Monday, October 26, 2009

Riverside Grand jury calls Banning leaders

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

The Press-Enterprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We have absolutely no concerns," Clavelot said.

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

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

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

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

Reach Erin Waldner at 951-763-3473 or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake County superintendent of schools responds to grand jury report findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brock Falkenberg now holds Hillix's old job.

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nevada County Grand jury room named after longtime juror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Colusa Grand jury criticizes county spending

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

If you have a question — just ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Susan Meeker at 458-2121 or