Tuesday, September 29, 2009

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

By Brian Babcock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 28, 2009

Solano's volunteer grand jury gives back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it's rare, Bouch said.

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

Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824 or RachelZ@thnewsnet.com.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

After apology, State drops charges against Butte County Grand juror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tehama County Board of Supervisors respond to Grand Jury suggestions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Staff Writer Geoff Johnson can be reached at 527-2153, extension 114, or at gjohnson@redbluffdailynews.com


San Bernadino County files response to grand jury report

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

The Press-Enterprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reach Imran Ghori at 951-368-9558 or ighori@PE.com


San Mateo Grand juries wade into personnel issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bil Paul's columns run on Thursdays. Reach him at natural_born_writer@yahoo.com.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fewer resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Families in distress

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

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

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


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Setback for ex Contra Costa prosecutor accused of rape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/09/09/BAMJ19K1SL.DTL#ixzz0Ru5ujxAK

Shasta County Grand Jury seeks investigative report on Piccinini

The investigative report on previous Anderson Fire Protection District fire chief Joe Piccinini was requested Aug. 11 by the Shasta County Grand Jury, board chairman Keith Webster said at a district meeting Tuesday.

“We will say ‘no,’” Webster said. “We have to say ‘no,’ it’s part of the contract (with Piccinini). The grand jury will have to ask a judge to release the report.”

The board consented to pass the grand jury’s request on to legal counsel Mike Fitzpatrick, who was not present at the meeting and did not respond to messages left with his office.

Results of the district’s investigation was held confidential by the fire district board despite Freedom of Information requests from Anderson Valley Post and the Record Searchlight. Piccinini resigned July 1, 2009 following the board’s review of the report.

Board member Butch Schaefer reiterated his preference to release the report, adding that the report cannot be made public without Piccinini’s signature.

The report is also required before the district’s yearly financial report can be completed, according to CPA Don Reynolds.

“His concern is whether there is any impropriety in the finances (contained in the report),” Webster said.

The board directed Reynolds to speak with district legal counsel.

In other business, Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed suspension of Proposition 1A may cost the district $70,000, Acting Chief Howard Fincher said.

While not yet passed, the suspension lowers property tax revenues for agencies including special districts by 8 percent, according to district documents.

“That’s about one and a half firefighters,” Fincher added, translating the loss in the district’s general fund into manpower.

The state government indicated that the funds will be repaid in three years with an undisclosed amount of interest, Fincher said.


The 2008-09 Trinity County grand jury has wrapped up a year of investigation

The 2008-09 Trinity County grand jury has wrapped up a year of investigation concerning specific complaints and review of certain county departments and procedures with the recent release of findings, recommendations and conclusions about how county services are being delivered.

Specific complaints about the county grants department, behavioral health services and personnel/administration were investigated. The grand jury also followed up on previous investigations regarding county purchasing procedures and audit compliance of special districts.

It concluded that the grants department, though understaffed, is administering its programs according to proper procedures and is very thorough in its care for clients.

The grand jury indicated that the grants department is providing a commendable service, providing funds that are helping many residents repair health and safety problems on their properties or contributing toward the completion of community projects.

It noted that the grants department has brought approximately $10 million into the county's economy over the past five years, assisting more than 100 homeowners and 10 community projects. Grant administration costs are paid by the grants themselves with only minimal matching funds from the county general fund.

The report recommended hiring an additional grants analyst to bring in more money to the county.

Regarding behavioral health services, the grand jury found a staffing shortage there as well, noting it is imperative to fill vacant positions for clinicians as soon as funding is available. It also recommended filling more client intake positions to improve the process that it said involves a large amount of time-consuming paper work required by the state.

Overall, the grand jury found that behavioral health services staff morale has improved due to creative and constructive changes being initiated in the department that should ultimately expand delivery of services to clients.

It was especially complimentary of the agency's strategic plan for programs to be implemented under the Mental Health Services Act funding and of the two drop-in centers established in Weaverville and Hayfork that "are client-directed and provide a safe, confidential, empowering and healing environment." It recommended continuing the centers as a high priority.

The grand jury was somewhat critical of county administration/personnel policies and procedures when it comes to annual employee evaluations.

In response to a specific complaint, the grand jury concluded there was a lack of communication between management and an employee pertaining to the 2002 implementation of a compensation study that adversely affected the employee's wages.

The grand jury report said employees should be notified immediately anytime their position or pay status is changed and that pay status should be reviewed during their annual evaluations.

Furthermore, the grand jury concluded that the employee who complained was denied due process because he was not told in a timely manner how to properly file a complaint or advised of the time limitations on doing so.

The grand jury recommended a revision of the county employee handbook to include the time limitations imposed on the complaint process. It also indicated that middle management needs training in evaluation procedures and suggested that the personnel department implement a computer program to assist in the performance and tracking of employee evaluations because there is no system currently in place ensuring that all employees receive timely evaluations.

In following up on a previous evaluation of county purchasing procedures, the grand jury found that prior recommendations are currently being followed for change orders and obtaining three bids on all possible contracts, leases and purchases.

It concluded that the county is following guidelines and procedures to the best of its ability and encouraged the county administrative officer to continue monitoring the process and quality of the request for proposals going out. It commended the CAO for his effort to implement the recommendations of the prior grand jury and recommended that the next grand jury continue to monitor purchasing procedures.

Finally, the grand jury concluded that special districts in the county are in compliance with their obligation to file annual financial audits with the county auditor/controller's office for 2007, but some are late for 2008.

Because of the cost burden on small fire departments and community service districts that pay an average of $2,000 a year for an audit, the grand jury encouraged the Trinity County Board of Supervisors to give the smaller districts some relief by requiring less frequent audits every two or five years.

It noted the money saved could help them procure needed equipment or training.


Trinity County Grand jury: Post Mtn. must forgive, work together


For the second year in a row, the tiny Post Mountain Public Utilities District south of Hayfork has drawn negative attention from the Trinity County grand jury that has concluded the special district may not survive its latest round of troubles unless members of the community "forgive each other and learn to work together."

The Post Mountain PUD is a special district formed to provide fire protection, road maintenance and electric power for approximately 1,000 parcels of land in the Trinity Pines Subdivision located between Hayfork and Forest Glen off Highway 36. An estimated 25 percent of the lots have been developed as residences.

The district has never accomplished its goal of supplying electricity to the subdivision and recently has been struggling mightily to provide fire protection and road maintenance for area residents.

It's also now facing the challenge of retaining enough governing board members to comprise the quorum of three needed to conduct business.

Property owners within the district are charged a $24 annual assessment for fire protection services and have long been requested to pay an additional $35 donation for road maintenance, which some people pay and others don't. The subdivision is served by a combination of private roads and some county roads.

In a report last year, a previous grand jury said the Post Mountain PUD defies the definition of a smoothly functioning district with a clear mission or purpose. That report noted Brown Act violations occurring during governing board meetings in which discussions veered from agenda topics or occurred in private when they should have been public.

Meeting minutes were presented in which area residents complained of long-standing issues going unresolved such as snow clearing not happening and locked gates installed by property owners across roads preventing plows or fire trucks from getting through.

After a follow-up investigation over the past year, the 2008-09 grand jury found many continuing deficiencies.

In its most recent report, the grand jury found that the meetings of the district's board of directors "have often been out of control" and the group is not getting things done — specifically equipment maintenance/ repair, snow removal and road repairs.

Most recently, the Post Mountain fire department nearly ceased to function after the board removed several members and only two volunteers remained. Since then, some new volunteers have stepped forward and are attempting to reorganize the fire department.

A longtime resident of Trinity Pines and former member of the special district's governing board, Margaret Irwin, called the change in fire department staffing a good thing, saying people were very reluctant to volunteer "under the old regime. It was a chaotic, bad situation and people didn't feel safe. The problem is we have a huge influx of pot growers here."

Representing Trinity County's District 5, Supervisor Wendy Reiss said she has worked with the Hayfork Fire Department to help provide training for the new Post Mountain volunteers attempting to reorganize their fire department. She has also attempted to work with the governing board to ensure Brown Act compliance.

The grand jury recommended that the community hold a town hall meeting to recruit more volunteers willing to be trained. It suggested hiring a facilitator to help control the meeting and recommended a number of other steps and common rules of order to help ensure that meetings are respectful and productive.

Post Mountain PUD facilities and equipment include a fire hall, two fire engines and a pickup as well as two snowplows for winter road maintenance. The grand jury found that all of the equipment for both roads and fire "is in a state of disrepair that should not be allowed since it affects the safety of people in the district." It noted the water system at the fire hall hasn't worked for two years and the district doesn't have drivers qualified to drive some of its vehicles.

The grand jury recommended that the district take immediate steps to make sure all equipment is repaired and fully operational and there are qualified and licensed drivers for all equipment.

It noted that board meetings are frequently canceled due to lack of a quorum and recommended holding special meetings when that happens because the "current state of affairs of the district cannot be ignored for two months."

The governing board is comprised of five seats, but has long been operating with just four members. In recent years, there have been several resignations, a few new appointments, and the board is currently down to just three members. Current board president Tom Onwiler has announced his intended resignation Oct. 1.

If the board fails to appoint another member before then, it will cease to function. In that case, the responsibility defaults to the Trinity County Board of Supervisors to appoint someone. With a special district election scheduled in November, no candidates filed for the three four-year terms and one two-year term on the Post Mountain PUD Board.

The grand jury again recommended a town hall meeting to rally support and get volunteers to fill the board, noting that most of the experienced people on the board and fire department have resigned and the new board is getting very little help.

The grand jury report indicated "there is a faction in the community that feels the board is not being run properly, but prefers to complain rather than step up and help. The group believes that the grand jury can solve all their problems, but this is not true. The grand jury does not have any power to dictate any resolution to their problems; it can only investigate and recommend a possible solution."

It concluded that the Post Mountain community "needs to start fresh, look to the future and all work together for the common good of the community. Post Mountain is a beautiful place to live. The community has a lot of equipment and facilities, which, if maintained and managed properly could provide the services needed. The community has potential for a great future. Cooperation and united effort can make this happen. It is imperative that they start right away."

The district board has not yet formally responded to this year's grand jury report and Board President Onwiler could not be reached for comment. In a response last year, the district board urged the public to "bear with us" as new board members began the process of tackling the problems.

Former board member Irwin, who resigned in 2002, said in her opinion the district needs to be allowed to die and become a substation of the Hayfork Fire Department, a 30-minute drive away from Trinity Pines.

"We need a fire department here, but it could be run better by Hayfork," she said.


Redwood City wants grand jury leak investigated

By Shaun Bishop
Daily News
Posted: 08/31/2009 07:42:09 PM PDT
Updated: 08/31/2009 08:31:50 PM PDT

The Redwood City City Council wants the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office to find out who leaked a controversial civil grand jury report that criticized the process for awarding two major trash contracts.

The council also blasted the substance of the grand jury's criticism of the South Bayside Waste Management Authority — a joint agency that includes Redwood City, nine other Peninsula cities, the county and a sanitary district — during its discussion of the report earlier this week.

"While I have respect for the grand jury system and the fact that the grand jury members are all volunteers, they totally missed the mark," Council Member Jim Hartnett said at Monday's council meeting.

The report, released in July, said the authority used a flawed bidding process to award two 10-year contracts — one to Recology for curbside collection and the other to South Bay Recycling for operating the authority's processing facility. Both are scheduled to start in 2011. Together, officials say, they're worth about $60 million per year.

The grand jury said the authority "did not follow its stated goal to 'conduct the RFP (request for proposals) process with integrity and transparency,'" citing concerns about the scoring of bids, background checks and other issues.

Local newspapers obtained copies of the report July 8, two days before it was supposed to be made public, and published stories about it the next day.

The council voted 7-0 to approve a response stating it disagrees with most of the grand jury's conclusions.

The council also agreed to forward a request for an investigation to the district attorney's office. Mayor Rosanne Foust was reviewing the request Friday and said she intends to send it out soon.

The district attorney's office will review the request when it comes in, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Releasing confidential information from a grand jury without permission is a misdemeanor under the California penal code, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine up to $1,000.

Even if it wasn't leaked, Foust said, the report contained numerous factual inaccuracies and its conclusions often weren't backed up with research, suggesting it was politically motivated.

Politics were present throughout the process, from then-Supervisor Jerry Hill publicly requesting the grand jury probe to the bidding companies running behind-the-scenes lobbying campaigns in an attempt to win the backing of Peninsula elected officials.

Foust said she has heard rumors that a grand juror leaked the report and wants to find out who did it and why.

"It's time that it should be looked into," Foust said. "We're all held to high standards."

Civil grand jury foreperson Virginia Chang Kiraly said she had "no personal knowledge whatsoever" of a juror leaking the report and would cooperate fully with any investigation.

Kiraly also defended the report's conclusions, saying it was not politically motivated.

"Every entity is going to have their own opinion on it, and we knew that because it was a controversial issue," Kiraly said.


Sheriff takes issue with Merced County civil grand jury's critical report

Investigative panel never bothered to speak to Pazin or his department.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin issued a stern rebuttal this week to the county's civil grand jury, dismissing claims that his department has failed to properly assist and cooperate with the Gustine Police Department.

The grand jury routinely inspects local government agencies across the county, including police departments. In a one-page report issued after a scheduled April visit to the Gustine Police Department, the grand jury criticized the sheriff's department for what it deemed the department's "reprehensible" failure to work with Gustine.

The grand jury blamed the sheriff's office for cutting off radio communication with the Gustine department, ending dispatch services there and failing to enter Gustine's arrest warrants into a centralized computer system.

In his rebuttal, made public late Monday, Pazin strongly disagreed with the grand jury's assessment. He wrote that its report contains several factual errors and omits relevant facts. Jury members never contacted Pazin as a part of their investigation, Pazin's rebuttal says.

It states: "The grand jury uses the word 'reprehensible' as it pertains to cooperation from county law enforcement to Gustine Police Department. What is actually appalling is an official one-sided document from the grand jury written and submitted to the Superior Court, without speaking with the other principals in the matter."

Specifically, Pazin's rebuttal says that Gustine is to blame for ending sheriff-provided dispatch and radio services there. It states that in February 2006 the Gustine Police Department sent formal notice that it wanted to terminate its contract with the sheriff and instead purchase dispatch and radio services from the Turlock Police Department. (With nine sworn officers, Gustine's department is too small to support its own 24-hour dispatch and communications center.)

"I think the problem is that (the grand jury report) makes it seem like we are refusing to serve Gustine, but that's not the case," sheriff's spokesman Tom MacKenzie said in an interview Tuesday. "Gustine chose to go somewhere else. There's nothing we can do about that."

Pazin's rebuttal adds that Gustine is paying considerably more to Turlock for the services than it paid to his department. It also says the grand jury's claim that Gustine's arrest warrants aren't entered into a national law enforcement database is inaccurate.

The rebuttal states that the sheriff's department routinely assists Gustine with internal affairs investigations, major crimes investigations and patrols. "Our office has cooperated at every level with the Gustine Police Department," it reads.

The civil grand jury is comprised of 19 citizen volunteers who spend year-long terms conducting routine examinations of local government agencies and investigating specific complaints of impropriety from the public. Agencies discussed in grand jury reports are legally required to issue formal responses.

Three separate chiefs have led the Gustine Police Department in the past three years. The department's most recent leader, Richard Calderon, left the job last week after the city chose to buy him out of his contract. Calderon's predecessor, Kris Anderson, stepped down in March 2008, a month after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

Jeff Schindler, a retired 30-year veteran of the Merced Police Department, is serving as Gustine's interim chief until the city hires Calderon's permanent replacement.

Gustine Police Lt. Vincent Inaudi said Tuesday that he hasn't seen the grand jury's report or the sheriff's rebuttal, but he backed up Pazin's message: "Every time we've requested the sheriff's assistance on an investigation or anything else, they've been nothing but incredibly helpful," Inaudi said.

Harlan Dake, foreman for the civil grand jury that issued the Gustine report, acknowledged Tuesday that the jury didn't contact sheriff's officials during its investigation.

"What's in the report is what (Calderon) told us," Dake said. "In hindsight, we probably made a mistake by not talking with the sheriff about it."

Reporter Corinne Reilly can be reached at (209)385-2477 or creilly@mercedsun-star.com.


San Mateo County disagrees with grand jury over appointment

September 18, 2009, 11:18 PM By Michelle Durand

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, knocked by the civil grand jury for appointing rather than electing its current member, agreed partially with recommendations about how to handle future mid-term vacancies.

But while officials agreed “in concept” that the board needs to consider the time remaining in the term when opting between an election and an appointment, they are “unsure if the remaining time should be one year, two years or any specific amount of time.” The county also disagreed that a provision appointment be prohibited from running for the seat in the next election cycle.

The opinions are part of the mandated response from the Board of Supervisors to the grand jury on its report “Appointment vs. Election: How Should the Board of Supervisor Seats Be Filled?”

The reports carry no legal weight but subjects are required to respond in writing within 90 days. The Board of Supervisors accepted the suggested response as part of its consent agenda Tuesday but Grand Jury Forewoman Virginia Chang Kiraly said it has not yet been received.

Kiraly could not comment on the report before it comes to the grand jury.

The report in essence held that former San Mateo councilwoman Carole Groom should not have been appointed in late 2008 to fill the Board of Supervisors’ seat vacated by elected state Assemblyman Jerry Hill. Instead, the jurors recommended the board place a ballot measure before voters asking them to amend the county charter to require elections if the term remaining is one year or more.

The worry, according to the jury report, is that appointees have an advantage in regular election cycles. Every incumbent seeking re-election to the board has prevailed 100 percent since 1980.

The Board of Supervisors considered an election after Hill won the Assembly seat but decided against it because of the $1 million price tag. The jury said the cost was not a valid reason and said the appointment denies voters the right to hear serious debate about issues.

A Charter Review Committee will convene in 2010 and may consider jury recommendations like the ballot measure, County Manager David Boesch wrote in his response recommendation. Boesch, on behalf of the county, also questioned banning appointees from future elections because “there are concerns that eliminating their chances to continue serving in this position may not be in the best interests of the county.”

The appointee may also not represent the best long-term interests if they are only provisional, he added.

Dave Pine, trustee with the San Mateo Union High School District, and outspoken critic of the appointment, called the response “disappointing.”

“The supervisors failed to respond to the primary recommendation that there should be an election to fill a vacancy. The supervisors do not state an opinion about that, instead pushing it off to a charter review committee,” Pine said.

Pine also called the matter’s placement on the consent agenda “inappropriate” because it deserved a public discussion.


A district under siege: Discord continues in Luther Burbank

By Sharon Noguchi

Posted: 09/21/2009 12:01:00 AM PDT
Updated: 09/21/2009 06:34:42 PM PDT

In the tiny Luther Burbank School District, the office copy/fax machine is on the fritz, the phones go to voicemail for lack of a district secretary and teachers picket after school to protest stalled contract talks.

And yet, while some things in the central San Jose school district may be falling apart, eager students are tackling synonyms and long division, and the staff is celebrating test scores that indicate solid academic progress.

Three months after a scathing grand jury report questioned its very existence, and seven months after a audit critical of its financial practices, the one-campus district has shakily stayed its course, while the larger political and educational community has responded with a shrug of the shoulders.

"It just seems like the board and district are running amok and no one seems to care," said Don Kawashima, foreman of the grand jury that in June suggested board President Antonio Perez step down, and the 566-student district merge with a neighbor. After alleging the board engaged in conflicts of interest, secrecy, intimidation, questionable spending and election malfeasance, the grand jury concluded that the district could not fix itself.

There's no sign that others have taken up the push for the 103-year-old district to dissolve or for Perez to relinquish leadership. And few people in this highly mobile and immigrant community, an unincorporated enclave near the I-280/I-880 interchange, have joined teachers in expressing outrage at the alleged abuses outlined in the report.

Luther Burbank was to respond to the grand jury report by next Wednesday but was granted a five-week extension. Perez did not return calls for comment.

Problems persist. Luther Burbank missed the deadline for turning in a 2009-10 budget and ultimately needed the Santa Clara County Office of Education to compile the document. It asked for continued County Office budgeting help, was turned down, and now is investigating a joint-powers agreement—where several districts share services— to shore up its administration.

Is the district capable of managing its budget on its own?

"I don't think so," said Charles Weis, county superintendent of schools. He said his office will offer training — at a charge — and coaching to the K-8 district.

The district had been run by four administrators, but this year cut the number to 2½: a principal-superintendent, business manager and half-time instruction director.

Yet it's paying for far more. Earlier this month, the board hired a new superintendent-principal. But it's keeping on its interim superintendent for 1½ more months, and its principal for a year. It's alsostill paying the school chief who was ousted last November. And it's headed to an expensive arbitration with that leader, Richard Rodriguez, who alleges the district has failed to pay his health benefits as required.

Meanwhile, teachers, still negotiating last year's contract, picket weekly and seek more planning time and improved health benefits.

What rankles them is that trustees provide themselves and their families premium health insurance, at a cost of $73,000 last school year, while teachers say they spend up to $11,000 each for a lesser health plan.

"I am angry. I'm mad and offended and frankly amazed" at board spending decisions, said Janet Plant, Burbank's teacher of the year, told trustees. The teachers union hasn't taken a position on merging.

Perez said he supports teachers, but added, "we're making sacrifices all the time that we're not getting credit for."

Teachers charge that the district is violating state law, which requires districts spend at least 60 percent of their budgets on teacher salary and benefits. Luther Burbank fell short by nearly $250,000 last year, they allege.

Business Manager Rodolfo Avalos-Sanchez said spending was incorrectly logged last year, and that the district does meet the 60 percent threshold.

In non-classroom expenses, trustees spent more than $15,000 on travel, meals and conferences. District legal expenses exceeded $49,000 from July 2008 through August 2009. And Fernando Elizondo, the interim superintendent, spent $10,500 to print a 1½-inch-thick book of student letters to President Obama, which he presented to local politicians, but not students.

Outside investigations aren't new to Luther Burbank. In 2001, political turmoil pushed the district to look into a merger with the nearby Campbell Union School District. But then-new Superintendent Rodriguez rebuilt nearly the entire staff. His administration ran into turmoil with the election of Perez, a former district student, who openly clashed with the superintendent and persuaded the board to force him out last November and immediately hire Elizondo as interim leader.

Elizondo said he's helped clean up the district. He's getting the board to approve policies, from finance to personnel, and has recalled the 11 credit cards that board and staff used.

Kawashima of the grand jury concedes change seems unlikely. He believes parents are too intimidated to speak. The danger, he said, is that the administrative tumult will demoralize teachers, filter down to the classroom and threaten academic progress.

Teachers are hoping a new administration will bring labor peace and resolve some of the issues facing the district.

"We're working as hard as we can, as fast as we can to try to rectify all the different things listed in audit and by the grand jury," said Becki Cohn-Vargas, who began Monday as superintendent-principal. "But it's like rebuilding a train while it's going 100 mph."

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775.

Tehama County to respond to Grand Jury

Posted: 09/22/2009 08:14:37 AM PDT
Updated: 09/22/2009 09:38:07 AM PDT

The Tehama County Board of Supervisors is slated this morning to consider its response to the findings of the 2008-2009 Tehama County Grand Jury Report.

Among the findings in the report were recommendations asking for the county to implement a flat-bed scanner and to refer draft measures and ordinances requiring impartial analysis to an outside office.

In the county's draft response, it says it will evaluate the cost of the former but states clearly the Board of Supervisors believes County Counsel is qualified to perform impartial analysis of county ordinances.

The disagreement arises from the grand jury's reading of 2008 Measure B, which would have tasked a grand jury with determining salaries for the Tehama County Board of Supervisors, but was voted down by the public.

The 2008-2009 grand jury did not take issue with the measure itself, but said it did not make it clear that future salary changes could be made by a grand jury, without an additional ballot measure. It also recommended taking away the authorship of measures or ordinances requiring County Counsel.

The board's response states that nearly every measure and ordinance could be subject to referendum, and by stating that County Counsels are asked not to take a position for or against the actions of the county, but simply to advise on the legality of the county's actions.

The grand jury also introduced a series of recommendations asking the county to take
more measures to protect its records, including blueprints. The report cites the loss of as-built blueprints to the Juvenile Hall, which increased the cost and difficulty of installing a new system of security cameras.

Actions the county may undertake if the board approves the response include evaluating the cost of purchasing a large flat-screen scanner and printer to preserve county documents; institute a policy prohibiting the use of county computers, county e-mail and county work time for personal business; and evaluate the cost of providing fire and waterproof filing cabinets.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ukiah Police Department responds to Grand Jury report

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 09/08/2009 12:00:47 AM PDT

Ukiah Police Department passed Mendocino County Grand Jury's inspection with a 2009 grand jury report titled Excellence Personified -- Ukiah Police Chief and His Finest Are To Be Commended," earlier this year.

Although it reviewed UPD favorably, the grand jury did make requests and suggestions when UPD Chief Chris Dewey, Ukiah High School and city government responded in writing to the report.

The grand jury noted that UPD upgraded its evidence room, provided a officer to Ukiah High School to implement drug and gang intervention programs, works with Project Sanctuary and is back to issuing an annual report.

UHS Principal Dennis Willeford wrote in his response that there was a special parking spot for the UPD officer (School Resource Officer) policing the UHS campus. The grand jury had requested that a special parking spot for the officer be designated.

"We have dedicated the number one space in the second row of our staff parking to our SRO. This space is highly visible to all students as they enter and leave from the front of the school and is adjacent to the Administration building. A sign clearly marks the parking space," Willeford's response stated.

Willeford noted in his response that the old parking spot was painted over in blue for special needs parking as mandated by the American Disabilities Act.

Chris Dewey explained in his written response that although the UHS officer does not have specialized school training, only veteran officers get the duty.

Dewey noted that although the current officer does not have training, SRO's are sent to SRO courses, Active Shooter on Campus Training and emergency management, his response stated.

The grand jury also noted that Ukiah Police Department had Homeland Security money for a police dog. Dewey stated that both his office and the Sheriff's Office received Homeland Security money for a bomb-detecting fog program.

But both departments could pay for keeping a bomb-dog program running after it was started. Dewey stated that the money will now be used for developing a five-year-plan to protect the county from bombs. As part of the five-year-plan, local SWAT team members would get bomb-detection training.

In the months since the grand jury toured UPD headquarters one parking resource officer position and four job opening for officers were eliminated.

The grand jury also asked that UPD continue searching for forensics funding and booking programs be a top priority. "Currently, the State of California has not yet decided on how forensics services will be provided. The department is currently researching cost alternatives of the Senate decides to charge for these services, and policy changes to determine what evidence will be sent to forensic laboratories," Dewey stated.

Increased effort to cite bicycling violations was another request made by the grand jury in its recommendations. As time allows, Dewey said UPD is increasing bicycle enforcement.

New UPD members have received additional training in this area, and patrol staff has the expectation to handle both vehicle and bicycle violations.

In the past year UPD issued 295 warnings and two citations for bicycle safety and not wearing helmets. UPD also has an Explorers program for young adults 18 to 20-years-old.

Dewey said in his response that Explorer participation has doubled and boys and men and women are involved. Responses from City Manager Jane Chambers and the City Council were the same as what UPD wrote.