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Gates, Citron Step Up Their War of Words Over Budget

June 27, 1987|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times Staff Writer

The feud between Sheriff Brad Gates and Treasurer Robert L. Citron over Gates' budget reached new heights Friday with the disclosure of letters in which Gates said Citron's comments were "half baked, ill advised and misinformed," and Citron called Gates a "mediocre" manager.

Gates accused Citron, who is also the county tax collector, of trying "to organize a claque among your colleagues to engage in 'sheriff bashing.' " The sheriff said the public was tired of government officials "whining about the lack of money."

Citron, in a June 23 response to Gates' June 19 letter, retorted that "the Sheriff's Department is not a bottomless revenue pit that we keep pouring money into in the name of public safety."

He said the settlement of a lawsuit accusing Gates of violating the civil rights of former Municipal Judge Bobby Youngblood cost the county $375,000, plus $400,000 in attorney fees.

First Time in Years

He also said that a former reporter had filed an $11-million claim for alleged violation of the reporter's civil rights, and said other similar suits would follow.

The letters began circulating among county officials Thursday and were obtained Friday.

County officials declined immediate public comment on the battle between Gates and Citron, but said it was the first time in years that the heads of two county departments had feuded so openly. Both Gates and Citron hold elective posts.

County officials have for months been predicting lean times for the fiscal year starting next Wednesday.

Budget planners ordered county agency heads to prepare plans for cuts of up to 22%. That figure has since been reduced, but the latest outlook calls for 235 county employees being laid off.

In May, Citron and Auditor-Controller Steven E. Lewis suggested that the county could save $1.5 million a year by grounding Gates' two helicopters. Later Citron said Gates was operating a "con game" aimed at getting 28 more employees just weeks before the fiscal year ended.

Gates defended himself against Citron's comments in his letter.

"I know computers are a tremendous help to you," the sheriff said. "It makes your job easier, but it doesn't save lives and it doesn't help put major narcotics dealers in jail, like our helicopter did just a few weeks ago.

"You're right, I'm going to mention the little girl the helicopter helped get to the hospital quickly when there was no medical helicopter available in the entire county.

"I'm going to mention the marine helicopter pilots saved by our deputy sheriff pilot and observer when the marine helicopter crashed and burned. I'm going to mention the 91 times the helicopter has been used by the fire department this last year."

Simple, Predictable Tasks

The sheriff delineated his success in getting state grants, collecting money from parking violations and using reserve deputies who, he said, contributed $520,297 worth of work last year.

"I don't expect someone who manages a very small operation, performing relatively simple and predictable tasks, to understand the dynamics of managing a 2,000 member, 24-hours a day, 7-days-a-week law enforcement agency," Gates said.

"You do your job, and I'll do mine," he said at another point.

Citron's reply said there was "a consensus of opinion on the 5th and 3rd floors that you are a poor or mediocre manager, although a good policeman." The fifth floor of the county Hall of Administration houses the supervisors' offices, the third floor the county administrative office.

Citron noted that he had previously repeated a joke that Gates was "the only public official that had his own Army, Navy and Air Force."

He added: "When that statement appeared in the media, a public official told me that the statement should have been your own Army, Navy, Air Force and CIA."

Youngblood and two others sued Gates in 1983 and accused the sheriff of harassing and spying on them for political reasons. All three plaintiffs had run unsuccessfully against Gates in elections.

Citron said that if pending cases and suits he expects to be filed--accusing Gates of violating the civil rights of private citizens--go to trial or are settled out of court, the county "will still be paying out large sums of money that could be used to fund your department's helicopters and jails."

County officials said in April when Youngblood's case was settled that it did not constitute an admission of guilt by Gates but was a "compromise" that let the county avoid the costs of a trial and possible monetary award by a jury.

Citron asked in his letter why Gates had stamped his letter "personal and confidential, not for media release," suggesting that the sheriff should want his "wonderful responses" publicized.

Gates and Citron each closed his letter "your friend," and Gates said he was enclosing a bumper sticker. The contents were not specified in the letter, but one secretary in the sheriff's department has above her desk a bumper sticker that reads:

"Emergency in Orange Co.? Call the Tax Collector."

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