Supes resign themselves over Growdon replacement procedure

Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon announced his retirement effective Dec. 27, 2023 last week, and that announcement raised concerns across the county about who would serve the remainder of his term until 2028 and how should that person assume the office.

Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon.

According to an email from County Counsel Amanda Uhrhammer to District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram, “This is an Attorney General opinion that cites to some law that has recently been changed. That being said, the law did not change to allow for a special election.

“Election Code section 1300 states clearly that for a sheriff elected in 2022, the next election is 2028. There are no other provisions which would allow for an election. An advisory question on a ballot measure, regardless of it stating it is, ‘advisory,’ would still be an election.  It would also force interested candidates to essentially campaign which would not be fair, and it not provided for by statute.

“The board of supervisors is, by statute and attorney general opinion, required to appoint an interim sheriff until 2028.”

The opinion from Dec. 30, 2016 written by Kamala Harris when she served as California Attorney General. It addresses concerns from Calaveras County in replacing a sheriff who died. According to that opinion, “the board of supervisors may not call a special election to fill the office” before the next election,” and, “When a county board of supervisors appoints someone to fill a vacancy in the office of county sheriff, the appointee must meet all the qualifications of the elected position, including county residency. The board does not have the authority to waive those requirements.”

County Administrative Officer Richard Egan said Growdon’s election in 2022 means the sheriff will serve a six-year term because the legislature changed the next election date of the sheriff (and the district attorney) to coincide with presidential election years beginning in 2028. Growdon’s resignation does not change that legal requirement, and the board of supervisors must appoint a successor.

“As you’re all aware, sheriff Dean Growdon has announced his retirement the end of this month. My initial recommendation is to reject that, and have the board compel him to continue,” Egan quipped.

“You’ll have a 5-0 vote on that, too,” said chair Gary Bridges.

Egan also said state code requires the supervisors to appoint someone to fill that vacancy, even though the appointment would be for an almost five-year term.

He said staff investigated the possibility of filling the position through a special election, but that would not conform with state law.

“So, we have no choice?” asked Bridges.

Egan suggested county staff could come up with a recruitment brochure and plan by the end of the calendar year and then around Feb. 1 the county would be ready to interview candidates and make an appointment. He said the senior captain at the sheriff’s office could fulfill the duties of sheriff until one is appointed.

District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram railed against this process.

“I like options,” he said.

He said District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher, with years of experience in law enforcement, probably is the only one on the board qualified to interview a potential sheriff. And since an election was not possible, Ingram asked about an advisory election in November.

Egan said advisory measures have yes or no answers, so such multiple-choice questions are impractical.

Ingram said one of his issues was the appointed person would enjoy such a lengthy term.

Egan acknowledged the supervisors may not be happy with this arrangement, but the board must appoint a successor to Growdon.

‘”So, basically we have no options but to appoint?’ asked Ingram. “We have no options whatsoever?”

“As far as an election goes, that is correct,” responded county counsel. “It has to be appointed by the board.”

District 4 Supervisor Aaron Albaugh said he was confident leadership in the department had been developed during Growdon’s term as sheriff.

“I agree totally,” said District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher. “Dean has done a great job. I think he really pulled the department together since the last sheriff, and it’s become a different department. You’ve put people underneath you who have really supported that whole mission.”

District 3 Supervisor Tom Neely asked if the candidate pool would come only from the sheriff’s office.

Egan said his recommendation would be the candidates would be limited only to those who have the qualifications to be sheriff.

“Dean, I have a comment,” said Bridges. “Catch a lot of fish …I appreciate the job you’ve done.”

He said he thought Growdon was the best sheriff the county’s ever had and he feels there are people who are ready to step up right now.

Growdon said he when he signed up to run in the primay, it wasn’t for a six-year term, and if it had been for a six-year term he might not have run for re-election.

“It is difficult when you come to retirement age and you have to make decisions four years at a time,” Growdon said. “That’s the decision I made — four years, not six … It’s a tough decision to come to, but it’s time.”