Saturday, January 13, 2018

[Tulare County] Before $1.3M went missing, grand jurors raised alarm but were ignored

In the aftermath of the December arrest of the former Visalia Public Cemetery manager on charges of embezzling more than $1 million, former members of a Tulare County Grand Jury from a decade ago are questioning why nothing was done after they uncovered evidence of financial impropriety and illegal activity.
"We could have saved the (cemetery $1.3) million," said George Patterson of Visalia,  who served on the 2006-2007 Tulare County Grand Jury.
Authorities arrested former Visalia Public Cemetery manager Dona Shores Dec. 22 on charges of embezzling and laundering as much as $1.3 million over a five-year period between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2016.
Through an attorney, she has denied all charges and claims she's been targeted because she filed a workers' compensation claim.
Attorney Kris Pederson, who represents the Visalia Cemetery, said she now believes the embezzlement dates back to 2005 when a new accounting system was adopted — and that more than $1.3 million was stolen.
In 2007, Patterson and other grand jurors released a scathing report alleging Shores misused district money, directed employees to rebury old bones and reuse graves, went to casinos during work hours and sold old cemetery equipment to friends instead of putting it up for public bid.
"We found out what we needed. We had good, solid findings," Patterson said. "I thought we had one person who had broken the law."
Jackie Fletcher, the forewoman of the 2006-2007 grand jury, and member Kathleen Harris also told the Times-Delta/Advance-Register they believed there was serious wrongdoing at the cemetery.
Back in 2007, Patterson and the other grand jurors wanted further investigations into the Visalia Cemetery but were stymied by Tulare County officials, he said. 
"The county was afraid of getting sued. They didn't help any," Patterson said. "We couldn't go to the DA's office."
Phil Cline was Tulare County District Attorney at the time of the grand jury investigation. Cline was elected in 1992 and served as the county's DA's until Dec. 2012, when he retired. He did not return phone messages for comment. 
Dan Underwood, Tulare County current chief deputy district attorney, said the grand jury can use resources from the DA's office during investigations, including prosecutors who can interview witnesses or staff who can serve a subpoena.
There's a contact between the two entities while the grand jury completes an investigation, Underwood said.
"We do have a loose relationship with the grand jury," he said.
If needed, the DA's office can provide information on legal or possible criminal matters when the grand jury has questions, Underwood said.
But if criminal conduct is discovered, the next step is simple. 
"The investigation will be turned over to our office," he said. 
The DA's office reviews the annual grand jury report, Underwood said, but did not launch its own investigation or file any charges in 2007. 
The 2006-07 investigation
The 2006-2007 grand jury investigated "double burials" at the Visalia cemetery after receiving anonymous information.
During the investigation, the committee interviewed witnesses, attended board meetings, analyzed documents and reviewed state codes.
In the 2007 report, the grand jury found the "double burials" had been going on for many years at the Visalia Cemetery.
As described by the Tulare County Grand Jury, a double burial is when human remains are uncovered while digging new grave sites and the remnants are covered and placed in the same location. Then, vaults are placed on top to allow future burial.
Shores, in a letter she sent to the grand jury, said Visalia cemetery followed health and safety codes. She also said the practice, what she described as "reclaiming graves," is commonly used in public cemeteries around the state.
"The actions taken by the Visalia Public Cemetery District were not only proper but also followed in accordance with the laws governing public cemetery district operations," she said. "The Visalia Public Cemetery District is most respectful of any opening of the grounds."
The grand jury also reported at least one instance in which used surplus cemetery equipment was sold without going to a public bid. 
In addition, the grand jury requested reviews of the Visalia Cemetery's investment portfolio, including all cash and cash equivalent investments.
In her 2007 response letter to the grand jury, Shores denied all charges and said she always followed cemetery policies.
The elected cemetery board later decided to take no punitive action against Shores because of "inconclusive" evidence.
Geneva Philpot, the chairwoman of the Visalia District Cemetery Board of Trustees, told the Times-Delta/Advance-Register she insists the 2006-2007 findings by the Tulare County Grand Jury are not connected to the current case against Shores.
Philpot has been on the elected board for 20 years. She said a then cemetery worker wanted Shores out of her job and there was no proof of wrongdoing stemming from the allegations that triggered the 2006-2007 investigation.
As for the cemetery district's own attorney alleging the embezzlement stretched back to even before the 2006-2007 Grand Jury investigation, Philpot said it's difficult to know how long the suspected money mismanagement went on. 
"There's no way to know unless the forensic audit is complete," she said. "We have nothing but respect for attorney [Pederson]. She has guided us through this. We have nothing to hide."
The arrest
Shores was arrested on Dec. 22 on suspicion of embezzlement and money laundering charges after a year-long investigation by Visalia Police.
Pederson, the district's attorney, said Shores was getting ready to retire at the end of 2016. Ahead of her retirement, Shores handed in the cemetery's accounting books and a forensic audit revealed the allegedly missing funds, she said, 
Shores, who managed the Visalia Cemetery for nearly 20 years, was fired in late 2016 before she could officially retire.
Citing the forensic audit's findings, Pederson, the attorney for the cemetery, said cash funds had been recorded as received by the district for services, but the money was never deposited into the cemetery's bank account.
Despite Philpot's argument that the current charges are not related to the 2006-2007 grand jury investigation, Shores is facing money laundry allegations, stemming from the accusation the former cemetery manager sold old equipment to acquaintances instead of using a higher-bid process, prosecutors say.
In their investigation, the grand jury said they found at least one instance of equipment being sold without going to public auction.
In her letter, Shores wrote the equipment was first offered to cemetery staff using a bidding process. She also wrote the "equipment sold is so prehistoric that a value is almost impossible to obtain."
Brief court appearance
Earlier this week, Shores appeared before Tulare County Superior Court Judge Brett Alldredge.
During the quick hearing, Shores spoke only once, saying she agreed to a delay on the court procedures. 
Attorney Charles Magill, who's representing Shores, denied all charges.
"I believe there's a government conspiracy against Ms. Shores," he said. "I believe it's politically motivated."
Magill, whose office is in Fresno, said the conspiracy against Shores includes the Visalia police officers investigating the case.
Magill also lamented Shores' arrest timing.
"There's no reason to arrest her on the Friday before Christmas," Magill said. "She spent Christmas in jail. That was punitive."
There's also no evidence that proves the embezzlement, Magill said.
"At no time was her accounting ever out of balance," he said. "They have no evidence of money she received. Where's the money?"
Shores' arrest was retaliation for a workers' compensation case the former manager has filed, Magill said.
Shores was injured on the job when she was struck by a vehicle, Magill said.
Magill plans to have a new forensic accounting investigation into the cemetery's finances to help clear his client.
"I will try this case and then sue the board, the cemetery and the county for malicious prosecution," he said. 
January 5, 2018
Visalia Times-Delta
By Luis Hernandez


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

[Solano County] Solano board hears Elite Charter School proposal praised, panned’

Blog note: this article references four grand jury reports about the school district.
FAIRFIELD — More than 150 people in a standing-room-only meeting Wednesday heard supporters and opponents of the proposed Elite Charter School – and two Solano County Board of Education members say that the “opportunity gap” for African-American and Latino students must be addressed.
Board member Dana Dean said after 47 people spoke about the charter proposal that she was deeply troubled that every supporter is a person of color and every opponent is white.
That statement brought protests from several charter school opponents disputing Dean’s assessment of speakers.
Dean went on to ask that if Elite isn’t the application that will address the opportunity gap, what will? She called the petition from Elite the best she’s seen this year among several from proposed charters that went before the board.
“That’s not a high bar,” Dean said.
Board member Amy Sharp also asked opponents of the charter school what they are going to put forth to deal with the opportunity gap.
The charter school proposal is scheduled to return Jan. 10 to the county board of education for action.
Ramona Bishop, former Vallejo City School District superintendent and lead petitioner for Elite, said Wednesday that its charter school students will be “trilingual” in English, Spanish and coding.
“If you live in California, you should speak Spanish,” Bishop said.
Half of kindergartners in the state are Latino, she said.
Alameda, San Francisco and Sacramento counties are addressing the opportunity gap, Bishop said.
“We are just bringing this model to Solano County,” she said.
Judi Honeychurch, of the Fairfield-Suisun School District board of trustees, said to the county board that the programs Elite outlined in its proposal already exist in the Fairfield-Suisun district.
Cheri Summer, chief academic officer of the Vallejo City School District, told the county Board of Education that Elite’s petition doesn’t provide enough details about how it will put in place planned programs.
“The blueprint,” Summers said, “is simply inadequate.”
Opponents, including James Hinton, cited Bishop’s six years as Vallejo superintendent and problems that led to four Solano County grand jury reports about the school district.
Supporters said Elite will provide opportunities now unavailable to students.
The Rev. Danny Jefferson, president of the Vallejo Faith Organization, said people of color always have to struggle when seeking to obtain power and resources.
Alana Shackelford called Elite “more than just a school.”
“It is the answer to my concern,” she said.
The 506-page charter school petition states staff at the Elite schools will focus on accelerating the achievement of all students while “eliminating the opportunity gap.”
African-American and Latino students are the two groups in Solano County whose performance is below the average, according to the petition.
The graduation rate for the two student groups is below the average while dropout rates exceed the average, the petition adds.
“The Elite staff will focus on ensuring that students attending the school will receive instruction on the history and accomplishments of mainstream America while also receiving cross-cultural instruction on the history and accomplishments of African-Americans and Latinos,” according to the petition.
Schools would open in August 2018 with children in kindergarten through sixth-grade, and at full capacity in 2022-23 will serve more than 2,500 children and teens in kindergarten through 12th grade at three campuses, according to the petition.
December 14, 2017
Daily Republic
By Ryan McCarthy


Friday, December 15, 2017

[San Joaquin County] Our View: Time for SJ County to establish a coroner’s department independent of the sheriff

Blog note: this article references a 2006 grand jury report on the subject.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, the county’s chief medical examiner, and Dr. Susan Parson, the county’s forensic pathologist, quit their jobs within a week of each other .
Among the reasons Omalu and Parson cited for their impending departures — they are required to provide three months’ notice — was interference from Sheriff Steve Moore, who also serves as the county coroner, the person who confirms and certifies the death of someone not under medical care.
Under the county system, both Omalu and Parson reported to Moore.
Their impending departures illustrate the need for the office of medical examiner/coroner to be separate from the Sheriff’s Office.
Omalu and Parson allege that Moore has interfered in investigations, ordering them to change the cause of death in some cases, including officer-involved shootings. They also claim Moore made procedural changes, such as not informing them that he had ordered the hands removed from a corpse so they could be sent it out for fingerprinting.
Moore has denied all allegations.
The allegations are serious and should be reviewed closely by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors and investigated by an independent outside agency.
However, the allegations also illustrate the need for the archaic coroner/sheriff system to be scrapped and replaced with a separate medical examiner’s office.
Supervisors previously considered separating the offices in 2005. That discussion was 10 days after Sheriff Baxter Dunn had resigned on the same day he pleaded guilty in a federal corruption case.
Determining the manner of death in cases when someone is not under the care of a doctor should no longer be left up to someone not medically trained in that area or someone who could have a potential conflict of interest in determining a cause of death.
A coroner is an elected or appointed official. In San Joaquin County, the sheriff is also the coroner. It could also be a funeral home director, a teacher, a musician, even a journalist, provided they received enough votes to win an election for sheriff.
A forensic pathologist, such as Omalu or Parson, is medically trained as a doctor with a specialty in determining a cause of death. On average it takes about 12 years of educational study to become a forensic pathologist.
According to the California Association of Counties, a coroner’s office has three primary functions:
Medical: It conducts autopsies to determine the cause of death in those cases that fall within its jurisdiction; transports and removes bodies; verifies cause of death and signs death certificates; appears at all unattended deaths unless the deceased has been seen by a physician within a specified period of time.
Administrative: It maintains all records; responds to inquiries by law enforcement agencies, doctors, and others with potential cases; provides proper custody and security of valuables; arranges sale of unclaimed property (which may also be done by the public guardian-public administrator); locates families when necessary.
Investigative: Conducts investigations to determine causes of death and/or to establish identity of deceased; conducts inquests.
Yet just 17 of the 58 counties in California have separated the two departments, according to the association.
Last year, Santa Clara County made the change, after merging the two departments in 2004.
Some of the reasons for that change echo what has happened here:
A 2006 civil grand jury report concluded that the union seemed “successful from an administrative perspective.” But a medical examiner testified at a June budget meeting that the relationship with their sheriff overseers had been rocky. And the death a year ago of a jail inmate allegedly at the hands of correctional deputies now charged with his murder has revived conflict-of-interest concerns in death investigations, according to The San Jose Mercury News
Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith said that the medical examiner merger with the sheriff had aimed “to improve management and oversight,” but “that was a different time and place.”
“We need to rethink it,” Smith said. “It’s better to have a separate, free-standing entity responsible for finding and holding evidence, in order to avoid the possibility of contamination or the impression that there’s some kind of impact being made on decision making.”
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith endorsed the move, stating while the county executive has commended the management of the medical examiner-coroner’s office, “the philosophy of the county has changed to have an independent coroner’s office,” the Mercury News reported.
The impediment in San Joaquin County would be the will of the supervisors to make such a change and also the cost.
In Santa Clara County, which has a population of about 1.8 million, the cost was more than $800,000 to establish and staff a separate medical examiner’s office. That’s about 0.013 percent of its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year
It’s about 0.05 percent of San Joaquin County’s $1.6 billion budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Without an in-depth assessment, it is unclear what the cost would be to establish a separate medical examiner’s office.
However, the question becomes, can San Joaquin County afford not to fund such an arrangement?
December 9, 2017
Stockton Record
Opinion


[Santa Barbara County] Supervisors to appoint two members of Employees Retirement System board

Blog note: one of the appointees was foreperson of the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury for five terms. There is public life after grand jury service.
An ad hoc subcommittee will review the applicants — including one from Santa Maria and one from Solvang — for appointed positions on the Santa Barbara County Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees and recommend two for the Board of Supervisors to appoint in January.
Supervisors had the option of selecting a two-member ad hoc subcommittee to review applications and make recommendations or to have the entire five-member board interview the applicants in a regular open-session meeting to make a decision.
Board Chairwoman and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino volunteered to review the applications for the two board-appointed seats expiring in December, and other members of the board accepted the offer with appreciation.
“I’m glad you’re taking this on,” 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf told them.
The Employees Retirement System board consists of nine members, four of which are appointed by the supervisors, and two alternates who oversee the investment of assets in the retirement fund and the distribution of benefits to retired county employees who are members of the system.
A total of eight people have applied for the two vacancies that will result from the expiration of Suzi Schomer’s and Al Rotella’s three-year terms, although additional applications could be submitted, according to county staff.
Rotella has indicated he will not seek reappointment to another term; however, Schomer has submitted an application for reappointment.
Of the eight applicants, one is from Santa Maria, one is from Solvang, one is from Goleta and one is from Summerland. The rest, including Schomer, are from Santa Barbara.
The Santa Maria applicant is Trent Benedetti, a certified public accountant, certified financial planner and registered investment adviser.
The Solvang applicant is Charles Stauffer, a small-business manager, nonprofit hospital trustee and commercial real estate broker.
Other applicants include:
Goleta resident Craig Geyer has served as a director at Goleta West Sanitary District, a commissioner for Santa Barbara Local Agency Formation Commission, a trustee for the county’s Mosquito Vector Management District and a member of the county’s Treasury Oversight Committee.
Summerland resident Ted Sten, a career manager for AT&T, has served as a budget analyst for the Los Angeles County Chief Administrative Office, administrative assistant to the Los Angeles County district attorney, chairman of the Arcadia Civil Service Commission and foreman of the Santa Barbara County grand jury for five terms.
Don Benninghoven, of Santa Barbara, worked for the League of California Cities as a field representative, lobbyist, assistant director and executive director, provided legislative advice to governors Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown and served on various commissions under governors Gray Davis, Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian.
Santa Barbara resident Scott Estby, a certified financial analyst and vice president and senior portfolio manager for Montecito Bank & Trust, has also served as an investment analyst for Plan Member Services in Carpinteria and a cash management analyst for Ocwen Financial in Palm Beach, Florida.
Michael Thompson, of Santa Barbara, has been the director of partnership development for AMTEC, sales and marketing manager for Electro-Optical Industries, vice president of business development for Friedman Research Corp., director of business development for Origin Data and vice president of sales for Magnetic Data Technologies.
December 8, 2017
Lompoc Record
By Mike Hodgson


[Riverside County] No grand jury report is good news, La Quinta attorney tells council

A grand jury complaint filed last year against La Quinta’s city manager and council is past due for a report, leading city attorney Bill Ihrke to conclude that the allegations could not be substantiated – or may not have been deemed worth investigating at all.
Grand jury proceedings are confidential, so unless a report is issued, it is not known what attention – if any – a complaint may have been given. 
In California, grand juries serve one year, from July 1 through June 30, and reports must be filed by the end of that year. There is no grace period, according to the California Grand Jury Association’s website.
“If a report is to be issued, a city must be allowed to respond to findings and recommendations before a report is final,” Ihrke said.
“Based on our research of when these reports would be issued (before July 1) … we do think it’s more likely than not that no report will come from that complaint,” he told the council Tuesday.
“So, in this case, no news is good news?” Mayor Linda Evans asked.
“That is correct,” Ihrke said.
December 6, 2017
The Desert Sun
By Sherry Barkas


[Shasta County] Got a complaint? This group wants to know about it

In January, the Shasta County Superior Court, assisted by the Shasta County Grand Jurors’ Association, will begin recruiting citizens of Shasta County to serve on the Shasta County Grand Jury for 2018-19.  
The grand jury is tasked with investigating the activities of local government agencies in Shasta County, including the county, the three cities, school districts and special districts. The grand jury is the only entity in the county empowered by state law to investigate and issue findings and recommendations about the operations of local government.
A couple of trends are showing up related to the Shasta County Grand Jury.  The first trend is the slump in the number of complaints the jury receives each year.  Some of the grand jury’s investigations are initiated by residents’ complaints. But out of nearly 180,000 Shasta County residents, only 21 submitted complaints during the last fiscal year. Of those 21 complaints, three resulted in grand jury reports.
Overall, the number of complaints being received is trending downward — from 63 in 2008-09 to just one-third that number in 2016-17.  To address the trend of declining complaints, the grand jury will be updating its website (shastacountygrandjury.org) to include more information on the complaint process.
Complaints can provide information that would otherwise be unknown to the grand jury. While the grand jury is not required to act on information from residents, each complaint is acknowledged and seriously considered. Specific allegations about a public agency, program or official, especially if accompanied by supporting documentation, are most likely to yield results.
The second trend has been the decline in the number of people who apply to serve as grand jurors. Each year, the Superior Court is required to name a pool of 25 to 30 prospective grand jurors. From that pool, 19 names are randomly drawn and seated as grand jurors; the remaining applicants are named as alternates.
Over the past several years, fewer people have applied for grand jury service, so both the jury pool and the number of alternates available have been smaller. In recent years, just about all of the alternates have been asked to fill a vacancy on the jury. Most vacancies occur when a juror resigns due to a personal or family illness, work commitments or the juror’s inability to keep up.
Being on the grand jury requires a commitment to serve for a year for about 20 hours a week. Work includes meetings, training, interviews, research and writing reports.
Jurors best able to participate for the full year are those who can devote the necessary time, have a strong commitment to our community, are interested in learning new things, and are able to work productively with 18 other people.
It will soon be time to recruit a new grand jury and the Superior Court is looking for good men and women in Shasta County to apply. The 2017-18 application will be posted on the grand jury’s website in January and the new grand jury will be selected in late June or early July. Please apply.
December 6, 2017
Redding Record Searchlight
By Phillip Perry


[San Luis Obispo County] Community urges action on SLO County Jail, mental health improvements

Blog note: this article mentions that members of the county grant jury attended the Board of Supervisors hearing on the subject.
A mental health treatment wing in the San Luis Obispo County Jail and an emergency detoxification center are two projects that grabbed the attention of the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday among a list of recommendations for improving local mental health treatment.
Supervisors received recommendations from two ad hoc committees tasked with identifying problems at the jail and County Health Agency and suggesting solutions for preventing people from cycling through the criminal justice system.
“These are things that are urgent — they’re needed right now,” Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley told the board during public comment.
Following a $5 million settlement the county said it would pay the family of a mentally ill jail inmate who died in custody in January, the county created a Sheriff’s Task Force on Mental Health to bring together stakeholders to prevent similar deaths. Officials have said that the jail is overburdened with inmates with serious chronic medical and mental health problems.
In October, the supervisors voted to enroll the county in the Stepping Up Initiative, a national campaign in which local governments pledge to keep people with serious mental health needs out of the criminal justice system. Since then, the Mental Health Task Force was renamed the Stepping Up planning committee, which finalized a three-page list of recommendations to improve local treatment that included options for increasing mental health treatment at the jail, improving training for law enforcement and building detox and urgent care walk-in clinics.
A second executive committee made up of county officials prioritized those recommendations before the list went before the board Tuesday.
These are things that are urgent — they’re needed right now.
Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley
Separately, the county is also awaiting results of a review by a third-party consultant also tasked with providing recommended changes. Results of that review, requested by county administration, are expected within the first two months of 2018, County Counsel Rita Neal told the board.
A request for proposals to contract outside medical and mental health services at the jail is also expected to be released early next year.
Of the possible improvements already in motion, the Sheriff’s Office is expecting to open its newly constructed medical facility building at the jail in May 2018, Sheriff Ian Parkinson told the board Tuesday. The facility’s former building can be repurposed to provide an on-site mental health treatment and housing area.
“That process is moving forward in every which way we can,” Parkinson said.
Tuesday’s hearing was attended by the county’s seven police chiefs, officials from the jail and County Health, members of the county Grand Jury and several residents who say their families have been affected by a local lack of services.
Los Osos resident Linda Martin, who said her daughter injured herself after being denied medication and placed in a County Jail safety cell in 2016, said treatment of inmates at the jail now is a “crisis.”
December 5, 2017
The Tribune
By Matt Fountain


[Orange County] Tingle (opinion): Animals Also Need a Voice

Blog note: this opinion piece mentions five grand jury reports on the subject.
I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity be a voice for our precious animals, God’s Creation, and for those many people who care about their welfare. Animals can teach us human beings a lot……..if we are open to it. The belief that dogs and cats are not compatible is a fallacy, as you can see in the photo. As it is with human beings, it depends on the individuals.
My first introduction to politics and how it can affect the animals in Orange County began in the 90s. Volunteering for the nonprofit, IDA or In Defense of Animals, I attempted to change verbiage in the ordnances in my home city of Rancho Santa Margarita from pet “owners” to pet “guardians.”  Words and labels are powerful and this change would help increase respect and compassion for animals. As a newbie to the political realm at that time, I did not get very far in my quest, but I still refer personally to these people as pet guardians. Since then, I have learned the importance of paying attention to city council meetings, for their actions, or inactions affect our everyday life more than the national elections.  Case in point, I woke up one morning only to find a sign that a car dealership would be built practically in my back yard, a decision made by the city council!
I volunteered at the Mission Viejo Animal Shelter and was “mentored” by Sharon Cody, former mayor of the city and primarily responsible for planting seed which led to the now model and well respected city shelter. (Cody was recently recognized by the city council for her many contributions to the city.) Since I wanted the same humane treatment for the animals in my home city, I began working with Laguna Hills resident Jean Bland, founder of the South County Animal Shelter Coalition – a 5,000 member group of activists focused on creating a new shelter in South County. We didn’t get a new South County animal shelter, but Laguna Hills and Rancho Santa Margarita fortunately now contract with the Mission Viejo animal shelter.
One of the most blatant examples of what I feel is ignorance, and quite frankly cruel, is Orange County Board of Supervisors allowing the single county animal shelter, which is 76 years old, to fall to such a dilapidated condition while earning no less than five OC Grand Jury Reports and several lawsuits. To this the OC Board of Supervisors basically reacted for many years with a “ho hum” and continued to claim they were working on it. Public records revealed otherwise. Meanwhile, the public, shelter staff and volunteers and the animals were exposed to unhealthy and unsafe conditions and animals killed for ridiculous reasons and in violation of the law. Consequently, I felt all the animals in Orange County deserved humane treatment which led me to becoming an activists for them also. But before you can help solve a problem, people must be made aware. …..and this is what I am able to do, thanks to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Voice of OC.
The OC Board of Supervisors have finally decided to move forward and at last a new county animal shelter is finally under construction, however as I reported,  independent oversight and transparency has continued to be a “challenge.”  So much so, they are willing to “stretch the rules” of the Brown Act and the California Public Records law in order to avoid it………… and the mindset has been followed by their “colleagues” in the contract cities. What are they trying to conceal?
We are “called” to be the stewards of God’s Creation and animal cruelty is considered so serious it is now tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There is a cultural shift about the way we think about animals, will Orange county get onboard?
California took a big step forward this year with the passing of the consumer and animal protection bill, AB485. California is officially the first state to ban puppy mills. But then came the recent egregious decision by Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, to lift the ban on importing trophy hunted elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Let’s keep the momentum going forward, and not go backward, in this coming year.
November 29, 2017
Voice of OC
By Rose Tingle


Thursday, December 14, 2017

[Monterey County] County historian position headed for dustbin of history

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
Salinas >> Perhaps Meg Clovis really was irreplaceable after all.
Six months after longtime Monterey County’s de facto historian retired following a distinguished 36-year career with the former county parks department, her position is officially on the chopping block.
On Monday, the Board of Supervisors’ budget committee agreed to replace the existing Historical and Cultural Affairs Manager position with a Management Analyst II position, which would be responsible for overseeing a more formally regulated county parks volunteer program, as well as special events and community partnerships.
County Resource Management Agency Deputy Director Shawne Ellerbee told the committee on Monday the agency could simply contract with outside firms for historical review associated with specific development projects, one of the position’s key duties, and applicants would be charged for the cost.
According to a staff report, the Resource Management Agency is already coordinating with the County Librarian to address preservation of historical documents currently overseen through county parks and its museum exhibits, which was the subject of a previous county civil grand jury report.
Left unaddressed was the remainder of the position’s duties, including oversight of the acclaimed Agricultural Rural Life Museum in King City, and a number of other historical initiatives completed by Clovis over the past few decades.
The report suggested the management analyst position would “best serve the range of needs” in the Agency, which took over the county parks department last year and has been re-organizing it ever since. The report indicated Agency staff has struggled to absorb additional duties, some of them neglected for years, as a result of the elimination of three management-level county parks positions, including a parks director, management analyst and special events manager.
In the past couple of years, former parks director Mark Mariscal retired after just a few years on the job and his position was not filled as the Agency absorbed the parks department and then eliminated the position entirely, and special events manager Lavonne Chin was shifted to the County Administrative Office where she now focuses on the Laguna Seca Recreational Area.
The proposed re-allocation, which still needs to be approved by the full board, is part of a series of position shifts backed by the budget committee.
November 27, 2017
Monterey Herlad
By Jim Johnson


[Kern County] Kern County Grand Jury wants improvements for rural Kern County airfields, in addition to Meadows Field

The Kern County Grand Jury issued a report Monday urging the Kern County Airports Department to improve some of the smaller county-owned airfields and to push for development of Meadows Field, Bakersfield’s commercial airport.
Kern County operates seven airports across Kern County including Meadows Field, Taft, Wasco, Lost Hills, Buttonwillow, Kern Valley Airport and Poso/Famoso Airport.
Meadows Field is the only commercial airport in the Kern County stable, with flights to San Francisco, Denver and Phoenix.
The runway, lighting systems and taxiways at the airport are being renovated or rebuilt using a $49.6 million Federal Aviation Administration grant and $4.9 million in matching county money.
The Grand Jury lauded the Kern County Airports Department for working to improve the airport and better the surrounding community by bringing in more users.
But they urged Airports Director Richard Strickland not to forget the other smaller airports, which are used by variety of private flyers and commercial skydiving and agriculture operations.
Strickland said all seven airports have development plans but implementing them has to be coordinated with limited financial resources.
“Revenues depend on use,” he said.
He pointed to Kern Valley Airport which is in the midst of a major renovation project.
“We’re going to be putting in a brand-new full-length taxiway,” he said. “The Kern Valley Airport is an absolute gem.”
Meadows Field and Kern Valley are tops on the county’s list.
“They’re the two most beneficial airports to Kern County,” Strickland said.
Kern Valley is heavily used by recreational visitors. And, when a large fire or disaster hits, the airport becomes critical to emergency operations.
November 27, 2017
The Bakersfield Californian
By James Burger