shortly after the 2010 restructuring, San Jose lawyer James McManis sued the county "to make sure the county followed the law like the rest of us."
"We got exactly what the lawsuit is designed to get," McManis said. "The supervisors are doing what they should have done a long time ago, which is putting it to a vote of the people."
McManis said he agreed to drop the lawsuit when the measure was proposed.
County Counsel Miguel Marquez reportedly told the Board of Supervisors that the 2010 restructuring would stand up to a lawsuit because the Department of Correction would still run the jails, but "in cooperation" and "in conjunction" with the sheriff.
But Kniss and others say the Santa Clara County Sheriff is now the one really in charge of the county's jails. That conflicts with a 1988 county charter amendment that created the Department of Corrections to run the county jails, and put a chief of corrections in charge.
"When you are dealing with the law there's different ways things can be interpreted, said Gary Graves, chief operating officer of Santa Clara County. "We believe what we implemented two years ago was consistent with the charter."
"The jail was not given to the sheriff to run," Graves added.
"The people at the county are very clever people," McManis said. "The county charter adopted by the voters required the director of corrections to operate the jails. The county tried to get around that by taking all the functions from the director of corrections and transferring them to the sheriff. Except they left the director in charge of a couple trivial assignments and said he is still in charge of the jails. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see through that."
No opposition to Measure A has emerged and no ballot argument against it was filed.