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LA County Supervisors Vote Out Villanueva As Head Of Emergency Operations

A screenshot of Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a press conference on COVID-19 Monday, March 16, 2020. (L.A. County Sheriff's Department)
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The L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion this morning to remove L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the head of the county's emergency operations center.

Villanueva, who called into the board meeting, has repeatedly called the decision a "power grab" being played out during an unprecedented global health pandemic.

He says the decision was “irresponsible,” and “a brazen attempt to consolidate power.”

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“The pattern is very clear: When in trouble, you will build more bureaucracy,” he said.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the plan has been in the works for more than a year. A task force convened after the 2018 Woolsey Fire recommended putting the county's emergency management office in charge during disasters.

The motion allows the county chief executive officer to direct disaster preparation and response.

"I would respectfully indicate to the sheriff that this is not about him," Kuehl said, indicating that the switch is in line with national emergency management best practices.

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Villanueva maintains that he and his staff were unaware of the potential change.

Kuehl says two-thirds of California counties have shifted to a system where emergency operations are coordinated and controlled by an agency other than law enforcement.

"It has nothing to do with vendettas or anything like that," said Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

The vote was originally scheduled for two weeks ago, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Today's approval was just the latest flareup in the supervisors’ long-running feud with Villanueva. They’ve fought him on his decision to rehire several fired deputies, on his discipline policies and on transparency issues.

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