Friday, August 28, 2015

Former [Humboldt County] juror offers his take on grand jury

This is the third year in a row that I have written a critique of the annual grand jury report. In the past two years I have not been kind and have been critical of the grand jury members.

This will not happen this year as the problem is really with the system itself.

With the items that were addressed for the 2014-2015 year, the grand jury did a credible investigation with notably addressing the corrections to be made.

I would ask if those items they investigated were what they were supposed to be doing. Below is a description taken from the Humboldt County grand jury web site of what the grand jury is all about and the duties and responsibilities:

“The civil grand jury is an investigative body having for its objective the detection and correction of flaws in government.

“The primary function of the grand jury is to examine all aspects of county and city government (including special districts and joint powers agencies), to see that the monies are handled judiciously, and that all accounts are properly audited. In general, the grand jury seeks to assure honest, efficient government in the best interest of the people.

“The grand jury serves as an ombudsman for citizens of the county. It may receive and investigate complaints by individuals concerning the actions and performances of county or public officials.”

It is mainly about funds and numbers. In the past three years, outside of a few items, the main items were not addressed, which are, the departmental budgets, the expenditures from those budgets, the annual audit. One of the main expenditures is personnel and pensions. This is administered by the county union contract that they call the Memorandum of Understanding and is 108 pages and covers everything to do with personnel. The union contract has never been investigated by the grand jury to verify the validity and honesty of the contract. It appears to be off limits. Self-investigation has never worked to the benefit of the people. Nothing that has to do with the workings of the county should be off limits to investigate.

One of the biggest problems is the selection process of grand jury members. Names are drawn at random out of those that apply. The result is that most of the members do not have the skills to investigate what the grand jury is there for. Skills like accounting skills, budget skills, auditing skills, management skills and investigative skills. What usually happens is that they investigate what I call “feel good” items. Such as when a person is taken into custody and transported to Eureka and then released, the person is not informed of their right to claim travel expense to transport them back to were they were taken into custody. This is hardly a major expenditure item. There are other picky items that don’t amount to much.

 The one thing I object to personally is that people volunteer for this position. It is not a job. As such there should be no compensation for the time or travel to and from the position. If compensation is accepted then you become a government employee. This again is self-investigation. I have been volunteering at a thrift store for nine years and have not accepted a penny for my time or transportation. It is from the heart.

For those of you who doubt my ability to make an assessment of the grand jury report, I submit that I was a grand jury member a few years ago.

By Alfred Parodi, who resides in McKinleyville.
Published in the Eureka Times Standard

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cross [San Bernadino] Grand Jury Service Off Her Bucket List

Imagine actress Rosalind Russell, setting aside the audacious, adventurous life she portrayed in the 1958 smash hit film Auntie Mame, and serving instead on a county Grand Jury, and you’ll have the perfect picture of Jeane Hallin of Cedarpines Park.

Hallin, 71, is a free spirit. She’s also one of 19 San Bernardino County residents chosen to serve on the 2015-16 civil Grand Jury, and she’s the only representative from the San Bernardino Mountains.

“I thought the mountains were underrepresented,” Hallin said. “I was kind of concerned. I was curious about the Grand Jury.”

But her desire to serve, and to learn, could easily have fallen on deaf ears, because Hallin missed the deadline for submitting applications for appointment to the panel, whose main duties include studying the operations of various county departments, making recommendations to improve them, and investigating complaints against county personnel and programs.

“I was a month late in applying but they put it through anyway,” she said. She missed the cutoff, she added, because she was in Ethiopia at the time, visiting one of the countries on her bucket list, a ledger that has shortened considerably as the roster of nations she has toured, on every continent on planet Earth, has lengthened.

The Grand Jury selection process involves being interviewed by a panel of judges, Hallin said. “They were cute, young and sweet, and interested in my travels. They ask you a lot of questions about your life experiences and what you did for a living.”

Like Russell’s film character Mame Dennis, who flits from one pastime to another with seeming abandon, Hallin’s career has headed in many directions. Early on she taught school, including instructing in English, science , mathematics and tennis in Israel, from 1970 to 1973.
“I left when the war started,” she recalled.

Tennis held center stage in Hallin’s life for a time, and she taught it at kibbutzim in Israel and at Stevens College, a liberal arts institution for women in Columbia, Missouri.
At another point it was off to study law at Loma Linda University. “I passed the bar exam on my first try,” she said. “It’s not that difficult, just a bunch of stories from English law you have to remember.”

Hallin said she set up practice in San Bernardino, fresh out of law school. “I practiced just about everything,” she said, but mainly criminal defense, including representing police officers charged with a third drunk-driving offense.

Often she’d approach judges and tell them she was new and unfamiliar with handling herself in court. “They were very nice,” she said. “They’d object for me when I should have objected.”

Retired now, Hallin has become a world traveler. “I have this travel bug,” she said. “I think I was born with it,” and it keeps motivating her to scratch countries off her bucket list. So far she’s visited Israel, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and its nearby islands, Peru, China, Ireland, Australia, Portugal, Spain, France and Sweden, the land of her ancestors—and those are just the ones she recalls.

In Papua New Guinea, she said, “they just walk around completely naked all the time,” while in Ethiopia, “they sleep on animal skins and keep cows in their houses. They make their own alcohol in front of you and offer you some.”

Hallin visited China in 2008 to take in the Summer Olympic Games, she said, and managed to wrangle tickets to watch basketball competition, though at first she was told no tickets were available.

Her interest in athletic competition comes naturally; her father, she said, was a track star in high school in Michigan. In addition to the China games, Hallin said she’s watched Olympic athletes perform at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games and in Atlanta in 1996.

Her fascination with track and field has carried over into her own life as well. Hallin said she has competed extensively in Senior Olympics, participating in the pole vault, shot put, discus, triple jump and marathon, and has garnered “about 100 medals. I’ve medaled in everything I attempted, though not all of them are gold,” she said.

But time does take its toll. “I’m 71. I’ve slowed down some, I don’t pole vault quite as much” these days, she said.

One outdoor adventure she also tried was ziplining. About two years ago, she said, she built her own zipline on her property, to help her carry food to her llamas.

“We had a zipline when I taught special education to kids in Ohio,” she said. I thought I knew everything (about them).” But apparently there was a blank spot in her knowledge, because Hallin had a zipline mishap in which she suffered a broken neck and had to be airlifted for medical care.

Grand Jury service seems just the thing for Hallin at this stage of her life. “It’s a great group of people we work with, and we have a wonderful lawyer to give us advice,” she said of the county attorney who staffs the Grand Jury.

As for how her service will unfold, Hallin is waiting for developments. “I’m not sure what to expect. So far we’re looking at a lot of things. We had a complaint that just came in,” she said, but, given the confidential nature of Grand Jury service, she couldn’t talk about it, other than to say that “a lot of complaints are a little bit self-serving.”

Grand Jurors are prohibited from serving on consecutive one-year panels, but may reapply after a year off, and Hallin said she’s interested in reapplying. “We have some people who’ve been on the Grand Jury 10 or 15 times.” Her current colleagues “are the most intelligent people, from all types of experiences,” including airplane pilots, entrepreneurs and even a former air-traffic controller.

“Everybody should apply,” she said. “It’s a great thing.”

By Glenn Barr, Reporter |
The Mountain News
Lake Arrowhead, CA

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Response to [Monterey County] civil grand jury report on jail reviewed

Agreeing with a little less than half of the findings of a scathing 40-page civil grand jury report on the Monterey County Jail, the Monterey County Board of Supervisor’s formal response to the report as well as recommendations on how issues have been addressed or will be addressed will come back to the board Sept. 1 for final approval.

The Board of Supervisors responded to 24 findings regarding the jail as well as addressed 20 recommendations in the response document.

Findings that the board agreed on included problematic jail staff overtime, but they noted that recruitment and reorganization is addressing it, albeit in a short-term fashion.

The board also agrees that there is inadequate inmate programming space at the jail as well as that contraband drugs are a serious problem at all correctional facilities, not just Monterey County Jail.

Nearly half of the money from the Inmate Welfare Fund, totaling about $500,000 and intended to pay for providing things like inmate training and programs, was instead being used to pay staff for jail cleaning and maintenance, according to the findings.

The board agreed that those staff positions had devolved from their intended purpose in recent years, and the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office is recruiting more staff and reorganizing the inmate training programs in response.

The board also wholly disagrees with several findings, such as that jail cleanliness and conditions are substandard and staffing levels are inadequate, noting that staffing with overtime has been adequate to fulfill state and federal mandates.

The board also disagrees that a planned jail addition may not include adequate space for inmate programs.

One finding in the draft response report has since been amended after supervisors were provided with more information, said Manuel T. Gonzalez, assistant county administrative officer.

While the board originally disagreed that it was inadequate that only one officer at a time keeps an eye on jail cameras, it changed its response to agree with the finding. It also agreed on a separate finding that there are too few cameras at the jail in general, and a request has been submitted to upgrade the jail’s camera system.

The report also made allegations that there is minimal use of a formal disciplinary system for staff infractions, a finding that the board wholly disagrees with, stating that formal and informal discipline is used whenever employee misconduct is found.

Partial disagreements with findings included issues of insufficient mailroom staffing, inmate-to-inmate mail posing a safety risk, and allegations that inmate health and welfare checks and logs aren’t being consistently completed.

The board said county officials routinely audit health and welfare check logs completed by correctional staff, and while some aren’t completed correctly, routine checks are conducted and action is taken when policy violations are found.

Some of the board recommendations on these issues, such as approving adequate funding for staff and inmate programs, has already been implemented.

Others, such as installing prison-view windows or prohibiting inmate-to-inmate mail, were deemed unnecessary by the board and will not be implemented.

Planning for fulfilling other recommendations is in the works. Examples include the need to appoint at least four civilians to the Inmate Welfare Advisory Committee, which will be re-established by September, and to widely advertise the bid for jail medical services next time it comes up. The contract has been held by California Forensics Medical Group for 26 years. The current contract expires in June.

Lastly, the board said some recommendations, like seeking funds for an additional full-time mailroom clerk and to buy electronic mail scanning equipment, will require further analysis.

The Californian
Chelcey Adami, Salinas5:46 p.m. PDT August 25, 2015

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

[Sonoma County] Fountaingrove fire station delayed by disability-access issues to open

Blog Note: This article references a 2004 grand jury report finding the need for a new fire station. Grand jury reports can have influence long into the future.
Firefighters are moving in to the new Fountaingrove fire station Tuesday, nearly four months after the $4 million building was found not to comply with state and federal laws meant to ensure access for people with disabilities.
The new Station 5 at the intersection of Fountain Grove Parkway and Newgate Court has been staffed during the daytime since last Friday, when the building received a temporary occupancy permit from the city’s chief building official.
Firefighters have been making the transition to working out of the new station ever since, and after furniture, appliances and other gear is moved in Tuesday, they will spend their first night there tonight.
“It’s very, very exciting to get into the building and start responding to calls,” Fire Chief Tony Gossner said.
The station’s new location atop Fountaingrove is about a mile north of the existing Station 5 on Parker Hill Road. The new spot will significantly improve the ability of water-laden fire engines to respond quickly to emergencies in the area, Gossner said.
The affluent hillside neighborhood is located in a high fire danger area known as a wildland-urban interface, yet the response times to emergencies there have long been the slowest in the city. A department study in 2002 confirmed as much and a 2004 Sonoma County grand jury report concluded the city badly needed to build the new station.
More than a decade later, after the station was finally constructed, city officials in April realized numerous features failed to provide required access for the disabled, even though able-bodied firefighters are the only ones expected to regularly use the building.
The height of kitchen counters, the width of doors, the location of bathroom grab handles and even the volume control knobs on the station’s radio system were all found to not comply with the latest state building codes.
The changes are expected to take about three months to complete. The cost of the work has yet to be identified. City officials last week expressed hope it would be less than the $60,000 remaining in the contingency fund for the project. This week, however, Jason Nutt, director of transportation and public works, said conversations with the contractor, GCCI, Inc., made that seem less likely.
“It’s looking like the cost is going to be pushing our limit,” Nutt said.
August 24, 2015
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
By Kevin McCallum

Marin County administration cool to [grand jury] report calling for more openness in labor talks

The public isn’t going to know much more than it already does about labor negotiations at the Civic Center under a plan pitched by administrators on behalf of county supervisors.
In an analysis that takes issue with key grand jury assertions while deferring decisions on key recommendations until “further analysis,” the county administration argues that pulling the covers off employee pay talks may not result in the best deal for taxpayers.
At issue is a transparent labor negotiation process used in Southern California called Civic Openness In Negotiations, or COIN. The open government program requires public agencies to hire professional negotiators and an outside auditor, issue an independent fiscal analysis of all pay and benefit proposals, and post details of tentative labor pacts at least two board meetings before they are adopted.
After each proposal is accepted or rejected during closed-door negotiations, it must be publicly disclosed, along with costs. In addition, tentative agreements are made public a week before their consideration, and a final agreement placed on the agenda for discussion for two consecutive meetings of the agency board, giving time for taxpayers to weigh in.
The Marin Civil Grand Jury liked the open government program so much it issued two reports calling for its adoption, asking key Marin public agencies to provide timely, independent analyses of the costs of pay and benefit proposals.
The COIN process, the jury concluded, illuminates “decisions made during negotiations that lead to a tentative agreement.” It does not allow the public to negotiate, and negotiations are not held in public, but requires periodic reports about proposals and their costs — and time for the public to react to a final package before it is adopted. Elected officials are thus more accountable for results.
But County Administrator Matthew Hymel, in a response to the jury up for review by the county board Tuesday morning, said that while the county “sees value in implementing some of the COIN provisions ... other provisions may work against our ultimate goal to negotiate the best deal for taxpayers.”
The proposal Hymel identifies as helpful — and recommended for adoption “after good faith bargaining” with labor unions — is more timely publication of tentative labor pacts. He said the county will announce tentative pacts on the county board “consent calendar” seven days before the county board meeting at which they will be reviewed. The pacts then would be set for adoption at a subsequent board meeting.
In any event, by the time they are forwarded to top officials for adoption, labor pacts the same officials helped direct behind closed doors are regarded as done deals. As it stands at the Civic Center, labor pacts are noted on agendas issued Thursday and routinely adopted without change by county supervisors the following Tuesday — most often in the absence of public commentary.
The jury urged county supervisors and others to follow COIN’s more exhaustive open government process, giving taxpayers independent, interim reports on how pay and benefit pacts are progressing, letting the public chime in long before decisions are final — and making public officials more accountable for the result of benefits that consume agency budgets.
The jury noted that the negotiation process itself would not be public, but more information about it would be disclosed. In Marin, public officials exclude local residents “from input until it is too late for a reasoned public dialogue,” jurors noted. Hymel response “partially disagreed,” saying all labor pacts are approved following public notice.
Hymel’s response indicated that while the county already uses an outside negotiator for talks with many of its 12 unions, it “isn’t necessary or efficient to use an outside negotiator in every contract negotiation.” The county provided more detailed cost information on recent labor deals, but providing costs of “every single proposal” floated during negotiations “is not fiscally prudent,” especially since many are dropped, he added.
Jury recommendations to adopt the COIN program and its specific procedures before next June require “further analysis,” he added. When the analysis will be completed was left up in the air.
“We agree that the intent of COIN is to mandate transparency in government decision-making, allowing residents to be informed and to participate in public discussions of how their tax dollars are spent,” the administration said.
Marin’s Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans urged county supervisors to adopt the COIN plan in April, but the program drew heated protests from union representatives. Union negotiators have fared well in closed-door sessions with the county over the years, and some fear more public scrutiny would stir political pressure forcing elected officials to hold the line. County supervisors, most of whom receive hefty campaign contributions from employee unions, expressed lukewarm interest in COIN at the time, calling aspects of the plan challenging but worth exploring.
The county board, local city councils and five special district boards are compelled to make formal statements on COIN because they must respond to jury reports that address them.
“Although Marin County residents pay taxes to support decision by the Marin County Board of Supervisors and the city and town councils, there are numerous times when no transparency into the background of those decisions is made to the public,” the jury said.
The issue, as the jury framed it, is “What should be disclosed to the residents of Marin, and when?”
August 24, 2015
Marin Independent Journal
By Nels Johnson

[San Diego County] It’s Strike Three for San Diego Unified’s School Board President, But She’s Not Out

San Diego Unified President Marne Foster was in the news over the past few days, and not in a positive light.
The State Attorney General’s office, according to a story in the Union-Tribune, is asking pointed questions about a fundraiser held last month to help pay off debt and college costs for her sons.
On August 19th, the San Diego Unified School District issued a response to a grand jury report on ethics questions concerning Foster, essentially telling the panel to “shove it.”
Mario Koran at Voice of San Diego posted a piece today on Foster, filling in the blanks on long standing allegations about her role in the firing of a highly ranked school principal who refused to go along with special privileges for the School Board Trustee’s son.
An Opportunity Drawing
This weekend’s UT story concerns a letter sent by Kamala Harris’ office concerning a benefit held on July 25th by the C. Anthony Cole Repertory Dance Theatre. Approximately $4000 was raised at the event, which attendees paid $25 at the door or $20 in advance to attend.
Tickets were sold at the event for a “opportunity drawing” featuring framed art and other prizes.  
The letter includes a summary of state legal requirements for holding raffles, including the code provision that authorizes eligible organizations to conduct raffles provided they are registered with the California Attorney General Registry of Trusts.
“Prior to conducting a raffle, an eligible organization must be registered with, and receive confirmation of registration, from the Registry,” the letter states.
Registration requires the filing of an application form, a copy of the organization’s Franchise Tax Board exemption letter and a check for $20 to be submitted no later than Sept. 1 for any raffles to be held in the coming year.
An earlier Union-Tribune story brought to light questions about whether Foster was using her position on the school board for personal gain.
A brochure promoting the “Brothers 2 College” event included a logo for the San Diego Unified School District. The event was also featured on a Facebook page for Foster’s school board district.
A link promoting the event was embedded in Foster’s board member page on the San Diego Unified website until it was noticed by staff and removed following the July 25 event, district spokeswoman Ursula Kroemer said.
Organizers of a the fundraiser for Foster’s have been given until Sept. 9 to show that a raffle-like drawing held at the event was conducted legally.
Was SDUSD Saying “We’re Number One?”
There was some kind of finger waved in the district’s response to the recent report of the San Diego County Grand Jury concerning the ethics of an unnamed board trustee who’s actions replicate those reported about Foster.
Knowing that the charges leveled against Foster involved her son, who was a minor during some of the reported incidents, the grand jury went out of their way to respect his privacy.
Names weren’t used in the report and neither was much in the way of identifying information about locations and titles.
The SDUSD board’s response to the report took advantage of the Grand Jury’s privacy concerns, by essentially stating “since you didn’t get specific, we have no idea what you were talking about.”
Recommendations about steps the school board could take to prevent future ethical conflicts were flat-out rejected, “because it is neither reasonable nor warranted.”
It was a shameful response, signed off on by Superintendent Cindy Marten, who’s claims about putting children first certainly look hollow in the wake of these incidents.
The Icing on the Cake
The story at Voice of San Diego provides details on Foster’s (and the district’s) actions concerning the School for the Creative Performing Arts. This is the story the grand jury was trying to be so polite about.
Here’s the lede from the story I wrote about Foster’s intervention in July, 2014:
Mitzi Lizarraga ran San Diego Unified’s School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA)  for seven years. Test scores improved, the school was named one of the best in the country repeatedly over the past 4 years and students were sought after by prestigious colleges and universities.
On Tuesday, June 10th, two days before graduation this year, she was gone. Students and staff were told Ms. Lizarraga was attending to an urgent and personal matter. “Interim” Principal Dr. Jenna Pesavento would be tasked with handing out diplomas to departing seniors.
I had some skin in this game. My daughter attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts. My family was shocked when we didn’t see the school principal at the graduation ceremonies.
Numerous parents appealed to the Board of Trustees and the Superintendent as it became clear Lizarraga was gone for good. I was told off-the-record that justice would be served in the long run.
VOSD reporter Mario Koran interviewed Lizarraga for his profile on Marne Foster. She told the reporter “I’m 100 percent sure Marne Foster is the reason I’m not at SCPA.”
Lizarraga said as the 2013-2014 school year drew to a close, Foster’s son had unresolved behavioral issues. Students have to meet with a school committee to review the issues before they’re allowed to participate in end-of-the-year activities. Foster’s son did not appear for the review, Lizarraga said. For that, he couldn’t go to prom – the same consequences students in similar situations face.
Not long after, Lamont Jackson, the area superintendent responsible for the school, requested a meeting with Lizarraga. He was there to tell her Foster’s son would be attending the dance, she said.
“At that point, I just threw my hands up and said, ‘Fine. I’m so sick of Marne Foster. I’m tired of her throwing her weight around and her thinking the rules don’t apply to her,’” Lizarraga said.
She said she was shocked by what came next.
“He said, ‘Good. Now that that’s resolved, let’s talk about where you’re going to be next year. We have some questions about your leadership at this school,’ ” Lizarraga said.
Students at SCPA told me last year that Foster’s son bragged about his mother getting the principal fired during an senior trip to Disneyland. During a subsequent meeting with Superintendent Martin, they refused to identify those who actually heard this statement, fearing retribution in light of the decision to to yank Lizarraga on the eve on graduation.
What is infuriating to those students is that they saw firsthand the “behavioral issues.” Foster and her defenders repeatedly dropped not-so-subtle hints in the VOSD story that various charges arising are somehow connected to the fact she’s African-American.
It’s just shameful. Marne Foster has no opposition for reelection next year.
August 24, 2015
San Diego Free Press
By Doug Porter