One of the most important public services of the civil grand jury is its citizens’ view of how the public’s business is being conducted.
Often, this valuable assessment involves cutting through thick layers of bureaucracy.
That was the challenge facing the 2014-15 Marin County Civil Grand Jury, when it tried to look into the costs and benefits of Marin’s $47.1 million mental health services.
These 19 citizens who form the independent jury found their task formidable as they reported that the important county program’s budget is undecipherable.
If it’s difficult for the grand jurors, is it clear for the five county supervisors, who approve the grants applications and distributions throughout the year? Is it clear for taxpayers, whose money the programs are spending?
The grand jury determined the program’s “budget process is flawed,” not a reassuring assessment for the distribution of $47.1 million. The grand jury repeatedly asked for specific budget information and could not get information about specific expenses and benefits.
It cited a similar problem in its assessment of the budget for county homeless programs.
The grand jury added that the budget lacks any measurement of “whether the programs are effective, successful or efficient.”
“Notwithstanding the sizeable $47.1 million budget, the county must ensure that the services are being delivered efficiently, which is essential to maximize available resources,” the grand jury report stated.
Governmental budgets should not require translation for outsiders. This is not an impossible problem to solve, but it has to be, and should be, a public priority. The costs and benefits of taxpayer expenses should be crystal clear to not only bureaucrats, but to anyone who takes the time to look at those budgets.
Transparency and clarity should be important goals.
May 28, 2015
Marin Independent Journal