Thursday, February 26, 2015

Applications for [Contra Costa] Grand Jury Service Sought

The Contra Costa County Superior Court is accepting applications for Civil Grand Jury Service for the fiscal year 2015-2016 term.

The Civil Grand Jury is made up of 19 members who serve for one year , July through June, to monitor, review and report on city and county governments, special districts and school districts .

Every effort is made to ensure that the Grand Jury reflects the makeup of the residents of the county.

Approximately 75 applicants will be selected to be interviewed by the Grand Jury Selection Committee, which is composed of Superior Court Judges. After interviews, the judges will nominate approximately 30 applicants to constitute a grand jury pool from which the final panel of 19 will be selected by random drawing .

The drawing is scheduled to be held on Friday, June 12, 2015 , with the members of the 2015-2016 Grand Jury officially being sworn in on the same day.

Individuals selected for service will be expected to be available during the last two weeks of June to meet with outgoing jurors, tour county facilities, meet with department heads, become familiar with their colleagues, learn about juror responsibilities and procedures, and select committees on which they will serve.

Grand jurors must be a United States citizen, 18 years of age or older, who have been a resident of Contra Costa County for at least one year prior to selection. They cannot currently hold any elected position within the county.  Applicants should have reliable transportation to Martinez, and must be prepared to devote at least 20 hours per week to Civil Grand Jury service.  Citizens who work should apply only if they can be released from their jobs to perform the jury duties. Applicants selected as one of the 30 nominees will be fingerprinted before the drawing.

Jurors receive a stipend for attending full jury and committee meetings and are reimbursed for allowable jury travel.  Parking permits may be provided to park in the City of Martinez while performing Grand Jury duties.

Persons interested in applying may contact the Office of the Civil Grand Jury at (925) 957-5638, or visit the website at www.cc-courts.org/grandjury  to receive additional information regarding service on the Civil Grand Jury and to obtain an application.

APPLICATION DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, MARCH 27, 2015

For further information : Secretary to the Grand Jury, Phone: (925) 957-5638

[San Benito] County board to weigh added funds for grand jury


Supervisors on Tuesday [March 3] will consider allocating $5,406 to the San Benito County Civil Grand Jury so it can continue functioning through the fiscal year ending June 30.
San Benito County civil grand jury is running out of money and has not been meeting. Supervisors responded last by setting up an ad hoc committee on the matter, as some officials said they would support allocating additional funds for the rest of the fiscal year while cutting back on compensation to jurors in some areas.
The changes prompted one current grand juror—the group is below its specified allotment of 19 members—to proclaim that the action will dissolve the civil grand jury.
The civil grand jury investigates and reports on entities using taxpayer dollars and reconvenes on an annual basis. Its members are made up of local residents who volunteer for the job.
At last Tuesday’s county board meeting, supervisors heard from grand jurors about the need for more funding in order to keep meeting through the fiscal year ending in June. The grand jury is on pace to soon exceed its 2014-15 budget of $19,500 and was asking for $12,800 to get through the rest of the year. Grand jury budgets over the prior four years had gradually increased to $19,500, the amount budgeted this fiscal year ending June 30.
This coming Tuesday, the board will weigh the additional funding. Supervisors will also consider an ordinance to change the pay structure for grand jurors. The proposed mileage reimbursement list does not include committee meetings, with those payments to grand jurors helping to cause the budget shortfall this year.
The board is set to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the County Administration Building, 481 Fourth St.
February 25, 2015
San Benito County Today, Hollister Free Lance
Posted by Kollin Kosmicki

Defining a [Fresno County] grand jury

It is a ‘watchdog’ group over governmental agencies in the county

Published: Thursday, February 26, 2015 6:52 AM PST

Sanger Herald Editor's note: This explanation of what a grand jury is and is not was first published May 28, 2009 when the grand jury issued a report critical of Sanger officials. We pulled it out of the archives, dusted it off and updated it for our April 5, 2012 edition when the grand jury came back to town and criticized Sanger officials again. When members of the grand jury showed up last week at the city council meeting we headed for the archives again. Three grand jury investigations in less than six years may be a new California record, maybe even a new national record. It's certainly not one to make us proud.

 The grand jury is as old as the state constitution but it may be one of the least understood facets of the governmental system.

“The grand jury is an important part of the government that the public doesn’t know enough about,” said Fresno County Jury and Public Services Manager Sherry Spears.

The grand jury has two arms: one that works as a civil grand jury and is in session at all times, and one that works as a criminal grand jury that is only in session on a case-by-case basis.

The civil grand jury is often referred to as a “watchdog” for governmental agencies, retired Superior Court Judge Robert Oliver said.

“The grand jury is a constitutionally mandated body that investigates and reports on civil matters dealing with government in Fresno County,” Oliver said.

The grand jury is one avenue through which citizens can voice their concerns and hold their government in check.

Investigations and reports from the grand jury can impact the community in a positive way, Oliver said. The grand jury can influence how public funds are spent, prescribe how spending is documented, improve public service, save taxpayer dollars and hand out commendations to well-managed departments.

“The grand jury is the linkage between the citizens and their government,” said Robert Gutierrez, the chairman of promotion and publicity for the California Grand Jurors’ Association. “It’s the watchdog over governmental affairs. It makes the local government more effective and efficient. It’s an essential component of American politics.”

The civil grand jury consists of 19 Fresno County citizens who serve for one full year starting July 1 and ending June 30. During the year, jurors serve from 40 to 80 hours per month.

Once the grand jury is formed, the group divides into subcommittees according to subjects under investigation. For example, a committee may be dedicated to budget matters, or issues involving detention facilities.

One committee of the 2014-2015 grand jury has obviously been dedicated to investigating something having to do with municipal governance in Sanger.

The grand jury receives complaints and comments from the public, often through an online form that citizens can fill out and submit, and investigates accordingly. Investigations can also be initiated from an individual grand juror.

To conduct an investigation a subcommittee interviews involved parties and gathers information.

“They (grand jurors) are not told how to do it or guided in things that they should or shouldn’t look at,” Oliver said.

The grand jury is not accountable to elected officials or government employees and its recommendations and findings should be unbiased and impartial, Oliver said.

After a subcommittee conducts an investigation and writes a report with its findings and recommendations, the report must be adopted by the entire grand jury before it is released.

Once the grand jury releases a report, the agency or parties involved have 60 days to respond if a governmental agency or 90 days if a non-governmental group.

“The real power of the grand jury comes when they can release a report to the public,” jury and public services manager Spears said. “But sometimes just by investigating the changes may come about.”

Candidates for the grand jury can be nominated by a current grand jury member, by a judge or they can nominate themselves.

The Fresno Superior Court has started the recruitment process for the 19 persons who will make up the Fresno County Grand Jury from July 2015 through June 2016.

Grand jury applications are now available at www.fresno.courts.ca.gov or by calling the Fresno Superior Court juror services manager at (559) 457-1605. Applications will be accepted through March 2.

In order to be eligible for the grand jury applicants must: be a citizen of the United States; be 18 years of age or older; be a resident of Fresno County for at least one year prior to selection; be in possession of natural faculties, ordinary intelligence, sound judgment, fair character; have sufficient knowledge of the English language.

Desirable qualities for grand jury applicants include: research abilities; ability to analyze facts; respect and objectivity concerning the opinions of others; ability to work cooperatively with others; ability to express oneself clearly; experience in report writing; basic computer literacy, according to the Fresno County grand jury website.

Spears sets up interviews for each qualified applicant with a committee of superior court judges. The superior court judges decide on a group of 30 nominees to be placed into a random drawing and 19 are pulled to be members of the grand jury.

Grand jurors serve a one-year period with the option to apply for an additional consecutive term.

Because they devote up to 80 hours each month to grand jury business, they receive nominal compensation as well as mileage reimbursement.

The civil grand juries and the criminal grand juries do not overlap, Oliver said.

The two work separately and never in tandem, but the civil grand jury could issue a report that would interest the district attorney to the point he files charges or seeks a criminal indictment.

A criminal grand jury only goes into session when the district attorney or the state Attorney General’s office seeks an indictment for a particular case. An indictment is a formal, written charge.

Once the request for an indictment is made, a criminal grand jury is selected just as a traditional jury would be. The grand jury decides to either issue the indictment or deny it based on whether or not the jury believes there is cause to make the charge.

Most of the criminal grand jury cases in California are either high profile or involve some special circumstance where the traditional means of filing charges is bypassed, said USC law professor Rebecca Lonergan.

“They avoid being political by being backed by a grand jury to issue an indictment,” Lonergan said.

A district attorney might choose to avoid the politics of a given case, possibly one involving corruption or an important community figure, by seeking an indictment rather than trying to file for charges in the traditional way.

For example, grand juries in other jurisdictions have considered hot-potato cases like whether to indict a homeowner who shoots and kills someone he thinks is breaking into his home.

By Vanessa Rakis-Garabedian
Sanger Herald

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Inyo County grand jury investigating former Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer


Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer, under fire in recent weeks for insensitive remarks toward minorities and low-income residents as well as possible abuse of taxpayer money, is now under investigation by the Inyo County grand jury.
McAteer was the superintendent of schools for Nevada County, serving four terms before abruptly stepping down in 2008 and later accepting the position in Inyo County.
The Inyo Register was able to independently confirm that the grand jury had launched an investigation into McAteer’s use of what he calls “discretionary” dollars that the Inyo County Office of Education earns by providing business services to charter schools in Los Angeles. The grand jury is also looking into the purchase of an automobile with ICOE funding that appears to be driven almost exclusively by McAteer’s wife.
The grand jury’s investigation was started in response to complaints from local taxpayers. “There are a number of citizens who have concerns and we are looking into those concerns,” our source said, noting that the investigation has primarily entailed “following the money.”
That money originates at Youthbuild charter schools in Los Angeles, which pay the ICOE a fee in exchange for business services, such as payroll and accounting.
During a telephone interview in early January, McAteer explained that he charges these schools a 7 percent fee even though it doesn’t cost the ICOE that much to provide the services. There are no strings attached to this money and it is not earmarked for any specific project or expense, meaning it can be spent on anything the ICOE wants to spend it on. McAteer said he stores the proceeds in a discretionary account and he and the Board of Education decide how to use it.
The board
During an open meeting with the Board of Education on Feb. 12, the Inyo Register discussed reports of nepotism, cronyism and extravagant spending by McAteer, as well as reports of ageism – replacing women nearing retirement age with much younger women – and retaliatory firings.
The board stressed that, unlike other boards of education, it had no authority over hiring and firing at the ICOE or other personnel issues. The board emphasized its job was strictly providing financial oversight.
Yet the board acknowledged never taking a formal vote of approval on any of McAteer’s proposals before he spends money on them. It was explained that he offers up a list of initiatives, projects and trips at the start of the year, and the board gives him the go-ahead to proceed with them.
The board does take a vote once a month when it does a review of financial activities, sources of revenue and any budget transfers that need to be made. The ICOE also undergoes an annual audit, which it passes with flying colors.
Year to year, there’s roughly $700,000 available in discretionary funds — a point of pride for McAteer, who noted during the January interview that his critics are not accustomed to seeing an Office of Education operated with an entrepreneurial spirit.
With those funds, McAteer has been able to sponsor the One-to-One initiative in local schools, an effort to arm every student in grades 1-12 with a personal computer of some sort, whether an iPad or a laptop.
He was also able to contribute $75,000 towards the downtown Bishop Wi-Fi project initiated by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, and has invested in county library makeovers in exchange for them staying open later to better accommodate students.
However, it’s other uses of those funds that have drawn criticism and raised suspicions, such as catered receptions, flying a dozen or so local VIPs to L.A. for a tour of the charter schools, an annual and spendy retreat at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, a recent 18-person technology research trip to the Bay Area and an upcoming trip to Italy for an estimated 12 educators with Child Care Connection – many of the same educators who signed a letter of support of McAteer that was published in the Jan. 31 edition of The Inyo Register.
One reason given for the overseas trip is that it’s a rare opportunity to get the best training available in the Reggio Emilia Approach – a method of teaching that begins with preschool.
The teachers will be visiting the school where Reggio Emilia originated. But as a learning opportunity, it doesn’t appear to be rare. At least a dozen preschools in San Francisco are exclusively based on Reggio Emilia learning and Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. offers an annual, comprehensive course in Reggio Emilia.
The exact cost of the trip to Italy is not known, as Assistant Superintendent Tom Snyder was out of town this week and his assistant was not authorized to release the information.
Familiar story
While these teachers visit Italy in May, Youthbuild Charter School of California educators will be leading classrooms each of about 35 students. The students themselves are anywhere from 16 to 24 years old, high school drop-outs and sometimes juvenile delinquents looking at their last chance at an education. Ninety-six percent of the study body is minority enrollment, with the majority of the students identifying as Hispanic.
Youthbuild first contracted with McAteer when he was the superintendent of schools for Nevada County in the mid-2000s.
McAteer’s tenure there was not without controversy either. Complaints of nepotism made it to The Union, in 2007 when McAteer hired his wife, Liz, as a long-term substitute teacher at Nevada Union High School that January.
She reportedly did not go through a competitive interview process and there were other candidates said to be just as, if not more, qualified than she.
Five months later, McAteer told The Union he was stepping down as superintendent, with time still left on his term, to return to the classroom “with a genuine excitement … to relive the magic that takes place every day in the most important job in society.”
Then, in March 2008, while still teaching, he agreed to take the superintendent of schools job in Inyo County and finish out the unexpired term of retiring George Lozito. When McAteer left Nevada County, he brought the Youthbuild Charter School of California with him.
In the six and a half years McAteer has served as Superintendent of Schools in Inyo County, he’s increased the ICOE’s budget from $2.8 million to $6.4 million.
He said he accomplished this in part by making the ICOE less “top-heavy” through not filling positions when someone retires and moving employees into other positions.
Another Driving Concern
The bountiful budget is another point of pride for McAteer and for the Board of Education, which gave McAteer permission to use funds from the discretionary account in 2013 to purchase a vehicle for the travel he does for his work with the charter schools.
The problem with that, according to the Grand jury and several inside sources, is that the board appears to have unwittingly bought Liz McAteer a car instead.
Seen driving the vehicle to and from work and other locations around Bishop, Liz was the one who picked out, signed for and drove the car off the lot, according to a former employee of the dealership where the vehicle was purchased, Eastern Sierra Motors.
The employee said Liz arrived solo at the dealership with a list of specs and initially requested a Ford Edge Ltd. Edition, the top-of-the-line model that comes with heated leather seats.
This raised the employee’s suspicions and he asked to speak to someone from the ICOE directly, to which Liz gave the impression she was an authorized representative.
Liz eventually settled on an Escape Titanium, again with leather seats, a moon-roof, navigation and other extra features. When it arrived at the dealership, it was Liz who came to pick it up on Aug. 28.
A new 2013 Ford Escape starts at the base price of $23,295. The dealership sold that particular Escape to the ICOE for more than $34,000.
February 24, 2015
The Union of Grass Valley
By Darcy Ellis, managing editor of the Inyo Register