Saturday, December 26, 2009

Green-Energy Agency's Response to Critical Marin County Grand Jury Report: Screw You Guys, We're Goin' Home.

By Peter Jamison in Business, Environment, Government, Politics, Science and Tech
Thu., Dec. 24 2009 @ 12:24PM
Marin County's civil grand jury caused an uproar in the ranks of Bay Area eco-activists earlier this month when it released a scathing report on a proposed overhaul of the county's energy policy. The grand jury's panning of Marin Clean Energy, a plan to provide many areas of the county with government-purchased green electricity, caused no end of harrumphing among public-power advocates in Marin and San Francisco, where city officials are moving ahead with a similar plan called CleanPowerSF.

Storm clouds gather

​For those who don't make a habit of following local eco-politics, both Marin Clean Energy and CleanPowerSF are so-called community choice aggregation (CCA) programs. The programs allow government bodies to automatically enroll their citizens -- without prior consent, though they may later opt out, perhaps at a fee -- as customers of a new power provider selected by government officials. The basic point is to break the monopoly of existing utilities -- in our own case, PG&E -- in favor of providers willing to deliver cheaper or cleaner energy.

The Marin civil grand jury found a lot to criticize in this venture, despite its noble intentions. Among the jury's findings were that the mass enrollment of county citizens in the program violated basic principles of consumer protection and government transparency; that the creation of a new government bureaucracy to administer a massive experiment in power procurement is wrongheaded at a time when basic municipal services are shrinking because of anemic local budgets; and that the program's goal of developing local sources of renewable power was unrealistic in a county where draconian regulations on development cause some people to struggle for years to build a three-bedroom house.

This week we had a chance to review the Marin Energy Authority's official, written response to the grand jury's criticism. It looks like MEA officials could have saved themselves a lot of time and paper by simply lifting their thumbs to their noses.

The MEA rejected more than half of the grand jury's findings and refused to implement a single one of its recommendations. Some of its arguments -- including the point that the grand jury relied in its assessment on an outdated business plan -- are well taken. Others are spurious. For example: "The Marin Energy Authority (MEA) is a new government agency, but is not a 'new level of government.'"

To many, all this probably sounds boring and obscure. But the goings-on in Marin are being closely watched by public-power ideologues and their allies in San Francisco government, who see CCA as a backdoor means to their holy grail: booting PG&E off the San Francisco peninsula once and for all. (These activists also assert that PG&E's role in the production of the grand jury report is suspicious, noting that the company apparently obtained a copy of the report before it was released to the public.)

As it happens, the Marin civil grand jury is only the latest in a string of impartial critics to voice serious doubts about CCA, including the San Francisco controller's office and a number of independent-minded economists and energy experts. It also bears noting that the doubts about Marin are a particularly significant bellwether for the future of CCA in San Francisco, since our neighbors to the north are undertaking their program in far more promising conditions.

Marin is a fabulously rich county with a ratepayer base consisting for the most part of individual homeowners. That means the risk of a CCA foundering because of a few major corporate or industrial customers pulling out -- a distinct possibility in San Francisco -- is minimized.

Simply put: If it can't work there, it probably can't work here.

Three Hughson (Stanislaus County) councilmen accused of wrongdoing

Posted: 12/24/2009 12:40:15 PM PST
Updated: 12/24/2009 12:40:16 PM PST

HUGHSON, Calif.—A grand jury is calling for the resignation or removal of three councilmen in the San Joaquin Valley city of Hughson accused of violating state law.

The Stanislaus County jury's report, published Tuesday, doesn't name the councilmen. But the Modesto Bee reports that it includes details about their previous experience indicating they are Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley.

It says the three men discussed city business through e-mails in violation of a state open meetings law. It also accuses Crowder of ethics violations, and says they tried to orchestrate the firing of three city administrators since June.

Crowder denies the accusations and says he won't resign. Humphreys and Manley could not be reached for comment.

The grand jury's recommendations are not legally binding.

Monterey County sheriff's deputies focus of excessive force claims

Grand jury asked to investigate incidents in Castroville
BY SUNITA VIJAYAN • • December 26, 2009

The North Monterey County Chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens wants the grand jury to investigate its claims of excessive force being used by Sheriff's deputies.

The request to the grand jury was made this week before a press conference scheduled for today to discuss LULAC's complaints against the deputies and members of the county joint gang task.

The press conference is set for 11 a.m. today at the Castroville Library Plaza, 11160 Speegle St. A LULAC official said the group also would provide details of a complaint filed against the Sheriff's Office with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The excessive-force allegations are contained in a Nov. 20 formal complaint filed at the Sheriff's Office on behalf of three Castroville residents. LULAC accuses the county joint gang task force and deputies of using excessive force, child endangerment and elder abuse during Operation Disrupt in June.

In a Dec. 19 letter to county grand jury foreman Darlene Billstron, LULAC says: "It could have been tragic for the 80-year-old lady who was awaken at 3:45 a.m. by three men dressed in black."

The letter, sent by LULAC criminal justice representative Crescencio Padilla, continues:

"They were pointing the weapons at her and her son. They were handcuffed together and were taken to the living room. She saw her son, Pablo Gutierrez, on the floor. One officer had his foot over his face and two others were pointing their weapons at him. Pablo kept saying, `What do you want?' The officer kept telling him to shut up."

Sheriff's Cmdr. Mike Richards said the signed complaint forms of the three residents mentioned in the complaint have been received. Few details were available because the case is ongoing, Richards said.

"We investigate every allegation efficiently, thoroughly and competently," he said.

Under the law, the Sheriff's Office has up to a year to investigate such complaints.

The Monterey County Superior Court said it is entirely "up to the discretion" of the civil grand jury to decide whether to look into the complaints.

The formal complaints come more than two years after residents gathered at a pair of community meetings to talk about alleged racial profiling by sheriff's deputies and five months after LULAC held a joint press conference with the law enforcement agency urging witness cooperation following a series of gang-motivated shootings.

Padilla said today's news conference stems from the frustration created by the inaction of the Sheriff's Office since the joint news conference in June.

"We were trying to cooperate and then what happened?" said Padilla. "When we started cooperating [along] with the community, they started harassing the community. How do they expect the community to help when [the residents] are harassed?"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Marin county grand jury power report didn't deserve such a rude reception

By Brad Breithaupt
Posted: 12/15/2009 06:07:12 PM PST

I HAVE READ dozens of reports by Marin's civil grand juries. While I don't always agree with their findings and recommendations - or the issues they decide to tackle - I have seen very few that I ever would characterize as a "hit piece."

That's what Supervisor Charles McGlashan, whose longstanding political project was dissected in the grand jury's latest report, called the 23-page summation on Marin's controversial green power plan.

In fact, he blasted the report, calling it "a blatant hit piece."

No one would expect McGlashan, one of the power plan's primary architects, to agree with the report, but the document doesn't deserve his harsh dismissal.

But that's the way politics are played today. If you don't agree with someone, you don't debate them - you discredit their integrity. You don't disagree with them - you attack their credibility.

As Marin draws closer to deciding whether to get into the power business, the report deserves better. Launching Marin Clean Energy is a big move in uncertain times.

The grand jury, 19 civic-minded residents who spend a year investigating local issues, recommends officials "pull the plug" on the plan, concluding that it is potentially too expensive and risky for our local government.

The grand jury's report concludes that local politicians could do more to reduce Marin's carbon footprint by working with, rather than against, PG&E to bolster its clean-energy portfolio for local ratepayers.

The report was released as cities and the county are deciding whether to continue their participation in launching the clean power plan - which includes automatically signing up local businesses and residents as ratepayers for Marin-procured electricity rather than PG&E's.

The grand jury's timing was both right and responsible.

There's no law that says the panel's recommendations must be followed, but they shouldn't be ignored or dismissed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Select Wright Library supporters approach Ventura County Grand Jury

Although many misconceptions were clarified about the facility’s funding, those advocating reopening the historic library want jurors to investigate claims

By Paul Sisolak 12/10/2009

After a sit-in last week failed to reverse the impending closure of Ventura’s struggling H.P. Wright Library, a devoted group of residents are now taking their cause to the Grand Jury.

Claiming, among other allegations, that city officials shut down the beloved library though they had enough funds to keep it open, at least a dozen complaints have already been submitted to the Ventura County Grand Jury, according to Maili Halme Brocke.

Brocke, a Ventura resident, is leading the campaign and wants the Grand Jury to head an investigation into Ventura City Hall. Brocke says several people involved with crafting the city’s budget deliberately withheld information proving that there was enough surplus money to keep the library open for business. The Wright was closed on Nov. 30.

“There’s a whole lot of wrongdoing because of a web of lies,” Brocke says.

In her own jury filing, Brocke lists no less than nine issues she hopes jurors will examine. Among them, she charges that city staff falsified public documents, omitted key information from budget talks, and violated the public meetings

Brown Act so that it would appear there wasn’t the funding necessary to keep the library open.

Most notable in her argument is the discovery of numbers Brocke maintains she found in the hidden cells of an Excel spreadsheet downloaded from the City of Ventura’s Web site. Those statistics, she said, revealed that the city has about $683,436 in surplus money for the Wright Library; only $650,000, according to Brocke in a letter to the editor last month, is needed to run the building.

According to Jackie Griffin, the county’s libraries director, as of this month, it costs about $280,000 to operate Wright Library, including a total of eight full- and part-time employees.

Brocke’s biggest point of contention is that the available surplus funds are gained from a wealth of property taxes collected from the eastern end of Ventura, where the library is located near Ventura College. That money — more than $1.2 million in tax gains — was available for use, yet city officials, she says, asserted throughout the current fiscal year that funding for the Wright, the smallest of Ventura’s libraries, had run out.

Brocke names five people that she’d like the Grand Jury to investigate, including Griffin and newly appointed Ventura Mayor Bill Fulton.

She says Fulton, who represents Ventura on the county’s Library Services Commission, was in the wrong for being one of several City Council members to ask residents to vote for Measure A, even though revenues from the proposed half-percent sales tax measure could not legally be devoted to saving the library.

It was hoped that the ballot measure alone, which failed at the polls last month, would draw in an estimated $500,000 annually alone for the library, a last-ditch effort at saving the building financially.

However, that portion of Brocke’s claim conflicts with Measure A, which was endorsed by the Reporter, as the measure was presented as a general tax, which means that the initiative could not promise to pay for specific things, only suggest.

“It’s not illegal,” Fulton said this week. “It was up to the voters if they believed us or not. We made it pretty clear why we made the measure to be four years long: to coincide with the (four-year) terms of the council members.”

According to Griffin, 85 percent of Ventura’s libraries’ funding comes from property taxes; this past year, that amounted to $2 million divided across all of Ventura and its libraries, including Wright, based on priorities like hours of operation. Property tax monies raised in the area near Wright, for example, are not devoted strictly to that library.

“You can argue that Wright better serves East Ventura and the majority (of property taxes) should be given to Wright, but there is no separate service area,” Fulton said.

Fulton had most recently defended Griffin against other allegations by Brocke, in a letter published last week in the Reporter. Griffin said the closure of the Wright was inevitable; the library, she said, had been in trouble for a long time.

“It’s really the truth,” she says. “Fifteen years the library has been rescued in one way or another. It’s just a terrible economic time that we couldn’t save it one way or another. This is an economic situation that is just untenable.”

Griffin continued, “I think it’s really wonderful people care so much for their libraries. I’d rather have them be upset about it than not care. There’s also a need to personalize things — that there’s some person or entity causing this thing — rather than realize the Wright Library has been in trouble since 1993.”

State financial support for libraries in California has diminished greatly. According to Berta Steele, vice president of the Friends of the San Buenaventura Library group, in 2001 the Ventura County library system received more than $1 million in state funding. Compare that to 2009, when it received a fraction of the money at just $149,000.

During the Measure A campaign, the Friends embarked on a final fundraising campaign led by Steele to save the Wright, raising $120,000.

“We were able to keep the library open through November,” she said. “That was five months we bought.”

The Friends’ efforts to save the Wright also meant that other funds, for new book purchases and the like for Ventura’s two other libraries — E.P. Foster and Avenue — were diverted.

“We neglected all of the Ventura libraries in our efforts to keep Wright open,” said Friends President Will Thompson.
When Measure A went to ballots last month, some members of the Friends of the Library did not vote for it, he said.
Although the Wright Library is closed, the building and its books inside won’t be going anywhere. Fulton said the city, which owns the building, will continue to hold a lease on the property, owned by Ventura College, until 2015. During that time, the library could be used for storage of equipment and books.

Thompson hopes that within the next five years a special, more specific parcel tax could be implemented to help reopen the Wright. A $15 tax imposed on owners of 34,000 parcels in the city of Ventura, he said, could raise more than $500,000.

According to Mayor Fulton, in 1995 city officials placed a special parcel tax to benefit libraries on ballots. The tax, estimated to raise $1 million a year at $35 a parcel, needed a two-thirds vote. It failed with Ventura voters, receiving only 53 percent.

Steele said she is happy that Brocke’s campaign so zealously supports the future of libraries in Ventura. But the Friends of the Library, she noted, does not agree with the Grand Jury appeal, and takes no stance in the matter.

“I wish them the best. I certainly would like to see the library open,” Steele said. “I, however, don’t agree with the tactics and the smear campaign or blaming the messenger. I don’t agree with insinuations without factual backup. I don’t agree with attacks on people who are trying their darnedest to keep things working, with a diminishing amount of money. We tried, we did our best.”

It was unknown by deadline if the Grand Jury would be taking Brocke’s requests into consideration. Robert Denton, an assistant district attorney for Ventura County, explained that it’s rarely divulged what grand jurors are investigating until after their results are released publicly.

Brocke told the Reporter in an e-mail from last month that two people — one, a parent from Ojai — asked her to help organize the effort to save the Wright. She’s since set up an e-mail account,, where people interested in the Wright campaign can write for information.

“I personally don’t even use Wright. I use Oxnard and Camarillo (libraries),” she said. “It’s odd that I’m the crusader behind Wright when I don’t even use it. It’s just that I don’t like people being misled and want to know the truth of what’s happening.”

Plumas Supervisors respond to Grand Jury Report

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

The Board of Supervisors approved a response to the 2008–09 Grand Jury report drafted by County Counsel James Reichle at a Tuesday, Dec. 2, meeting.

The response addressed basic board functions, the county jail, the courthouse annex, the alcohol and drug department closure, and litigation involving the county.

Board procedures

The response began by addressing the section of the report that dealt with the basic operations of the board.

The Grand Jury’s first recommendation was for contact information for each supervisor to be printed in the newspaper and for the board to hold quarterly townhall meetings to increase public accessibility to the board.

The board agreed to request the newspaper publish its contact information in the same area it provides information about contacting legislative representatives. (At press time, Feather Publishing had not yet received such a request.)

On the issue of townhalls, the response indicated they were best attended when there was an issue “of great public interest.”

Because of that, the board indicated “it is best to allow each supervisor to determine when to call such meetings in his or her district.”

The Grand Jury reported, “We found not all supervisors were familiar with the heads of the departments under their supervision.”

The response argued the supervisors “are familiar with heads of departments directly through appearances at board meetings, performance evaluations and, indirectly, through the county administrative officer.”

Finally, the grand jury recommended the board hold quarterly meetings with all department heads to discuss personnel issues, department needs, budget requirements and similar topics.

The response disagreed completely with the suggestion.

“The Brown Act prohibits public discussion of personnel issues and would require individual closed sessions with each department head.

“Any public meeting of all department heads might be legally possible in a workshop setting, but this would prevent any action on the board’s part and would inhibit the candor required for good information exchange.”

The jail

The board’s response acknowledged some of the supervisors hadn’t toured the jail in recent years and agreed with the Grand Jury recommendation that they make visits “to stay informed on current conditions.”

As in previous years, the Grand Jury argued the jail was in very poor condition and unsafe for officers and inmates; it also observed the jail and exercise yard are next to the public road into the transfer facility.

The supervisors responded, “The Plumas County jail is regularly inspected by the State Department of Corrections to assure compliance with all state regulations designed to insure inmate, community and officer safety.”

“Only jails that meet these standards are allowed to operate.

“The board has sought and will continue to aggressively seek funding for an improved or new jail but can make no commitment as to when improvements could be funded.”

The board did agree with the Grand Jury’s recommendation to have the Corrections Planning Committee meet to address issues raised by the Grand Jury report within the next three months.

Courthouse Annex

The grand jury recommended the supervisors pursue retrofitting, making the existing building usable or selling it in the future when faced with situations like the courthouse annex replacement.

The board responded it did analyze retrofitting and found it not feasible.

It added it wasn’t possible to sell an older building that housed county employees before constructing a new one without adding the cost of temporary quarters.

The response also said “the board has no immediate plans for additional construction and feels that the comments in this recommendation are well taken.”

The Grand Jury also recommended the board attempt to restructure mortgage payments on the annex so they wouldn’t be due at the time of the year when the county has the lowest cash flow in the general fund.

The response indicated the county made serious efforts to restructure the payments but couldn’t accomplish that feat in the current economic climate.

The Grand Jury report went on to suggest the board consult experts on geothermal heating to repair the annex’s system.

The board responded engineers had designed a practical fix for certain parts of the building that had experienced problems and it was expected to be fully functional before winter.

Finally, addressing empty space in the building, the Grand Jury recommended the county advertise for other tenants, move other county departments into the building or allow the community to use it.

The response said the annex was designed to provide office space for governmental agencies and wasn’t suited to other uses.

It added the county was negotiating with other agencies to rent space, that there were many confidential files stored in the building, making it a poor choice for public use.

As far as moving other departments, the board argued the idea “does not appear practical as it would be unlikely to produce more rentable space and there are no likely candidates.”

Alcohol and Drug closure

The only finding from the Grand Jury on this topic was that the board should have been clearer in explaining the reasons for closing the department.

The BOS responded “because of pending litigation and claims by or on behalf of former Alcohol and Drug employees that involve the closing of the department, on advice of County Counsel and in part in reliance on the supervisors’ deliberative privilege, the board will make no comment on these findings and recommendations.”


The Grand Jury argued the departments it reviewed didn’t have policies or procedures and each county department should have them.

The board responded that many departments did have them and the county was hoping to provide complete county policies and procedures online sometime in the future.

The Grand Jury also found many of the job descriptions it reviewed were from the mid- to late-90s and suggested “accurate and timely job descriptions should be immediately developed for every level of county employee.”

The board retorted, “The county does not have the resources to rewrite all of its job descriptions and there is no need to do so since a job description sets the nature of the job, and the precise employee responsibilities are assigned by the department head within those limits.”

“If there are job descriptions that no longer accurately reflect the nature of an employee’s work these will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Finally, the Grand Jury recommended the county provide risk management training to all county employees.

The board responded the county recently joined a new insurance fund that has “a strong safety and loss prevention program.”

“The board will utilize these resources to improve safe and effective department operations.”

Law and Justice

The Grand Jury report included a small section on law enforcement that addressed several issues, but most notably commented the sheriff’s department was understaffed and the emergency communication system was inadequate.

The section requested the Board of Supervisors respond to those concerns as well.

The supervisors’ response document did not address that section.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Victorville councilman calls for audit amid Grand Jury probe

Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/08/2009 06:50:37 PM PST
Updated: 12/08/2009 07:02:05 PM PST

VICTORVILLE - City Councilman Ryan McEachron has called for a forensic audit of all city contracts, payroll and accounting records amid an ongoing Grand Jury investigation into the city's business practices.

Since being elected to the City Council last November, McEachron said he's been troubled by a barrage of complaints from citizens alleging the city is corrupt and engaged in an incestuous relationship with energy magnate William Buck Johns, president of Newport Beach-based Inland Energy, Inc.

Johns has been instrumental in the entitlement and development of the Victorville 1 (VV1) power plant at the Southern California Logistics Airport and several other power plant projects in the High Desert.

"There's been a lot of concern with respect to the relationship the city has with (William) Buck Johns and his company Inland Energy," said McEachron, who called for the audit at the Dec. 1 Council meeting. "But I think the bigger and overarching issue that caused me to request this audit is all the various contracts that we entered into without council approval and changes to policy."

He said his request will be agendized and go before the City Council in January for a vote.

In April, the Grand Jury interviewed a half dozen elected and appointed city officials, inquiring about the city's financial situation and at least three verbal or handshake agreements former City Manager Jon B. Roberts made with contractors.

"They did a lot of handshaking," said Burrel Woodring, who served as foreman for the 2008-2009 Grand Jury.

Roberts, who is now the city manager in Steamboat Springs, Co., couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

When last year's Grand Jury disbanded in June, a special Grand Jury panel was formed to pick up the investigation where the previous Grand Jury left off.

"It looks like they're making a major project out of it," Woodring said. "We considered it something that should be followed through."

Among the contracts Roberts helped negotiate was the VV1 contract with Johns' Inland Energy.

Miguel Gonzalez, spokesman for Inland Energy, believes McEachron isn't so much concerned over the city's relationship with Johns as he is the city's business practices.

He said McEachron is highly supportive of the city's joint effort with Inland Energy on its EB-5 program, aimed at securing millions of dollars from foreign investors in Asia for development projects in the city, including a Dr. Pepper Snapple bottling plant. In exchange, investors receive green cards and a five-percent return on their investment over a five-year period.

Gonzalez said Johns has been neither interviewed nor subpoenaed by the Grand Jury.

"I can tell you unequivocally that Mr. Johns has not been contacted, and neither has he been subpoenaed by any Grand Jury," Gonzalez said.

In the last month, Grand Jury members interviewed all five City Council members, Economic Development Director Keith Metzler and City Attorney Andre de Bortnowsky, said Yvonne Hester, city spokeswoman.

They were all directed not to disclose publicly anything discussed in the interviews, Hester said.

There have been no further inquiries since.

"There's been no subpoenas, and there have been no requests for follow-up appointments," she said.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Marin grand jury calls 'clean energy' plan too risky

Richard Halstead
Posted: 12/07/2009 05:55:25 PM PST
Updated: 12/07/2009 10:37:00 PM PST

In a new report unambiguously titled "Pull the Plug," the Marin County Civil Grand Jury on Monday recommended the Marin Energy Authority abandon its effort to reduce greenhouse gases by competing with Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

While acknowledging that "protecting the environment is in everyone's best interest," the grand jury wrote, "In these economically challenged and difficult times, we question the decision to put the county into the business of operating commercial power generation facilities, a function not usually associated with the government of a small county."

If the Marin Clean Energy initiative fails, the county of Marin will not recover the $540,000 it provided to the organization as seed money, the report said.

The Marin Energy Authority board of directors convened in a special meeting Monday to review its initial response to the report.

"In my opinion, this report is a blatant hit piece against Marin Clean Energy," said Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan, chairman of the authority's board.

Board member Lew Tremaine, a member of the Fairfax Town Council, said the "Pull the Plug" title "sets a really unobjective tone to the report right out of the gate."

The authority, which consists of the county of Marin and all of Marin's cities with the exception of Novato, Corte Madera and Larkspur, believes it can do considerably better than PG&E. The investor-owned utility has said it will fail to meet the state-mandated goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010.

The authority's Marin Clean Energy program would initially purchase electricity from a wholesaler and resell it to Marin customers. Soon, however, the authority hopes to develop its own renewable energy sources. It could sign a contract with a wholesaler by Feb. 4.

Authority managers say the contract will be executed only if the wholesale provider can guarantee Marin customers that at least 25 percent of their electricity will come from renewable sources while at least matching PG&E prices. Customers who are willing to pay a premium would also have the option of assuring that 100 percent of their electricity comes from renewable sources.

The grand jury asserts that the clean energy plan presents too many risks to both ratepayers and taxpayers who live in the jurisdictions that make up the authority. Once the authority signs a contract with a wholesaler, Marin residents who live in a jurisdiction belonging to the authority will automatically become customers of the authority, unless they choose to opt out.

"Marin Clean Energy could present unforeseen legal and financial risks to the participating cities, the county of Marin, and the citizens as taxpayers," the report stated.

The grand jury noted that in October the Marin County Board of Supervisors discussed the possibility that the county might be asked to guarantee a $2 million loan to ensure that Marin Clean Energy had sufficient start-up capital. During that meeting, two supervisors said they thought other members of the authority should also shoulder some of the financial responsibility. The report said that the Marin Clean Energy business plan calls for borrowing $6.4 million to provide working capital during its initial year.

McGlashan, however, said talk of any jurisdiction needing to co-sign for a loan is premature.

"We don't know if a bank is going to require that. We don't know if we're going to borrow it from a bank. We don't know where we're going to get that start-up capital or even if we can find it, thanks to PG&E's litigious behavior," McGlashan said.

McGlashan said the rest of the working capital needed during the first year could be borrowed using ratepayer revenue as collateral.

The grand jury noted that the authority's decision not to submit the Marin Clean Energy plan to a vote of the public "runs contrary to transparent governance and consumer protection standards." The criticism echoes a ballot initiative by PG&E to require local governments to obtain the approval of two-thirds of the voters in affected jurisdictions before using public funds, borrowing or issuing bonds to mount efforts such as Marin Clean Energy.

The grand jury said key questions affecting ratepayers remain. The authority has said it plans to notify ratepayers four times before automatically switching them from PG&E. The grand jury wanted to know how ratepayers would be contacted and asked how much ratepayers would have to pay in penalties if they decided to opt out after the initial 120-day decision period.

McGlashan said penalties, if necessary, would be nominal. If natural gas prices remain constant or rise, ratepayers switched to Marin Clean Energy would likely see their energy costs decline, he said.

McGlashan said Marin Clean Energy would actually reduce financial risk to Marin taxpayers because it would result in a 17 percent reduction in overall county greenhouse gas emissions, approximately two-thirds of the reduction that state law requires by 2020. McGlashan has estimated the savings in government penalties for the county and Marin municipalities could amount to $262 million.

Kern County Grand jury praises Tehachapi city staff

By: Kern County Grand Jury


The Cities and Joint Powers Committee (Committee), of the 2009-2010 Kern County Grand Jury visited the City of Tehachapi (City) on October 5, 2009, to inquire into the operations and management of the City. The Committee also inquired into federal compliance of the City with respect to the legal eligibility of employees to work in the United States as per form I-9. The visit was for the purpose of conducting an investigation pursuant to California Penal Code §925a.


The City’s office is located at 115 South Robinson Street Tehachapi, CA 93561. The Committee met in a conference room with the City Manager (Manager) and several members of the staff.


The City covers approximately 9.6 square miles. The City was incorporated in 1909 and is located in the Tehachapi Mountains approximately 45 miles east-southeast of Bakersfield. The area is known for the Tehachapi loop, Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm and proximity to Edwards Air Force Base. A maximum security prison, the California Correctional Institution (CCI), also known as the Tehachapi State Prison is in the area.

Tehachapi is known as “The Land of Four Seasons” and is an excellent environment for gliding. The origin of the name Tehachapi is in dispute. Possibilities include Native American words expressing sweetwater and acorns, the land of four seasons and windy place.


1. The population of the City is approximately 13,000. The number includes approximately 5,000 inmates in CCI.
2. The budget for the City is between three and four million with twenty percent in reserve.

3. The City is compliant with ethics training for all elected City Officials.

4. The City hired one new employee last year but lost three employees to attrition. The City remains compliant with the federal I-9 forms.

5. The City has the ability to perform in-house grant writing.

6. The City’s disaster plan was last updated in January 2008

7. The City has seven water wells, six are in use and one is on standby. The City has an above ground 2.5 million gallon water storage capacity.

8. There is one high school, one junior high school, one elementary school and a continuation school (outside City limits). There are two vacant junior high schools.

9. Two years ago the City dissolved the city fire department and contracted with the Kern County Fire Department. The City is very satisfied with the decision, stating the response time is three minutes to a call.

10. The City stated “there was no new home building in the last eight months because of the recent economy.” Three businesses have expanded and one is in planning stages. One new hotel has recently opened and the City is a member of I.C.S.C. (International Council of Shopping Centers).


The Committee was impressed by the professionalism and dedication shown by the Manager and Staff during the Committee’s visit.


The City of Tehachapi should post a copy of this report where it would be available for public review.

Note: Present and past Kern County Grand Jury Final Reports and Responses can be accessed on the Kern County Grand Jury website:

Persons wishing to receive an email notification of newly released reports may sign up at, click on: Sign up for early releases.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Supervisors move to protect public resources from abuse

Published: Thursday, December 3, 2009 6:49 PM CST
Keeping a promise made to the Grand Jury and the public, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance prohibiting public officials from using county resources, including the influence of their positions, for personal gain.

Various state laws and county ordinances and policies address this issue. However, in its final report released in July, the 2008-2009 San Bernardino County Grand Jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors amend the County Code of Ethics to prohibit public officials from using their public offices or positions for personal gain.

The Board took that recommendation one step further Tuesday, cementing that clause not only in the Code of Ethics but giving it the force of an ordinance. This gives the Board the legal basis it would need to take action against violators.

“The Board of Supervisors once again has made it clear that it won’t tolerate any abuse of power or misuse of the public’s resources,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Ovitt.

The ordinance will become part of a larger ordinance passed by the Board in 2002 to clarify the instances in which the Board could exercise its authority under the County Charter to remove an elected official from office.

Santa Cruz Grand Jury says county could save taxpayers a little cash

By Kurtis Alexander
Posted: 12/05/2009 01:30:27 AM PST

County leaders could be doing more to save a little taxpayer money here and there, grand jurors said Friday.

The grand jury, an all-volunteer watchdog panel that released recommendations earlier this year on ways to improve local government, published the responses to its report this week. At a press conference Friday morning, members said county government was among the agencies that didn't seem to embrace their suggestions.

"I feel like they're just putting us on, to tell you the truth," said juror Richard Perez.

In responding to grand jury suggestions on how to save money, the county commonly cites limited finances as a reason it can't execute the recommended actions, an explanation many jurors didn't accept.

"If you spend a little money, you save a lot of money," said juror Mary Bergthold.

The June grand jury report, among other things, recommended county leaders consolidate storage space and dispose of old records to trim its rental expenses as well as take advantage of state-issued credit cards to cut down local administrative costs.

The county Board of Supervisors, in its response, says it does not have the money to evaluate its storage facility, nor does it expect it can realize savings there. The board also says using the state's CAL-card may have advantages but any additional savings that result could be undermined by fraud and waste.

An additional grand jury recommendation that Scotts Valley schools do more to address teen alcohol and drug abuse has already been met with the assignment of a police officer on the high school campus.

A grand jury recommendation that Pajaro Valley schools do a better job evaluating retirement incentives is playing into renewed school board discussion of retirement policies.

Jurors said Friday that education leaders in both Scotts Valley and Watsonville could do more to address their concerns, but said at least they're listening.

"The grand jury report did exactly what we wanted," said jury forewoman Lorna Horton, referring to the report on Scotts Valley teen drinking. "It drew attention to the issue."

To view the grand jury report, visit

Santa Cruz Grand jury: County’s response to annual report found lacking

Posted: Saturday, Dec 5th, 2009

SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz County’s civil grand jury expressed some frustration with the overall lack of response from the county in the Final 2008-09 Report with Responses as the group released the document Friday.

The grand jury examined how the county spends its money, how it stores its stuff and how it may be overlooking the operations of special districts, rather than overseeing them as the law requires.

During a press conference on the steps of the Santa Cruz County Courthouse, jury foreman Clyde Vaughn said the county’s general response was that it lacked the staff and money to look at the issues. While Vaughn, a United methodist Minister, was very guarded in his criticism, others on the jury were less so.

“I feel that they are just putting us on, to tell the truth,” jury member Dick Perez said. “Because they know we will be gone in a few weeks.”

The grand jury found fault with the county’s main method of expenditure: purchase orders. According to the jury, the county’s average cost per order, $184, is double or triple the industry standard. In addition, the county’s computer system is too old to figure out where the problem is. Instead of using purchase orders, the grand jury wants the county to use CAL-Card, which works like a credit card, but has no interest or card fees unless payment is late.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Riverside Grand jury calls Banning leaders

10:00 PM PDT on Friday, October 23, 2009

The Press-Enterprise

Banning city officials and community art leaders have confirmed they've been called before the Riverside County civil grand jury.

"Yes, a subcommittee of the grand jury contacted the city of Banning and asked for some information regarding the Redevelopment Agency and they are interviewing some people," Mayor Bob Botts said in a statement. "The city is working with the grand jury and has provided all of the information requested."

The grand jury operates behind closed doors and Botts said he could not discuss the matter further until the inquiry is completed.

Carol Newkirk, executive director of the Banning Cultural Alliance, said she testified before the grand jury earlier this week.

The nonprofit Cultural Alliance receives funding from the Community Redevelopment Agency, a city agency.

Newkirk and Karen Clavelot, president of the lliance, said the organization has provided the grand jury committee with everything it has requested. Newkirk said this includes legal and financial documents.

"We have absolutely no concerns," Clavelot said.

She added, "We can account for all of the money we've gotten from the city."

The grand jury primarily serves as a civil grand jury, performing oversight functions, according to its Web site. It investigated the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District in 2007. Its final report included the grand jury's findings and recommendations to the district for improving operations.

The Banning Cultural Alliance is on the agenda for Tuesday's Community Redevelopment Agency meeting. The agenda says the redevelopment agency, which is the Banning City Council, will hear a presentation from the alliance "regarding their activities and progress with downtown art initiatives, cultural activities and downtown revitalization efforts" for fiscal year 2008-09.

The meeting is at 4:30 p.m. at the Banning Civic Center Council Chambers, 99 E. Ramsey St.

Reach Erin Waldner at 951-763-3473 or

Santa Clara Editorial: Pham case shows need for more police disclosure

Mercury News Editorial
Posted: 10/19/2009 08:31:30 PM PDT
Updated: 10/19/2009 08:57:03 PM PDT

There's no need to speculate about the difference that more openness would make in building trust between the San Jose police and the community. The sad case of Daniel Pham is a classic example playing out in real time. It's no coincidence that the audience for tonight's city council debate on increasing public access to police records will be dotted with Pham T-shirts and signs.

Pham was the knife-wielding, mentally ill man who was shot by officers May 10 after 911 calls brought them to a Berryessa home. Last week a Santa Clara County grand jury declined to indict the officers, but that was cold comfort to a Vietnamese American community primed to think the worst: Memories of the controversial police killing six years earlier of Bich Cau Thi Tran, a diminutive woman wielding a large vegetable peeler, are still fresh.

There were many differences between these cases. We suspect that if the police had swiftly released more information in the Pham case — and if District Attorney Dolores Carr had followed her predecessor's practice of making grand jury proceedings public in cases of high public interest — this controversy would be behind us.

The city council tonight will discuss a recommendation by the Sunshine Reform Task Force, which includes a Mercury News representative, to release many police reports and 911 tapes and increase reporting of police statistics. The recommendation includes broad exemptions for sensitive cases, such as rape and domestic violence reports, and calls for redacting information in all reports that could endanger witnesses or inhibit investigations. It should be adopted.

Mayor Chuck Reed and the rules and open government committee have proposed limited rules to ensure that police meet current state guidelines on releasing information. But some open government advocates believe Reed's plan could be used to limit information rather than encourage openness.

Reed has said 911 tapes should be released in some instances, which would be better than the current zero release policy, and he said the Pham tapes should be public after the grand jury met. He needs to follow through.

Had the tapes been released, it might be clear what police knew going into the situation, including Pham's mental state and the level of danger they could expect. The police report might lay out other circumstances that would help people understand what happened.

And while San Jose doesn't control Carr's decision on grand juries, an open proceeding would have shown whether evidence was presented fully.

In the Pham case, more openness very likely would have meant less anger. But even when releasing reports shows problems with police conduct, it benefits the department. When public drunkenness reports released by the city showed there was little justification for many of those arrests, the number plunged. The result over time will be greater public trust.

Revealing more, and doing more work in public, is always hard at first. But over time, it pays off. That's why the city council should approve the Sunshine Reform Task Force proposal tonight.

Lake County superintendent of schools responds to grand jury report findings

Friday, 16 October 2009
LAKEPORT – Lake County's superintendent of schools said he erred in signing a document with incorrect information that allowed a former administrator to apply for a credentialing program for which she was not eligible.

The issues were included in the latest grand jury report, released in July, and addressed in the Lake County Office of Education's formal response to the grand jury, released last month.

In that response to the grand jury, Dave Geck admits mistakes and misunderstandings, but also points to what he said are inaccuracies in the grand jury's report.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins confirmed that the grand jury contacted him about the case, which he investigated. Hopkins said he found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The grand jury asked Geck and his office to explain why he signed the document and provided inaccurate information in last year's response, and why he allowed Allison Hillix, the former director of career technical education, to remain in her job without immediately terminating her when it was discovered she didn't hold the appropriate qualifications.

Hillix, who no longer works for the Lake County Office of Education, would not comment when contacted by Lake County News.

The Lake County Office of Education's responses to the report included an admission that Geck showed “poor judgment” in not checking the accuracy of dates on an application Hillix made for a credentialing program.

The grand jury also recommended that all expenses reimbursed to both Hillix and Geck be audited. The report stated that Hillix was reimbursed $10,000 in expenses in an eight-month period.

Geck said he discussed the report with his board of trustees, who participated in the formal response.

“This reflects on the whole Office of Education,” said Geck.

The agency – which has an annual budget of about $16 million, $2 million of which is for supporting districts in business and human resources – has 120 employees, include 25 full-time staffers in the main office. It also has many part-time staffers.

It's been the focus of two years of grand jury investigative efforts and was mentioned in the last two grand jury reports.

“The initial complaint received by the Grand Jury suggested that a high-ranking administrative position was given to an individual that received administrative credentials under false pretenses,” the grand jury stated in its recent report.

In that report, the grand jury faulted Geck for signing a document attesting to the required teaching experience for Hillix, who was applying for a certification program. In her position she oversaw ROP courses, programs and services in the agency.

The certification would allow Hillix to be at an administrator level, said Geck. Without it, she could still be a manager, which would be at a lower step and pay level.

“I never denied that I messed up and made a mistake” on the certification of experience, Geck said.

Geck said Hillix had filled out the form and then had him sign it. “I didn't do a good job of checking that.”

Geck gets plenty of documents to sign, but said that's no excuse.

“When you make a mistake you have to pay the price,” Geck said.

As a result, Geck said his office now has a new administrative policy in which two administrators must verify such a form before it's signed. “That should not happen again,” said Geck.

The investigation by the grand jury's Public Services Committee also revealed that Geck authorized the $10,000 in expense reimbursements to Hillix.

The grand jury report further stated that Hillix had been reimbursed for alcohol purchases while at a conference, but the district's director of business services reported that no such alcohol purchase were reimbursed based on her review of the documentation, according to the district's response to the report.

Geck said the Lake County Office of Education has added a per diem limit. He said the change wasn't necessarily due to the grand jury's investigation, but rather was part of an effort to reduce expenses.

The grand jury report also faulted Geck for saying he didn't have the form in question, which the office's human resources director, Ed Skeen, later produced.

Geck said the issue was due to a misunderstanding, because he thought they were talking about another document. The formal response to the grand jury also maintains that the issue came down to a misunderstanding.

Last year, Geck's office had sent the grand jury a brochure on the Sacramento State program to clear up the misunderstanding. He said they plan to share the document with the grand jury again this year.

The grand jury also stated that Hillix was allowed to resign two months after the credential was invalidated, but Geck said that's incorrect. He said the grand jury had Hillix's personnel files and the resignation dates, along with the district's personnel policies, which his office sent them.

On Aug. 28, 2008, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing notified Geck's office via e-mail that the state university was requesting the credential be denied, according to the response to the grand jury's finding.

At the same time, Hillix discovered her credential was no longer listed on Sacramento State's credentialing Web site. Geck said she investigated appealing it at the start of September. The grand jury's findings held that Hillix should have been immediately terminated.

Skeen then sent the grand jury a notice on Sept. 10, 2008, saying that the credential was invalidated, Geck said.

Hillix wasn't able to file an appeal due to a statute of limitations issues. “Once she wasn't able to appeal she resigned,” said Geck.

It was 36 days between the time Geck's office received notice that the credential was being invalidated to Hillix's resignation, not two months as the grand jury said, according to the Lake County Office of Education's response to the findings.

Based on the Lake County Office of Education's attorney's opinion, “our delay in terminating the employee was based on providing the employee with sufficient time to pursue an appeal, and to not compromise any 'due process' rights that the employee might have,” the response stated.

A document provided by Skeen showed that the career technical education director position, which was paid $82,325 annually, became vacant upon Hillix's resignation on Oct. 6, 2008, after she was in the position for 217 days.

Geck said she continued nonadministrative employment “on a very limited, temporary, timesheet basis to complete some projects for the ROP office,” and is no longer employed in any capacity within the office.

During the investigation, the grand jury drew on its rarely used subpoena power to call in Geck and several others. He said he doesn't know how many subpoenas were issued, but became aware that some people in his office were called to testify more than once. In all, the grand jury report noted it drew from 42 hours of testimony in its final report.

Geck's testimony, which was the basis of this year's grand jury report, actually was given in the first half of 2008 under subpoena, he said.

Based on the grand jury's report 2007-08 report, the District Attorney's Office subpoenaed district documents and said they would follow up. Geck said if the document signing had been fraudulent, he would have heard from the District Attorney's Office.

Hopkins said his office, along with county counsel and the presiding judge, act as advisors to the grand jury.

The grand jury, Hopkins said, “did come to us and ask us to investigate potential criminal charges.”

He continued, “We did a lot of extra investigation beyond what they had done in regard to that and determined there was no basis for filing criminal charges.”

Geck said he doesn't believe further grand jury investigations are in the offing. “As far as we know this is a final report.”

He said he felt the structure of the investigation created an adversarial process, and said he would have preferred it if people who had issues with the agency came to him directly.

“I'm just looking for a way to make this a positive process,” said Geck.

He added, “Our goal is to get better and improve at all times.”

Geck said he doesn't want the mistake he made to denigrate the entire Lake County Office of Education, and he's concerned about the community's perception. “We have great people doing great programs.”

He continued, “I did make a mistake but I don't want to make that an excuse.”

The Lake County Office of Education also is implementing grand jury recommendations, including explaining the issues with the credential program and undertaking an audit of the expenses reimbursed to both Geck and Hillix, according to its response document.

In September 2008 the Lake County Office of Education initiated an audit on their own, Geck said. That audit was included in the agency's regular annual audit.

That audit, by Robertson & Associates, was expected to be done by this past Sept. 4. However, Geck said that the auditing firm is backlogged and the document hasn't yet been delivered, although he's expecting it soon.

Geck asserted that, overall, this latest grand jury report was “positive by omission,” since many issues mentioned in last year's report didn't arise in this latest report.

Brock Falkenberg now holds Hillix's old job.

“I think things are going well,” said Geck.

All of the ROP programs got a 15 percent cut in 2008-09 and are looking at another 5 percent cut for 2009-10. Geck said he hopes the programs aren't further reduced.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nevada County Grand jury room named after longtime juror

Ray Hoffman was Mr. Grand Jury of Nevada County before he died at 80 in September; fellow jury members and county officials have made sure his years of hard work are remembered.

At the request of the current grand jury, the Board of Supervisors voted this week to name the room where the watchdogs meet at the Rood Center the Ray Hoffman Memorial Grand Jury Room.

“It's a wonderful honor,” said his widow, Nancy Hoffman, on Thursday. “He loved the grand jury, every minute of it.”

Mrs. Hoffman said her husband had a stroke that made it hard for him to walk and talk in the last year of his life. But he would still attend grand jury meetings, even if he had to take the Telecare medical care bus to get there.

“He was involved right up to his death,” Mrs. Hoffman said. “He was involved for 12 years and was foreman for three terms.”

Hoffman also was a member of the California Grand Jurors Association, teaching others about the process and writing a manual for county jurors. He retired to Penn Valley 14 years ago from the Bay Area, where he worked for Hunts Foods.

“It's well-deserved. He spent so much of his time on the jury. It was kind of his room anyway,” said Diane Masini, a fellow juror for three terms.

“He did tireless work on behalf of the county and was a fine individual,” Truckee-area Supervisor Ted Owens said this week.

“The gentleman had a passion for his job,” said Board Chairman Hank Weston, who serves Hoffman's area.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail or call 477-4237. ho serves Hoffman's area.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Colusa Grand jury criticizes county spending

Tuesday, Sep 29 2009, 6:20 pm
By Susan Meeker/Tri-County Newspapers

If you have a question — just ask.

That was the informal response of the Colusa County Board of Supervisors to Colusa County grand jury about its criticism that the county paid $75,000 for a salary survey that was incomplete and not finished by the contracted date.

Board Chairman Gary Evans said the public flap over the salary survey could have been avoided if the grand jury had done its due diligence during its investigation and contacted county officials involved in the project.

"The grand jury didn't talk to any one of us," Evans said. "They went off half-cocked."

The grand jury, in its final report, said a citizen's complaint prompted the investigation into the existence of the salary survey that was to be provided by Nash and Company, a Palos Verdes consulting firm.

The grand jury secured a copy of the $75,000 contract dated Sept. 7, 2007, with work to be completed by April 30, 2008.

After its investigation, the grand jury reported that the contracted work was not completed and accepted by the county, as specified by the contract.

The grand jury also reported that the county paid the company in full before the work was completed and urged the county to improve its oversight of contracted services.

Brian Ring, personnel director, in his formal response to the grand jury, said the county should have initiated a formal extension of the deadline for the final survey, when county officials realized the initial date could not be met, but that the county "is pleased" with the report and the work produced by Nash and Company.

"The department feels the contractor delivered what was contracted for," Ring stated.

Ring said the contract with Nash and Company was to review and rewrite all 241 Colusa County job descriptions, bringing them up to date, and including Fair Labor Standards Act and American with Disabilities Act requirements.

The final report, which was received by the supervisors on March 3, incorporated career ladders, reduced the number of job classifications and developed a useable salary schedule in order to pay employees a competitive wage.

Ring said the county will consider implementing the salary options only when funding allows.

Contact Susan Meeker at 458-2121 or

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Los Gatos-Saratoga Union school district disagrees with most of grand jury report findings

By Brian Babcock

Saratoga News
Posted: 09/14/2009 10:14:21 PM PDT
Updated: 09/14/2009 10:14:22 PM PDT

Local school districts have begun responding to the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury's reports on the spending of education dollars and inventory practices, and there seems to be little the school districts agree with.

In a letter sent to the grand jury about the spending of education dollars, the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District responded to six findings and recommendations the grand jury made. The high school district only "partially" agreed with one of them.

The report, "Who Really Benefits From Education Dollars? Hint: It's not the students," analyzed the pay packages, perks and legal fees paid by the 34 school districts in the county.

The grand jury stated in the report that district board members approve overly generous benefits to themselves. To remedy the issue the grand jury recommended the county boards eliminate health benefits and pension contributions and minimize travel and conference costs.

"Removing health benefits will not be implemented because it is not warranted or reasonable," the district's letter states. "This benefit is of great help in attracting and maintaining well-qualified, hard-working and dedicated governing board members."

Superintendent Cary Matsuoka said district staff, including teachers, rarely attend conferences out of California. The high school district tries to ensure responsible spending by not attending costly out-of-state conferences and meetings, he said.

"We attend conferences in state and we limit the amount of conferences that directly relate to our line of work," Matsuoka said.

The district's governing board president, Rosemary Rossi, echoed the superintendent's statement.

"The district continuously evaluates the value and benefit of attendance at conferences for staff, administrators and board members," Rossi wrote in an e-mail. "As for the board and superintendent, we limit our conference trips to those that are directly related to the work of leadership and governance which are our primary roles."

Whether it is teachers, superintendents or board members, having competitive compensation, such as health benefits and pension contributions, can help attract the best talent to the district, Matsuoka said.

"Compensation is very important in recruiting," he said. "We have a talented and outstanding staff and compensation is a part of that. It's not all of it, but it is a big part of it."

The high school district's letter also stated that it would not follow the grand jury's recommendation that it renegotiate the superintendent's benefits.

Matsuoka received a $185,869 salary, $13,470 worth of health insurance and a $7,200 car allowance in fiscal year 2008-09, according to the grand jury report. The grand jury stated it costs the district $65.46 per child to pay his salary, which is ninth highest of the 34 county districts included in the report.

The only recommendation that the high school district "partially" agreed with was that it should use Santa Clara County legal counsel when appropriate instead of using private law firms.

"The district is sometimes involved in complex legal issues that require legal expertise in sub-sections of the education code, requiring considerable specialized legal capacity, time and energy," the district wrote.

The Los Gatos Union School District and the Saratoga Union School District have not replied to the grand jury's report as yet. They are required to reply to the report by Sept. 25.

The Los Gatos Union School District has replied to the grand jury's report on inventory practices.

The report, "Santa Clara County School Inventory Practices: $300M+ Taxpayer Investment — But Who's Counting?" concluded that most school districts lack knowledge of policies and procedures related to inventory requirements, which can lead to theft, fraud and abuse.

Los Gatos Union School District superintendent Richard Whitmore said the district does agree with some of the grand jury's recommendations and will implement them.

Although the district agreed with the board that there is a potential for abuse when it comes to inventory, it disagreed that credit card statements need to be provided to the full board of trustees.

"Our board president is approving all my expenses now. We don't think it warrants a separate action item," Whitmore said.

"Generally we're in good shape on the inventory issues," he added.

The newspaper did not receive the Saratoga Union School District's response letter by deadline.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Solano's volunteer grand jury gives back

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Posted: 09/27/2009 12:01:34 AM PDT
Updated: 09/27/2009 12:01:35 AM PDT

Moved by a desire to "be part of the solution," Bunyan Johnson of Vallejo said he thought volunteering to serve on the Solano County Grand Jury would be just the ticket.

And, after a lifetime in law enforcement, the recent widower said it was a good choice.

"I felt I wanted to give something back to the community," said Johnson, grand jury foreperson in 2006/07 and 2008/09. "And I lost my wife not long ago and wanted to keep busy, and the grand jury seemed like a perfect fit."

Johnson said he "wanted to make Solano County and its cities better places to live."

Having testified before grand juries as a police officer, Johnson said he'd never before served on one, and enjoyed the experience.

"There are 19 of us, and it's a diverse group. I got to meet people with different experiences. There were former mayors, doctoral candidates, law enforcement officers, nurses -- I learned something from each of them," Johnson said. "I felt I could do something with all that talent surrounding me to help make our cities better."

The grand jury is an investigative body and part of the judicial branch of government, called for by both the U.S. and California constitutions. The jury's three primary functions are to be a watchdog over local government, investigate citizen complaints about public agencies and officials and to occasionally investigate a criminal matter when requested by the district attorney.

Each year, Solano County Superior Court judges identify potential grand jurors, and they and other elected officials nominate them.

TJ's Designs owner Jimmie Jones, 71, said he was approached in 2004 by then-Vallejo Mayor Tony Intintoli about serving. He served two years, one as foreman, he said.

"I had heard about grand juries, but didn't know any more about them than the common citizen, and it was fascinating," said Jones, a former Times-Herald publisher. "It was very interesting, challenging.

"Normally, juries get complaints from the citizenry and it's an interesting process to go through them if the jury decides to take it on," he said.

Serving on the current jury, Medic Ambulance President Rudy Manfredi said he, too, is "loving" the experience.

"I did it because it allows a regular citizen to get a more in-depth look at government," he said. "We investigate, talk to witnesses and make recommendations. We are 19 people from very different backgrounds. We get along very well, and have some very lively discussions."

Each new grand jury consists of second-term jurors, plus new members, all of whom are given responsibilities by the presiding judge of the Superior Court. Their one-year term begins each July 1.

The county tracks the sitting juror demographics, and tries to have the body's ethnic makeup reflect the county's, but selection isn't based on ethnic criteria, Solano County Court Executive Officer Brian Taylor said.

"We try to recruit from all segments of society, but it depends on who applies and who is randomly selected," Taylor said.

For instance, the 2009/2010 civil grand jury in Solano County is made up of six men and three women. They range in age from 35 to 75 and older. There are 12 whites, six blacks and one Hispanic, according to the county Web site.

Last year, there were 16 men and three women, ranging from 45 to 75-plus. Fifteen were white and four were black.

"We're a fact-finding group. We inspect the jails, the police departments," Johnson said. "Most rewarding for me was some of the places we inspected. You actually get to go in and see what they're doing in the prisons; the programs they have for the inmates, the religious services, the food, the type of medical treatment they get."

Johnson said he believes his grand jury service has led to positive change.

"We send our findings and recommendations, and they have to respond," he said. "In most cases, they do. And based on some of the responses, I assume some changes have been made."

Johnson said he was most impressed by his visits to the California State Prison, Solano and the California Medical Facility, both in Vacaville.

"I was especially impressed with the hospice program, which was outstanding," he said. "What impressed us was the care and attention given to the dying inmates. As a law enforcement officer, I've been to other countries and other states, and inmates don't always seem to get the same level of humane treatment."

The care taken to meet inmates' particular dietary requirements also impressed Johnson, he said.

"Special effort is made to get them their required food," he said. "If you're Jewish, for instance, they make an effort to get you kosher food."

As the sitting grand jury foreperson, James McCully of Vacaville, 63, said he's tried to improve the efficiency of the process.

"Because of my experience in organizational development, I believe these procedural changes will help make our reports more timely," McCully said.

A winemaker by trade, McCully said he's been in public service in one form or other since enlisting in the Marine Corps at 17. Being on the grand jury is just another way to serve, he said.

In Solano County, grand jurors are paid $15 per day for meeting days, and new budget constraints limit them to three meetings this year, according to the Web site.

The grand jury may hire independent auditors and subpoena witnesses and documents, officials said. Jury members may ask advice of legal counsel on civil matters, confer with the district attorney on criminal matters, and discuss problems with Superior Court judges, they said.

Grand jury investigations are contained in early release reports and in an annual final report containing all findings and recommendations and is distributed to public officials, libraries and the general public through the news media.

Grand jury members frequently rely on information from concerned citizens who are aware of problems and are willing to come forward, officials said.

Unlike in Solano County, a separate grand jury is convened to hear criminal cases in Napa County, Court Executive Officer Stephen Bouch said.

Grand jurors are prohibited from discussing what they're working on, he added.

"Criminal grand juries aren't used as much in California as they used to be" Bouch said. "They'll hear evidence presented by the prosecuting attorney to establish probable cause for arresting someone for committing a crime."

In Napa, criminal grand juries are formed on request and hearings are held in secret sessions. If convinced by what they hear, grand jury members can issue an indictment, he said.

But it's rare, Bouch said.

"In the past nine years, one criminal grand jury was called for one case, and that was maybe five years ago," he said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824 or

Sunday, September 27, 2009

After apology, State drops charges against Butte County Grand juror

By Terry Vau Dell
Posted: 09/24/2009 05:37:34 PM PDT

OROVILLE - State prosecutors have dismissed charges against a former Butte County grand juror, after she apologized in court for having disclosed alleged confidential information to the media regarding a police excessive force investigation she conducted more than two years ago.

In her written statement, Georgie Szendrey said "my actions were based on my sincere belief that I was acting in the best interests of the citizens of Butte County and the Constitution of the U.S.

"I regret any inconvenience caused the criminal justice system and any distress to the 2006-07 Grand Jury," the Chico woman added.

Szendrey had been scheduled to stand trial next week on a single misdemeanor charge alleging unlawful disclosure of secret Grand Jury information which could have carried up to six months in jail. Because other former grand jurors could have been called to testify in the case, Szendrey's lawyer, Michael Harvey, said he was concerned that "to establish this crime, the Attorney General would, of necessity, have to disclose and reveal multitudes of Grand Jury secrets to verify the alleged disclosure of a few" by his client.

But deputy attorney general Barton Bowers said the judge had specifically limited such testimony to statements attributed to Szendrey in the local press.

"In light of Mrs. Szendrey's apology, the Attorney General's Office believes it is in the best interest of justice to dismiss the criminal charge against her, but hopes that this will serve as a reminder about the importance of secrecy in grand jury proceedings," Bowers said Wednesday.

Szendrey had been accused of disclosing information to a reporter concerning an excessive force complaint lodged against two Ridge officers, Robert Pickering and Timothy Cooper, with the 2006-07 Grand Jury by the family of an underage drunken driver. In her written findings, which were not included in the Grand Jury's Final Report, Szendrey concluded the officers failed to give clear commands or inform the 19-year-old ridge man he was under arrest before tackling him to the pavement and handcuffing him as a neighbor videotaped the December 2006 incident.

In a joint byline story that ran in the Paradise Post, Enterprise-Record and Oroville Mercury-Register on March 6, 2008, Szendrey was quoted as saying that after her term on the county public watchdog group ended, she decided to turn over her findings along with printed excerpts from the neighbor's videotape to the suspect's lawyer. The grand jury information was later used in court to unseal Pickering's personnel file in two unrelated Paradise resisting arrest cases, both of which ended in jury acquittals.

At a pretrial hearing for Szendrey earlier this month, Butte County Superior Court Judge Gerald Hermansen sided with an attorney for the newspapers that the California Reporter's Shield Law basically barred the prosecution from eliciting testimony from the reporters concerning any information not included in the 2008 article, such as who interviewed Szendrey and when. On Tuesday, Szendrey's attorney said he met with the state prosecutor to work out a "joint resolution," which included the written apology by the former grand juror.

"I apologize to the court and my fellow members of the 2006-07 Grand Jury for any disclosure of Grand Jury statements I may have made in speaking to the reporter for the Chico Enterprise-Record," the statement read.

Szendrey's attorney Wednesday said he has advised her not to comment at this time about the dismissal action. Her husband, Ed Szendrey, a retired chief investigator in the Butte County District Attorney's Office, said he was gratified that his wife's "high sense of justice ... was corroborated by two juries."


Terry Vau Dell is a reporter for the Enterprise-Record.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tehama County Board of Supervisors respond to Grand Jury suggestions

Posted: 09/23/2009 08:46:39 AM PDT
Updated: 09/23/2009 11:24:42 AM PDT

The Tehama County Board of Supervisors Voted on Tuesday to evaluate the cost of a large, flat-screen scanner to preserve documents and blueprints and to review fire safety practices, but not to refer ordinances and measures requiring impartial analysis to an outside office.

All three were recommendations submitted by the Tehama County 2008-2009 Grand Jury, an entity formed and dissolved each year to make an impartial analysis of county government.

Although the jury investigated everything from the Tehama County Animal Shelter to Juvenile Hall, its advice to the Board of Supervisors and administration concerned the preservation of county documents and the question of who should evaluate the impartiality of ordinances and measures.

The response to the former was mixed. While the county agreed to some of the recommendations of the jury, it rejected the idea of creating the position of an Information Technology Coordinator to oversee the preservation of county documents and refused to tour a local radar base where the sheriff and district attorney are keeping overflow documents.

The county also soundly rejected the grand jury's request to send ordinances and measures to an outside party for impartial analysis.

California law requires County Counsel to perform an impartial analysis of county measures and ordinances, but not to draft the measures. The grand jury argued this creates a conflict of interest, wherein the same party drafting the ordinance is asked to judge its legality.

In its report, the grand jury cited Measure B, which would have allowed grand juries to set new salaries for the supervisors, as an example that could have benefited from outside analysis. The grand jury's reading was that Measure B did not make it clear future grand juries could change supervisor salaries without another measure on the ballot.

The Board of Supervisors disagreed in its response, stating nearly all ordinances and measures require impartial analysis, which would mean nearly all ordinances and measures would have be to drafted by an office other than County Counsel.


Staff Writer Geoff Johnson can be reached at 527-2153, extension 114, or at

San Bernadino County files response to grand jury report

10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County supervisors defended their handling of a 1,200-acre development project in Rancho Cucamonga in their response Tuesday to a critical grand jury report.

In the document approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, county officials disagreed in part with the grand jury finding, which recommended that the county use a public auction process to sell the surplus flood control property.

The county had approved an agreement with Rancho Cucamonga to select a developer for the land, but it suspended the deal in May.

The property is north of Highway 210 and is one of the last large undeveloped parcels in the San Bernardino Valley. Five development groups are fighting for the right to build homes, stores and golf courses there.

At Supervisor Paul Biane's urging, the county response to the grand jury includes a lengthy defense of the county's proposed process, which Biane has said he hopes to eventually revive.

"Many public agencies have used processes similar to what was proposed for the sale of the 1,200 acres to get the best price and the highest and best use for the surplus public property," the response states.

The grand jury report, a nonbinding annual review of county government by a panel of private citizens, included a section on government reform in response to scandals at the assessor's office that raised concerns about public corruption.

Two reforms that the grand jury suggested the board consider -- an ethics commission and campaign contribution limits -- will be the subject of a future debate, the county response states.

The response also states that Board Chairman Gary Ovitt will soon present a proposal on what kind of transition funding newly elected officials should get before taking office, in response to another grand jury recommendation.

The county promised to adopt a recommendation to amend its code of ethics to include a ban on the use of public office for personal gain.

Reach Imran Ghori at 951-368-9558 or

San Mateo Grand juries wade into personnel issues

By Bil paul
Posted: 09/23/2009 11:26:48 PM PDT
Updated: 09/23/2009 11:26:48 PM PDT

This summer, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury released its lengthy report on escalating city employee pay and benefits. It signaled a willingness to tackle a tough, involved, controversial subject. Not everyone was pleased with the report. Some employee unions see it as another attack on employees they represent, especially after there have been layoffs and some employees have agreed to forego contractual pay increases during the recession.

Menlo Park City Council Member Kelly Fergusson in particular lambasted the report, and was quoted as saying that the "grand jury failed miserably. There is just a shocking level of factual errors, and misstatements of facts." Meanwhile, there's a small effort under way to try to remove Fergusson and two other Menlo Park council members from office, and some have said that Fergusson is representing the views of one of the larger employee unions, the powerful Service Employees International Union.

At any rate, it's clear that local city employee pay and benefits including pensions did unreasonably escalate in recent years, especially during the dot-com boom. And now the cities are stuck with their contracts, eating up a massive part of the city budget pie during a deep recession, and during state takeaways of city money.

As a career government employee myself (the U.S. Postal Service), now retired, I certainly know the culture from within. In some instances, government employees are paid less than
their private-sector counterparts, and oftentimes the reverse is true. What often attracts people to government jobs is greater job security, along with generous health benefits and pensions. Another attraction is being able to serve communities in a direct fashion, such as the fire and police/parole employees do, or the people in social service jobs who help the poor, the disabled and the troubled.

During the dot-com boom, the grand jury report points out, cities had more money, there was binding arbitration of pay disagreements for a time, and there was some competition to get the best employees. So cities often tried to out-bid each other with higher pay and benefit packages. This is questionable in the area of firefighters, for example, since there is always a long waiting list of qualified applicants vying for a small number of openings. However, what can happen is that a fire department, or police department, may spend a lot of money training an employee, giving him or her on-the-job experience and so on, only to eventually lose that employee to another city offering higher pay and benefits, or to the same job in a distant city where the cost of living is less. Similarly in the Postal Service, we had problems with excessive letter carrier turnover in the high-cost-of-living Bay Area due to their being hired here, but then later transferring to cities where the rents or home prices were much lower.

The grand jury report runs over 130 pages, is chock full of tables, and the bulk of it contains the responses of all of San Mateo County's cities. It makes some personnel recommendations to these cities, including:

• Consider a two-tier pay and benefits system so new employees receive less than current employees.

• Small cities, especially, might consider combining departments as a cost savings, eliminating some managerial positions. For example, in one instance, several cities already share a park and recreation department. An IT department could similarly serve more than one city.

• Look at contracting out work to private companies when that would cost less and the work would be of the same quality.

• Consider capping the amount of accumulated sick leave and vacation leave employees can cash out when they retire.

Another area the grand jury looked at is the conflict-of-interest presented when city staffs negotiate new contracts. Usually, when rank-and-file pay raises are given, managers automatically have their salaries bumped up too. In addition, city council members who vote for pay raises can expect union contributions to their re-election efforts. Unions traditionally have been very active in supporting labor-friendly candidates not only with dollar donations, but also with mailers and campaign volunteers. The grand jury suggests that these temptations might be removed by having the public vote yes or no on pay raises.

In one of the responses to the grand jury report, the San Mateo County City Managers Association suggested lobbying the giant state-run pension system to which almost all the Peninsula cities' employees belong (the California Public Employees Retirement System) to extend the minimum retirement age from 50 to 55, or 60 for non-fire and non-police employees, and basing pensions not on one's final salary before retirement, but upon the average salary earned during the last three or five years of work.

I also looked at what the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury was doing in the area of personnel. The one report in that area prepared by the 2008-2009 group had a rather provocative title: "City of San Jose hosed by IAFF Local 230 executives." The IAFF is the International Association of Fire Fighters. Compared to the San Mateo County report, this was a lightweight investigation, looking at liberties taken by firefighters who also worked as union representatives. The grand jury report concluded that the representatives filed an excessive number of grievances on behalf of their members, used too much paid time off in connection with union activities and failed to document that time, and boycotted meetings designed to improve labor relations. The report noted that the labor-management relationship in the fire department had become toxic and the solution may lie in having fewer union representatives who then work full-time on union business, rather than as part-time firefighters.

If you like keeping up with local government affairs and current hot-button issues, read civil grand jury reports. The grand juries have a degree of independence that makes their viewpoints interesting.

Bil Paul's columns run on Thursdays. Reach him at

Grand jury stymied in probe of Contra Costa County's foster care

By Rick Radin
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/24/2009 09:34:37 PM PDT
Updated: 09/25/2009 07:11:31 AM PDT

Roadblocks and delays have forced Contra Costa County's grand jury to shelve its plan to examine the county's foster care program.

The jury successfully sued the county in January for access to case files of foster children, winning the right to review files with the names of children and other people and the children's medical records blacked out to comply with state confidentiality laws.

The nine redacted cases the jury received from the county were edited so extensively and delivered so slowly that the jury was unable to begin a meaningful investigation before its term expired June 30, jury foreman Ron Tervelt said.

"We weren't trying to look into specific cases of children, but at the process of how children are processed in the foster care system," Tervelt said. "We were trying to find out if kids were falling through the cracks because of problems (with the system)."

Valerie Earley, director of Contra Costa's children and family services, said the file deliveries began in March and were delayed because of the time it took to copy and redact 52 volumes of files about nine children.

The jury began the probe in part because of Times stories about children being abused and neglected in foster care, including the 2006 case in which a child in Antioch died from ingesting baking soda in her foster home. The county's Employment and Human Services Department found that a county clinic doctor did not report that the 2-year-old he saw two weeks before her death weighed only 19 pounds. The child's biological parents later sued the county for $20 million.

"When you hear the word 'death,' everyone sits up in their chair," Tervelt said. "When there's death, something clearly must have gone wrong."

In another 2006 case, an 8-year-old Richmond boy — who had been left in the care of his mother after a child-abuse investigation by county social workers — died of what investigators suspected was starvation. His body was covered with burn marks, scars, swelling and purple bruises. The department had received six child abuse referrals on the child.

The Human Services department instigated some reforms because of the shortcomings revealed in the Times stories, said its top manager. For example, county physicians now are reminded repeatedly that they must report any signs of malnutrition, injuries or other signs of abuse in the foster children they see, regardless of whether the child's overall health appears normal, said Joe Valentine, director of employment and human services.

The health department also established special hours for foster children at one of its clinics and linked health department files with foster care records to assure that doctors and nurses know when they're treating a foster child.

The grand jury's frustration comes amid fresh challenges for the foster care system over the past year.

Fewer resources

The county has laid off 74 of the 175 social workers it had a year ago because of budget cuts, although it still fields 7,000 reports of child abuse annually and must still track 1,600 children in the foster care program, Valentine said.

"This year our resources just plummeted overnight," Valentine said. "We've reassigned kids to the workers that are left and everybody has more cases."

The department is focused on maintaining the basic safety of foster children in the program and no longer follows up on children who have been returned to their parents, placed with relatives or adopted by their foster parents.

Also eliminated: post-foster care counseling for parents, mental health counseling for parents and children, tutoring services for foster kids and transportation to therapy or medical appointments.

"For incoming cases, recommended standards are about 10 cases a month per social worker. Now we are at 13," Valentine said. "We are channeling all our efforts into making sure that number doesn't go higher."

Valentine said the program is under the overall supervision of the state Department of Social Services, which has electronic access to case files, and periodically audits case files and interviews case workers.

The state does the electronic and on-site audits to make sure counties are following federal and state standards for foster care and investigating child abuse referrals properly, said Kevin Gaines, an assistant deputy director in the social services department.

Families in distress

Stress on foster care locally is mirrored statewide and nationwide where foster care programs are in trouble because of budget cuts and the economy, said Jill Duerr Berrick, an authority on foster care at UC Berkeley's School of Social Welfare.

"Counties are having to be more parsimonious in things like (post-foster care) services at the same time many states are reporting a very rapid increase in the numbers of child-abuse reports, which may be due to the economic distress that families are under," Berrick said.

The next step for the grand jury is unclear. Tervelt said that proceeding with its probe will be difficult unless it returns to court to get more information from the files. Grand jury rules aimed at protecting the identities of witnesses prohibit the jury from revealing its plans and findings except through the release of periodic reports, and no new reports are planned until next year, he said.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Setback for ex Contra Costa prosecutor accused of rape

(09-08) 13:44 PDT MARTINEZ -- A rape case brought against a former Contra Costa County sex crimes prosecutor is headed for a secret grand jury, angering defense attorneys who wanted to challenge the alleged victim in open court.

Defense attorneys for Michael Gressett, 52, had won a key ruling last month when a judge said they could question Gressett's accuser - a onetime colleague in the district attorney's office - during a public preliminary hearing. At the end of such a hearing, a judge decides whether there is enough evidence to hold a defendant for trial.

But in a letter to defense attorneys dated Sept. 1, state prosecutors said they would ask a grand jury to indict Gressett next month and send him to a jury trial, negating the need for a preliminary hearing.

The letter did not give a reason for the move, and Deputy Attorney General Peter Flores Jr. declined to comment Tuesday. In the past, prosecutors have said they want to protect the alleged victim from the trauma of testifying.

Defense attorney Daniel Russo said the action is unfair to Gressett and disrespectful to the judge in the case.

"This is a way of avoiding the daylight," said Russo, who will not be allowed inside the grand jury proceeding but can ask for exculpatory evidence to be presented. "They're afraid that their case, once it gets in the light, will dissolve."

The 30-year-old alleged victim, now a prosecutor in another county, told authorities that she wanted to sleep with Gressett, but objected to the type of sex he initiated during a lunchtime encounter May 8, 2008, at his Martinez townhouse.

She said he had forcibly sodomized her, held a gun to her head, handcuffed her and forced ice into her.

Gressett - who was fired in July - said a gun, cuffs and ice were brought out but only in a playful way. His attorneys said Gressett's accuser has a history of trouble and has changed her account of the alleged rape. The Chronicle is not naming her because she is allegedly a rape victim.

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