Tense from the get-go, a discussion of whether to have the Chumash contract with the Sheriff’s Office for one dedicated deputy position on the reservation — on the tribe’s dime — faced backlash from valley residents, legal concerns from County Counsel, and heated debates between the supervisors before it was shot down 3-2 at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. The proposal would have seen the tribe pay about $850,000 a year — salaries for five deputies to staff one position 24/7, plus the purchase of one vehicle and its annual maintenance costs — to make up for dwindling dollars from the state’s Special Distribution Fund (SDF), which had previously covered the cost of that position. In addition to patrolling the reservation, the deputy would be available to serve other Santa Ynez Valley areas during emergencies.
But a dozen public commenters and Supervisors Doreen Farr (in whose district the reservation lies), Janet Wolf, and Peter Adam raised red flags about the contract’s “vague” language regarding which tribal properties would be supervised and its lack of a waiver of sovereign immunity. County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni explained that that lack of a waiver made the contract unenforceable, as it would prohibit the county from suing the tribe if need be. (Ghizzoni pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled last week that the state of Michigan couldn’t sue a tribe without such a waiver.)
Farr, Wolf, and Adam voted to have the tribe and sheriff iron out the kinks, but tribal chair Vincent Armenta nixed that idea after the hearing. The tribe won’t be back to renegotiate the contract, Armenta said, peppering his statements with jabs at Wolf, whom he called Farr’s “puppet,” and at Farr, who he said “should quit or be recalled.”
Supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Salud Carbajal, along with Sheriff Bill Brown, supported the contract, reminding the board that the Sheriff’s department already patrols the area but that the agreement would see the tribe paying for new deputies instead of the county. The contract “could have been made a lot simpler and more straightforward. It wasn’t; I don’t know why,” Farr countered. “Once we sign a contract, we are bound by the terms of that contract.”