Monday, September 1, 2014

(Mendocino County) Grand jury reports should be taken seriously

August 31, 2014
Ukiah Daily Journal

I was pleasantly surprised to read the Opinion Section of the UDJ on August 17 when you touched upon the un-responses provided by our local government officials to the pointed and revealing reports published by the County Grand Jury this year. A few days later, Jonathan Meadowbrook in his column "It's All Good" followed up with even more criticism of the officialdom denials in their responses to these reports..
If only the public would realize that the County Grand Jury consists of 19 volunteer citizens whose sole purpose is to look out for the rights and protection of all others in the county by reviewing and investigating the operations of the local governments. Of particular importance is that the Grand Jury functions under the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. Especially in this day of government distrust, the unique authority to delve into the intricacies of local government to see that the interests of the public are being rightly served should be appreciated and defended by all.
Unfortunately, the reports stir little fanfare in the media and limited publication leaves few people with knowledge of the important findings and recommendations contained in these works. It is the officialdom that, when exposed by some of these reports, reply with non-responsive denials and excuses that are intended to mute the need for corrective action. The CEO even contracted with a Bay Area law firm to assist in her denials while others respond with statements such as "the number come from the County Auditor therefore they must be correct." Or, "the Grand Jury doesn't understand." And, "People lie", etc.
I encourage the public to read these reports and become aware of the findings made by the Grand Jury during its several year- long investigations. Some copies of the reports are available at the individual libraries and some governmental offices. But the reports and responses of the officialdom are readily available online at web site. Read the reports and then read the responses and make your own conclusions as to what should be done.
— Don Howard, Ukiah

Sunday, August 31, 2014

(Butte County) Chico Council to consider options for Butte County Grand Jury response

Direction on waste franchising also expected Tuesday

August 31, 2014
Chico Enterprise-Record
By Ashley Gebb

CHICO >> Concerns raised by the Butte County Grand Jury about the city of Chico's finances are consistent with those of the City Council and appreciated "in light of the challenges that the organization faces," Mayor Scott Gruendl writes in the mandatory response.
The exact detail to which the City Council will agree with the 2013-14 Grand Jury's findings remains to be seen. Councilors are expected to consider approval of the response Tuesday, with options to choose from on each of the 15 findings and seven recommendations. In his letter, the mayor also pledges a commitment to organizational transparency and accurately reporting facts, and he says the city will provide additional information and clarification if necessary.
"It is our mission to accept the Grand Jury's report, reflect upon comments received and put into place improvements to ensure efficient and effective governance," Gruendl writes.
The Grand Jury report, published in late June, states that while there was no evidence of illegal wrongdoing or personal profiting from the city of Chico's financial management, the City Council has known since 2007 it was running a deficit.
A follow-up to a prior Grand Jury investigation, the report on Chico finances states the city's financial crisis was caused by inflated salaries and benefits that clearly outpaced revenues, fees charged by various enterprise funds that did not cover service costs, enterprise accounts used inappropriately to balance the general fund as revenues declined, and city administration failing to provide pertinent information to council to make the necessary adjustments.
The 16 pages of potential responses included staff responses and alternatives for councilors to consider. They could also amend any response how they see fit.
Many of the proposed responses agree with the grand jury's findings, but a few refute the findings or offer at least partial disagreement. Objections are included for the following findings:
• The City Council failed in its responsibility to oversee actions of the management team and allowed it to frame its own agenda
• During 2008-2012, upper level management failed to share complete and accurate information with council members
• With respect to finances and structural deficits, it appears the prior city manager abdicated his responsibility and allowed the finance director to take charge
Another area of potential disagreement is with the Grand Jury's recommendation that the City Council and city manager work together to develop a plan to rehire lost staff when funds are available instead of contracting out for services. The city has until Sept. 25 to submit its response.
Also Tuesday, the council is expected consider options for waste franchising, which has been tabled for the last two meetings. Richard Tagore-Erwin of R3 Consulting Group will ask for direction on the terms, conditions and service options to include in the franchise agreement negotiations.
The finance committee's recommendation is to negotiate an exclusive franchise with Waste Management and Recology based on two exclusive residential service zones based on a split of current revenue base. The two companies would also be responsible for providing street sweeping, leaf collection, collection from city buildings and illegal dumping.
Commercial services would remain in current open market competition between the two companies. The city would set the maximum rates for both commercial and residential services. The staff report states the fiscal impact of the agreements will be determined during negotiations.
The council will also consider introduction of a nondiscrimination ordinance and consider changes to council procedures per the council procedures committee. And there will be a public hearing regarding the proposed closure of a bike path at Sunrise and Ricky courts.
The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Chico City Council Chambers, 421 Main St.