Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lathrop mayor asks grand jury to probe 'vicious' campaign tactics

LATHROP - Mayor Kristy Sayles, 35, has asked the San Joaquin County grand jury to investigate what many, including her opponents, consider the dirtiest political campaign since the city was incorporated in 1989.

Sayles and her primary challengers for mayor all have denounced the tactics, which largely involve a Web site devoted to attacking Sayles and divulging personal matters from her past. The charges have delved into her marital status and decade-old legal issues.

Sayles called it "evil" and "vicious."

Challenger Robert Oliver, a current council member, said it was "scurrilous" and said he would have it shut down if he could. Mayoral candidate John Rock called it "mean-spirited" and said its viciousness reminds him of domestic battles.

Yet Oliver and Rock say to some extent Sayles has brought the problems on herself.

In some respects, Sayles agrees.

The attacks on Sayles began even before she officially filed her re-election papers in August.

Sayles said she received an e-mail from someone claiming to be her friend telling her what would happen if she ran for a second term. She said the threats are coming true.

The majority of the attacks have come via the Web site It is registered to a licensed private investigator in Livermore, Jeremy D. Maurer. The site went live in July.

Sayles believes she knows who is funding the site, although she refused name anyone in particular. She has said she believes large developers in Lathrop are the only ones with the finances to do so.

Although Maurer did not return calls seeking comment, he has maintained on the Web site that he was not hired to create the site but sees it as a way to gain a name for himself as an "opposition researcher" for future campaigns.

He said he chose Sayles after hearing from friends in Lathrop and Manteca about what he termed scandalous activities involving the mayor.

Maurer has focused on digging up records mostly tied to Sayles' past financial problems and her husband's business. The viciousness often comes in the form of comments posted by people visiting the site.

Rock, who has posted there as well, said he sees anger and hate in some of the Web postings. He also believes they involve only a handful of people using multiple aliases.

At the same time, Rock sees some positives. "People are getting involved," he said, and the site is getting information out about the candidate.

Sayles, a fifth-generation Lathrop resident, has six children. Steve McKee, a popular former Lathrop mayor, is her uncle.

In May, she was cleared by the county grand jury of accusations that she had illegally received financial contributions from developers and of "unspecified unethical actions since her election."

Sayles also has been attacked personally through a more traditional route. A recent mailer to Lathrop's 4,400 registered voters also focused on Sayles' past. A group calling itself the California Taxpayer Protection Committee included photos of court papers that also are on the Web site.

The committee lists an Elverta address, and its Web site describes the group as "a loose-knit organization of individual volunteers and affiliated groups who believe that government spending is out of control, taxes are too high and new borrowing is not the answer."

The California Republican Party is listed as one of the organization's members. Although the mayor's race is nonpartisan, Sayles, Oliver and Rock all are Republicans.

Oliver believes some of the campaign nastiness is coming from the mayor, such as a Sayles mailer that attacked "local developers" as those who "would use the Lathrop General Fund as their personal ATM machine."

The mailer alleges those developers hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on her and recruited a candidate to run against her. The challenging candidate has not been identified.

Contact reporter Harley Becker at (209) 239-3354 or

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Calaveras rejects grand jury findings on Building & planning dept

SAN ANDREAS - Several years of bitter feuding within Calaveras County government over the management of the county's Building and Planning departments appeared to come to a quiet end Tuesday as the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved their response to a grand jury report that had blasted the supervisors and the leader they appointed to head the two departments.

Supervisor Tom Tryon, who filed a complaint to the grand jury in 2007 that likely triggered the investigation and the resulting report, did not say a word on the topic before the unanimous vote.

The long battle centered on Stephanie Moreno, a former Amador County supervisor who was hired in 2006 to head the newly formed Community Development Agency, which was given oversight of both departments.

Moreno resigned in July after a stormy tenure of a little more than two years. The Board of Supervisors voted to pay Moreno $89,300 to leave after her attorney sent the board a letter saying he could prove county officials were guilty of sex discrimination against her.

Officials in 2006 portrayed Moreno's hiring as an attempt to modernize the operation of the two departments and to reduce problems caused when developers and landowners got conflicting signals from building and planning.

Moreno soon hired consultants who reported finding a variety of past problems in the departments, including missing records and evidence that officials sometimes signed off on substandard construction. By early 2007, Moreno had fired several employees.

Also by 2007, some department employees were in revolt against Moreno, and landowners, builders and developers were coming to county meetings to complain that Moreno's policies were making things worse rather than better.

Adding to their ire: Moreno's political and career background included none of the formal training in planning or building codes that is usual among career employees in the departments.

That lack of formal training in building and planning was among the long list of findings in the grand jury report. (The official response says she did meet the minimum standards for the job.) Other findings included that the Board of Supervisors hired Moreno without doing a background check and that they had her report directly to the board, bypassing the normal chain of command through the county's chief administrative officer.

A slender board majority - Steve Wilensky, Russ Thomas and Bill Claudino - generally backed Moreno. Tryon, often joined by Supervisor Merita Callaway, took the lead in criticizing Moreno.

In general, the response the board approved Tuesday rejects most of the grand jury findings. Opponents of Moreno, however, will find some evidence to bolster their suspicions. For example, County Administrative Officer Robert Lawton's final draft of the response notes only that the county's Human Resources Department did complete a background check.

What Lawton didn't say is contained in the departmental response from Human Resources Director Francine Osborn. Osborn wrote that she conducted a basic background check and found Moreno had worked where she claimed to have worked. But Osborn also said the Board of Supervisors directed her not to do the more-detailed check she thought was appropriate.

The supervisors who did speak before approving the response were unusually subdued.

"There is nothing more to stir up," Callaway said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's over, and it is time to go on."

The new days to come, however, will likely force the board to decide again what its vision is for the Building and Planning departments. Not only are county planners revising the county General Plan, which guides growth, but before the end of the year, interim Community Development Director John Taylor is to make recommendations to the board on how to manage the two departments, including whether they should remain united in a single agency.

Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 754-9534 or

Calaveras County Supervisors Reject Grand Jury Criticism
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 - 07:00 AM

San Andreas, CA -- Tuesday Calaveras County supervisors responded to a grand jury report that had criticized them and the now departed Stephanie Moreno who headed up the Community Development Agency which had oversight over the Planning and Building departments.

According to the Stockton Record that response resulted in a unanimous vote rejecting the grand jury findings. Under fire by builders, developers and two supervisors (Russ Thomas and Marita Callaway), Moreno resigned in July but not before she was compensated in the amount of $89,300.

John Taylor replaced Moreno on an interim basis and he has been charged with recommending to the Board by the end of the year how the Community Development Agency should be structured for maximum benefit to and for the county.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Madera grand jury focuses on financial dispute

A financial dispute between two Madera County government agencies took far too long to resolve, a Madera County grand jury report has concluded.

The report, which was made public this week, says that it took more than seven years for the county Treasurer and Tax Collector Department and the county Board of Education to untangle a financial snafu dating back to the 1990s. In the end, the Treasurer Department last year paid the Education Board $91,322.

The grand jury found that "it is unacceptable that unresolved issues between two or more departments of the Madera County government cannot be resolved within a reasonable time. In this particular case, seven-plus years is not a reasonable time."

But Sally Frazier, the superintendent of the county Office of Education, said the disagreement was actually resolved more than two years ago.

"I was kind of perplexed that it was even an issue this year," she said.

Frazier said the county was not aware of the fact that the Treasurer Department owed the Education Board any money until an audit uncovered the discrepancy. She said she doesn't remember when the audit was conducted.

The two county departments went to court to reach an agreement soon after the audit, Frazier said.

According to the grand jury report, the problem began in 1992 when a county employee in charge of reconciling the Education Board's bank accounts retired and no one replaced the employee. When the board changed banks sometime in 1995 or 1996, it discovered that the accounts did not reconcile and it needed additional funds to cover outstanding checks.

The Treasurer Department helped bail out the Education Board, which later repaid the Treasurer Department, Frazier said. The audit discovered that the Education Board had overpaid the Treasurer Department, she said.

Frazier said no one from the grand jury contacted her office this year about its investigation. Calls to the number listed for the grand jury were not returned.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6412.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

grand jury requests information on Oakland officials' travel expenses

By Kelly Rayburn
Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — An Alameda County grand jury has requested travel documentation for all city employees, as city-funded travel faces heightened scrutiny as officials stare at a massive budget deficit.

The grand jury isn't the only body scrutinizing city travel: the City Council's finance and management committee will review a report today that says city-funded travel and travel-related expenditures topped $1.2 million in the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), who said there are far too few controls on travel for nonelected officials, welcomed the grand jury's interest.

"I absolutely believe it's not acceptable," he said, adding, "At this moment, I can tell you this is one of the first things we're going to be looking to cut."

De La Fuente and other council members acknowledge, however, that reducing travel will only put a small dent in what could be a $50 million budget deficit. The council's first meeting on the pending budget cuts is scheduled for Sept. 30.

The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury's request, which was dated Sept. 4 and obtained by the Tribune, asks for "complete documentation for travel for every city employee" for the 2007-08 fiscal year, including receipts for hotel stays, meals, plane tickets and rental cars.

The grand jury requested the documents be produced no later than Monday and Paul Rose, a spokesman for Mayor Ron Dellums, said the documents were given to the grand jury on time.

Jeff Stark, a senior deputy district attorney assigned to the grand jury, could not be reached for comment Monday evening. The civil grand jury is designed to be a local government watchdog by investigating county and local governments and making recommendations on how to make them more efficient and responsive to residents.

A separate grand jury report, released in July, ripped the city of Oakland for what it described as a lax credit-card system and made a series of recommendations on how to tighten up expenditures. Dellums responded by ordering a complete review of the city's credit-card program.

Travel, meanwhile, has been in the council's sights since last summer when it adopted new rules on reporting travel, including publishing an annual report detailing expenditures for trips including airplane travel or lodging paid for by the city.

The report, completed by the city's budget director, Sarah Schlenk, and released earlier this month, does not suggest any wrongdoing. But it did find that more than $1.2 million was spent on travel last year, with more than $750,000 coming from the city's general fund of about $475 million.

The report shows:

  • The police department spent far more than any other city agency or department on travel, racking up $426,832 in expenses mostly to attend training conferences and seminars.
  • Dellums' office spent $44,026 on travel for the mayor and his staff to attend conferences across the country. That included a weeklong trip to a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in January that cost $9,317.
  • City Attorney John Russo's offices spent $13,528 on travel.
  • Four council members' travel expenses totaled nearly $12,000 to attend conferences or meetings. The most expensive of those, according to the report, was a $3,702 trip Councilmember Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary) took to attend a U.S. Africa Sister Cities conference in South Africa in August 2007.

    Brooks said the trip was authorized by her fellow council members and said she went on it because of a long-standing sister-city relationship with Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, which was also represented at the conference.

    Brooks' said her past work with Sekondi-Takoradi has included visiting as part of a trade delegation, hosting a delegation from the city in Oakland and sending supplies, including an ambulance, to the city.

    There seems to be broad agreement among council members that city trips should be curbed.

    Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland) said expenses such as travel should be on the "chopping block for first cut" with the city facing a budget situation that will force it to make painful decisions.

    Such reductions, she said, "are usually small potatoes in the whole picture, but we may as well make cuts in these areas before we start laying people off."

    Dellums' office had a different take.

    "During these tight economic times, travel is even more a necessity as we are actively reaching out to our partners across the country to bolster our resources and improve our city," Rose said. "Having said that, we're working to tighten our belts by identifying travel expenditures that don't necessarily meet that criteria."

    The City Council's finance and management committee will discuss travel expenses when it meets at 2 p.m. today at City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, in Hearing Room 1.

  • Idyllwild fire district refutes grand jury report

    The Idyllwild Fire Protection District has refuted the majority of recommendations of the Riverside County grand jury and argued against becoming part of the Riverside County Fire Department and Cal Fire.

    The district filed a formal response to the grand jury report, disputing the claim that the fire district was dependent on outside resources in a high risk area.

    The grand jury recommended the district should explore contracting with the state agency, Cal Fire, to reduce risks to mountain residents in a major emergency.

    Riverside County contracts with Cal Fire for fire protection and state resources. Idyllwild has a mutual-aid agreement for assistance from Riverside County and the U.S. Forest Service.

    The Idyllwild Fire Protection District contracts with Riverside County for 911 dispatch services. Idyllwild then provides its own fire and medical response to local incidents.

    "The Board does not agree that the grand jury premise is valid," according to the response by Idyllwild Fire Protection Board President Glen McWilliams. "It would suggest that Cal Fire take over all fire and medical aid services for the entire state."

    The response added that the grand jury's recommendation contradicts a California law that provides for fire protection districts.

    The board agreed to a recommendation to meet with the Riverside County Fire Department, but said the proposal was rejected several times during past meetings because Cal Fire's medical and fire services were more costly to Idyllwild residents.

    "While it is the Board's position that it will do what is best for the safety of the community . . . (it) believes that instead of advocating the abdication of local control over to the state of California, the grand jury would be better to encourage the existing agencies to work together to improve service."

    Idyllwild Fire Chief Steve Kunkle said the Fire Department is arranging to meet with Riverside County officials.

    Riverside County fire Capt. Fernando Herrera said he was unaware of any requests or recommendations with the Idyllwild district.

    By contracting with Cal Fire, Riverside County is allowed access to statewide fire crews, aircraft and equipment in exchange for mutual aid to other regions.

    For example, Riverside County has sent several crews to the fires in ther San Fernando Valley, Herrera said.

    "Certainly there are advantages to the fire family's large resource capability, but I can't speak to what Idyllwild is looking for," Herrera said.

    Kunkle said Idyllwild residents have voted for the district with a $1.7 million budget, and few residents have requested a change. He said a Cal Fire contract would cost more and would be unnecessary given the current status of Idyllwild ambulances and fire protection.

    "We hear residents are happy with the service," Kunkle said. "I'd rather see more and more resources all the time. For small fires, our resources are adequate, but no agency is able to fight fires on their own."

    Other grand jury comments accused Fire Department personnel of intimidation, citing firefighters dressed in uniform at town meetings and fire trucks parked near homes for long periods of time.

    The Fire Department's response said fire personnel regularly attend business meetings in uniform to look professional and the issue of fire trucks was never brought to the fire chief's attention.

    Kunkle said he answered several questions from the grand jury prior to the report but did not know who requested the investigation or what experts were consulted.

    "Given the lack of any specific information contained in this finding, it is virtually impossible to respond, other than to say that neither the Fire Department nor the commission has attempted to intimidate anyone or condone such conduct," the board's response read.

    The Fire Department was required to respond to the recommendations but is not required by law to adhere to the findings.

    Reach John Asbury at 951-763-3451 or

    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    Grand Jury report criticizes college

    Gov. board cited for micro-managing and is advised to hire an ethics consultant
    By: Holly Angeles and Gabriel Orendain-Necochea
    Posted: 10/10/08

    Southwestern College got a report card from the San Diego County Grand Jury. It was less then satisfactory. The SWC Governing Board was the subject of intense scrutiny by the Grand Jury, which issued a report criticizing board members for micromanagement and unethical behavior. The Grand Jury criticism mirrored a 2004 report by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) that told the governing board it needed to stop micromanaging and entrust the president and vice-presidents with more authority.Grand Jury members said SWC has developed a reputation for having a revolving door for its presidents. Of the last four presidents, two resigned and the others were dismissed due to conflicts with the board. SWC's vice-presidents have played musical chairs as well. Three vice-presidents resigned and one was terminated by the end of the 2008 spring semester. The Grand Jury report said two of the three vice-presidents either resigned or were dismissed due to interference by the board. This instability in management and inconsistency contributed to the low morale of faculty and students, according to the WASC report. Ethical violations and conflicts of interest by board members were also cited by the Grand Jury, including a romantic relationship between trustee Yolanda Salcido and Director of Business Operations and Facilities John Wilson. The report states Salcido never recused herself on votes regarding costly major projects brought forth by Wilson. Nor has she has recused herself in votes regarding Wilson's scope of responsibility, salary and benefit increases. Also under scrutiny was the intertwined relationship of trustee Jorge Dominguez and former Vice President of Academic Affairs Greg Sandoval. Dominguez serves as an SWC board member and works as an administrator for the Sweetwater Union High School District. Sandoval is a Sweetwater trustee, making the men each other's boss.The Grand Jury report stated that this has created a reciprocal relationship, which might have led to both officials voting on items benefiting each other. The report also said, though, that Sandoval and Dominguez recused themselves when voting on items regarding each other. Dominguez, however, voted against Sandoval's resignation at the June meeting of the SWC board. Dominguez said if a vote were to come up again, he would henceforth recuse himself. Legal expenses at SWC have soared due to the retention of outside legal counsel for all personal controversies, including the firing of high-level administrators. Even so, the Grand Jury is to deliberate to determine if it is in the best interest of the board and the public for an attorney to be present to oversee the actions of the board at every open meeting and to witness interviews of employee candidates. The Grand Jury also proposed creating an Education Ethics Committee to oversee the county's community colleges. Under the proposal, San Diego County's five community college districts would pool funds to staff an ethics committee that would have oversight over the actions of the districts, investigate ethics violations and establish appropriate penalties for wrongful actions. SWC's board rejected the proposal.The Grand Jury is now looking to the San Diego County Board of Education to direct the San Diego County Office of Education to establish the committee. Its first task would be to develop a code of ethics for all community college districts like that adopted by the Ethics Commission of the City of San Diego. The proposed Education Ethics Committee would be made up of 10 members, five of which would be appointed officials from the community college districts and the others from the County Board Of Education. These officials would rule on conflicts of interest and other ethical problems.SWC trustee Dr. Jean Roesch commented on the report at the South Bay forum. "This Grand Jury report came out as a very disgruntled person who wanted to say some things and it got out of hand," said Roesch.

    Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    Marin grand jury backs county finance officer measure

    A new Marin County civil grand jury report largely endorses a plan to dramatically restructure the oversight of county finances by replacing two key elected officials with an appointed finance director.

    Measure B, which would abolish the elected positions of Marin County auditor-controller and treasurer-tax collector, will take effect if a majority of Marin voters approve it on Nov. 4.

    The grand jury's endorsement, however, comes with one caveat: that the finance director be hired under a long-term contract to help insulate him or her from influence by county supervisors, to whom the employee will answer.

    There is nothing in Measure B that would require such a contract.

    "There is nothing that would preclude the Board of Supervisors from doing that," said County Administrator Matthew Hymel, who recommended the restructuring to supervisors this summer. "But we didn't think it should be put into the legislation because there are circumstances where that may not be in the best interests of the county."

    The League of Women Voters of Marin County has also recently decided to support Measure B. The restructuring still has opponents, however, among them the Marin United Taxpayers Association and the county's current auditor-controller, Richard Arrow.

    "I truly believe in transparency, accountability and especially the checks and balances in government that an elected official provides," Arrow said.

    The grand jury's reasons for supporting the restructuring followedclosely the rationale previously cited by Hymel.

    First of all, the separate operation of the two departments has become a barrier to the full utilization of the county's expensive new MERIT computer system, which has already cost the county at least $20 million. Secondly, the timing is right, because Arrow has announced he will retire effective Dec. 31, and the treasurer-tax collector, Michael Smith, has said he will not seek re-election when his term ends in 2010. And thirdly, if the director of finance is an appointed position, job candidates will not have to reside in Marin County, as elected officials do. That will make it easier for the county to recruit a top-flight candidate.

    In its report, the grand jury notes that in addition to accounting skills the new finance director will also require "a solid grounding in the technological tools available to make financial management more efficient and cost effective."

    The grand jury largely discounts the cost savings argument for the restructuring. Hymel has estimated the consolidation should save the county about $100,000 per year. The grand jury reports that it "was told that initial savings, even if realized, would most likely be offset by increased costs in implementing the proposal."

    In its report, the grand jury states that it is fully persuaded that consolidation of the two offices makes sense. "The issue of whether a new office of director of finance should be elective or appointive is more complex, with strong arguments on both sides," the jury observes.

    Currently, the auditor-controller and the treasurer-tax collector, as elected officials, are independent of the Board of Supervisors and serve watchdog functions on supervisors' activity, the grand jury notes. The jury's report recalls how in 2000 Arrow took away a former supervisor's county credit card that had been used for personal expenses and established formal regulations for future credit card use.

    "The appointed individual would be hired by and responsible to the Board of Supervisors, which would put him in a delicate position," said Fielding Greaves, president of the Marin United Taxpayers Association. "He might be more reluctant to question the expenditures of the people who appointed him."

    Under the proposal, the independence of the new finance director would be fortified by requiring a vote of four of the county's five supervisors to fire the director. In addition, an outside independent audit would be conducted annually to verify proper financial management of the new office and a new financial audit advisory committee - consisting of county supervisors, county staff and residents - would be established to review the annual audit.

    But the grand jury sees the need for one additional safeguard. If the position were elected, the finance officer would in effect have a four-year contract, the jury writes in its report.

    It concludes: "A similar long-term contract for an appointed finance officer would carry with it much the same sort of job guarantee that encourages independent action."

    Sunday, October 5, 2008

    San Diego Community Colleges and a Grand Jury report

    Campaigns for community college board elections aren't known for getting the pulse racing. They usually draw about as much excitement as water district races.

    Until now.

    This year, all five county community college districts are seeing an enrollment surge at a time when most are grappling with a severe budget crunch. Add to that controversies in the North Coast and South County districts, plus a recent grand jury report citing ethical issues that warranted investigation in every district but Palomar, and stakes in the Nov. 4 election could not be higher.


    For the first time in more than two decades, every incumbent in the Oceanside-based MiraCosta Community College District race faces a challenger.

    “MiraCosta usually flies under the radar,” said Oceanside resident Ken Noonan, who serves on the state Board of Education and is a member of the MiraCosta presidential search committee. “But now the community has become somewhat cynical about the board, the administration, the faculty and staff. There's an issue of trust.

    “There's going to be a lot more attention paid to the election this year,” Noonan said, “and I have a feeling that people who are just fed up with all the nonsense will probably cast a vote.”

    MiraCosta's turmoil erupted more than two years ago with a scandal involving the illegal sale of campus palm trees – a now-infamous case dubbed Palmgate. It resulted in the conviction of the head of the Horticulture Department, who sold the trees with her fiance; forced three top administrators from their jobs; and resulted in the resignation of President Victoria Muñoz Richart, who had received a death threat during the upheaval.

    The investigation and ensuing controversy have cost the district well over $2 million and generated a string of lawsuits against the school.

    Recently, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges warned MiraCosta that its accreditation could be in jeopardy because it failed to meet the deadlines for determining how to measure student achievement, and that strife among board members was negatively affecting the campus.


    Many associated with Southwestern College in Chula Vista also worry about that district's troubles.

    A recent county grand jury ethics report cited a concern by Southwestern's accrediting organization that the governing board tended to interfere too much with day-to-day operations.

    The report also raised the issue of high turnover of key managers. Southwestern College has had five permanent and interim presidents in five years. All four of its vice presidents have either resigned or been terminated since July 2007.

    “We've had some major leadership changes that have certainly impacted our programs and services here,” said Norma Cazares, a counselor at Southwestern College. “When you don't have that leadership, then things begin to fall through the cracks. Many people believe the leadership on the (district) board contributes to these issues.”

    In June, two top Southwestern college administrators resigned after being accused of sexual harassment in complaints to the state and college. In a subsequent lawsuit, a student services assistant alleged that she “involuntarily accepted” demands for sex from Arthur Lopez, director of financial aid, who she said would mention her pending evaluation during sexual encounters. She also alleged that Greg Sandoval, vice president for student affairs, asked her to add the words “in bed” to a fortune-cookie message he wanted her to read aloud.

    An attorney for Lopez has denied the allegations. Sandoval has said he looks “forward to the outcome of the due process.”

    Jose Preciado, president of the South Bay Forum political action committee, said this election, which has two open seats, is sure to receive more scrutiny than usual.

    “Anywhere you go in the community, the Southwestern College drama has become a joke,” Preciado said.

    He noted that the district has yet to show evidence of measurable student success over time.


    The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, which has two open seats, hasn't escaped controversy, either.

    The county grand jury has investigated changes to the employment contract of Grossmont-Cuyamaca Chancellor Omero Suarez without board approval in 2006. The chancellor ordered staff to delete a clause that limited his severance pay to no more than 12 months if he were released from his contract early. (State law now allows up to 18 months of severance.) Suarez, who has since announced plans to retire for unrelated reasons, later ordered the clause reinserted.

    The grand jury report released in May said ethical issues meriting investigation had surfaced in the governance of every local community college district except for Palomar. Most or all of the grand jury's recommendations to address ethical issues were rejected by the five community college boards and the county Board of Education.

    All this comes as colleges are facing tighter finances because of state funding levels.

    The San Diego Community College District, where there are two seats open, has recently cut the number of classes offered, increased class sizes and frozen more than 100 vacant positions. The lone exception to the budget crunch is MiraCosta, which is funded largely through local property taxes.

    Simultaneously, local community college districts are seeing an enrollment boom, at least partly in response to the economic downturn.

    But Brian Adams, associate professor of state and local politics at San Diego State University, said enrollment spikes and budget reductions are unlikely to pique voter interest.

    “That's happened before, and we haven't seen any real spike,” Adams said. “I think what will drive voter interest is the drama going on – the scandal. Things like conflict of interest and this person dating that person – that may get a little more interest in the races.”

    View Article

    CPS Admonished to Cooperate with Grand Jury

    Complaining that its investigation of Child Protective Services is being
    stonewalled, the Sacramento County grand jury has warned all CPS employees
    and its leaders that they must cooperate with the panel's probe.

    In a strongly worded two-page letter issued to all CPS workers this week,
    the grand jury said it has "been met with staff resistance and staff
    improperly refusing to answer general program questions..."

    "Any further refusals to answer general program questions or the citing of
    confidentiality statutes when none apply will be considered a direct
    attempt to interfere with the Grand Jury's investigations," said the
    letter, which indicated it was being sent by grand jury foreman Donald
    Prange Sr.

    Grand jury proceedings are confidential. A copy of the letter obtained by
    The Bee today indicates that Prange sent the warning on Wednesday to
    Penelope Clarke, the county administrator who oversees CPS and its parent
    agency, the Department of Health and Human Services. The letter was then
    forwarded to all CPS employees instructing them to cooperate with the
    panel's probe, sources said.

    CPS spokeswoman Laurie Slothower had no immediate comment today on the
    letter, and requested that questions about it be submitted in writing.

    The grand jury's investigation was sparked by stories in The Bee in recent
    months concerning a string of child deaths and the agency's altering of
    documents in one case before they were released publicly.

    Prange indicated in the letter that CPS staff members have resisted or
    refused to answer the panel's questions and have improperly cited
    confidentiality statutes in doing so.

    "So that the Grand Jury can continue these investigations without further
    delay, please direct DHHS management and staff to fully cooperate with our
    investigations," the letter said.

    The letter indicated that one of the areas being examined includes
    "policies regarding altering documents," and it warned CPS administrators
    that they cannot retaliate against employees who cooperate with the

    "There should be no intimidation/harassment of interviewees by management
    and no questioning regarding testimony taken by the Grand Jury," the
    letter said in one section that was in bold-face type.

    See Story - Sacramento Bee