Thursday, April 30, 2009

Santa Barbara Grand jury report: New EOC Needed

By Sam Womack/Staff Writer

The emergency operations center for Santa Barbara County is housed in an inadequate, modular building that would fall apart at the first sign of a major earthquake, according to a report released Wednesday by the grand jury.

This is the second grand jury report since 2006 that identified a new emergency operations center (EOC) as a high priority, and urged that funds be allocated to the project.

“The county of Santa Barbara has waited too long to set up a dedicated EOC,” the report concluded. “The only backup considered by the county appears to be tents.”

The EOC coordinates response and recovery actions and resources, by facilitating incident decisions in an emergency, according to the grand jury, which is a volunteer, investigatory body.

When an emergency occurs, as was seen last year in the Gap and Tea fires on the South Coast, it takes at least two to three hours to set up an operating communications and information center in the 3,670-square-foot modular building.

The grand jury did express high praise for the departmental coordination during the fires, once the center was online.

The buildings converted into an EOC in an emergency situation are in a parking lot on Camino Del Remedio in Santa Barbara, and are generally used as a county training site.

In 2007, the Santa Ynez Airport, the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria and a new site north of Cathedral Oaks Road in Santa Barbara were explored as possible sites of an EOC, the report stated.

The Board of Supervisors directed staff to begin moving forward on an estimated $6.7 million, 9,300-square-foot building at the Cathedral Oaks Road location, but the county’s budgetary problems halted the progress of the project in early 2009.

One of the unanswered questions posed by the jury is why nearly three times the current amount space is needed.

Construction on a new EOC has been put on hold, and it would take 18 months to three years to have a finished project, the grand jury said.

So far, “inadequate efforts” have been made to find a short-term site, the report stated.

Taking the initiative, the grand jury followed Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines, and found at least one interim site that could be used temporarily — the basement of the administration building.

The grand jury recommended that the county continue pursuing the purchase of a $68,000 virtual EOC software system that would not require a physical center. The jury also urged county leaders to visit the emergency operations centers that are up and running in Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.

In the case of Santa Barbara County, it is assumed that another fire will break out and a major earthquake will hit, said the grand jury, and having a dedicated EOC is critical.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Humboldt Grand jury puts reports online

Jessie Faulkner/The Times-Standard
Posted: 04/28/2009 01:29:48 AM PDT

The Humboldt County Grand Jury has published several reports online, including a review of the offices of assessor and coroner, saying more will become available as they are completed.

Foreman Alan Jorgensen said Monday that grand jury members agreed to publish the reports as they were finished, rather than wait until the end of the year. A few more reports are in the works, he said.

Among the first reports is a multi-part review of the Humboldt County Assessor's Office, in which the jury said it found several areas in need of attention.

The grand jury raised concerns about what it described as a lack of management staff meetings and ongoing confusion about the status of some properties. Concerns were also expressed about claims the office had a tradition of unofficially preselecting and grooming an existing employee to run for the office.

The recommendations, in addition to remedying the concerns identified, include considering combining the duties of the assessor with other county offices.

”Combining offices and functions for the purposes of cost and management efficiency could be a benefit to Humboldt County,” the report stated.

County Assessor Linda Hill was not in her office Monday, but issued a statement through her staff.

”We are preparing our formal response and do not have a comment at this time,” Hill said.

The grand jury also stated that the Humboldt County Assessor's Office did not make property information and other public records available via the Internet, a common practice among other counties. In addition, some of the office's employees did not, the grand jury concluded, have the appropriate level of technical competence with seemingly no move being made toward remedying that situation. The result, the report states, is declining efficiency in the office.

Another issue raised was the timeliness of employee performance evaluations.

”Over the past two years, 18 evaluations have been completed when as many as 60 evaluations were required. The grand jury believes that this lack of evaluations is having a negative effect on employee performance and morale,” the report states.

The grand jury report also has a couple of suggestions for the Humboldt County Coroner's Office -- both dealing with the physical arrangement of the building.

The first notes that the office's driveway is too short and has led to “vehicles making contact with the building.”

The report also found that when staff is unloading bodies in the carport, they are doing so in full view of the public street and sidewalk. The recommendations to remedy this situation include extending the driveway and extending the carport to prevent public view of bodies.

The initial reports also note the need of a transportation officer in the Hoopa and Garberville sheriff's substations.

”Each substation normally has only one officer on duty at a time,” the report stated. “Therefore when it is necessary to transport an arrestee to the Humboldt County Correctional Facility in Eureka, the substation is left unstaffed.”

In its review of the Humboldt County Animal Shelter, the grand jury noted the increasing cost of employee benefits and rising utility expenses, particularly the floor heating system in the kennel areas.

The grand jury suggested the possibility of using low-risk county inmates and/or the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program -- or SWAP -- participants to reduce the impact on the county's general fund. Grant funding, the report stated, should be pursued to install a solar-assisted water heating system that would supplement the current floor heating system in the kennel areas.

All the reports will be available at

City manager calls for grand jury hearing on councilman’s allegations

Published: April 28, 2009
Frank George

At the April 13 Hughson City Council meeting, Councilman Thomas Crowder asked for an investigative committee made up of council members that would look into unidentified allegations against city staff. Crowder also indicated he’d like to serve on that ad hoc committee, but the council did not respond to the idea.

Crowder later told the Chronicle, “I do have the prerogative to ask for clarification and seek the truth in some things that have been alleged to our city administration and this is willful misconduct on their part.”

According to Joseph E. Donabed, city manager, the matter of complaint investigation into the affairs of the city and any department thereof or complaints concerning the administration of the city government is the duty of the city manager by law. Section 2.08.140 of the Hughson Municipal Code provides this direction. Donabed added that section 2.08.230 of the Hughson Municipal Code requires the council to deal with the administrative services of the city only through the city manager except for inquiry.

Donabed stated that since hearing the general allegations and since there were no specifics to what Crowder was referencing, “and in an effort to maintain confidence in our local government and to ensure transparency in government as I am entrusted to do, I believe it is important to investigate these allegations and to seek the assistance of a body that is not connected to the City of Hughson.”

The city manager said he will be seeking an appointment to discuss the matter with the civil grand jury of Stanislaus County Superior Court. He will also be requesting the jurors’ involvement in assisting with the investigation with the ultimate goal of ensuring open, honest and credible city government.

“In fact I support any committee, either the civil grand jury or a committee of the city council to seek and find the truth in all cases where allegations are made, against city administration or elected officials,” Crowder said after hearing about Donabed’s recommendations. “The important thing is to get an unbiased investigation into whether alleged actions or failure to take action was properly documented and handled in a manner consistent with the law which protects the interest of the city.”

“Although the allegations are unspecific, I believe it necessary to investigate any allegations of willful misconduct within the City of Hughson by an independent body,” Mayor Ramon Bawanan stated in an email. “The appropriate entity in this matter is the civil grand jury.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Councilman blasts report by grand jury

by Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff

There's been no official response from Atherton to the April 6 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report advising the town to butt out of a dispute between high school neighbors and a local youth football league. That didn't stop Councilman Jim Dobbie from airing his opinion of the report.

"I am disgusted with the grand jury report," Mr. Dobbie said at the end of the April 15 meeting, during the agenda item for council member reports. "The (report) is biased in every possible way."

In 2006, the Atherton City Council passed a broad ordinance regulating events within the town, from weddings and fundraisers to youth sports practices, partly in response to Lindenwood neighborhood complaints about Pop Warner football practices and games held at Menlo-Atherton High School. In trying to regulate private, non-school-related events on public school campuses, the town overreached, according to the grand jury.

Mayor Jerry Carlson has said that the neighbors and Pop Warner officials are close to reaching a compromise. He said he was disappointed in the grand jury for taking up the issue, and declined to comment further.

Mr. Dobbie said the report mischaracterizes an incident where a neighbor confronted a Pop Warner team about a late-running practice, an event that Mr. Dobbie himself witnessed. "There wasn't even a piece of truth to it," he said of the grand jury's account.

According to the report, a Lindenwood resident who also serves on the town's Planning Commission came onto the field and "confronted coaches in an agitated manner."

Councilman Dobbie also said that Atherton is rife with rumors that a member of the City Council brought the issue to the grand jury in the first place. "If it's true, he or she should be ashamed of themselves," Mr. Dobbie said.

Councilman Charles Marsala, who has opposed the special events ordinance and spoken in favor of Pop Warner's right to use the field, said that he had nothing to do with the grand jury report.

After the meeting, Mr. Marsala told The Almanac that he was interviewed by the grand jury, but that he did not instigate the investigation.

"I've been an opponent of the special event guidelines, and whoever is starting the rumor stands to gain by keeping the ordinance in place," he said.

Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen said she agreed with Mr. Dobbie's assessment of the report.

"What the grand jury did was participate in a legal issue and I don't think that's within its jurisdictional purview," she said at the meeting.

The town of Atherton shouldn't impose restrictions on school groups using facilities at Menlo-Atherton High School, the report said. Difficulties and differences should be settled directly between the impacted parties whenever possible, said the report.

The grand jury also admonished Atherton for having a planning commission that "does not appear to be broadly representative of the town." The report advises the Sequoia Union High School District to exempt itself from the town's zoning ordinance, an option available to public school districts, if Atherton continues to include public school facilities in its regulations governing special events.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Supervisors vow to tackle CPS ills; outside agency, grand jury invited to help

Agreeing that Sacramento's Child Protective Services agency needs to make serious, long-term changes, the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday endorsed a sweeping series of oversight proposals that included bringing in an outside consultant and the grand jury to help.

"We need to have a continued sense of urgency," Supervisor Don Nottoli said before the unanimous vote to address problems inside the agency.

The board, acting on a proposal by Chairwoman Susan Peters, asked CPS to begin enacting reforms recommended by a private consultant and the grand jury immediately, and to report back on progress within 45 days. The board also endorsed Peters' suggestion for monthly progress reports.

The decision followed a presentation by the Child Welfare League of America, which said it had met this week with CPS officials and child welfare advocates and found "that the problems are serious."

Andy Reitz, director of training for the Arlington, Va.-based group, said, however, that the issues he has identified in Sacramento are not substantially different from those in other jurisdictions he has helped and that "significant progress can be made both in the short- and the long-term."

"There's really clear agreement about what needs to be done," Reitz said, adding that his group would focus on the most important deficiencies identified by the private consultant and the grand jury in their recent, separate reports.

The Child Welfare League, a private, nonprofit group, will present a bid to the board within 10 days, outlining plans to help CPS leadership improve policies and procedures.

CPS has been under fire since last summer, after a spike in child abuse and neglect deaths was detected and The Bee published a series of stories about chronic problems in the handling of some child death cases.

The board hired consultant MGT of America Inc. last summer for a $100,000 study of the agency. In a March 31 report to the board, MGT found numerous problems, including "missed opportunities" to move four children to safety before they died and a failure to implement nearly 300 recommendations issued by various groups since 1997.

MGT recommended that an outside agency be brought in to work with CPS and that regular reports be made to the board to ensure that sorely needed changes were made.

Two weeks later, the grand jury issued its report, identifying similar problems and complaining that "nothing ever changes – ever."

Wednesday's vote stemmed from a letter Peters sent to her colleagues on April 14, the same day that Lynn Frank, the head of the county's Health and Human Services Department that oversees CPS, announced that she was leaving her post immediately and retiring at the end of the year.

That letter suggested adopting many of the MGT and grand jury findings, and forming a working group of law enforcement and CPS officials to identify problems and tackle them quickly.

Not included in the letter was perhaps the most surprising development Wednesday: an invitation for grand jury members to take a hands-on role in reforming the agency.

Grand jury foreman Donald W. Prange told The Bee that the idea came from a meeting with Peters and said he was "very pleased" that the board wants the panel to remain involved.

"We want to see things change," Prange said. "We want to see that the kids are protected and that the social workers are respected by management."

Previously, the grand jury's reception from the county was less enthusiastic. Supervisor Jimmie Yee told The Bee last summer that he did not support a grand jury probe of CPS, although he later changed his stance.

In the course of the grand jury investigation, the panel said it had to warn CPS' top management not to interfere in its attempts to get information from workers, and the final report alleged that top CPS officials "made misrepresentations to the Grand Jury."

Supervisors spent part of Wednesday's meeting complaining that their response to the MGT report on March 31 was misunderstood and that their criticisms did not mean they opposed it.

Yee, who had originally complained that the audit was vague and overly broad, said Wednesday that he simply meant he wanted more specifics on what actions would be taken in response to MGT's findings.

Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who originally said he was not convinced of the need for an outside consultant, took pains Wednesday to say that he had merely been concerned about budget constraints and whether an outsider could implement long-term change.

He said Wednesday's presentation by the Child Welfare League and a representative of the respected Casey Family Programs foundation convinced him of the need for outside intervention. Dickinson added that he had not seen the Peters letter that was being voted on, but asked for a copy while the board debated and then joined the other supervisors in adopting its recommendations.

Jim Hunt, the acting administrator for the Countywide Services Agency, which oversees agencies such as CPS, assured board members that county officials understand that improvements are needed at CPS and that they already are under way.

"We absolutely share that concern," Hunt said. "We are committed, we are motivated and we want to see this change."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Riverside County Grand jury suggests bug board reforms

Erica Felci • The Desert Sun • April 21, 2009

The Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District should update its fiscal policies and hire an outside consultant to look at trustee recruitment, training and management style, the Riverside County grand jury has found.

The findings are the culmination of an 11-month investigation into operations at the agency. They were first reported Monday on

The grand jury was among several organizations that launched probes into the management of and possible misconduct at the vector district.

A 2007 Desert Sun investigation found the district had more money in reserves than any agency of its kind in the state.

Former employees later made allegations of misconduct against former general manager Donald Gomsi.

The district's own investigation found Gomsi directed an employee forge Pacific Life Open tennis tournament passes, sexually harassed a district employee and frequently accessed Internet pornography on taxpayer-owned computers.

Gomsi “categorically denied” any wrongdoing when the allegations first surfaced in March 2008. He has not commented to The Desert Sun since then.

Though the Indio Police Department recommended felony charges, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office in January determined there was insufficient evidence to bring forward any criminal cases.

The grand jury recommendations do not target Gomsi or other current or former employee.

“I think it brought out some good points, but it didn't bring out anything that we aren't already aware of and aren't working on,” Trustee Karl Baker said.

The grand jury determined the agency had a “lack of communication” and “the prior general manager and legal counsel together had managed the organization in a heavy-handed and dictatorial manner, thus contributing to the dysfunctionality of the District.”

Their eight recommended actions included bringing anticipated expenses in line with revenue, reducing reserves, updating its manuals and hiring a permanent general manager.

District officials on Monday said they've made strides on all of the recommendations, including tapping Scientific Operations Manager Branka Lothrop as the general manager. Board president Bruce Underwood also touted an award from the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers for “outstanding” 2007-08 budget reporting.

District trustees are expected to discuss the findings during next month's meeting.

“A lot of the issues are historic issues, two years old now,” Underwood said. “We've done something for every (grand jury recommendation). That doesn't mean it's the end of it. It just means we're looking at every last issue.”

The recommendations were made to the district's board as well as the county supervisors and the city councils in all nine cities, as they appoint members to the vector board.

The Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission also was noted in the grand jury report. The planning group oversees government and agencies' jurisdictional boundaries, and the grand jury recommends the bug board's boundaries are not expanded until the other seven recommendations are completed.

The grand jury report will be discussed at the May 12 board meeting, Underwood said. The district has until July 13 to issue a formal response to the grand jury.

District officials also plan to have a strategic planning session to set long-term goals with the new general manager.

“We're definitely moving forward,” Underwood said. “This is not only a new chapter but a new book we're getting started.”

Desert Sun reporter Keith Matheny contributed to this report.

San Bernardino County grand jury looks at potential sale of surplus county property near Rancho Cucamonga

The Press-Enterprise

The San Bernardino County grand jury is looking into the 1,200 acres of surplus flood control land near Rancho Cucamonga that the county hopes to sell for development, officials said this week.

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 on the land.

Although declining to discuss specifics, two officials said the annual grand jury has started asking questions about the property.

Rancho Cucamonga City Manager Jack Lam said Monday he met with the grand jury last week about the property. Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Ovitt also has discussed the property with members of the grand jury, said Mark Kirk, Ovitt's chief of staff.

"The subject came up in the supervisor's regularly scheduled meeting with the grand jury," Kirk said by e-mail on Sunday. "I don't believe I can legally discuss specifics."

Most of the land is in unincorporated San Bernardino County.

The county entered a cooperative agreement with Rancho Cucamonga last June to choose the winning development proposal because about 40 acres of it is within city limits. Once the land is developed, it will all be annexed by the city.

The City Council will choose the top two proposals. As part of the agreement, the Board of Supervisors could either approve the city's recommendation or "reject it by unanimous vote of the supervisors present at the meeting."

The City Council toured the property earlier this month, and will meet June 1 to discuss the proposals, Assistant City Manager Pamela Easter said Monday.

If council members need more time, they will meet again on June 3, she said.

The five groups competing to develop the land include Rancho Alliance Investors, Stockton-based Richland Communities, which teamed with Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers, Orange County-based Brookfield Homes, Irvine-based Foremost Communities and Los Angeles-based K&K Developers.

The Rancho Alliance consists of a group of prominent Inland-area developers, including the Lewis Group of Companies, Shea Homes, Young Homes and Diversified Pacific.

Reach Duane W. Gang at 951-368-9547 or

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sac County CPS Official Steps Down

Sacramento County official steps down amid CPS controversy
By Marjie Lundstrom, Sam Stanton and Robert Lewis
Published: Wednesday, Apr. 15, 2009 - 11:08 am | Page 1A

Lynn Frank says she is leaving to take "personal time off to regain my health and my perspective." She'll take a new county job until she retires Dec. 31.

Lynn Frank, the embattled head of the Sacramento County agency that oversees Child Protective Services, announced Tuesday that she is resigning.

Her resignation came on the eve of the release of a county grand jury report that is expected to be harshly critical of CPS management and of the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency Frank ran for three years.

"I have decided to step down as your Director," Frank said in a memo e-mailed to workers, which was excerpted in a county press release. "It was not an easy decision."

Frank said she was leaving to take "personal time off to regain my health and my perspective." She will be on leave until June 30, then take a new, unspecified job with the county until Dec. 31, when she will retire after 24 years with the county.

Frank was not available for comment, a spokeswoman said, and county officials said she had not been pushed out.

Though not contained in the news release, in the e-mail to her workers, Frank added that she thought "that my departure will allow DHHS to move forward more quickly and may remove some of the focus that has been cast on DHHS."

Susan Peters, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, said she had not been part of the discussions that preceded Frank's departure but added, "I do think it's time to look at new ways for DHHS to view its charge."

"It's been a very difficult time for that department," added Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan. "It's a very large department. We know that there need to be changes made and changes are being made at Child Protective Services. It's a good time for Lynn to move on to other things."

The agency has been under fire in the past year, particularly since the July 21 death of 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen, who had been reported to CPS in June as a possible abuse victim. Despite that report, CPS did not make contact with Jahmaurae's family for a week, then closed the case as "unfounded."

He was beaten to death a month later – allegedly by his mother's live-in boyfriend – and The Bee subsequently reported that the case files were altered twice after that to change the finding from "unfounded" to "inconclusive" and, finally, to "substantiated."

The grand jury began its probe of Child Protective Services after Jahmaurae's death. Since then, criticism of both CPS and Frank's agency has mounted as more information has surfaced about deaths of children who had been known to CPS.

Child advocate Robert Wilson, who repeatedly has called for leadership changes in the county's child protection system, said he was guardedly optimistic about Tuesday's announcement.

"If it's emblematic of the Board of Supervisors' intention to focus on the leadership faults within CPS, then I applaud it and hope they continue their efforts," said Wilson, executive director of Sacramento Child Advocates, whose attorneys represent children in dependency court.

"If, however, she's being used as a scapegoat to justify the delay by the Board of Supervisors to respond, then the Board of Supervisors should be replaced."

Tuesday's top-level resignation harkened back to a strikingly similar era in Sacramento child welfare history, when one of Frank's predecessors left the county amid public outcry over another child's death. Robert Caulk presided over the department during the firestorm that followed the 1996 beating death of 3-year-old Adrian Conway, which prompted the supervisors to demand an overhaul of the agency.

Caulk announced his resignation 18 months after the boy was tortured and murdered by his mother, whose troubled history of drugs and abuse was known to CPS before the boy's death. At the time, the Board of Supervisors pressed to make child safety and protection CPS' highest priority, rather than working to keep dysfunctional families together.

However, a Bee investigative series published last June revealed that – despite hefty budget and staff increases since Adrian's death – many problems persisted. The CPS oversight committee, a citizens group created after Adrian's death, had repeatedly warned that danger signs for children were being missed, and that workers lacked proper training and supervision.

Sacramento County Grand Jury Slams CPS Again

Investigation Critical Of Management
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Sacramento County Grand Jury strongly criticized the county Child Protective Services agency in a report released Wednesday.

The title of the report, titled "Nothing ever changes -- ever," cited repeated areas of improvement in CPS that have, according to the grand jury, been long overlooked.

Document: Grand Jury Report

The grand jury said it heard promises in the past that CPS was studying and working on problems. But, the jury discovered that nothing really changed.

The jury launched its latest investigation of CPS on the heels of the child abuse death of 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen, allegedly at the hands of his mother's boyfriend, in July of 2008.

The jury found persistent, recurring and systemic problems resulting in child abuse deaths. The jury said responsible authorities at Health and Human Services and CPS failed to take corrective actions recommended in previous reports.

The jury also made mention of the appearance of Health and Human Services' director, who appeared on KCRA 3 saying, "We could have done more to prevent the death," in the case of Allen. That caused great concern regarding CPS, according to the report.

The report questioned senior HHS and CPS management skills. It said senior managers lack a positive vision and have persistent unwillingness to accept responsibility for the outcomes of their actions.

It also holds the Board of Supervisors and county administrator accountable for CPS management and budgets.

The jury report listed 32 findings and recommendations and called on CPS to have more transparency.

It also called on the agency to invite the jury back in six months to monitor CPS' progress in making change.

Health and Human Services director Lynn Frank resigned Tuesday, one day prior to the release of the report.

Reported by: Lynsey Paulo

Nevada County Grand Jury Report: Nevada County Presidential Election - November 2008

By: Nevada County Civil Grand Jury

April 15, 2009 - Please be advised that a new report from the 2008-2009 Nevada County Grand Jury will be released on the web page of the Civil Grand Jury on April 15, 2007 at 11:00 a.m.

The full report will be available for download here.


Many Grand Jury reports are complaint driven and often after the fact. The Nevada County Grand Jury (Jury) decided in August of 2008 to conduct an investigation prior to and during the 2008 November General Election. Conducting an election with almost 300 volunteers located in over 50 polling places utilizing over 20 separate ballots is a monumental organizational task. Additionally, the task must be completed in one day.

Realizing the incredible organizational requirements of any election, and especially one of this magnitude, the Jury was concerned that the recent staff changes within the Elections Department and Clerk Recorders Office increased the risk of a poor elections performance.

The Jury looked at the pre-elections training, conducted interviews prior to the election, attended many of the training sessions, observed polling places during the election and debriefed both county staff and volunteers.

The Jury is pleased to report to the citizens of Nevada County that the election ran smoothly, the problems were minor, and that generally the conduct of the election went very well.

The Jury did recommend that the Nevada County Board of Supervisors authorize additional funds for poll worker training.

Required Responses

Nevada County Clerk Recorder August 18, 2009

Nevada County Board of Supervisors (Response only for Training, Recommendation 1) August 18, 2009

Santa Barbara County's retirement sytem under funded

By COLBY FRAZIER — April 17, 2009

Ten months ago, the county of Santa Barbara’s nearly $2 billion retirement system reported a loss of $143.2 million, resulting in a total value of $1.76 billion.

While this was a staggering loss, it pales in comparison to what has transpired since.

By last December, as the economic crisis bore down on nearly every sector of the American economy, the retirement system posted an additional $421 million loss, a 24 percent decrease that left the county portfolio worth $1.34 billion, according to a county Civil Grand Jury report released yesterday.

The deep losses have left the county’s retirement system chronically under funded, and one way or another, the Grand Jury report says the county will end up paying big.

A startling trend

Over the last decade, the amount of money the county must pay each year into the retirement system, formally known as the Santa Barbara County Employees Retirement System (SBCERS), has nearly doubled from roughly 12 percent to 23 percent – a figure based on the county’s payroll.

The report shows that in 2008, the county contributed $57.7 million. However, if the system’s value remains at or below $1.34 billion, the report estimates the county’s contribution could rise sharply in 2010 by as much as $30 million per year, a figure that would put great strain on the county’s already cash-strapped situation.

“Whether that level of cost could be borne without revenue increases, or service reduction is a major concern,” the report says. “There is no certainty in what the future holds for the market conditions, but prudence demands that the county anticipate the possibility of continued financial market weakness.”

In a joint meeting last week between the Board of Supervisors and the county’s 11-member Board of Retirement, which oversees how the pot of retirement money is managed, the supervisors took a look at how dire the situation is.

County staff, in what appears could be an even stepper rise in the county’s retirement contribution than what is predicted in the Grand Jury report, says by 2010, the county’s piece of the pie could range from $93 million to $150 million.

Aside from massive losses in the stock market over the last year, the report shows that the county’s retirement portfolio has been underperforming for at least a decade.

Part of these losses appear to be tied to an expected return on investment of 8.16 percent, which the Grand Jury said is simply too high.

The report shows that the majority of public pensions in the country use a return rate of 8 percent or, in the case of the CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System), the country’s largest public pension fund, 7.75 percent.

In the 10-year period ending June 30, 2008, the county’s retirement system had a return of 5.7 percent. By the end of last year, with the market in a downward spiral, that return dropped to 2.7 percent, the report shows.

While the retirement system’s 8.16 percent expectation places it in the top 25 percent of public pension plans, it has actually performed in the bottom 25 percent, the report said.

“Based on a review of other public pension fund performance and assumed investment returns, the jury believes that the assumed actuarial interest rate of 8.16 percent is too high,” the report says.

Where to now?

In order to right the ship, the Grand Jury suggests the county hire in-house investment experts to not only provide assistance to the Board of Retirement, but to help fill a perceived gap in holding underperforming investment managers accountable.

The Grand Jury found that while there is a process that allows the board to place an investment manager on probationary status, there are no criteria for terminating their management.

Furthermore, the report says the Board of Retirement does not consist of financial experts, and it would be unreasonable to expect that it should. But this appears to be the basis for hiring expert help in dealing with the retirement system’s assets that while sharply decreasing, remain well over $1 billion.

“The role of the in-house support would be to provide increased scrutiny of the investment performance of current managers and to provide more definitive recommendations regarding investment decisions to the board,” the report says.

The report adds that part of the county’s problem could be alleviated by changing the county’s current benefit structure from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.

Under the current plan, which an estimated 86 percent of government agencies use, employees and the county pay into the fund, and upon retirement, the employee receives a guaranteed defined payment. A defined contribution plan, common in the private sector, is where the employee and employer each pay into the retirement fund, and the employee receives the results of the invested contributions with no guaranteed payment.

While this sort of change would do little to alleviate the current hemorrhaging in the county’s retirement system, the report says it could free up the county from benefit obligations during future economic downturns.

The Grand Jury also says the county, in joining with the majority of counties in the state, could allow its retirement system to be managed by CalPERS. During the same 10-year period that the county’s system received a 5.7 percent return on its investment, CalPERS’ return was 6.5 percent.

However, with deep losses tied to real estate, CalPERS posted a $73 billion loss between June 30, 2008 and March of this year – a 31 percent decline, the report shows.

As a result, switching to CalPERS at this time would be a questionable move, but the Grand Jury said it could be considered in the future.

One of the reasons the report cites for the retirement system’s current situation was a string of consistent increases to employee benefits during better days.

Some have vocally opposed the county’s retirement packages, calling for decreases that would likely require complicated and controversial contract negotiations.

One thing is clear: the county’s benefit system grew when times were good, and now, the county appears poised to pick up a tab far larger than it ever intended.

“Public pension benefits for almost all systems in California followed a strikingly similar pattern in the last 10 years,” the report says. “Decisions were made which ignored the fundamental unpredictability of the market and the potential impact of future obligations. The lesson hopefully learned is that every benefit increase has a cost.”

The Grand Jury report is available at

Grand jury urges new police station for city of Benicia

By Lanz Christian Bañes/Times-Herald staff writer

Posted: 04/18/2009 01:03:00 AM PDT

BENICIA -- The Benicia Police Department headquarters is inadequate and the Solano County Grand Jury recommends the city consider building a new one.

"It's horrendous," police spokesman Lt. Mike Daley said in agreement.

The grand jury is an investigative county body that regularly scrutinizes various issues and agencies, ranging from local police departments to concealed weapons licenses.

Police headquarters at 200 East L St. was built before World War II and was a condemned schoolhouse when police moved into the building in 1962.

Since then, the department has been making do with a disjointed operation, with its detective unit housed in a separate building in the back.

The grand jury recommends Benicia build a new police headquarters, an idea voters rejected in 2003.

"We put some cosmetics on it, but it's totally dysfunctional," Daley said of a recent retrofit to help make the building more livable.

A Times-Herald tour of the facilities showed cramped quarters, despite parts of the building having been repainted and finished in the retrofit. As the grand jury noted, detectives were housed in a portable dozens of yards from the main building.

The grand jury also noted that the department lacks separate holding facilities for juveniles and adults and recommended separating the two.

However, Daley contends that, while authorized to hold juveniles in the holding cells if they are combative, juveniles can be held in an interview room away from adults. Still, plans for a proposed police department building have always included separate juvenile facilities, he said.

The grand jury also expressed concerns for the building's seismic stability. The panel apparently was unable to determine whether the building met current seismic standards at the time of its inspection, though.

In addition to criticizing the police department's building, the grand jury also recommended having a volunteer police officer reserve program and more intensive disaster planning. It also urged the recruiting of more female officers.

The full report can be seen at www.solano

Contact staff writer Lanz Christian Bañes at (707) 553-6833 or lbanes@thnewsnet.c

Napa Courthouse Corner: Grand Jury

Are you interested in meeting our local leaders, learning about Napa government and improving the administration of county business? If so, the Napa County Superior Court seeks your application to serve on the 2009-2010 grand jury.

The grand jury consists of 19 citizens selected annually by the court to investigate local government agencies and citizen complaints. Specifically, the grand jury is sworn to scrutinize matters of civil concern such as the needs of county departments, how these agencies perform their duties, and what improvements can be made to meet the needs of our community. The grand jury is commonly referred to as the “watchdog” of the community because it determines if government can function better, save money, and conduct the people’s business in a more open, honest and efficient manner.
Each grand jury decides for itself which complaints will be investigated and what departments will be inspected. At the conclusion of its term, the grand jury prepares a report and makes recommendations addressing the specific concerns revealed during their probe. By law, the investigated departments must consider and formally respond to the report and recommendations made by the grand jury. As a result, many significant improvements to the day-to-day functioning of our government can be directly traced to the investigations and recommendations made by previous grand juries.

Persons interested in applying to serve on the grand jury must meet certain minimal qualifications. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, be a United States citizen and a resident of Napa County for at least one year. You cannot serve as grand juror if you have been convicted of a felony or if you are an elected public official.
All applications submitted are reviewed by Napa Superior Court judges who then nominate those most qualified to serve. From the pool of nominated individuals, grand jurors will be selected at random. The term of office for selected jurors will run between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010.

Although service on the grand jury does require a significant amount of time, the personal rewards are numerous. Service provides a fascinating opportunity for citizens to learn about the workings of the institutions and people who govern our local affairs, to meet new friends and to make a positive difference in our community.
Everyone who applies will be invited to an informational meeting where questions can be asked about the details of serving on a grand jury. At that meeting you can ask about the anticipated time commitments, compensation for service, the duties required and what support will be available to help you along the way.

Do not be discouraged from applying if you have no prior investigative experience; most grand jurors have no prior experience performing such tasks. If selected to serve as a grand juror, the Court will provide training and legal guidance to help you complete your mission.

The application deadline is April 30. For more information and an application form, visit the court’s Web site at If you need more information or have additional questions, feel free to contact Stephen Bouch, the Napa Court executive officer, at 299-1110.

Courthouse Corner, providing information to help the general public deal with the civil and criminal courts, appears on the second Tuesday of each month. Information in the column is provided by Napa County Superior Court.

Change in evidence policies is urged for SLO County Sheriff's Department

A grand jury report shows evidence is safe but that the rules for property rooms and directives for handling evidence are dated
Bob Cuddy -

Evidence secured in law enforcement property rooms throughout the county is safe, but the Sheriff’s Department needs to update its policies and procedures, the county’s civil grand jury said in a report released last week.

“In examining the sheriff’s policies for property rooms and his procedure directives for evidence handling, the jury concluded they are dated,” the report said.

The report also touched on DNA evidence, warning that in the near future, the “sheer volume” of DNA evidence could overwhelm limited storage facilities.

The department has recently added a second large refrigerated storage locker, jurors noted.

The Sheriff’s Department has already taken action, according to Undersheriff Steve Bolts.

“As a result of the grand jury’s review, the department became aware of occasional locker space insufficiencies at our patrol stations and took immediate corrective measures,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.

“The department has updated property and evidence policies and station inspection procedures to eliminate security concerns,” Bolts wrote.

The grand jury visited all seven city police departments as well as the sheriff’s North County, South County and Coast patrol stations, the sheriff’s main property room, and the District Attorney and Superior Court evidence rooms.

“Careful securing of evidence in criminal cases provides an essential basis for trial,” jurors wrote.

“In the event of a crime, law enforcement agencies must collect evidence. In order to protect the rights of the accused and to preserve the integrity of the legal proceeding, this evidence must be held in a manner that preserves the ‘chain of custody,’ ” the grand jury wrote.

“Extreme care must be taken to document the seized evidence and trace its path from the crime scene to the courtroom. It must be accounted for and stored in a secure manner at all times,” the jury wrote.

The grand jury found no indication of any compromise of the chain of custody.

Grand jurors said “city police departments throughout the county were found to maintain particularly secure property rooms.

“In all cases, including the Sheriff’s Department, the evidence handling procedures appeared secure, with careful attention to logging in evidence, sealing it in envelopes and preventing tampering.”

Police departments all follow California Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), the jury wrote, and some comply with the more rigorous International Association of Property and Evidence standards.

However, the jury recommended that the sheriff’s property room policies and procedures “be updated to meet current industry standards and that evidence handling procedures in all sheriff’s facilities be regularly monitored.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SLO County Grand Jury wants fix of sheriff’s evidence lockers

Posted: Saturday, April 11, 2009 4:50 pm


Property room policies and procedures followed by sheriff’s deputies are “lax” in some instances, and the 2008-09 San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury has recommended updates and monitoring of those facilities.

CalCoastNews reported in December 2008 that problems existed with least one evidence room, and that authorities were concerned that evidence chains of custody might be compromised. The Grand Jury’s current report “found no indication” of compromise.

After the Grand Jury examined the facilities a second time, “lapses” had been corrected, the report noted, adding, “Property room procedures at the North County Patrol Station in Templeton and the Coast Patrol Station in Los Osos were lax in regard to the use of their security lockers.”

Also, the report stressed that “in all cases” procedures used by deputies to handle evidence “appeared secure.”

The Grand Jury also examined evidence locker procedures of city police departments in the county and found all to maintain “particularly secure” facilities. The panel cited better training by municipal departments as the reason for this.

(See the whole report.)

Contra Costa Grand jury report urges closure of youth treatment center

Updated: 04/13/2009 06:35:43 AM PDT

After nearly 50 years of housing juvenile offenders in rural Byron, the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Center should be closed, according to a Contra Costa grand jury report.

In the recently released report titled "County Youth Rehabilitation Center is on Life Support: It's Time to Pull the Plug,"the grand jury details an investigation into the 50-acre ranch's programs, operations and facility. The minimum security facility, formerly known as the Byron Boys' Ranch, is accused of not rehabilitating residents properly and numerous health code violations.

"Many of the treatment programs or services listed in the handbook are inadequate or unavailable," grand jury forewoman Leslie Lea says. "The grand jury just felt that the boys' ranch is not cost-effective, and is not accomplishing its primary mission of rehabilitation."

The grand jury recommends closing the center to save the county up to $5 million annually. The center can hold 100 residents, and supporters say its programs are needed now more than ever.

Ranch founder and youth advocate Orin Allen says the report fails to mention the facility's successful programs.

"I don't think Contra Costa County will want to give up on these youngsters. This county has been the most sensitive to the needs of all youngsters," Allen said.

County Supervisor Mary Piepho agrees, adding that the report focuses on monetary savings and not people. Piepho, whose district includes the ranch,

applauds the facility's recreational and educational programs, including a new library funded by community donations.

"These are young men who made a poor choice or wrong decision. The effort is to expose them to a world beyond what they have experienced," Piepho says. "(The report) is an opinion on something that doesn't provide the information behind it or the personal element. We need to be responsive, and correct deficiencies where we can."

The county probation department has 90 days to respond to the report from when it was issued about a month ago, while county supervisors have 60 days.

The report mentions that nine residents escaped from the center last year, costing $1,500 an hour to capture them. The grand jury suggests that Martinez's juvenile hall can house the youths in Byron.

"It is out in the country and it is nice but if their programs aren't working and it is costing the county $5 million, that money can be better spent elsewhere in the county," Lea says.

The grand jury criticizes the center for its outdated equipment and dilapidated grounds, but those who work with the youths say the main priority is the residents and not the aging facility.

"It costs a lot of money to incarcerate human beings, and that is what happens if you don't focus on rehabilitation," librarian Alison McKee says. "The kids say they feel safe there. Many of them come from unsafe environments. It is important to provide a safe place where they can grow."

Paula King covers East County. Reach her at 925-779-7189 or

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sonoma County Grand jury urges equal vocational training for young offenders of both sexes


Published: Friday, April 10, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 at 11:33 p.m.

A Sonoma County grand jury report issued Friday calls for creation of vocational facilities at the Sierra Youth Center for girls that are equal to those provided for boys who get training in welding, carpentry and food service.

The report examining both centers that provide residential treatment programs for juvenile offenders concluded that girls get the short shrift because facilities at the boys Probation Camp are better and offer so many more vocational opportunities.

“Because the current conditions and programs afforded to girls are not equivalent to what is provided for boys, the grand jury strongly recommends that the Board of Supervisors address this matter as part of their efforts to further (provide) ... an early intervention approach,” the report concluded.

Bob Ochs, the county deputy chief probation officer, said Friday he agreed the county should improve services for girls, but financial pressures on the budget make that unlikely. In fact, the Sierra Youth Center, which costs about $1.5million annually to operate, is among several probation department programs recently listed by administrators as having low priority in the effort to cut $10 million from the budget.

“We would love to have a new building, a much richer program and more resources for the Sierra center,” Ochs said. “There is no question that the county knows that we need a new building. But, realistically, we have been in a cutting mode for the last few years.”

Officials with the county probation department, which operates the Sierra center at facilities built in the 1950s for use as the original juvenile hall, have 60 days to respond to findings and recommendations issued by the grand jury.

About 30 years ago, the Sierra Youth Center was established as an all-girls program, but that changed in the 1980s when it was determined that few offenders required intensive residential treatment, so it became a co-ed program. Then, in 2005, a Sonoma State University study recommended that a single-sex program be re-established to address gender-specific issues of girls.

The Sierra center provides a place for girls ages 12 to 18 without extensive criminal backgrounds to live for six- to 12-month periods while receiving counseling and education classes. It has a capacity for 22 teens, but Ochs said it typically houses about 15.

In addition to recommending expansion of Sierra center vocational programs, the gand jury reports concludes that supervisors “should take all necessary steps to retain the program at SYC, even if budget cuts are required for the Probation Department.”

It does not provide recommendations on funding.

You can reach Staff Writer Bleys W. Rose at 521-5431 or

Friday, April 10, 2009

Solano Grand Jury Looks at Jail

The Solano County grand jury is recommending the county jail's specially trained Custody Response Team (CRT) be upgraded to the status of correctional peace officers, allowing them to respond to emergencies outside jail facilities in Fairfield.

The grand jury, a fact-finding and investigative judicial body, annually inspects and reports on a variety of public agencies, including government agencies, prisons and special districts.

As part of its 2008-09 reporting process, the grand jury inspected the main jail in downtown Fairfield and spoke with personnel and administrators there.

Of particular interest to the grand jury was the jail's 15-member Custody Response Team, which is trained to handle a variety of specialized duties, including high-risk jail inmate security and movement, extraction of inmates from cells, close-quarters riot control, hostage rescue and use of less-lethal weaponry and critical incident management.

Members of the team, the grand jury report states, were used 48 times during 2008 at the main jail and at the separate Claybank jail across town.

Although members of the team are highly trained law enforcement-custodial officers, the grand jury notes, not all of them are certified as peace officers under the provisions of the California State Penal Code.

"This prevents the sheriff from fully utilizing these officers in emergency situations outside the confines of the jail," the grand jury reports. "The officers currently assigned

to the CRT are well-trained and highly-motivated custodial officers who could be used successfully in support of law enforcement during an emergency."

In the report released Thursday, and grand jury recommends that members of CRT should be certified as correctional peace officers.

"This would facilitate support of law enforcement during any local emergency while minimizing expense to the county," the report's authors noted.

To access the complete text of the grand jury's report on the main jail, visit the grand jury site at

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jail's Power System and Joshua Basin Water District Reports

Calls on sheriff to run jail's power system

Electricians and other personnel at San Bernardino County's facilities management department lack cohesive direction and expertise in the operation and maintenance of the West Valley Detention Center's emergency power system, a grand jury has found.

The grand jury also released its findings from a complaint it received regarding the Joshua Basin Water District in Joshua Tree.

An interim report released Monday by the San Bernardino County Grand Jury Office noted that emergency backup generators at the Rancho Cucamonga jail are not routinely tested, and there is no manufacturer service or certification program for several pieces of critical electrical equipment.

The criticisms come in the wake of back-to-back power outages that hit the jail Aug.18 and Aug.19, forcing a lockdown and sending jail and other county staffers scrambling to fix the problem.

The grand jury recommends that the county shift responsibility for the emergency electrical system at the 18-year-old jail from facilities management to the Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's Deputy Chief Jim McMahon, who served as captain of the West Valley Detention Center at the time of the power outage, said the Sheriff's Department is in agreement with the grand jury's findings.

"We're already working with facilities management, and it's being studied at this point about the transfer of positions," McMahon said.

He said he wasn't sure how long it would take for the

transfer to happen or when it would go before the Board of Supervisors for approval.

He said about five employees currently man the power plant at the jail on a 24-7 basis.

Dave Gibson, director of the county's facilities management department, declined to comment Monday because he hadn't had a chance to discuss the issue with staff in the county administrative office.

The first outage hit the jail about 10 p.m. on Aug. 28, and the second hit about 6 a.m. the following morning. Three of seven county-owned transformers were rendered inoperable during the outages, causing the jail's electrical generation system to crash, according to the report.

The county rented two large generators and a number of smaller generators to provide lighting and other essential services at the jail during the outages, which lasted a total of 36 hours.

The jail's power wasn't fully restored until three weeks later.

During an Oct. 23 meeting between grand jury members and facilities management staff, it was learned that an oil leak caused the failure of one of the transformers. Other indicators of neglect and poor maintenance were noted in the discussion, the report said.

Grand jury members were told that the emergency power backup system had been tested once, but failed.

The grand jury also recommended the following:

Create a plant manager position at the jail for the purpose of overseeing all electrical maintenance and testing.

Begin a systematic process for testing the electrical equipment at the jail's emergency power plant.

Institute a servicing and certification program for select electrical equipment at the jail.

The complaint concerning the Joshua Basin Water District in Joshua Tree alleged the district spent public money on engineering and planning studies for sewer construction prior to receiving authorization from the Local Agency Formation Commission. The complaint also alleged the district spent public money in an attempt to purchase county tax sale property for a sewer treatment plant, but the district did not have authority from LAFCO to purchase the property for that specific use.

The grand jury determined the district's expenditures for the feasibility studies were reasonable and appropriate. It also determined that the district's board of directors, while not having authority from LAFCO to purchase property for a sewer treatment plant when approving the April 4, 2007, resolution, did not materially violate any law.

The reports will be included in the final grand jury report to be released July 1.

Grand jury reaches out to young, Latinos

The Sonoma County Grand Jury is embarking on a recruitment campaign to draw more Latinos and younger people to the jury.

"Basically, grand jurors are older, gray-haired people who are white, and they really do not reflect accurately the population of Sonoma County," said current jury foreman Richard Klein of Santa Rosa. "There are significant issues in Sonoma County that have to do with Hispanics and Latinos and things that have interest to younger people, and we just don't have those (jurors)."

The jury examined its own makeup in an investigation and has begun reaching out to community groups of active young people and Latinos.

The group is also on a quest to generate more applicants from all county residents. The goal is to receive 80 applications, but only 30 have been submitted to date, and the deadline is April 19.

"Last year, we had so few applicants to the grand jury that we ran the risk of not having a complete jury," Klein said. "It's an untenable situation."

Jurors are typically required to meet twice a week for meetings and conduct individual research. The hourly commitment can range from approximately 11 hours a week to sometimes 20 if a particular case merits the extra time, jurors said.

"In the middle of an investigation, you probably have 16 to 20 hours, but that is not week to week to week," said juror Melissa Jones, who spearheaded the report.

Jones, who is CEO of an online company, said joining the grand jury has been a good way to learn the ins and outs of how government agencies work in Sonoma County since she moved here from the Bay Area two years ago.

The jury can identify issues or agencies to investigate or respond to questions from the public about how county, city or other municipal operations work.

"Often we are the venue of last resort. When they cannot get redress any other way, they can send their complaint to the grand jury," Klein said.

Last year, the grand jury criticized the Sonoma City Council for creating a conflict of interest when it canceled a Nov. 4 municipal election.

While not illegal, the decision by the council was "cavalier" and contributed to growing fear and concern in America regarding the "efficacy and validity of the political process," the grand jury report said.

"What is hard to explain to people is that it is fantastically rewarding," Klein said. "Looking into an issue that has importance to your whole community, there is value in that that is hard to explain and describe."

Jurors are paid $15 per weekly general meeting and $12.50 for weekly committee meetings. They also are repaid mileage at a rate of 54 cents per mile.

"It's a matter of having the ability and wanting to give back to the community -- that has got to be the motivation. The financial won't do it," he said.

All applications must be submitted by April 19.

For information, go to and click on the "Grand Jury" tab.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at She can be reached at 526-8671 or

Grand Jury Recommends Repeal Of Trash Ordinance

A San Diego County grand jury Tuesday recommended the repeal of a 90-year-old ordinance that prevents the city from charging residents for garbage collection.The grand jury recommended that the San Diego City Council ask voters to repeal the 1919 law, known as the People's Ordinance, and enact a variable- rate fee schedule for trash services.It costs the city $37 million a year for trash pickup and disposal, according to the grand jury's seven-page report. The city spends an additional $15.7 million for recycling and green waste."The ordinance is inequitable because it provides no-fee trash collection and disposal to some citizens and requires other citizens to pay for the service," the report states.The grand jury found that repealing the ordinance would provide incentives for residents to recycle and reduce the amount of trash they generate and ultimately send to the landfill.It would also free up funds for the city's general fund, which San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders has projected will face a $60 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year.According to a report from the city's independent budget analyst cited by the grand jury, the cost of trash service would be about $10.60 per month for San Diego households.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

San Bernadino County Grand Jury Calls on sheriff to run jail's power system

Grand jury releases reports

Calls on sheriff to run jail's power system

Electricians and other personnel at San Bernardino County's facilities management department lack cohesive direction and expertise in the operation and maintenance of the West Valley Detention Center's emergency power system, a grand jury has found.

The grand jury also released its findings from a complaint it received regarding the Joshua Basin Water District in Joshua Tree.

An interim report released Monday by the San Bernardino County Grand Jury Office noted that emergency backup generators at the Rancho Cucamonga jail are not routinely tested, and there is no manufacturer service or certification program for several pieces of critical electrical equipment.

The criticisms come in the wake of back-to-back power outages that hit the jail Aug.18 and Aug.19, forcing a lockdown and sending jail and other county staffers scrambling to fix the problem.

The grand jury recommends that the county shift responsibility for the emergency electrical system at the 18-year-old jail from facilities management to the Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's Deputy Chief Jim McMahon, who served as captain of the West Valley Detention Center at the time of the power outage, said the Sheriff's Department is in agreement with the grand jury's findings.

"We're already working with facilities management, and it's being studied at this point about the transfer of positions," McMahon said.

He said he wasn't sure how long it would take for the

transfer to happen or when it would go before the Board of Supervisors for approval.

He said about five employees currently man the power plant at the jail on a 24-7 basis.

Dave Gibson, director of the county's facilities management department, declined to comment Monday because he hadn't had a chance to discuss the issue with staff in the county administrative office.

The first outage hit the jail about 10 p.m. on Aug. 28, and the second hit about 6 a.m. the following morning. Three of seven county-owned transformers were rendered inoperable during the outages, causing the jail's electrical generation system to crash, according to the report.

The county rented two large generators and a number of smaller generators to provide lighting and other essential services at the jail during the outages, which lasted a total of 36 hours.

The jail's power wasn't fully restored until three weeks later.

During an Oct. 23 meeting between grand jury members and facilities management staff, it was learned that an oil leak caused the failure of one of the transformers. Other indicators of neglect and poor maintenance were noted in the discussion, the report said.

Grand jury members were told that the emergency power backup system had been tested once, but failed.

The grand jury also recommended the following:

Create a plant manager position at the jail for the purpose of overseeing all electrical maintenance and testing.

Begin a systematic process for testing the electrical equipment at the jail's emergency power plant.

Institute a servicing and certification program for select electrical equipment at the jail.

The complaint concerning the Joshua Basin Water District in Joshua Tree alleged the district spent public money on engineering and planning studies for sewer construction prior to receiving authorization from the Local Agency Formation Commission. The complaint also alleged the district spent public money in an attempt to purchase county tax sale property for a sewer treatment plant, but the district did not have authority from LAFCO to purchase the property for that specific use.

The grand jury determined the district's expenditures for the feasibility studies were reasonable and appropriate. It also determined that the district's board of directors, while not having authority from LAFCO to purchase property for a sewer treatment plant when approving the April 4, 2007, resolution, did not materially violate any law.

The reports will be included in the final grand jury report to be released July 1.

Monday, April 6, 2009

San Joaquin grand jury charges four in shackled boy case

Published: Thursday, Apr. 2, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 3B

STOCKTON – Four people charged with holding a teenager hostage and torturing him for more than a year at a house in Tracy doused the youth with a chemical in an effort to burn and disfigure him, according to an indictment handed down by a San Joaquin County grand jury.

The 17-count indictment was made public Wednesday as the defendants appeared in San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Cinda Fox's courtroom in Stockton.

The grand jury, which meets in secret, indicted Michael Luther Schumacher; his wife, Kelly Layne Lau; neighbor Anthony Vincent Waiters; and former Carmichael resident Caren Ramirez on charges ranging from aggravated mayhem to torture.

Three of the four defendants, who sat with legs shackled in the jury box Wednesday, pleaded not guilty. Schumacher has not entered a plea, but may do so during the next court date, set for April 28.

The case has attracted national attention since the youth, 16, stumbled into a Tracy health club in December with a chain padlocked to his ankle. Detectives have said he was held captive more than a year, shackled for long periods to heavy objects. They also said he had been deprived of food, beaten, slashed and drugged, and rarely was allowed out of the house. Many of the allegations are in the indictment.

The relationship between the youth and the four defendants remains unclear. Schumacher and Lau lived in the Tracy home from which the teenager fled, and Waiters was their neighbor. The youth, now in protective custody, previously lived in the Sacramento area with Ramirez.

San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Angela Hayes took her case to a grand jury rather than present it at a preliminary hearing in open court. The approach, unusual in state criminal cases in California, gives prosecutors more leeway in laying out evidence and protects victims from having to testify in public.

With county grand juries, which have 19 members, only the prosecutor can present evidence, and defendants have no right to legal representation. The approach also allows prosecutors broader powers to subpoena records and people without defense challenges.

A long transcript of the proceedings is to be released within a month, after all lawyers have reviewed it, Fox said.

Schumacher, Lau, Waiters and Ramirez are charged with crimes that could put them in prison for life. Each is charged with torture – inflicting "great bodily injury" for a "sadistic" purpose; aggravated mayhem, for causing the teen "permanent disability or disfigurement"; corporal injury to a child, for beating the youth with a belt and a baseball bat; child abuse; false imprisonment; criminal threats that left the victim in fear of his safety; and assault with caustic chemicals, which they threw on him "with the intent to injure the flesh and disfigure the body."

Ramirez is also charged with child abduction, and Schumacher and Lau face charges of abusing their four biological children.

All four are held in the county jail in lieu of bail ranging from $2.3 million to $3 million.

Grand jury takes a look inside Vacaville prison

By Reporter Staff/

Inmates in possession of cell phones remains a serious security issue that needs to be addressed immediately at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, according to a Solano County grand jury report.

Having the smuggled-in phones, grand jurors said, allows inmates the capability to coordinate escapes, order attacks and killings, and possibly conduct other types of criminal activity.

The report found that punishment for inmate possession of the contraband wasn't a stringent enough deterrent and the violation "merely results in the loss of good behavior credits, which can easily be restored over time."

Unfortunately, prison staff is hampered by legislation and case law, grand jurors said, so change must be made at that level. They recommended that the California State Legislature pass laws to make inmate possession of a cell phone a felony, punishable by an additional prison sentence.

The grand jury also recommended Solano's Board of Supervisors sponsor similar legislation, but also make it a felony for prison staff or visitors to provide inmates with cell phones.

To aid in the effort, grand jurors are sending courtesy copies of the report to members and committees of the Legislature together with a cover letter "reiterating our concerns and requesting a response to those concerns."

The grand jury also recommended the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation work toward enlarging CMF facilities to better serve the inmate population.

Santa Barbara Civil Grand Jury report released

By COLBY FRAZIER — April 3, 2009

After forming a number of citizen committees to grapple with planning issues, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors either didn’t adequately execute committee recommendations, or the committees fell apart before getting off the ground, according to a county Civil Grand Jury report released yesterday.

The report, titled “Got a planning problem? Appoint a committee: Worthy goals, little follow-through,” blasts the Board of Supervisors for forming four committees over the last decade to examine the Planning and Development and Housing and Community Development departments, and doing little if anything to ensure the committees were a success.

“In return for their response to the county’s calls for help, these committees were met with passivity from the Board of Supervisors that could discourage future participation from all but the most ardent citizen volunteers,” the report says. “The jury found that one of the committees had simply been allowed to disappear without a trace. Another had met its commitment and submitted a report to the board, but few recommendations have yet seen the light of day.”

The Grand Jury studied four citizen committees, the Housing Advisory Committee (HAC), Affordable Housing Policy Committee (AHPC), Process Improvement Team (PIT), and the Process Improvement Oversight Committee (PIOC).

In the case of the Housing Advisory Committee, formed by the board in 2003 to address problems with the county’s affordable housing program, the Grand Jury found that it and eight other subcommittees dissolved with little to show for its efforts.

According to the report, the goal of the HAC was to conduct an affordable housing audit and develop a baseline for growth. The committee would then work with the planning and development department to identify resources necessary to address housing needs. This would be followed with a report to the Board of Supervisors.

“The Grand Jury was unable to locate any evidence that a report was ever submitted to the Board of Supervisors,” the report says.

Despite apparently serving no purpose, the report says the HAC was listed as an advisory body to the department of housing and community development and the Board of Supervisors as late as the 2007-2008 budget.

Grand Jury foreman Ted Sten said he didn’t know how much, if any county money was spent on the HAC between its formation in 2003 and 2008.

“The jury concluded that this committee had dissolved well prior to that period with nothing to show for its efforts and with no formal notification to the Board of Supervisors,” the report says.

The report says the budget for the current fiscal year makes no mention of the HAC.

Phone calls seeking comment from Planning and Development Director John Baker were not immediately returned to the Daily Sound.

The Affordable Housing Policy Committee, formed in 2006, was a five-person body charged with reviewing the “goals, policies and outcomes of the inclusionary housing program and alternatives to the inclusionary housing program.”

According to the report, the formation of the AHPC was triggered by problems associated with the county’s affordable housing programs, particularly in the oversight of for-sale units.

Six months after its formation, the AHPC submitted 13 recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, all of which county staff recommended for approval, with the condition that nine be subject to further review.

By late 2007, the Board of Supervisors had approved all but one of the 13 recommendations. The lone rejection, the report says, dealt with expanding “in-lieu fees” (paid by developers who decline to build affordable units on their property), to all residential projects. As it stands, the report says such fees apply only to developments of five or more residential units.

The Grand Jury found this recommendation offered “significant potential for generating additional funding” to help provide affordable housing, but for whatever reason it was denied.

However, after reviewing audio from the meeting, the Grand Jury report says it appears county staff “did not adequately address the intent and impacts of this recommendation.” As a result, it says the Board of Supervisors “did not have sufficient information necessary to make an informed decision.”

Though he said he doubted staff had purposely misrepresented the recommendation, 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he was interested to see staff’s response.

“[The Grand Jury] obviously felt it was inaccurate so I’m very eager to understand perhaps what validity that finding has or doesn’t have,” he said.

Though the other 12 recommendations from the AHPC were approved by the board in 2007, the Grand Jury found only three have been implemented, with the remainder hinging on changes to the county’s general plan, a process scheduled for this August.

The Grand Jury also analyzed the Process Improvement Team, an in-house body formed in 2003 to remedy internal problems in the Planning and Development Department.

This team’s purpose was apparently to help streamline the “ministerial” permit process, or permits requiring little administrative oversight and generally considered uncontroversial.

However, the Grand Jury notes that during its investigation, it heard repeated complaints that this process remains “slow, frustrating and confusing.”

The only functioning committee looked at by the Grand Jury was the Process Improvement Oversight Committee, a 25-member body that essentially replaced PIT in 2005.

The Grand Jury found that the committee, hampered by lack of effort by planning and development and the PIOC to outline specific measures of success related to assigned goals, has resulted in little improvement to the planning process.

Measurable progress aside, the Grand Jury says the PIOC could and should be a tool used to improve the planning process. The report cites consistent attendance at PIOC meetings and a willingness of committee members to make improvements.

The Grand Jury says the reports generated by the PIOC and presented to the Board of Supervisors come across as “political documents that do not, in the opinion of this jury, distinguish between the wheat and the chaff.”

The Grand Jury report says it got the impression Planning and Development and the PIOC are more “interested in obtaining approval for recommendations than in the recommendations themselves.”

In order to improve the operations of the PIOC, the Grand Jury recommends that the Board of Supervisors regularly attend the meetings, that the PIOC be given authority to participate in selecting items for review, and that the PIOC identify problems in the planning process that require analysis and improvement, without regard to the problems potential political implications.

The Grand Jury also recommends the board reconsider the recommendation from the former Affordable Housing Policy Committee on expanding in-lieu fees to all residential developments.

Carbajal acknowledged the Board of Supervisors needs to ensure the purpose and lifespan of citizen committees are explicit from the beginning, and the board needs to be as thorough as possible when executing recommendations from such committees.

“There are clear examples where we could have done that better,” he said. We need to “do a better job for their time and everybody wins in the end.”

The Board of Supervisors has 90 days to issue a response to the Grand Jury, while the Planning and Development Department must respond in 60 days.

Former San Bernadino Assessor's staffers defend actions

Joe Nelson and Josh Dulaney, Staff Writers

SAN BERNARDINO - Ten months after a grand jury alleged cronyism and mismanagement were rampant in the county Assessor's Office, the office's top three executives have been arrested and ongoing investigations appear to be zeroing in on other now former members of the executive support staff.

An administrative investigation commissioned by the Board of Supervisors in January should be complete by the end of the month or early May, and a criminal investigation by the District Attorney's Office is ongoing.

Assessor Bill Postmus and and his top lieutenants have all been arrested as part of the ongoing probes.

Former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, 26, has been accused of destroying evidence sought by the grand jury and charged with six felonies.

Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, 46, was arrested in March and charged with perjury for misreporting or failing to report gifts he received from a Rancho Cucamonga-based developer in return for his assistance in settling a landmark lawsuit the developer had filed against the county.

Postmus himself was arrested on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine in January. He has not been charged with a crime, but in February, he resigned from his post and Friday he announced he was entering a lengthy drug treatment program.

County officials have stressed that the investigations are ongoing, and authorities have questioned other former top staffers of Postmus' now defunct executive support staff on the work they performed and the nature of that work.

Friends and allies

Postmus established the executive support staff when he took office in January 2008, hiring a slew of political allies from his days as a county supervisor and as chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party.

Among them were Erwin, 46, Aleman, 19-year-old Joshua White and 32-year-old Greg Eyler. Erwin made about $130,000 a year, Aleman about $124,000, White about $40,000 and Eyler about $65,000.

The grand jury questioned their lack of experience and training related to property assessment and appraisal, including Aleman's lack of an appraiser's certificate, which is typically mandatory for such a position as he received.

Erwin had been a staunch supporter of Postmus' when he was president of the county's public safety union.

Erwin and the union campaigned heavily for Postmus during his run for county supervisor in 2000 and assessor in 2006.

The union contributed more than $100,000 to Postmus' campaign for supervisor and $50,000 to his campaign for Assessor.

Postmus supported the union's push for better retirement benefits for sheriff's deputies.

Erwin resigned after less than a year in the Assessor's Office and received six months severance pay. He has since become one of the most outspoken critics on the way the office was run.

Postmus gave a no-bid $49,200 contract to his former campaign consultant, Mike Richman, owner of the political consulting firm MPR Strategies.

Postmus also hired Rancho Cucamonga City Councilman Rex Gutierrez as his intergovernmental relations officer.

None of these executive staffers still works in the Assessor's Office.

Absent without leave

According to Erwin, as many as seven of Postmus's executive support staff failed to regularly show up for work, time sheets were falsified and signed off on to show they had worked a full 40-hour week. Erwin said that may have cost taxpayers up to $1 million.

He said he refused to partake in that activity.

Aleman denied the allegations, and said he often worked more than 40 hours a week.

"The scope of work and the amount of projects we were working on called for more than 40 hours a week," Aleman said.

Ted Lehrer, former spokesman for Postmus, said he too often worked such lengthy hours.

"I would not claim hours that I didn't work. I would work 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week, and I'd work weekends as well," said Lehrer, who said he earned about $80,000 a year while working for the Assessor's Office.

Gutierrez, who made an annual salary of about $67,000 at the Assessor's Office, acknowledged that during his time in the Assessor's Office he attended at least 20 meetings in Rancho Cucamonga during county work hours.

Gutierrez, who as a councilman sits on numerous city subcommittees and ad hoc committees, said it was his understanding that he could attend meetings or conduct other non-county business if he made up the time for the county.

He said he always received approval from Potmus or the assistant assessor to do so and would make up the lost hours at home or on the weekend by doing work for the county on the computer such as tracking legislation online.

"I never took advantage of being paid for one job while working another," Gutierrez said. "I look forward to presenting all of my information to any investigator, including the D.A. I'm very offended by the notion that Rex Gutierrez is known as a slouch. I'm a very hard-working person."

Gutierrez said he has been questioned by the county's commissioned attorney, but not by county prosecutors.

He said he doesn't have anything to hide.

"I'm a little bit bewildered, frankly," he said. "It's not a huge deal."

Lehrer said executive support staff was comprised of exempt employees, meaning they didn't have to keep time cards. Instead, employees logged their hours on a computer and didn't receive any overtime for the hours they worked.

"This is exactly the system currently used for the exempt staff of other county elected officials," Lehrer said.

Benefits and duties

Assessor's taxpayer advocate Greg Eyler was reimbursed $1,000 for history and sociology classes he took at U.C. Riverside, apparently during regularly scheduled work hours.

"The use of such leave time regularly reduced the employee's work attendance to almost half a forty-hour work week," the grand jury found in its report.

Reached Friday by telephone, Eyler declined to comment.

"I don't want to discuss anything that has to do with the assessor's office," he said.

The grand jury was also critical of Postmus' reimbursement of $8,280 to Aleman for college courses at the University of La Verne for an undergraduate degree, including a class in ornithology, the study of wild birds.

County policy, in essence, allows employees to be reimbursed a portion of their college tuition if they are pursuing masters degrees or doctorates, but the policy isn't intended for undergraduate programs.

Postmus's hiring of Joshua White, a 19-year-old whiz kid from Upland who had worked as a volunteer coordinator on the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, also raised some eyebrows.

But what White lacked in years he made up for with innovation and technical aptitude, Aleman said.

"Joshua was an outstanding individual. He worked hard and he was a perfectionist," said Aleman, who served as White's boss at the Assessor's office and recommended him to Postmus for the job.

Aleman also recommended White for the paid job on the Republican Central Committee in 2006.

The grand jury noted in its report that Postmus' executive support staff spent the bulk of its time planning and implementing projects such as the Assessor's Office annual report, Web site links and planning outreach meetings. It was work the grand jury noted as "public image" related and peripheral to the core activities of the Assessor's Office.

White played an instrumental role in producing the annual report and updating the Assessor's Office Web site and building links for it.

He also put together a Power Point presentation on the office budget for the Board of Supervisors and worked with the office's IT staff in developing complex algorithms and queries for the office's annual report, Aleman said.

"I was very pleased with the quality of the annual report, I feel the consistency of the data between the various sections of the report was top notch," said White, 20. "I was also pleased to be able to help implement tax savings programs, such as the Proposition 8 reassessment request form on the county assessor's Web site."

White said, to his knowledge, that San Bernardino County was the first county in California to implement an online Proposition 8 reassessment request form.

New and improved

While Lehrer, who still speaks on Postmus' behalf, says Postmus did not get credit for the good he did do at the Assessor's Office, other county officials say things have taken a dramatic turn for the better since his departure.

Interim Assessor Dennis Draeger has earned praise from county supervisors and rank-and-file employees of the assessor's office as well.

"I think Dennis Draeger has successfully restored confidence, not only to the board, but to the Assessor's Office," Third District Supervisor Neil Derry said. "He's a first-class individual with 30 years of experience in both the Assessor's Office and the Tax Collector's Office."

At a Board of Supervisors meeting about two weeks ago, a petition signed by more than 100 Assessor's Office employees requesting Draeger be appointed the new assessor was presented to the board, Derry said.

"I think that says quite a bit," Derry said.

Mark Kirk, chief of staff for board Chairman Gary Ovitt, said all six of the grand jury's recommendations to address the problems at the Assessor's Office under the previous regime have been implemented.

"Dennis and his team have done a great job of picking up the ball and running with it," Kirk said.

He said the board will likely not appoint the new assessor until after the completion of the Hueston investigation, expected to wrap up later this month or in early May.

Ovitt "would rather get through the Hueston investigation and wrap up any questions before bringing a board item to start the appointment process," Kirk said.

Lehrer maintains that Postmus fulfilled his campaign promise to modernize the Assessor's Office and move the department into the 21st Century by assembling an executive support staff reflective of the county's diversity, including three Latinos, a black and a near-equal ratio of men to women, Lehrer said.

And, he said, all were qualified for the jobs they were appointed to do.

"Simply, the executive staff possessed the skill sets necessary to complete Mr. Postmus' stated intentions to make the office more efficient for taxpayers, and in many respects, the executive staff succeeded," Lehrer said.

He said Postmus supported every recommendation by the grand jury.