Tuesday, July 28, 2015

County’s buying habits slammed: San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury finds Procurement Division lacks leadership, does not follow best practices

A simple question to county officials about how much taxpayer money goes toward buying goods resulted in several answers and a scathing rebuke by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury.

The question was: “How much was spent on goods for FY 2013-14?”

Answer A: $56 million.

Answer B: $87 million to $100 million.

Answer C: $45.9 million.

The answer is $45.9 million, a figure that stunned the civil grand jury since it was $10 million less than was reported by the county Controller’s Office in 2009.

The report, “Review of the County of San Mateo’s Procurement of Goods,” finds that the county’s Procurement Division lacks experienced leadership and does not follow best practices.

“While the grand jury was unable to quantify the impact of the county’s failure to develop and adhere to best practices, such impact is likely in the millions of dollars,” according to the report.

Released Monday, the report questions whether a new effort to improve how the county buys its goods will be meaningful since most of the recommendations made by the civil grand jury in 2004 and county Controller’s Office in 2009 were never implemented despite the Procurement Division agreeing to do so.

The county’s expenditures for goods and services was $299.8 million for fiscal year 2013-14, according to the report.

Exactly how much was spent on goods, however, came into question because the county lacks an accounting system to clearly segregate amounts paid for services from amounts paid for goods, according to the report.

The Procurement Division buys goods such as furniture, paper clips, computers and other office equipment for all county departments.

The civil grand jury investigation also found that the Procurement Division has lost key personnel in recent years and that there is no training for new buyers.

In January 2015, the County Manager’s Office formed a “Purchasing Compliance Committee” to begin to address the issues related to the procurement of goods. This effort coincides with a new review of the Procurement Division’s purchases by the Controller’s Office that has yet to be completed, according to the report.

“Whether either of these efforts will result in substantive changes is questionable,” according to the report.

After investigating the county’s procurement practices in 2003 and 2004, the civil grand jury made nine recommendations. The current report notes that only two of the recommendations were implemented, four partially implemented and three not implemented at all.

“No matter how good the Controller’s Office’s recommendations ... are, there must be a process in place to ensure that they will actually be implemented. Such a process should include an implementation schedule and close monitoring by the County Manager,” according to the report.

County officials were not ready to respond to the report Tuesday.

“The county appreciates the grand jury’s detailed evaluation of its Procurement Division. As we’ve only just received the report, we are still reviewing its findings and feel it would be premature to comment at this time. However, we will submit a complete written response as required,” according to a written statement from the county.

The report including the prior recommendations from the civil grand jury can be found at www.sanmateocourt.org/documents/grand_jury/2014/procurement.pdf.

bill@smdailyjournal.com
The Daily Journal

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Online learning for jailed youth to expand: County Office of Education responds to [San Mateo County] civil grand jury report

The San Mateo Office of Education is working to expand online learning for incarcerated youth in court schools, according to a response letter to the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury.

The grand jury investigated services for jailed youth and concluded the Office of Education should ensure that credits obtained by juveniles in the program should be counted toward graduation and that online education should be a greater priority.

The report, “Is the San Mateo County Office of Education adequately educating its incarcerated youth?” was released Wednesday and recommends that more collaboration is needed between the Office of Education, the Probation Department and Behavioral Health and Recovery Services to develop a more comprehensive transition plan to ensure contact is made with a student’s family and school before the student is released from detention.

The report also expresses concern about the process by which students transition back into the community.

The county Office of Education agrees that students should be placed in school as quickly as possible after their release and will continue to work with Probation, Behavioral Health, partner school districts and parents to ensure that this process happens in a timely and effective manner.

“All the key stakeholders are working very hard to develop a more effective system to support students as they transition back to their home schools,” Associate Superintendent of Student Services Nancy Magee wrote in a statement. “We anticipate a more comprehensive process will be in place soon.”

As far as computer learning goes, the Office of Education replied that Internet connectivity has been a challenge because of the rural settings in which youth are housed.

“There are challenges specific to educating incarcerated youth, including the length of incarceration and varying academic skills, and online programs provide a terrific way for students to be more self-directed in their learning,” Magee wrote in the response letter.

Access to these programs requires a high level of connectivity, which has historically been a challenge for more rural locations, such as Camp Glenwood. However, the Office of Education recently received a Broadband Infrastructure Improvement Grant (BIIG), which will provide more rapid and reliable connectivity for students at Camp Glenwood, where boys are housed in La Honda.

Education is provided during three year-round programs at the Youth Services Center in San Mateo, Margaret J. Kemp Girls Camp in San Mateo and Camp Glenwood Boys Ranch.

Daily Journal Staff Report

[Nevada County] Grand Jury lacking citizen oversight

The Civil Grand Jury report of June 26, concerning spending on Nevada County Office of Education-issued credit cards is another example of the Grand Jury operating out of control and lacking citizen oversight.

Witch hunts are implemented with minimal thought and due diligence. The presiding foreperson Keith Overbey, stated, “We’re only as good as the information we get” leading one to assume that minimal and possibly selective data is enough to disparage persons or organizations. Judge Anderson needs to reign in this out of control group comprised of well meaning volunteers before more innocent people are defamed.

Superintendent Holly Hermansen has made us proud of our schools and she was reelected over the petty politics of disgruntled old-guard board members who were voted off the board. Why does Anderson and Overbey drag us back into the trials and personal tribulations of Jack Meeks and Marianne Slade-Troutman, who were voted out? Why does the Grand Jury lack the wisdom to avoid personal vendettas? Lack of foresight is apparent and a pattern of sloppiness revealed when reading reports on the fire department consolidation, gold mine water toxicity and vagrants. The report on vagrants was especially hurtful to innocent people in need.

Enough is enough. Lets see an oversight report on the Grand Jury’s mission and its management.

Paul Molino

Nevada City

Published in the Western Nevada County Union

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Southern Marin fire district ‘partially disagrees’ with [Marin County] grand jury pension report

In response to a critical report by the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, the Southern Marin Fire Protection District Board of Directors acknowledged it may have erred in its public notice of past pension decisions.

But if so, it certainly wasn’t on purpose, said interim Fire Chief Chris Tubbs.

“The implication that I took from the report is that there was some maliciousness involved,” Tubbs said. “I wanted to make sure that was not at play. Maintaining public trust is paramount to us and we accomplish that in part by being completely transparent to the community.”

The grand jury report, “Pensions Enhancements: A Case of Government Code Violations and A Lack of Transparency,” asserts that the board violated public notice and disclosure rules in pension decisions in 2001, 2005 and 2006. The report also called for responses from the city of San Rafael, the Marin County Board of Supervisors and Novato Fire District, all of which participate in the Marin County Employees Retirement Association.

Of the 107 total violations cited in the report, the Southern Marin district board was responsible for four, according to the grand jury.

In its response, the board “partially disagreed” with allegations that it had broken Government Code Section 7507, which requires a two-week public notice of pension increases through actuarial reports before adoption.

“Did we do the actuary report? Yes we did,” Tubbs said. “Did we make the two-week notice? We can’t say we did. ... We don’t have the documentation that said we did, or did not.”

Tubbs said there was advance notice, though the district couldn’t confirm how much notice was given before meetings. The board and its hired consultant, Richards, Watson & Gershon of San Francisco, therefore “partially disagreed” with the grand jury.

“We are saying look, the memorandum of understanding and the resolutions were all adopted at public notice meetings as new business items,” Tubbs said. “They were not done in secret, they weren’t on the consent calendar ... they had discussion at the meeting.”

As for the recommendations, Tubbs said there have been no pension enhancements since 2006 and the board is in the process of implementing a policy and procedure to prevent future violations. The board is working to utilize social media and its website to publicize meetings, news and financial documents to communicate clearly and effectively, he said.

By Adrian Rodriguez, Marin Independent Journal

San Rafael denies wrongdoing in response to [Marin County] grand jury pension report

Though the process may not have been perfect, San Rafael city leaders say they did no wrong when they approved employee pension enhancements without proper public notice, despite allegations by the Marin Civil Grand Jury that the law was broken.

The San Rafael City Council on Monday voted 3-1, with Councilman John Gamblin dissenting and Councilwoman Kate Colin absent, to approve the city’s response to the grand jury report, “Pension Enhancements: A Case of Government Code Violations and A Lack of Transparency.”

The report asserts that the city violated public notice and disclosure rules in 2002 and 2006 and that such violations might jeopardize existing pensions. The report also called for responses from the Board of Supervisors, Novato Fire District and Southern Marin Fire Protection District.

In its response to the grand jury, the city disagreed, saying though it didn’t fully comply with a Government Code Section 7507 requirement to publicly disclose future costs of pension increases through actuarial reports within two weeks of adoption, the city substantially complied with the law. The city hired independent counsel Colantuono, Highsmith, Whatley PC, based in Penn Valley, for $375 an hour to assist with the review.

PUBLIC NOTICE

The city only gave a few days’ public notice before adoption, but that is not grounds to retract the benefits, the city’s response states. Officials believed at the time that adequate public notice was provided by making city meeting agendas available 72 hours in advance, Mayor Gary Phillips said.

“We did everything else in accordance with the requirement,” Phillips said. “We weren’t aware of 7507 or else we would’ve done that too.”

Phillips, who was on the council at the time the pension enhancements were approved, said the process was done differently in those days. It was spearheaded by a financial officer and human resources director who were not fully aware of Section 7507, he said.

Gamblin said he disagreed with the grand jury’s findings and doesn’t think pension enhancements should be tossed out. But because the city didn’t provide two weeks’ public notice as required by law, officials should be forthright and say that they didn’t comply, he said.

“I don’t believe in gray lines,” Gamblin said. “I think it’s one way or the other. If we didn’t comply, we didn’t comply. To say we substantially complied or complied within spirit, I don’t think that’s what the grand jury is looking for or what our constituents are looking for. We need to own up to the mistakes made.”

By Stephanie Weldy, Marin Independent Journal

Salinas City Council scolds Jose Castañeda, agrees to [Monterey County] Grand Jury recommendations.

Salinas City Councilman Jose Castañeda is often the lone dissenting voter, and Tuesday night was predictable: His colleagues voted to write a response to the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury agreeing with their findings in an investigation into Castañeda.
They voted 6-1 to send the letter to Presiding Monterey County Superior Court Judge Marla Anderson.

Mayor's Letter to Grand Jury

 

The letter, by Mayor Joe Gunter, agreed with the grand jury's findings that Castañeda has failed to pay a $5,000 fine. 
Monterey County Superior Court Judge Kay Kingsley, now retired, ordered the fine in 2013. It came as the culmination of a legal battle with the city; after Castañeda was elected to City Council in 2012, he refused to give up his seat on the Alisal Union School District board. The city sued, and eventually prevailed in court, on the grounds that he was holding two incompatible offices. 
Castañeda has not paid that $5,000 fine, both because he can't afford it, and because he believes it's a bogus judgement. 
Councilman Tony Barrera delivered an impassioned speech Tuesday night, criticizing Castañeda, though Barrera appears to get along better with Castañeda than anyone else on council.
"This man needs to pay," Barrera said. "He needs to get rid of his ego. None of us is above the law.
"We need to move on. You can fight everything you want, but this thing needs to stop, for the sanity of the city. 
"Sir, today, you're the guilty one."
The city has spent upwards of $26,500 working on the issue of Castañeda holding dual offices. 
The $5,000 fine, however, is payable to the state of California, not the city of Salinas. That means even if it is collected, the city won't recover associated costs thanks to the partial or full payment of that fine.
Mayor Joe Gunter's letter stops short of implementing the grand jury's most extreme recommendations: that the city pursue incarceration of Castañeda as an option to force him to pay up, and that they amend the city charter to allow for his removal from City Council. 
As to the prospect of incarceration: "The city attorney will research the viability of the potential remedy suggested by the grand jury and will resume the city’s efforts to obtain satisfaction of the $5,000 judgment on behalf of the state," according to the mayor's letter. 
And any changes to the city charter are also up in the air, and would require a vote of the people, in June 2016 at the earliest.
"The city attorney will research the potential for inclusion of such a provision in the city’s charter and will provide a recommendation to the City Council," according to the letter. 

[San Mateo County] Grand jury probes attorney program: County has private attorneys rather than public defenders

San Mateo County’s Private Defender Program lacks proper evaluation and officials cannot prove it meets with state and federal guidelines to provide competent counsel for poor defendants, according to a civil grand jury report released Monday.

The county is the only in the state with a population over 500,000 that does not work through a Public Defender’s Office to provide such counsel, according to the report.

Detractors of the program contend it leads to many black and Latino defendants taking plea deals with the District Attorney’s Office rather than finding justice with a jury.

Blacks and Latinos are already unfairly targeted by police and then don’t get the proper legal representation they are entitled to, said Marie Davis, the former president of the local chapter of the NAACP.

“It seems to be that minorities winning cases using the private defender program is rare,” Davis said Monday.

She said attorneys in the program don’t spend enough time defending their clients who routinely end up in jail.

The county instead contracts with the San Mateo County Bar Association to provide legal services for its indigent defendants. Attorneys in the program are considered independent contractors and are not county employees.

The program’s Chief Defender John Digiacinto said Monday he is open to more frequent evaluations.

“We enjoy the scrutiny,” he said.

Claims that black or minority defendants, however, cannot win a case in the county are also “simply not true,” he said.

“The decision whether to go to trial is up to the client. We encourage them to go to trial,” Digiancinto said.

According to the civil grand jury report, the agreement with the Bar allows for contract evaluations at any time but none were conducted for nearly a decade between 2003 and 2012.

It also found that the last three evaluations of the contract, in 2001, 2003 and 2012, did not address whether the county considered state and federal guidelines in its review.

In the 2012 evaluation of the program, the civil grand jury found that it was limited to public input to those specifically invited to participate and was not open to the public.

Supervisor Dave Pine was on the 2012 review panel of the program.

He agrees with the civil grand jury’s recommendations.

The Private Defender Program serves an important function, he said.

“People’s liberties are on the line,” he said.

The grand jury is calling for a “more disciplined review of the program and that makes sense,” Pine said Monday.

He wants to see more clients participate in surveys and public hearings to get a better sense of how well the program works.

“In time, we would have more precise data on the performance of the program,” he said.

The three evaluations also did not conclude whether the Private Defender Program “continues to be the best model for the county to provide indigent legal defense,” according to the civil grand jury report.

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is recommending the county Board of Supervisors to conduct evaluations of the Private Defender Program at least every five years; determine whether it meets state and federal guidelines; open up the evaluations to the general public; and to determine whether it continues to be the best model for the county for providing indigent legal defense.

The Private Defender Program was adopted in the county in 1968. It continues because “most county officials regard it as well managed, effective and economical,” according to the report.

The program’s private attorneys, about 110, handled about 20,000 cases in 2014.

bill@smdailyjournal.com
The Daily Journal

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

[Solano County] Grand jury challenges Measure Q oversight in 2nd of 2 critical reports


FAIRFIELD — The Solano County grand jury issued its second report on Solano Community College administrative practices, blasting the management and oversight of the $348 million Measure Q bond passed by voters in 2012.
The grand jury report noted the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee as it is being used by the college violates the California Constitution, state law and legislative intent.
Grand jurors concluded that the oversight committee mandated by state law is comprised of members who are largely directionless and who operate in the dark.
Zero oversight
The grand jury found that the bond oversight committee had been presented by college administrators with reports that were at least three months old, and often much older.
“Rather than receiving front-end information, they are simply informed as to what has already happened. Not only have the (trustees) reviewed and approved it, but ground may have been broken, or land purchased. This is hindsight . . . ‘review’ following completion of projects serves no purpose.”
Citizen oversight
The bond oversight committee is supposed to ensure the public that taxpayer money is being spent legally, appropriately and efficiently.
The grand jury met with all bond oversight committee members and concluded “none of them had ever participated in any form of orientation or training regarding their roles and responsibilities. The only documentation any of them could recall receiving at the onset of their term was a copy of the bylaws and a copy of Measure Q.” They did not receive a project list or other “roadmap” of Solano College’s upcoming plans “outlining how bond revenues were to be used,” according to the report
Overall familiarity with the bylaws by bond oversight committee members was poor, according to the grand jury report, “and most had never read Measure Q in its entirety,” the report noted.
It was clear the bond oversight committee members believe they were not in charge of their own meeting agendas, the grand jury reported. The oversight committee lacks independence with their oversight agenda; one board member said the agenda is created by the administrators who are spending the bond money, according to the grand jury report. Others members said they believed agenda items had to be approved by what they described as the “bond team.”
The grand jury report pointed out that some bond oversight committee members repeatedly expressed the need to change their structure to provide better oversight of bond money spending. However, oversight committee members were told the Solano College board of trustees did not want them to meet more frequently, and that the trustees created the bond oversight committee bylaws and they could not be changed by the committee members, according to the report.
Some bond oversight committee members reported a serious problem with attendance at their meetings, which results in a failure to obtain a quorum and therefore the inability to conduct a meeting, according to the grand jury report.
The bond oversight committee meeting agendas and minutes for 2015 reflect four meetings have been scheduled and three of them have been canceled.
Annual reports of the bond oversight committee are questionable, according to the grand jury, because they are almost entirely prepared by the company hired to serve as the bond program manager.
This “calls into question the independence” of the bond oversight committee, the grand jury pointed out.
Board of trustees
Although the members of the bond oversight committee believed their requests and concerns were being transmitted through bond staff to the trustees, “that was in fact not the case . . .,” the grand jury report concluded. The report added that the way the district’s board of trustees and the bond oversight committee were interacting reflected the “complete undermining” of the concept of “independence” of the oversight committee in trying to ensure that taxpayer money “is spent legally and efficiently.”
The most recent grand jury report can be viewed at www.solanocourts.com/materials/CBOC.pdf.
This is the second grand jury report about Measure Q to be released in as many weeks.
The grand jury on June 28 issued a report claiming that local voters were duped in 2012 by Solano College staff and supporters of the bond measure. That report is titled “Measure Q: We Have Your Money, Now What?” and can be viewed at www.solano.courts.ca.gov/materials/Measure%20Q.pdf.
The current Measure Q bond oversight committee members are:
    Melvin Jordan, chairman
    Robert Charboneau, second chairman
    Vacant, business organization, Vacaville
    Lyman Dennis
    Hermie Sunga
    Neil Ferguson
    Angelo Cellini
    David Fleming
    Vacant, student association member
July 8, 2015
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Jess Sullivan

[Marin County] Dick Spotswood: Grand jury’s advice should be heeded


Reading recently issued reports prepared by Marin’s civil grand jury, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the county might be better governed by this groups of 19 volunteers than by the politicians running the show.
It’s not that our individual supervisors are bad folks. Generally, they are well-intentioned, personally honest and intelligent.
It’s that when they assemble as a group, so little of substance gets accomplished. The supervisors’ record on reforming Marin’s creaky governmental structure is bleak. Unless they are spending millions on bicycle paths, symbolic acts are their specialty.
Contrast that with Marin’s top-flight grand jury. Its members addressed some of the county’s thorniest issues and proposed bold, positive reforms. Unencumbered by political considerations, jurors tend to check their own personal ideology and predilections at the door.
Leading this year’s list of progressive reforms proposed by the local jury and ignored by county supervisors is COIN — Civic Openness In Negotiations. Adopted by a handful of Southern California jurisdictions, COIN defines a transparent procedure requiring agencies during each step of negotiations with public employees for salary and benefits to publicly disclose terms being offered and their long-term cost in an easy-to-understand fashion.
What a revolutionary idea! If COIN had been in place since the late 1990s, California cities, counties and special-purpose districts wouldn’t be suffering the dire consequences from drained local resources caused by unsustainable public employee pensions.
COIN is an obvious step in the right direction, but our supervisors don’t want to hear about it. Right now, supervisors are negotiating with county workers for a new pay pact, but Marin taxpayers have little notion of their bargaining’s long cost and implications. Instead, when the deal is made Marinites will be presented with a fait accompli, with little idea of the package’s fiscal implications.
Adopting COIN will anger public employee unions who, understandably, prefer negotiating out of the spotlight. These same unions play an outside role particularly in supervisorial campaigns.
That’s where the grand jury’s institutional independence shines. Special-interest groups have no outsized influence with jurors. Because they serve only one- or two-year terms and don’t get paid, they are classic true public servants who will only-too-soon walk out of the Civic Center and back into everyday private life.
The jury consistently had the intestinal fortitude to tackle some of Marin’s most contentious issues. Regarding the homeless that plague downtown San Rafael, they’ve made responsible observations and suggestions that are too often ignored because they upset the status quo.
This year, they proposed closing the county’s Juvenile Hall. With new alternatives to incarceration, far fewer young people are housed in the aging San Rafael facility. Its annual population is down 85 percent, from 1,674 young inmates in 1995 to 251 today. It costs $910 per day per inmate to house and care for an average 10 residents per day.
That’s what a suite costs at the Ritz Carlton. Expenses are high because 21 full-time staffers are required to do the job.
Why not, as the grand jury proposes, close Juvenile Hall and contract with a neighboring county to house the young prisoners?
Other counties have taken this cost-saving approach. Even if the Board of Supervisors makes the change, the obvious question is, why didn’t they and their well-paid staff think of it first?
In past years, grand jurors spotted deficiencies and suggested reforms for Marin’s unsupervised special-purpose districts. They foresaw problems at the dysfunctional Ross Valley Sanitary District before it became a scandal.
The grand jury is Marin’s most unheralded good government resource. Voters should note when local elected officials ignore their sage advice.
July 7, 2015
Marin Independent Journal
By Dick Spotswood

[San Mateo County] Grand jury probes attorney program: County has private attorneys rather than public defenders


San Mateo County’s Private Defender Program lacks proper evaluation and officials cannot prove it meets with state and federal guidelines to provide competent counsel for poor defendants, according to a civil grand jury report released Monday.
The county is the only in the state with a population over 500,000 that does not work through a Public Defender’s Office to provide such counsel, according to the report.
Detractors of the program contend it leads to many black and Latino defendants taking plea deals with the District Attorney’s Office rather than finding justice with a jury.
Blacks and Latinos are already unfairly targeted by police and then don’t get the proper legal representation they are entitled to, said Marie Davis, the former president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
“It seems to be that minorities winning cases using the private defender program is rare,” Davis said Monday.
She said attorneys in the program don’t spend enough time defending their clients who routinely end up in jail.
The county instead contracts with the San Mateo County Bar Association to provide legal services for its indigent defendants. Attorneys in the program are considered independent contractors and are not county employees.
The program’s Chief Defender John Digiacinto said Monday he is open to more frequent evaluations.
“We enjoy the scrutiny,” he said.
Claims that black or minority defendants, however, cannot win a case in the county are also “simply not true,” he said.
“The decision whether to go to trial is up to the client. We encourage them to go to trial,” Digiancinto said.
According to the civil grand jury report, the agreement with the Bar allows for contract evaluations at any time but none were conducted for nearly a decade between 2003 and 2012.
It also found that the last three evaluations of the contract, in 2001, 2003 and 2012, did not address whether the county considered state and federal guidelines in its review.
In the 2012 evaluation of the program, the civil grand jury found that it was limited to public input to those specifically invited to participate and was not open to the public.
Supervisor Dave Pine was on the 2012 review panel of the program.
He agrees with the civil grand jury’s recommendations.
The Private Defender Program serves an important function, he said.
“People’s liberties are on the line,” he said.
The grand jury is calling for a “more disciplined review of the program and that makes sense,” Pine said Monday.
He wants to see more clients participate in surveys and public hearings to get a better sense of how well the program works.
“In time, we would have more precise data on the performance of the program,” he said.
The three evaluations also did not conclude whether the Private Defender Program “continues to be the best model for the county to provide indigent legal defense,” according to the civil grand jury report.
The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is recommending the county Board of Supervisors to conduct evaluations of the Private Defender Program at least every five years; determine whether it meets state and federal guidelines; open up the evaluations to the general public; and to determine whether it continues to be the best model for the county for providing indigent legal defense.
The Private Defender Program was adopted in the county in 1968. It continues because “most county officials regard it as well managed, effective and economical,” according to the report.
The program’s private attorneys, about 110, handled about 20,000 cases in 2014.
July 7, 2015
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Bill Silverfarb