San Clemente Schedules Special Meeting to Renew Sheriff Contract Before It Runs Out

JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

A Sheriff's Department station in San Clemente.

The San Clemente City Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday, June 26 at 1 p.m. to renew their contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) before their current agreement expires July 1. This abruptly-scheduled meeting comes after council members failed to adopt the 2019-20 agreement June 18.

The city was notified June 19 in a letter written by Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes that if a 2019-20 contract is not approved by the current contract’s expiration date, the Sheriff’s Department is under no legal obligation to continue services in San Clemente. He also mentions the city’s current contract allowing for a one-time extension of sixty days.

City Councilwoman Laura Ferguson said if the contract is not voted in during the special meeting, then she said they will use the one-time extension until an agreement can be reached.

“We’re fortunate to have [the extension] in the contract, if it should come to that,” Ferguson said in a phone interview. “But I don’t think this will. I think we will come together and we will remedy this.”

While Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane could not confirm the attendance of all four council members at the special meeting, he said in a phone interview that he directed the city clerk to schedule a date that would work for all members.

Barnes’ letter was written in response to the City Council’s June 18 meeting, where members adjourned early because of lack of quorum after Councilwoman Kathy Ward abruptly left the dais to protest a motion by Ferguson. The motion would direct staff to research by the fall more ways to fund city law enforcement.

“As a result of the council’s inaction last evening, I am obligated to inform you that the Sheriff is under no legal obligation to continue providing law enforcement services outside of a contract,” Barnes said in his letter. “While the contract does allow for a one-time extension, as of today, without a contract, the City of San Clemente will not have police services provided by the Sheriff effective July 1, 2019.”

Barnes strongly recommended that the council hold a vote before the end of the month.

San Clemente’s current contract with the Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement services for the city, which doesn’t have its own police department, ends June 30. The $16.3 million 2019-20 OCSD draft contract includes $443,000 to fund two additional patrol deputies and a patrol vehicle, as well as a crime prevention specialist, according to the contract and city staff report.

Ferguson’s motion was to direct city staff to return to the council in August with 5% cuts across the 2019-20 budget. Her motion included the approval of the city’s contract with OCSD.

Ferguson was interrupted by Ward while reading her motion during the council’s Tuesday meeting.

“Hold on, hold on. Wait a minute. I’m going to interrupt you right now,” Ward said. “We already talked about this, and we were looking at a budget that we were going to approve…If it’s going to be changed, we wait for a full council.”

Council Member Chris Hamm left the meeting before discussion, but expressed his approval for the contract as it was written to Bane. Ward left the council chambers soon after.

“I’m not going to participate,” Ward said. “Is that what you want?”

Ward and Hamm’s absence forced the meeting to adjourn early, also cutting short public comments scheduled after the council’s vote on the police contract. The council has four members and three are needed for a quorum.

Bane said while he appreciated Ferguson’s motion, he felt it was unfair to be “changing the game” on the council members.

“We fought hard for the two deputies we got,” Bane said. “We have a police contract here that I thought was a good move. We’re now not going to have a police contract for the next month, which is bad. Very bad. And that’s disappointing.”

Bane said he planned to vote for the contract as it stood, excluding Ferguson’s motion, and voiced his hope for Ward to return so they could vote.

Ward said in an emailed statement that she opposed any changes to the 2019-20 budget, as it was unanimously adopted by council June 4.

“A council member wanted to completely change our budget after approving it two weeks ago
and cut 5% across the board of all city departments and make this motion during a vote on the
Sheriff’s budget,” Ward said. “That is why I chose not to participate.”

Ferguson stood by her motion and emphasized the city’s need to figure out how to pay for more deputies. She also clarified that her motion was to provide direction to staff, and wouldn’t make any changes to the contract.

“The item I added was direction only. To look at organization, to find operational efficiencies, streamline and look for revenue enhancements,” Ferguson said. “So I’m sorry to see that the council member didn’t understand that and left, and this has to be delayed, but I think it’s very important that we continue to try to rightsize our organization so that we can fund deputies to protect our community.”

Ferguson said by a text message June 21 that while she won’t be making a motion to direct city staff to find cuts during the special meeting, she will still support finding new sources of revenue and budget cuts to fund more police deputies.

“I’m happy we added two more patrol deputies, but we need more,” Ferguson wrote. “Our police services remain understaffed and experience the highest number of calls in the South County region served by OCSD, which has impacted our community’s quality-of-life.”

Miranda Andrade is a Voice of OC reporting intern and can be reached at mandrade@voiceofoc.org.