ALAMEDA COUNTY//BUDGET | With Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern at the lectern before the Board of Supervisors last week like a pastor preaching to a chorus of adherents more than willing to fill his collection basket, the slender county top cop briefly paused. In the corner of his eye he noticed Supervisor Scott Haggerty lurch to one side and motion for one of his aides. Ahern continued. The sheriff’s department was woefully understaffed, he told the board. The loss of 21 sheriffs deputies over the years had put the department at risk of been in violation of Title 15 of the state’s prison regulations for the staffing of prisons, he announced–seemingly in passing.

Haggerty queried Ahern over what exactly that meant. A fine? A slap on the wrist? State intervention? Ahern didn’t answer and Haggerty, along with Supervisors Nate Miley and Keith Carson didn’t seem to care much for the details. While Ahern continued to detail the highlights and lowlights of the sheriff’s department’s contribution to the county, Haggerty called over yet another aide and wholesale whispering commenced. Haggerty turned to Miley and whispered, wrote a note and continued listening to Ahern’s presentation. Miley rose from his seat and walked to the adjacent seating to his left to whisper in the ear of County Administrator Susan Muranishi. Miley then leaned against the wall and paused for yet even more whispering across the room between Haggerty and his aides. When one of the aides left to the back with written instructions, Miley joined that whisperfest.

Sheriff Greg Ahern

Viewers watching the scene at home never saw the extracurriculars happening outside the rectangle of their web browsers, but what was not seen was far more instructive as the majority of the board suddenly came up with a pledge to restore 21 sheriff deputies in the next fiscal year. The development more than anything shows the muscle and manipulations public safety has in coercing county agencies to acquiesce to their demands brawny law and order. The sheriff’s department’s haul is quite impressive when you think of it this way: Sheriff Ahern never asked them for a damn thing.

The $2.6 billion county budget approved June 22 was balanced with over $88 million in staff cuts and program reductions. With worrisome state and federal cuts still looming, the board cut 37 full-time equivalent positions and reduced funding to social services by $82 million. The cuts, while still excruciating for many of the neediest of county residents, were the lowest shortfall in three years. Yet, Haggerty curiously called it an “extremely painless budget.”

However, when it came to the board’s surprisingly loose purse strings when it came to law enforcement, Supervisor Wilma Chan said she was surprised by the board’s swift action. “My position is that I’m willing to help them out, but the sheriff didn’t even ask to restore 21 positions,” Chan said last Friday. Like nearly everybody on hand June 19 for Ahern’s budget presentation, Chan said the risk of the sheriff’s department violating Title 15 was news to her. “I just felt everyone tries to be team players when we come to these hearings and we didn’t restore anyone else’s cuts,” said Chan. “Everyone took the cuts that they were suppose to take, so I was a little bit surprised that we were going to do that.” Once some county staff had finished scrambling to make amends to the sheriff with increased funding for additional deputies, a side letter was written and offered to the board by Haggerty and Miley urging not only for $4 million to fund 21 more deputies, but also 10 adult probation officers, costing $1.7 million.

When Chan later questioned whether Ahern had even asked for such a large expenditure (she remembered hearing Ahern say he only needed six officers to comply with Title 15), the rest of the board wanted none of it. “I don’t want to second guess the sheriff,” Miley said. Haggerty said once promised realignment money arrives from Sacramento, the question will be moot and the sheriff’s department will receive the $4 million, anyway. “Maybe they do an Occupy Alameda County and we need an additional 100?” wondered Haggerty, even though the reference to Occupy Oakland and alleged abuses by Alameda County deputies against protesters last year at Santa Rita Jail carry a certain negative stigma among supporters of the movement.

In reality, Chan was outnumbered on the board when it came to bending over backward for law enforcement. In a rare and brief flare-up just minutes before adoption of the county budget last Friday, Chan snapped at Haggerty after discussion of a “revised” side letter was poised to be included in the new budget. “I think we have to be collegial,” said Chan. “That issue come up very last minute, so the point I was trying to make to him—because he said, why did I do a revised letter—the point I was trying to make to him was the decision we made about the sheriff wasn’t even in writing, it was just read into the record.”

As Ahern wrapped up his remarks, he thanked the board for their time and walked away from the lectern, probably not even knowing the hornet’s nest he may or may have not have intended to disrupt among the five sitting supervisors.