Tuesday, December 21, 2010

State AG offers legal opinion on Daly City city clerk's post

By Neil Gonzales

Posted: 12/21/2010 07:00:49 PM PST
Updated: 12/21/2010 07:00:50 PM PST

Annette Hipona, city clerk of Daly City, didn't have to leave her seat on the local school board after she was elected to the city post two years ago, state Attorney General and governor-elect Jerry Brown said in a recent legal opinion.

State law does not prohibit an elected city clerk from also serving on the school board in the same city, according to the opinion obtained by the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a Los Angeles newspaper focused on law, the courts and other issues.

The opinion pleased Hipona, who was elected as city clerk in November 2008 while still serving on the board of the Daly City-based Jefferson Elementary District.

"I have always believed that (the positions of) school board member and city clerk were not incompatible since they (have) no connection with each other," Hipona said Tuesday in a statement to the Times. "Before I even considered running for city clerk, I did extensive research regarding this situation and found no conflict. It is nice to be vindicated."

Hipona recalled that some city and school leaders believed at the time there was a conflict of interest, creating the appearance of impropriety.

"I could not put the school district in a negative position with concerns of conflict of interest, even though there was none," said Hipona, who resigned from the Jefferson board in March 2009.

"I loved my time on the school board," she added. "Children and education have always been important to me. ... (This opinion) will provide an opportunity for city clerks to serve on the school board."

San Mateo County Counsel Michael Murphy asked for the opinion following Hipona's election as city clerk, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise reported. Murphy could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

As part of his opinion, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise reported, the attorney general determined that the offices of city clerk and school trustee are compatible because neither has authority over the other.

Hipona also earned a measure of vindication in 2009 when a county civil grand jury report concluded that Daly City was unjustified in slashing her pay from $101,374 to $52,988 a year and recommended that the decision be reversed.

However, the city argued that the reduction was justified based on financial and personnel factors, and Hipona's pay was not restored.

Contact Neil Gonzales at 650-348-4338.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kern Grand Jury: RPD well-run organization

Posted Dec 07, 2010 @ 06:00 AM
Print Comment
Ridgecrest, Calif. —

The Kern County Grand Jury said the Ridgecrest Police Department is a well-run organization.

In its report released Monday, the jury found that since the chief of police took control of the animal shelter, the department has been able to reduce the number of animals euthanized through an “adopt-out” program of the animals to Canada. The department also sends dogs to specific breed-rescue programs.

The report noted there is no major drug or gang activity within its jurisdiction, the animal shelter is also under the control of the chief of police, and the department has two K-9 units which were purchased through public donations and assist the sheriff’s deputies upon request.

The Grand Jury report also noted the department has a teen court program through a local church. “This is for first-time juvenile offenders and is managed by the Kern County Probation Department,” said the report. “The local Deputy District Attorney acts as the Judge and teen members who have successfully completed the program act as jurors.”

The jurors of the teen court sentence the juvenile offenders to community service, a fine, letters of apology or accountability. The parents or guardians of the teen have to be involved and must be present during the Court hearing.

“This is done in a formal setting,” the report stated. “The chief reported they have a low recidivism rate due to the program.”

The jury expressed concerns about the RPD patrol fleet.

“Due to budget restraints, the patrol cars are an aging fleet,” said the report. “Many of the cars have 150,000 to 160,000 miles of service. Two new cars are expected.”

Three motorcycles are used for traffic control enforcement.

According to the report, the chief reported that they have a good relationship with the local schools through contact with the principals and/or resource officer at the local high school.

There are 30 active Community Emergency Response Team members and more than 300 have been trained for this program.

The report also stated Police and Community Together program that works through four organizations with a total of 60 volunteers. The volunteers work at such activities as animal control, records, graffiti and traffic control, etc. The volunteers perform more than 10,000 hours of service to aid the department each year.

The department must respond within 90 days.

The report can be seen at www.co.kern.ca.us. Click on Grand Jury for access to the report.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Internal Affairs: More trouble for Genghis Dan

Posted: 12/06/2010 07:51:20 AM PST
Updated: 12/06/2010 07:52:00 AM PST

Controversies surrounding

Dan Fenton, the CEO of Team San Jose, just won't go away.

As if two civil grand jury investigations, a default notice filed by San Jose for overspending his budget, an unfavorable report from the city auditor and growing impatience by the City Council with Team San Jose's problems weren't enough, now comes word that Fenton and his group -- which runs the city's convention center and downtown theaters -- may be sued.

Don Lessem, the organizer behind "Genghis Khan: The Exhibition,'' which ran from late May through Nov. 1 at the Tech Museum, said that after weeks of stonewalling by Fenton, he's suing Team San Jose for not paying $170,000 of a $300,000 guarantee the group gave his company verbally and in writing.

Together with a group of Bay Area Mongolian-Americans (Khan, of course, was Mongolian), Lessem plans to hold a news conference Monday morning in front of Team San Jose's downtown headquarters to announce the lawsuit.

"I have offered Dan Fenton, Team San Jose CEO, installment plans, and even to forego additional gift shop sales income due us, simply to make sure they honored their legal commitments. They refuse,'' he wrote Mayor Chuck Reed in a November e-mail.

"I have no option but to sue, to alert other international exhibition organizers, and to take my grievance to the ... media.''

Lessem, who has been in the exhibit business 16 years, called Team San
Jose's behavior "unprecedented.''

In an e-mail to the Mercury News, Fenton characterized the issue as "a disagreement,'' saying "full payment has already been tendered and ... no additional amounts are due."

If all of this seems like a scene from the movie "Groundhog Day,'' you're right.

Last year, Team San Jose attracted widespread industry condemnation after Fenton announced an exclusive agreement with San Jose Teamsters to do work at the convention center that previously had been split with the San Francisco local. His own board was blindsided by the move and subsequent negative headlines.

In fact, San Jose's reputation with convention and trade show groups became so problematic that Fenton and two board members were forced to fly to Dallas to mollify customers and leaders of the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association.

Fenton's national reputation, as one industry leader involved in that brouhaha told IA, is well-known: "Dan Fenton rarely ever says anything officially that you can hold him to."

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at local politics. This week's items were written by Tracy Seipel, John Woolfolk, Tracey Kaplan and Scott Herhold. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-271-3638.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Merced County grand jury indicts 3 leaders of Firm Build

Authorities say students were exposed to asbestos during work at Castle.

Three former Firm Build executives accused of knowingly exposing high school students to cancer-causing asbestos have been indicted on several charges of child endangerment by a Merced County grand jury.

The grand jury indictments in the case against the three men -- Rudy Buendia III, 47, Patrick Bowman, 44, and Joseph Cuellar, 71 -- came Friday afternoon after three weeks of testimony by more than 80 witnesses.

At the time the trio was arrested on the charges in May, five former students allegedly exposed to asbestos between August 2005 and March 2006 had come forward. Since then, that number has increased to nine.

The grand jury also indicted the trio on a host of additional charges, including grand theft, falsifying corporate reports, perjury and forgery, stemming from the district attorney's 2008 financial investigation of Firm Build.

All three men have steadfastly denied the allegations and have pleaded not guilty.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said his office decided to take the case to a grand jury, rather than a preliminary hearing because of the case's complexity and the number of counts involved.

Deputy District Attorney Walter Wall, prosecutor in the case, said the grand jury added 15 additional counts to the indictment besides the 52 counts sought by prosecutors. "There was overwhelming evidence of guilt. That's why the grand jury added on counts over and above what we recommended," Wall said.

In a preliminary hearing, a judge decides whether enough evidence exists to allow a case to proceed to trial. In California, prosecutors have the option of presenting their evidence to a criminal grand jury, rather than a judge. The county's grand jury is a panel composed of 19 citizens.

The grand jury indicted Buendia and Cuellar on 62 counts, while Bowman was indicted on 52 counts.

The nine victims, who were around 16 and 17 years old at the time, allegedly removed asbestos, without the required safety equipment, on numerous occasions from the Automotive Training Center, at the Castle Commerce Center, under the direction of Firm Build.

The defendants allegedly used the students to remove the asbestos from the building under the guise of involving at-risk students in work experience and job training programs. The students allegedly removed asbestos floor tiles and insulation from pipes inside the old military building, creating an airborne cloud of asbestos fibers they may have inhaled.

At the time, Bowman was Firm Build's board president and coordinator of the Workplace Learning Academy, created at Valley Community School to teach trade skills for at-risk students. Buendia was the nonprofit's project manager, while Cuellar was an administrative manager, according to D.A. investigators.

Morse said the investigation points to "an appalling lack of oversight" and "sweeping negligence" at the highest levels of the Merced County Office of Education, in terms of its relationship with Firm Build and the office's responsibility to students under their care.

Asked to elaborate about the lack of oversight and those involved other than the defendants, Morse said he couldn't comment further because of the ongoing investigation. "There is ample information that the safeguards that should have been in place, or were in place to protect these students, were either ignored or marginalized."

Nathan Quevedo, spokesman for the Merced County Office of Education, said his office has "cooperated with all requests from the district attorney's office."

Quevedo also said an outside investigator, Sacramento attorney Donna Matties, conducted her own six-week investigation into the asbestos allegations. "MCOE hired an outside investigator to ensure the integrity of the investigation and remove any perception of a conflict of interest or bias," Quevedo said.

Quevedo said her report is confidential because it's a personnel matter, but added, "We cannot substantiate the allegations that students who worked at the (Automotive Training Center) were exposed to asbestos."

Bowman is employed as a math and algebra instructor at Valley Community School in Los Banos, Quevedo said.

Defense attorneys in the case say their clients maintain their innocence. Ralph Temple, Bowman's attorney, said his client was a volunteer who was asked to serve on Firm Build's board. "He never was paid a dime," Temple said. "He never got any money out of Firm Build whatsoever."

Temple said his client, as a schoolteacher, would never "harm anybody" or expose students to asbestos. Temple added his client was only an intermediary between MCOE and Firm Build, adding that he's an educator, not an expert in contracting or construction. "If there was a problem (with asbestos), the people who were qualified to take care of it were supposed to do that," Temple said.

Kirk McAllister, Buendia's attorney, said he believes Morse's office chose to pursue the case in front of a grand jury because of the procedural advantages allowed by the prosecution. Unlike a preliminary hearing, defense attorneys cannot cross-examine witnesses or ask questions.

Grand jury hearings, unlike preliminary hearings, are also closed to defense attorneys and the public. "This is a regurgitation of the charges that Mr. Buendia has been fighting for the last two years," McAllister said. "If Mr. Wall's evidence was so overwhelming, why will he only show it behind the closed doors of a grand jury, where everything looks overwhelming in the eyes of a prosecutor, instead of testing it in court as we've been trying to do at a preliminary hearing?"

McAllister said the defense has tried getting the case more than once to a preliminary hearing. "Each time we did, there was some roadblock thrown in front of us by the district attorney, the last being them stepping in front of that open courtroom process by hiding behind the closed doors of the grand jury."

Cuellar's attorney, Douglas Foster, did not return calls placed to his office.

Firm Build was launched in 1998 as a program of the Merced County Housing Authority to modernize its stock of public housing while giving residents marketable skills. The nonprofit contracted with MCOE to provide instructors to teach at-risk students in the Regional Occupational Program (ROP).

MCOE signed a lease for the 2245 Jetstream Drive building in June 2005, with the intent to use vocational students to remodel the facility into an automotive teaching center. The documents revealed that asbestos, lead-based paint, black mold and groundwater contamination were present at the site.

The lease was negotiated by Bowman and his assistant Jack Weaver, who is now deceased, over the course of 18 months, according to D.A.'s office investigators. Firm Build's leaders allegedly lied to its board, the county and state regulators about the nature of the renovation. Firm Build's application for a county building permit listed minimal work, such as painting walls and installing a garage door. Still, D.A. investigators say teens soon started removing the carcinogenic material from the building.

In addition to the state charges, all three defendants face federal charges for allegedly submitting false statements to the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District, several violations of the Clean Air Act and knowingly endangering others by releasing asbestos into the air.

Firm Build went bankrupt in mid-2007, leaving bills and loans unpaid with the Housing Authority and subcontractors. That prompted a District Attorney's Office financial investigation that lasted 15 months and culminated in the defendants' arrests on several charges, including embezzlement, diversion of construction funds and grand theft.

In November 2009, the District Attorney's Office launched its investigation into the asbestos allegations after receiving a witness tip from an electrician.

If convicted on the federal charges, the trio faces 15 years in prison. If convicted on the state charges, they face around 30 years in prison.

All three defendants remain free on bail. Their next hearing in Merced County Superior Court is scheduled for Dec. 10.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Victorville corruption probes continue

Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/14/2010 04:52:38 PM PST
Updated: 11/14/2010 05:02:38 PM PST

VICTORVILLE - Federal and local investigators continue to request stacks of documents from the city as part of ongoing probes into bond sales and financial records.

Requests for information have become so intensive that three full-time workers are dedicated to processing them, said Councilman Ryan McEachron.

"It's more or less an ongoing investigation and no outcomes at this point have been shared with city staff," McEachron said. "I'm not sure how much longer this will go or how long it will take them to come out with any kind of a report."

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission launched its investigation in August, directing city employees to stop deleting e-mails or throw away paper records, including document drafts and Post-it notes, said city spokeswoman Yvonne Hester.

The SEC has declined to comment on the matter. McEachron says the agency is focused on bond sales that took place between 2005 and 2008.

The city has about $464 million in outstanding bond debt, with all but $83 million of it falling under the Redevelopment Agency, said Hester.

The $83 million city bond funded the failed Foxborough power plant. The agency's debt was issued to pay for infrastructure improvements to roads, sewers and hangars at Southern California Logistic Airport, Hester said.

In April 2009, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury began investigating handshake agreements allegedly made between former City Manager Jon B. Roberts and developers without council approval, McEachron said. Roberts is now city manager in Steamboat Springs, Co.

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

For legal reasons, McEachron said he couldn't comment on specific deals, but generally speaking, Roberts allowed certain developers to forgo paying the cost of infrastructure improvements they're usually required to pay for, such as traffic signals or street improvements.

Instead the city footed the bill, he said.

"I think that, without a doubt, there is a focus of the Grand Jury into some of the things that were done while (Roberts) was in charge," McEachron said. "Whether or not it's him specifically or someone else, it's yet to be seen. We don't know if they're focusing on any one person or people."

When contacted by phone Friday, Roberts only said, "I'm not familiar with what (McEachron's) referring to."

McEachron said he found it odd Roberts shifted payroll responsibilities from its typical place in the Finance Department to the Information Technology Department. The councilman also said he disagreed with a decision made by the council prior to his 2008 election that increased the amount of money Roberts could spend - $25,000 to $125,000 - without council approval.

In response to increasing allegations of corruption from residents, McEachron in December asked the council to commission a forensic audit of the city's finances to root out possible malfeasance.

The council voted 4-1, with Councilman Mike Rothschild dissenting, to go forward with it. The council lobbied the county's Board of Supervisors to pay $195,000 to hire an outside auditor. The audit has been under way for over six months with the Grand Jury providing oversight, schild said.

Although it's possible some bad management decisions were made under Roberts, said Rothschild, he doesn't believe any illegal activity occurred.

Aside from county taxpayer money used to pay for the audit, complying with the volume of information requests related to it and the SEC investigation have racked up $120,000 in internal costs to the city, Rothschild said.

"It's a complete waste of taxpayer money. We can't afford to pay $120,000, but we still have to pay it," Rothschild said. "It's an enormous pressure and I haven't got a clue as to what they're looking for. There's nothing there to the best of my knowledge. If there was, I'd be one of the first to jump in and point fingers."

McEachron said he hopes the audit will provide the city with answers.

"If someone did do something wrong, then they should be held accountable for it," McEachron said.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

San Diego Superior court seeking 19 new members for grand jury

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Superior Court is looking for 19 area residents to serve on the 2011-12 grand jury, it was announced Friday.

The panel investigates citizen complaints and serves as a watchdog over public agencies.

Prospective grand jurors must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen who has lived in San Diego County for at least one year and be proficient in the English language. Candidates will go through a criminal background check.

Grand jurors will work six hours per day, four days per week, from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. They will receive a small daily stipend, and the county will pay for mileage and parking.

Applications are available in the business office of all courthouses, by telephone at (619) 450-7272, or download the form at sdcourt.ca.gov or sdcounty.ca.gov/grandjury.

The applications are due by Jan. 14.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Grand jury subpoenas Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit

Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit will testify before the Riverside County grand jury on Friday, but has not been told what they're investigating. Benoit will be questioned at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Riverside.

The subpoena, which arrived last week, did not provide insight into the grand jury's probe.

But Benoit's chief of staff, Michelle DeArmond, said the supervisor “has no reason to believe he's a target for anything.”

“There's nothing that gives him any concern,” DeArmond said Wednesday. “He's simply responding to the subpoena.”

Riverside County district attorney spokesman Michael Jeandron said it was office policy not to confirm or deny such questioning because of the “confidential nature of any ongoing grand jury.”

It was not clear Wednesday evening whether Benoit was appearing before a civil or a criminal grand jury.

Benoit represents the Riverside County's fourth district, which includes most of the Coachella Valley.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Humboldt County Grand Jury Faults DA Office, Gallegos Responds

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – The county’s Grand Jury has found that problems continue to “plague” the District Attorney’s Office, including poor management, failure to claim grant reimbursements and nepotism.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos has responded extensively to the findings, asserting that management of his office has actually improved and that members of the Grand Jury do not understand how grant reimbursements work.

Responses to the latest installment of the Grand Jury report were recently filed and among them are Gallegos’ retorts to another critical investigation of his office.

The Grand Jury found that “poor office management practices and communication continue to plague the District Attorney’s Office, after first being noted in the 2004-05 Grand Jury report” and that “these ongoing problems have been corroborated by the testimony of several witnesses.”

The witness testimony described “job-related frustrations,” including “needing to re-do tasks previously completed,” “delays in the timely completion of routine tasks” and “failures in communications between office staff.”

District Attorney’s Office staff also complained about “nepotism and favoritism toward relatives of supervisors,” according to the report, which described nepotism as a “problem” in the DA’s Office.

“Current county policy that nepotism occurs only when there exists a direct line of supervision is ineffective,” the report states. It adds that “favoritism can transcend multiple levels of supervision” and nepotism “creates tension” and “becomes a source of morale and retention issues.”

The Grand Jury also found that the DA’s Office failed to file for at least two quarters of grant fund reimbursements for the Victim-Witness program in the 2006-07 fiscal year, resulting in “substantial funds being reverted to the state.” Problems with timely submission of grant reimbursement claims “resulted in the loss of revenue for the county,” which had to cover the program’s expenses with General Fund money, according to the report.

It also states that personnel evaluations of DA’s Office staff are “not being done routinely” as required. Interviews with DA’s Office staff revealed that “evaluations were either done sporadically or not at all.”

The report also points out that this year’s investigation picked up unfinished work from the previous Grand Jury. “That Grand jury could not bring the case to a conclusion before its term expired, largely because the principals from the District Attorney’s Office delayed responding to the Grand Jury requests for information,” the report states.

The Grand Jury’s recommendations to fix the alleged problems include creating a grant management committee, implementing revision of the county’s nepotism policy, establishing an ordinance that sets a definite schedule for employee evaluations and demanding that Gallegos “recognize the ongoing responsibility of his department to abide by the administrative, finance and personnel policies of the county.”

DA: ‘Effective leadership’

Gallegos disagrees with most of the findings. He states that the alleged delays in getting responses to Grand Jury inquiries are due to their being simultaneously submitted to the County Counsel’s Office. Another problem, Gallegos continues, is that the inquiries were submitted to DA’s staff instead of Gallegos himself.

On the finding of poor office management – an allegation that has persisted throughout Gallegos’ two-term tenure – the DA states that the opposite is true. Management of the office has “improved substantially,” he responds, due to his “effective leadership.”

Gallegos describes the improvements he refers to. “The District Attorney has strived to bring the current office into the 21st century, has established departmental policy and procedures that had been lacking, revamped the criminal division by establishing felony/misdemeanor mentorship, developed more efficient and effective procedures for getting work accomplished within budget constraints and developed partnerships with local organizations to maximize our services to the people in our community,” he states.

According to Gallegos’ response, his office reviewed over 11,000 new incident reports each year and over 67 percent have resulted in criminal charges. But Gallegos allows that “as with all organizations, there are occasions when work must be redone due to the receipt of new information.” Delays in completing routine tasks are “caused by increases in the work flow.” He adds, “There are also times when there are failures in communications between office staff.”

On the allegation of failing to capture Victim-Witness program reimbursements, Gallegos says that the Grand Jury has got it wrong. “All quarters were submitted,” he states, adding that documentation was provided to Grand Jury on June 2, 2009, along with copies of cancelled checks from the state and revenue deposits into the Victim-Witness account.

He does agree with the recommendation to establish a county grant management committee, however.

On the nepotism finding, Gallegos describes the situations he believes the Grand Jury is referring to. Drew Duncan, the DA’s archives clerk, is the son of Jeannie Duncan, the office’s legal business manager. But Gallegos states that Duncan works under another supervisor and not his mother.

Jim Dawson, an Auto Insurance Fraud Investigator for the office, is supervised by his son-in-law, Chief Investigator Mike Hislop. But he “takes most of his direction from the State Insurance Fund, since the agency sends him their investigations,” Gallegos states. “While he is not a ‘relative’ as defined by county policy, his employment and assignment was approved by the personnel director in compliance with county policy.”

The county’s nepotism policy does not include in-laws in its definition of “relatives.” It also allows exceptions, as approved by the personnel director, if a position requires extraordinary qualifications.

Dawson is paid through an annual $50,000 State Auto Fraud Grant and works three days a week. Gallegos emphasizes Dawson’s “40 years of experience as a law enforcement officer,” including 10 years of work as a chief investigator in the DA’s Office.

“Neither position is a permanent position,” Gallegos states. “Neither of them is seeking permanent employment or advancement. Neither is afforded favoritism.”

The DA “agrees, in part” with the finding on personnel evaluations, however. Personnel evaluations have not been done “consistently and systematically” since 1991, he states. Evaluations of administrative and Victim-Witness staffers was done in 2009, but “there have been gaps between 1991 and present and some employees did not receive consistent employee evaluations or there is not record in the employee file to differ,” Gallegos adds.

He points out that verbal evaluations are given, and “attorneys get regular feedback.”

The County Administrative Office responded to some of the recommendations, stating that a grant management committee can’t be implemented because it would require additional staffing, and that the revision of the nepotism policy and establishment of a personnel evaluation ordinance are not necessary because current policies suffice.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lake County Grand Jury mulls recommendations

By Denise Rockenstein -- Staff reporter
Updated: 09/29/2010 10:49:17 PM PDT

CLEARLAKE -- Responses to the Grand Jury pertaining to operations within the jurisdiction of the City of Clearlake were recently prepared and accepted by the Clearlake City Council. City Administrator Dale Neiman addressed 19 recommendations, several that relate to the operation of the PEG Channel.

The Grand Jury recommends that a professional fair market evaluation be performed on the space that the city provides for operation of PEG TV8 in lieu of the city's $5,000 cash obligation in fiscal years 2008/09 and 2009/10 and any shortfall be met retroactively and that PEG TV8 pay rent based on the fair market value evaluation and that payment be met retroactively for the same years. In his response, Neiman said that the city owns and operates PEG TV8 and the council decides annually how and to what extent the station is to be funded during adoption of the city's budget.

The Grand Jury recommends that the city not pay any bill without documented approval of the PEG Board. Neiman states that no bills are paid unless approved by Councilmember Joyce Overton, who is the city's member on the PEG Board. Payment also requires Neiman's signature.

The Grand Jury recommends audits on PEG TV8 every second year. Neiman states that audits are included in the city's annual audit process. The panel also recommends that a variety of insurance coverage be extended to PEG TV8 staff and volunteers so that they are covered within and outside of the PEG station while traveling to and from and while taping community events. Neiman states that the station is operated by volunteers who are signed-up with the city as such and are covered by the city's workers' comp insurance. He said the city does not plan to acquire liability insurance or automobile insurance for when volunteers are not at the station. He said the city attorney has prepared an agreement that each volunteer will have to sign that states only workers' comp insurance will be provided in the station and not outside City Hall.

The Grand Jury claims that the 2007 Agreement has been long ignored by the PEG Board. It recommends immediately implementing the Public Utilities Code Section 5870(n) franchise fee available to PEG TV8 for the specific purpose of funding support and allowable expenses for operation of the channel. The Grand Jury recommends until this accomplished, that part of the $400,000 in franchise fees be obtained from each public agency that is a member of the 2007 Agreement. It also recommends that one of the parties of the 2007 Agreement procure legal counsel fully familiar with Public Access Television rules. Neiman said the city will work with the county to determine if the fee should imposed on the rate payers and states that the city's legal firm has expertise to provide the services recommended by the panel.

The Grand Jury recommends that the Redevelopment Agency establish priorities to fix and upgrade the current roads before attracting new business. It also recommends that the city budget money to improve grant writing and management of the Public Works department to attract funds and personnel for maintaining the streets.

"The city has been focusing on upgrading the arterial and collector streets because these are the streets that carry the majority of traffic in the city. The city has been able to obtain $4.9 million in grants in the last three years. This money was used to rehab 11 miles of streets," Neiman states in his response. "Further, the city has had to eliminate approximately 43 percent of the staff since 2007.

The Redevelopment Agency should use its money to generate income for the city so that the resident can be provided better services."

Neiman responded to a number of other recommendations including one that suggests the city should renegotiate with the county to provide animal control services. Neiman said the city has saved $74,424 by way of assuming the responsibilities of animal control. He said costs are expected to decrease in coming years as well.

Contact South County reporter Denise Rockenstein at drockenstein@clearlakeobserver.com or call her directly at 994-6444, ext. 11.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sonoma County libraries won't install filters to block porn


Published: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 10:59 p.m.

For Ellie Muelrath, the case for putting Internet filters in Sonoma County's libraries was made vivid last December.

With three children in tow, she was looking for Upton Sinclair's “The Jungle” when her stepdaughter, then 12, glimpsed one of the public computer screens at the main library in downtown Santa Rosa.

“She whispered, ‘Oh my God, that guy was looking at porn,' ” Muelrath said.

Such experiences inspired the Sonoma County grand jury to again push the library to use Internet filters in its annual report released this summer. The grand jury also recommended reorganizing the layout of the computers to make them less visible to passersby in the downtown branch.

But both the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Sonoma County Library Commission are declining to follow the grand jury's recommendations.

On Wednesday, supervisors sidestepped the issue, saying that library policy is governed by a seven-member library commission.

Last month, the commission wrote a lengthy response outlining practical and philosophical flaws with using software to limit where people may go online and with rearranging computers.

No library patron should be subjected to objectionable material, the response said. But it also said no one viewing things on the Internet should be subject to the censorship from a computer program that decides what is appropriate.

Software filters are costly, ineffective and rife with troubling questions about where the line gets drawn, the statement said. Sexual images offend many, but what about violence or even extreme political views, asked Julia Freis, a local attorney and a member of the commission.

“When you start censoring, it is a slippery slope,” she said. “We don't really want to be in the position of censoring. It's against the library's mission.”

The library said it prefers to respond to the people who cause problems.

Library officials said they are vigilant against violations of the computer user agreement that calls on patrons to “avoid viewing material that might be considered objectionable to other library users.”

If someone complains, a librarian shows the suspected offender the terms of the agreement and reminds them they are in a public place.

Another infraction can result in a day-long suspension. Typically, though, many are so embarrassed they quickly leave.

“Very rarely do they ever come back,” said library director Sandy Cooper.

Since starting a log last September, the library system has recorded 45 incidents of patrons suspected of viewing pornography on library computers. Muelrath, of Santa Rosa, was one of those filing a complaint.

The Petaluma branch recorded the most problems, with 15, followed by central Santa Rosa with 12 incidents and Sebastopol with four.

Those are low numbers considering that more than 150 computers spread over 11 branches are probably in use for 90 percent of the time that the libraries are open, said Doug Cisney, interim branch manager of the downtown library.

Members of the grand jury could not be reached Wednesday. In their report, they said that the library is rightly concerned about First Amendment issues, but is putting those worries above even more pressing matters.

Library policymakers “seem to be more concerned with preserving the right to access these images by consenting adults than protecting our minor children,” the report said.

In one incident in March, an adult was found looking at pornography on a computer reserved for children at the Cloverdale branch.

Cooper said the man was stopped from continuing. There was no report of children accessing pornography.

The library also declined to rearrange computers to make them less visible to others. Not only would that entail great expense, it would make it easier for people to view pornography, the commission wrote.

Freis said she didn't expect any further action by the library commission, but the issue may return again. The 2008-09 grand jury also delved into the matter of library filters.

Muelrath, for one, would be happy for the issue to get more attention. An avid reader, she now reserves books online to avoid exposing her three daughters to a repeat performance. Pornography should be filtered at the library, she said.

“It should not be somewhere where children can view it,” she said. “It's a public place.”

You can contact Staff Writer Sam Scott at 521-5431 or at sam.scott@pressdemocrat.com.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

S.B. County responds to grand jury criticism

10:00 PM PDT on Monday, September 20, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

A San Bernardino County grand jury mischaracterized many of the budget numbers used in a June report detailing the growth in Board of Supervisors staff, according to the county's official response released last week.

The 2009-2010 grand jury reported that the supervisors' staffs have grown significantly in recent years and three-quarters of the money from the board's priority needs budget has gone toward salaries and not special projects.

The county is required by law to provide an official response to the annual grand jury report. In comments approved last week, the county disagreed with half of the grand jury's 12 findings on the board's discretionary budget.

"I think there was probably some disappointment that there was some misunderstanding on the grand jury's part," county spokesman David Wert said Monday.

Most of the findings the county disagreed with were because of how the grand jury characterized budget numbers, Wert said.

For example, the grand jury found that the board transferred $2.67 million from their priority needs budgets to fund additional staffing.

The priority needs budgets are accounts that individual supervisors -- with board approval -- can tap for projects within their respective districts.

But the county partially disagreed, saying that was the total budgeted for a transfer and not the actual amount spent on salaries. The actual amount was 11 percent less, the county said in its response.

"This was the result of salary savings attributable to positions that the Board left vacant in order to reduce costs," the county said.

The grand jury recommended transferring the remaining balance from the board's priority needs budget to the general fund to help offset a financial shortfall. In its response, the county said that the money was transferred prior to the release of the final grand jury report.

In another finding, the grand jury said the number of staff for the supervisors increased 63.5 percent between fiscal 2003-2004 and 2009-2010.

The county said the board's staff did increase but only by 40 percent.

Reach Duane W. Gang at 951-368-9547 or dgang@PE.com


Monday, September 20, 2010

Sonoma County Counsel: Court order needed to dock Smith's pay

Fourth District Supervisor Kendall Smith's travel overpayments can't be deducted from her payroll checks without a court order, according to a legal opinion from the Sonoma County Counsel's Office.

The Mendocino County grand jury questioned the overpayments again this year after Smith called the since-changed county policy on travel reimbursement confusing and denied she was overpaid for business travel between Fort Bragg and Ukiah in responses to two prior grand jury reports.

"The gist is that I do not have the legal authority to withhold payroll from someone's payroll check without a judgment of some kind," Mendocino County Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford said of the Sonoma County legal opinion.

Ford asked for a legal opinion after District Attorney Meredith Lintott ordered her to deduct the $3,087 Ford's office determined Smith was overpaid for travel reimbursements between January 2005 and November 2006.

Smith allegedly claimed reimbursement for business trips between her Fort Bragg home and Ukiah during that time, "when there was no actual travel and when her cost of overnight lodging was little or nothing because she either stayed with friends or in a room which she rented for $100 per month (in Ukiah)," according to a letter Lintott wrote in 2008 to Smith's former attorney in the matter.

Proposing a way to recover the money without going to court, Lintott ordered Ford Aug. 6 to dock the amount from Smith's pay. Ford said she wasn't sure she had the authority to do that and asked Mendocino County Counsel Jeanine Nadel for an opinion.

Citing a conflict of interest, Nadel forwarded the request to Sonoma County.

The legal opinion, penned by Sonoma Chief Deputy County Counsel Sheryl L. Bratton, says neither the current Mendocino County travel reimbursement policy nor the state law Lintott cites as authority to dock Smith's pay allow the "unilateral imposition of a penalty through the offsetting of wages that are otherwise due to a board member.

"As a result, it would be necessary to initiate some type of administrative proceeding or hearing (e.g. court order) prior to taking such action."

Bratton writes that she also found no authority for Ford to "unilaterally make payroll deductions," or for Lintott to order Ford to do so without Smith's permission.

Lintott said the state law section she cited as authority, Assembly Bill 1234, became law in January 2006, when Smith was claiming the travel reimbursements based on a "per diem" calculation.

The law was supposed to "prevent abuse of travel policies," according to Lintott.

There have been no lawsuits filed and no case judgments to interpret the law and guide its application since then, according to Lintott, making ambiguous the definition and means of collecting "restitution" - cited as a remedy for falsifying expense reports under the law.

Lintott maintains there is no evidence that Smith meant to defraud the county, but wrote in a Thursday press statement, "Smith's conduct occurred at the same time the legislature was working to prevent such abuses."

Lintott also notes former District Attorney Norm Vroman knew about the overpayments but took no action.

She said the grand jury can sue Smith for the money, as can the county, but "this is not something we can take to court and win."

Lintott added, "Clearly this is an outrage to citizens because there is a sense that she (Smith) took advantage of a policy that was not written well."

Tiffany Revelle can be reached at udjtr@pacific.net, or at 468-3523.


Humboldt Supes to look at grand jury responses to accounting standards report

Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Posted: 09/19/2010 01:23:56 AM PDT

With the bleak fiscal situation that has hit municipalities throughout the state in recent years, the Humboldt County grand jury is questioning whether the county's accounting practices are contributing to this county's budget woes.

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will discuss the county's official response to the grand jury report regarding the matter Tuesday. The report, included in a final report released at the end of June, scrutinizes a few of the county's bigger departments, but also said the county needs to change its accounting practices systemwide.

”There exists a deteriorating trend in the county's financial situation, affecting the general fund and the budgets of all departments, and causing or threatening to cause reductions in services to the public,” the report said.

The county has compiled responses from each of its appointed department heads, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office and the Humboldt County Probation Department.

According to the staff report from the County Administrative Office, the office will implement any new standards the board of supervisors deems appropriate. For the other recommendations, the staff report said some have been partially implemented and others could not be implemented “at this time because it is not warranted.”

Recommendations from the report also included forming an audit committee that would track grant awards, expenditures and claims and revenues and hire an independent auditor to monitor the progress of recommendations.

A second set of responses addressed another report regarding the Victim-Witness Program.

In other matters, the board will also receive an annual report from the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission, and is set to approve two matters related to airport construction projects, and the purchase of equipment related to the emergency Tsunami sirens.

To read the full grand jury report, visit www.co.humboldt.ca.us/grandjury/. For the complete meeting agenda and supporting documents, visit www.co.humboldt.ca.us.



What: Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting

Where: Supervisors Chamber, first floor, Humboldt County Courthouse, 825 Fifth St.

When: 9 a.m. Tuesday


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Marin County finance move boosts safety facility

Nels Johnson
Posted: 09/14/2010 04:06:22 PM PDT
Updated: 09/14/2010 04:06:22 PM PDT

A program that will refinance existing county of Marin debt while adding to it in order to provide money for a public safety building or other public works projects was authorized by county supervisors Tuesday.

Under a "certificates of participation" deal that does not require voter approval because it will be paid for with existing revenue, officials intend to exploit favorable interest rates by refinancing $18 million in certificates already issued, then issue more over a longer time frame, boosting the debt to about $60 million - while remaining within a $3 million annual debt service target required by county fiscal policy.

The moves, after setting aside money for reserves and providing $300,000 to financial and legal consultants, will provide the county with a net $38 million. The money, in addition to $30 million already in the bank, could be used in a lease-back arrangement to pay for the first phase of a $100 million public safety building on a "preferred site" near the Marin Civic Center, although officials stressed the financial arrangement had nothing to do with selecting a specific site for the controversial facility.

County Administrator Matthew Hymel said the money can be used "for any capital improvement" and need not necessarily be allocated for the safety building, wherever it is located. Several alternative sites are under study.

"We are able to take advantage of interest rates," pay off some old certificates while refinancing others maturing in 2023 and issuing more in a package due in 2040, Hymel said. "With the advantage of the highest available credit rating and historically low interest rates, we are refinancing existing debt and issuing new 30-year debt to address our long-term capital needs," he said.

Hymel noted that the county's financial books are in excellent shape, with a recent audit providing a clean bill of health. In addition, the county's "triple A" credit rating was reaffirmed by Standard & Poor's this month, he said.

The financial arrangement included a detailed prospectus giving an overview of the county's fiscal status, noting that revenues of $361 million were predicted by the 2009-10 budget, $44 million less than actually collected, and $2 million less than projected this fiscal year. Total expenses in 2009-10, proposed at $386 million, came in about $13 million above that - and less than the $383 million proposed this year.

County supervisors had little comment on the refinance scheme, which came up for discussion near the end of a long agenda that was delayed by a parade of speakers concerned with a variety of other issues.

Contact Nels Johnson via e-mail at ij.civiccenter@gmail.com


Monday, September 13, 2010

San Mateo County responds to grand jury over indigent care

September 13, 2010, 03:30 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

The civil grand jury’s recommendations that San Mateo County adjust just how much care it provides indigent patients without a medical need, illegal aliens and those earning more than the federal poverty level received a mixed reaction from county officials who dispute some of its findings and say solutions are underway.

The county is already looking at how it allocates revenue to departments like the Health System, which may decrease the general fund subsidy needed to maintain the current level of service, County Manager David Boesch wrote in a response letter to the grand jury.

The state requires counties to provide care to the poor and uninsured but the guidelines are broad, particularly when it comes to the undocumented population. San Mateo County provides more than the minimum, leaving local funds to make up the difference and creating a larger eligibility pool. Approximately 76,000 patients were treated at least once during 2008 at either the San Mateo Medical Center or its clinics, according to data used in the jury’s report.

The ongoing economic downturn has skyrocketed health care demands, adding to the county’s indigent care rolls. Federal health care reform will expand coverage in 2014 and likely reduce the number of uninsured residents needed the county’s safety net. Until then, though, the grand jury in its June 24 report suggested the county goes above and beyond what is legally mandated. While nice, the extra help is ballooning the county’s structural deficit, the jury concluded. Specifically, the jury recommended the county, prior to the 2011-2012 budget cycle, eliminate those services not mandated or fully funded by the state or federal government, such as aid for undocumented people, treatment of indigent patients without a medical need and those services dropped by Medi-Cal coverage in 2009. The jury also recommended lowering the medically indigent income level from $44,100, which is 200 percent of the federal and state mandated level of $22,050.

Boesch wrote that the county partially agrees with the recommendations and is trying to work with state and federal legislators to maximize funding potential. The county is also identifying non-essential services and those that the county overmatches.

One example of efficiency efforts, according to Boesch, is the medical center’s reduction of the new primary care patient waiting list.

As of June 1, the waiting list was approximately 5,000. As of Aug. 2, efforts to reduce the waiting list have brought it down to 2,216 with an overall wait time of 113 days.

Another example is a two-year grant for the Seamless Care Initiative to increase efficiency in all the hospital’s clinics.

But while Boesch, on behalf of the county, accepted the recommendations, he did disagree with some of the jury’s findings. Although the jury knocked the county for having a medically indigent income level at 200 percent of the poverty level, Boesch argues that there are no specific statewide minimum or maximum levels. Each county sets its own eligibility criteria and San Mateo County must look at its “very high” local cost of living.

San Mateo County is also not among the 16 counties in California that offer medical care to those without a need, he said.

However, the Health Plan San Mateo — a separate entity from the county — determined it was less expensive to continue providing services cut by Medi-Cal to prevent more costly care in the future. For example, podiatry services now may spare a diabetic patient more expensive services at a later date.

Civil grand jury reports carry no legal weight but recipients are required to respond in writing within 60 days. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to accept the response at is Tuesday morning meeting.

The Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14 in Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center, Redwood City.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Grand Jury Suggests Changes for Tulare Co. Jail

By: Ashley Ritchie

The 2010 Tulare County Grand Jury report is pointing fingers at the Tulare County Jail.

"We're not perfect in any way. We do make mistakes. So if they find issues and we can correct them, we will correct them," Lieutenant Wayne White, Tulare County Sheriff's Department, said.

And that's exactly what White says the jail intends to do after the Grand Jury found three areas that need improvement including privacy for por per inmates, or inmates who represent themselves legally, adequate access to healthcare and allowing inmates to share jackets and possibly infect one another.

"We did not have an infestation of disease. But there were some health concerns that if there was lice or something a disease could be spread," White said.

The report claims sick inmates aren't treated soon enough and medications aren't monitored properly.

"We have addressed that and only a supervising sergeant can go into a medical room and release the meds," White said.

"It's really going to depend on health and human services agency and what type of doctors they may be able to have available to these inmates," Sergeant Chris Douglass, Tulare County Sheriff's Department, said.

Another complaint the jury made is inmates don't have enough privacy in the law library.

"Right now the issue is while they're on the telephone; if they speak too loudly people might be able to hear," Douglass said.

Jail officials say they're working to reconstruct the room and make it more private.

But it is tough to keep up with all the rights inmates have.

"It's a compliance issue for us, things that we have to provide and it's a variety of different things that range from phone calls and yard time and food and clothing and temperatures of foods and things of that nature," Douglass said.

And they say the criticism is constructive.

"It's actually a good way of checks and balances. If we are out of compliance we need to know about it," Douglass said.

Jail officials say one thing they're looking at is reaching out to the public to find specialized doctors so inmates can have better health care.

But county supervisors say it's not because they haven't tried, but because it's hard to find doctors willing to work with the inmate population.

Jail officials say there is an "inmate welfare fund" they use to pay for anything that benefits inmates.

But they did not use that money to pay for new sweatshirts.


Lake County Grand Jury oversees organizations

By Glenn Trumble
Updated: 09/10/2010 07:27:07 PM PDT

Why does Frank Rivero want civilian oversight of the sheriff's department?

We presently have a group of 19 concerned citizens who literally volunteer their time and effort in overseeing the various groups, departments and organizations that serve Lake County and its residents.

This group investigates the sheriff's department, county jail, juvenile detention center, Lakeport police, Clearlake police, all the county's fire departments, the water departments throughout the county, Cache Creek dam, the senior centers, as well as all county human service departments.

This group keeps records of oversights from year-to-year so a malpractice is not apt to continue in any department investigated. There is always a follow-up investigation.

This group takes confidential complaints from concerned citizens as well as public employees that witness acts of malfeasance and misbehavior or suspect the same.

This group is known as The Lake County Civil Grand Jury.

Frank Rivero's implication is that the grand jury is not doing its job.

The yearly Grand Jury reports are on file. Take a look and you will see a very diligent investigative group, not one that's looking to white-wash any explicit facts.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Board, officials respond to Siskiyou County Grand Jury

By David Smith
GateHouse News Service
Posted Sep 10, 2010 @ 09:29 AM
Yreka, Calif. —

With reports from the Grand Jury comes the responsibility for government entities to respond to the findings and recommendations, which the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors undertook at its recent meeting.
The board of supervisors, the county administrative officer (CAO) and the Department of Public Health and Community Development were all responsible for providing responses, with Grand Jury findings ranging from inadequacy of mental health patient procedures to county expenditures exceeding revenues.
5150/Mental Health Stabilization facility
The board concurred with the Grand Jury that there should be meetings held to establish a stronger collaboration between agencies handling 5150 cases. 5150 refers to the involuntary confinement of an individual suspected of having a mental disorder who may present a danger to others or to him/herself.
The Grand Jury also suggested that the county explore ways to fund and manage a facility for 5150 and detoxification purposes. The board, in responding, stated that other counties’ programs have been explored, but that the “population requiring detoxification/stabilization is too small to justify a dedicated (private or public) facility” in Siskiyou County.
The board also states that the county is not financially capable of building or staffing a specialized facility of the type described.
Probation offices in
different buildings
The board also states that financial restrictions are keeping the county from finishing the juvenile correctional facility in order to consolidate probation offices, which the Grand Jury recommend be done to cut down on ineffeciency and costs.
Jail overcrowding and housing control protection
The Grand Jury recommended that the board approve financial support for programs that decrease the number of repeat offenders as well as fund the construction of a protection measure for the housing control center. Again, the board cites a lack of funds as the reason for not fully pursuing the recommendations, although it is noted that two supervisors sit on the Jail Re-entry Committee and the sheriff has been apprised of grant opportunities.
County executive authority and responsibility for issues
“There is no single executive line of authority in Siskiyou County,” the Grand Jury report reads, with a recommendation that the board establish “clear, expert executive lines of authority under the policy direction and control of the Board of Supervisors.”
The lines of authority already exist, according to the board, which in its response states that it is responsible for approval of an annual budget and the establishment of local law and policy. There are also a number of elected officials who are accountable to the public and are not under control of the board.
CAO Brian McDermott concurred, stating that he is not aware of any system where a board of supervisors or CAO has the capacity to remove elected officials.
The findings of the Grand Jury with respect to executive authority center on the issue of the Tennant water system project, which was an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded project to bring a water facility to the community of Tennant. The project was dropped when environmental and procedural issues arose.
With Auditor-Controller Leanna Dancer retiring from her post after the Tennant issue, the Grand Jury alleged in its report that county officers and administrators tried to “use the Grand Jury as a buffer when blame for the failures should be directed at them individually.”
The board states that because Dancer was an elected official, letters about her conduct were sent directly to the Grand Jury, the representative of the electors.
Expenditures exceeding revenues
The board concurred with the Grand Jury’s finding, stating that staffing levels have been reduced and departments have been combined, along with the hiring of consultants to review workflow.
Office of Emergency Services
The Grand Jury reported that it found deficiencies with the inventory and security systems in the OES warehouse, as well as the response efficiency of having one person in control of all aspects of the inventory process.
In response, Director of Public Health and Community Development Terry Barber and Deputy Director of OES Rob Rowley explained that inventory control and security measures have either been implemented or are planned.
“Emergency supplies, equipment storage and distribution appear to be a one-person operation that may be critically vulnerable during an emergency,” the Grand Jury report reads.
Barber and Rowley disagreed in their response, however, citing past instances where emergency response demanded access to OES inventory and the demands were met, also explaining that various county officials are trained in and have access to use of the inventory in the event of an emergency.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

AG says Mendocino County grand jury can get opinion through the county

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 09/06/2010 05:45:30 AM PDT

While the California Attorney General's office says it cannot help the Mendocino County Grand Jury directly with a legal opinion about whether or not DA Meredith Lintott has the option of taking no action on their demand to get Supervisor Kendall Smith to repay travel funds, there are other ways to get an opinion out of them.

That's according to Susan Duncan Lee of the AG's office in San Francisco who says all the grand jury needs to do is ask the Mendocino County Counsel's office to ask the same question, then the AG's office would provide an opinion.

The subject came up when the 2009-2010 grand jury asked the attorney general for a legal opinion when they used their legal authority to demand that the county District Attorney get some $3,000 back from Smith, money the county says she owes in ineligible travel claims she was overpaid.

At the time, DA Meredith Lintott said she had the discretion under the law not to do that. The grand jury wanted to know if she actually had that discretion.

In the meantime, last month Lintott suddenly issued an order to the county Auditor Meredith Ford to start withdrawing payments from Smith's supervisors paychecks until the amount is paid. Ford asked County Counsel Jeanine Nadel for a legal opinion on Lintott's order and Nadel recused herself from giving an opinion and asked the Sonoma County Counsel to weigh in. That opinion is expected sometime this week.


San Benito County Civil grand jury sees benefits in public safety mergers

10:32 AM
By Connor Ramey

Soon, the Hollister Police Department and the San Benito County Sheriff's Office might find themselves under the same title and building - at least the San Benito County Grand Jury hopes so.

To help save both the county and city money but still provide residents the most resources available, the grand jury recommended that the city council and board of supervisors look at the consolidation of the sheriff's office and the police department as well as the fire departments in the area partnering up and contracting out with Calfire.

"I think the reason we took this on was because the budgets are so tight right now and we thought it was the responsible thing to do," Grand Jury Foreman Patrick McKenzie said. "It is a no-brainer issue when you have two separate departments doing the same thing."

The grand jury decided to spend time researching the issue because of the county's money troubles and the possible savings a consolidated police service could bring. The issue was raised earlier this year when the intergovernmental committee, consisting of two board of supervisor members, two city council members, the city manager and the county administrative officer, met and listened to a presentation from Mike Oliver of the benefits consolidation could bring. It also has been brought up quite a bit in the sheriff's race on the November ballot.

The belief is that it would save money and possibly provide more police service.

"Properly deployed, a regional police force could provide the two communities and outlying county areas with more service and protection than they presently enjoy," according to the Grand Jury's report.

Also, McKenzie thinks that it would prevent duplication in enforcement from the two agencies.

But there are still questions that the county and city would need to answer, according to the report. Most important, who would head the new organization and what would be cut? The sheriff is an elected official and the police chief is an appointed one, and both departments employ a total of more than 40 officers or deputies.

The report states that the public should vote for consolidation of the departments. The sheriff's office could move into the current Hollister police building because of its size - saving the county millions of dollars that it plans to use in construction of a new facility.

But Sheriff Curtis Hill doesn't see consolidation coming anytime soon because getting rid of the police department is not in the city council's "heart," he said.

"I've been in this business for a long time and personally, I don't think it will happen," Hill said. 'It's a tough decision for the city."

There is no benefit to the city or the county and it would only cause more issues for the understaffed sheriff's office, he said.

"As for the sheriff's office we have so many other responsibilities (than the police department)," Hill said. "There is a different need."

Hill noted that the police department deals with city enforcement and the sheriff's office handles the unincorporated areas.

"I'm just too seasoned and I have been around too long to get excited about it," Hill said.

The police department wouldn't make a statement until it issues its official response to the Grand Jury, spokesman Sgt. David Westrick said. After the Grand Jury Report was released on July 1, the police department must issue a response within 90 days.

Police service was not the only consolidation issue handled by the grand jury Report.

The grand jury also recommended that the fire departments within the county, including Hollister Fire Department and San Benito Fire, enter into a Joint Powers Agreement with Calfire because the fire departments are minimally staffed.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Meg Whitman's plan to reduce fraud and abuse

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, September 6, 2010
Meg Whitman wants to create a grand jury to investigate a... Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has long advocated attacking w... Jerry Brown is skeptical of a new bureaucracy.

Meg Whitman has done her best to distance herself from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, succeeding so well that her fellow Republican has declined to endorse a candidate in the governor's race. But they agree on at least one thing - California can dig itself out of its budget hole by cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse in state spending.

Whitman's latest proposal, aired in radio and television ads, is to establish a statewide grand jury, directed from the governor's office, that would investigate and indict those who have fleeced the state treasury of untold billions.

"A key factor accounting for the massive overspending and continuing budget deficits is state government's failure to police itself well," Whitman says on her website. A statewide grand jury, she declares, would supply the "real enforcement mechanism" now lacking in state agencies and county grand juries.

The new law she proposes would install an auditor in her Cabinet who would review state reports and citizen complaints, order investigations into misuse of funds - by state employees, contractors or recipients of benefits - and decide whether a criminal probe was justified.

Issuing indictments

The governor would then summon a California-wide grand jury that could subpoena witnesses and issue indictments. The charges would be turned over to a local district attorney or the attorney general for prosecution.

A fundamental unknown is whether a statewide grand jury would improve the oversight of programs already scrutinized by state investigators and auditors, the attorney general's anti-fraud unit and 58 county grand juries.

"What would it address that can't be addressed under the current system?" asked Scott Thorpe, executive director of the California District Attorneys Association.

He noted that the auditor and grand jury overseer would be California's "only prosecuting authority that wasn't elected by the people," in contrast to the attorney general and county district attorneys.
'A certain naivete'

"I think it's a ridiculous idea. It shows a certain naivete about how government works," said John Van de Kamp, a Democrat who served six years as Los Angeles County district attorney and eight years as attorney general.

The way to attack fraud and wasteful spending, he said, is to beef up investigative staffs that refer criminal cases to the attorney general or local prosecutors under the current system - not to set up a new mechanism to bypass that system.

Whitman spokesman Darrel Ng replied that the persistence of fraud shows that "the current system doesn't work" and that it's time to try something new.

Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco said a state grand jury would have a broader perspective than local prosecutors and would tackle cases that are slipping through the system.

"There is fraud on a statewide level," said Pacheco, a former Republican assemblyman. "People are not concentrating on it, and there is no mechanism to handle it."

In fact, there are anti-fraud mechanisms in state government, though none with the all-encompassing scope that Whitman envisions for a statewide grand jury.

For example, the Department of Health Care Services reviews complaints of Medi-Cal abuses and refers suspected fraud cases to a unit of the attorney general's office. The attorney general can sue or file charges against doctors, hospitals and other providers, convene a county grand jury or refer cases to local prosecutors.

The attorney general's office filed 165 criminal charges against Medi-Cal providers last year, the most in the 32-year history of the fraud unit, and recovered more than $200 million from providers in a recent 12-month period, said Mark Zeiger, the unit chief.

Whitman's campaign is unimpressed. It cites a report by the California Taxpayers Association, a business-funded nonprofit, asserting that state government has wasted $18.9 billion since 2000.
Hard to verify

The figure is hard to verify - it includes, for example, the entire $1.25 billion cost of a state education program that failed to improve test scores, and media reports alleging large-scale fraud in welfare, Medi-Cal and workers' compensation. It also includes such well-documented examples as the $3.4 billion cost overrun on the Bay Bridge eastern span reconstruction that a state audit disclosed in 2004.

It's not clear which of these expenditures would be reined in by a state grand jury. But David Kline, spokesman for the taxpayers association, said he thinks a statewide panel of concerned residents might be "more vigilant than government officials" at policing abuses.

Whitman, who has separately proposed eliminating 40,000 state jobs, insists a statewide grand jury could use existing staff without increasing spending. Her Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jerry Brown, derides that position.

This is "a proposal to root out government waste by creating a new government bureaucracy," said Brown's campaign spokesman, Sterling Clifford.

Brown hasn't spelled out his plan for erasing the $19 billion state deficit, saying only that he would bring all sides together and wouldn't raise taxes without voter approval. Clifford said details will emerge as the campaign unfolds.

Schwarzenegger has maintained since taking office in 2003 that increased attention to waste and fraud would ease the state's budget problems, though he has never endorsed a statewide grand jury.

His prime target has been in-home support services, the rapidly growing program of domestic care for the low-income elderly and disabled.

Declaring that the program suffers from a fraud level as high as 25 percent - a figure also cited by Ng, Whitman's spokesman - Schwarzenegger has imposed new background checks and fingerprint requirements for caregivers and has tried to cut workers' pay and reduce or eliminate services for nearly a third of their clients.

Courts have blocked the wage and service cuts, and a state audit of 24,000 in-home care cases in 2007 found potentially fraudulent overpayments in only 1 percent of them.
More audits

Undaunted, the governor has called for more audits, and is urging the Legislature to approve funding to fingerprint the program's 420,000 recipients.

Schwarzenegger's spokesman, Aaron McLear, says the governor has had "tremendous success" in curbing waste and fraud by increasing access to state records, appointing an inspector general and tightening welfare standards.

Brown, and advocates for workers and recipients of benefits, say Schwarzenegger was never able to document his claims of widespread overspending and fraud in state services.

At last month's state Republican convention, however, Whitman made the same assertions. She said fraud is costing California $8 billion to $10 billion because the state lacks the technology that was her bread and butter as eBay's CEO.

"We're going to put in great systems, we're going to find that waste, fraud and abuse, we're going to convene a grand jury," the candidate said. "And if you rip off the taxpayers of California, we're going to send you to jail."

Chronicle staff writer Joe Garofoli contributed to this report.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Port of SLO Harbor commissioners balk at grand jury


Commissioners for the Port San Luis Harbor District fired back at a county civil grand jury report that criticized the district on a number of issues ranging from boat-launch access to conflicts of interest.

The grand jury report, titled “Port San Luis: A Tarnished Jewel,” took aim at the sanding in of a floating dock and mobile hoist pier with water levels often insufficient to float a vessel; an alleged lack of competitive bidding policy for businesses; failure to promote a space used for private events; rudimentary financial records; and potential conflicts of interest in commission votes regarding the San Luis Obispo Yacht Club.

At least one of the commissioners is a member of the yacht club, the grand jury reported.

The commission hasn’t responded to the conflict-of-interest allegations, but Harbormaster Steve McGrath said the commission will discuss the issue at its next meeting.

Commissioners admitted that the report got some things right, such as the need to promote the event space, but contend that other findings were narrow in scope or completely incorrect.

“The district takes exception to the title of the 2010 report, which belies the content of the report itself,” the commission wrote in a letter to the grand jury. “The report belittles the progress made in the last few years in repair and maintenance of the district’s facilities, the openness and accessibility to district records and governance, the enhancements for public access and recreation, and the stabilization of district finances through significant increases in enterprise revenues.”

McGrath told New Times he especially took issue with the claim that the district lacks competitive bidding policies, which he said isn’t accurate. Furthermore, he said, the grand jury focused on revenue the district loses when the sports launch is sanded in, but overlooked the 22 percent jump in overall district revenue—or roughly a quarter-million dollars—over the past three years.

“The content of the report is not what I see on the ground, and the title of the report certainly did not seem to be backed up by the content,” McGrath said. “The commission believes the district is moving in the right direction, and we stand by the statement that we’re better this year than the last, and we’ll be even better next year.”


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Animal Official's Dismissal Causes Stir

Employees Protest Firing of Head of Sonoma County Agency; Troubled Department Has Had Three Directors Since 2006


SANTA ROSA — Sonoma County's animal care and control department is in an uproar over the sudden dismissal of its director, the latest flap for an agency that has an outsize importance in a heavily rural area.

The ruckus began in July when director Amy Cooper was fired. Her supervisor, county agricultural commissioner Cathy Neville, called it a "personnel issue" but said she couldn't elaborate because of labor laws.

Ms. Cooper's dismissal surprised some colleagues and others who worked with the agency on animal-welfare issues. County supervisors have credited Ms. Cooper with turning around a troubled department. During her yearlong tenure, animal-care employees said she lowered the county's euthanasia rate and improved relationships with local animal-welfare groups, such as the Sonoma Humane Society.

In the wake of the firing, Ms. Cooper's former employees protested, partly by taking out a half-page newspaper ad starring a dejected-looking dog. In addition, 28 of the department's 32 employees signed a letter to county supervisors demanding Ms. Cooper's reinstatement.

"We were headed to the Super Bowl, and then our quarterback was let go," said Bob Garcia, a 35-year veteran of the department who is temporarily managing the agency until Ms. Cooper is replaced.

Ms. Cooper, through her attorney Jeremy Fietz, declined to comment. Mr. Fietz said Ms. Cooper was given no explanation for the dismissal, which he said shocked her because she had received only positive feedback.

Ms. Neville declined to comment on why she discharged Ms. Cooper. Ms. Cooper was let go two days before the end of her probationary period, during which she could be sacked at any time for any reason.

Mr. Garcia and Cathy Fenn, the animal shelter's manager, said Ms. Neville told them that she wanted Ms. Cooper to do more outreach and fund-raising.

Ms. Neville said she never said that to Mr. Garcia and Ms. Fenn. She added that Ms. Cooper was "great" with outreach and had started a donation program.

The flap has broad implications for Sonoma County. While animal-care units in urban areas such as San Francisco are mostly identified with controlling cat and dog populations, the Sonoma department also has to deal with the largely agricultural county's large population of livestock and other animals.

"You're dealing with the issues of people's pets, and you're dealing with the animals that impact agriculture," said Jim Leddy, Sonoma's community- and governmental-affairs manager.

Sonoma County's animal care and control agency has battled negative publicity in the past decade, during which it was subject to two grand-jury investigations. The first came in 2004, after a shelter employee adopted an emu, killed it and planned to serve it at a staff barbecue. That investigation resulted in a report recommending that the department hire more staffers and give better training to employees.

In 2006, the animal shelter had to rescind a pit-bull puppy euthanasia policy after local animal groups complained. A grand jury last year also investigated complaints about the department, but determined it was doing a commendable job overall. The grand-jury report recommended the agency add a full-time dispatcher at the center and stop using inmate labor at the shelter, among other things. Shelter officials they have been addressing those issues.

Ms. Cooper, 49 years old, was the agency's third non-interim director since 2006. The Novato resident served as director of an Idaho animal shelter before Ms. Neville hired her last summer.

Once at the agency, employees said, Ms. Cooper reduced the county's euthanasia rate from 43% to 28%, secured donations to build new livestock housing and a dog park, started a newsletter called "Paw Prints," and boosted staff morale. Mr. Garcia called her the "best director" the shelter has ever had.

But some residents still had concerns. "There was still a ways to go" for the agency, said RJ Kamprath, an animal-welfare activist and local gadfly. The 68-year-old Santa Rosa resident said she met with Ms. Cooper four times during her tenure. Ms. Kamprath said she liked Ms. Cooper, but was concerned that she didn't follow up on her own proposal to use the county's spay-and-neuter van to reach outlying, low-income areas. Ms. Kamprath also said it was difficult to obtain information to support the department's statistics.

Mr. Fietz, Ms. Cooper's attorney, said that "given the state of the animal care and control department when Amy was hired," those criticisms "are extraordinarily minor."

On July 12, Ms. Cooper was dismissed. Mr. Fietz said his client isn't seeking to sue the county at this time but remains mystified by her exit. "Her job performance was exemplary," he said.

Department employees quickly reacted, running an ad in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat last month calling for Ms. Cooper's reinstatement.

The chairwoman of Sonoma County's board of supervisors, Valerie Brown, said she and her fellow supervisors also were "not happy" that they were blindsided by the dismissal. Ms. Brown had praised Ms. Cooper's work at an April board meeting and said the supervisors thought the director was doing a superb job.

Still, Ms. Brown said it is unlikely the board would overrule Ms. Neville and reinstate Ms. Cooper because it would set a bad precedent.

In addition, leaders of the agricultural community have praised Ms. Neville for her work as agricultural commissioner.

"She's done a really excellent job trying to connect with the growers," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, a nonprofit marketing group.

Later this month, county supervisors will consider putting animal care under the direction of another agency, such as the sheriff's department, or making it a stand-alone department.

Mr. Fietz said he has had preliminary discussions with county officials about the possibility of Ms. Cooper's return if the animal-care department were moved out of the agricultural commissioner's office.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Tulare County Board of Supervisors to respond to Grand Jury's recommendations

BY DAVID CASTELLON • dcastell@visalia.gannett.com • August 30, 2010

Social workers from Tulare Coun-ty Child Welfare Services will not have to get psychological evaluations on children before placing them in foster homes, nor will the process for county jail inmates to file grievances over their medical treatment change.

Those are two of the responses to eight Grand Jury reports that the county Board of Supervisors could approve during its weekly meeting Tuesday.

The reports, released last month, detailed findings from Grand Jury investigation of local government agencies and programs along with recommendations to correct problems identified.

Three of the investigations focused on the county jail, looking at medical treatment for inmates, privacy for "pro per" inmates -†those representing themselves in court -†and problems with clothing issued to inmates.

Other reports covered investigations of how speed limits are determined on county roadways, reported problems in the county Planning Commission and the Teviston Community Service District, CWS practices and possible deficiencies in the county Resource Management Agency's enforcement of zoning ordinances and collection of fines and other fees owed to the county.

If approved by supervisors Tuesday, the 43 pages of responses would be submitted to Superior Court Judge Melinda Reed.

Here are some of the Grand Jury claims and responses:

> The supervisors say mental health evaluations aren't needed for all children prior to foster care placement.

"When CWS is removing a child in emergency situations, we have no choice but to place that child in

foster care to ensure their safety," and if social workers believe that mental health evaluations or treatment are needed, they can arrange for it, the supervisors' response states.

The report also denies that youths are given little or no instruction on how to access medical services, Social Security and money for education before being emancipated as adults.

"The board disagrees with this finding," as social workers are required to provide this information to the children, along with instruction on accessing Medi-Cal and other health benefits, seeking employment, vocational training and applying for college and financial aid.

CWS will not follow the Grand Jury's recommendation to conduct unannounced visits to foster homes unless social workers already suspect that something is wrong, the supervisors state.

"As for the Grand Jury claim that not all foster homes are visited by social workers monthly, as required, the supervisors state there are exceptions to the rules, including cases in which children are placed with relatives and when waivers are granted based on the stability of the placements."

The response doesn't state if any incidents occurred in which any social workers failed to conduct one-month visits, when required.

> The supervisors disagree with the Grand Jury's conclusions that more than 400 code enforcement violation cases aren't being worked by RMA. Their response states that 257 of the cases have been corrected, and that the county is waiting for the property owners to pay their fines and penalties.

As for the 143 that haven't been corrected, the owners have code compliance agreements with the county.

A report on the effectiveness of RMA's Building Division in code compliance enforcement and revenue collection will be submitted to the supervisors within the next six months.

> The supervisors agreed that attendance and punctuality has been a problem with some members of the Planing Commission; an attendance rule has been enacted that members who miss three consecutive meetings without good cause will be replaced.

"If the grievance requires a medical response, it is immediately forwarded to the medical staff to resolve," the supervisors' response states, although no statistical data to support this is included.

The board also disputes claims that medications weren't being refilled in a timely manner, stating that there have been isolated occurrences. The response goes on to say that there may be lags of up to four days in obtaining medicine for inmates because of the county's contracted pharmacy being closed on weekends or the pharmacist needing time to clear up questions with medical providers.

As for claims of delays for inmates to be seen by medical specialists, when needed, the supervisors noted that some delays are due to the difficulty in finding specialists in this area willing to treat inmates.

> The supervisors agree to review procedures to provide privacy for pro per inmates conducting legal research in the Bob Wiley Detention Facility's law library.

Jail staff also will provide reference cards and instructions for using the library's computer for conducting online legal research.

> The supervisors deny giving preferential treatment to individual communities in setting speed limits, although priority is given when speed is a public safety issue.

> The Grand Jury investigated complaints of intimidation, sexual harassment, California open-meeting law violations, voter fraud and other claims against the Teviston Community Service District.

On several of the points, including that some meetings weren't open to the public and water meters weren't being read on a regular basis, the supervisors decline to comment, stating only that the matters aren't in their purview.

The Grand Jury reported finding no grounds to support the voter fraud and sexual harassment claims.

The supervisors agreed to schedule training for service district board members on conducting government meetings and to follow the Grand Jury recommendation to hire a general manager for the district by the end of the year.


A policy prohibiting use of cell phones during commission meetings will be developed by the Dec. 20 meeting, the supervisors' response states.

> In response to the Grand Jury claim that about 40 percent of inmate clothing sent out for laundering wasn't returned, the supervisors state that a new system has been put into place at the jail to better monitor clothes.

In addition, "routine cell searches are conducted each day to retrieve the clothing."

> The supervisors disagreed with the Grand Jury's conclusion that medical and non-medical grievances by jail inmates aren't always directed to the "responsible" officials.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Port San Luis Harbor District: Grand jury report rebutted

Commissioners at the Port San Luis Harbor District — the focus of a critical county civil grand jury inquiry earlier this year — responded this week that the report belittled the progress the district has made over the past few years.

“(D)espite six months of study, numerous records requests and multiple interviews and site visits, this report did not provide evidence to warrant the negative and editorial title, nor offer practical advice or suggestions not already implemented by the district,” Carolyn Moffatt, president of the district’s board, stated in a letter included with the district’s response to the report.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to approve the response, which was sent to the county grand jury and San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall.
The grand jury report, “Port San Luis: A Tarnished Jewel,” questioned how the district prepares its financial reports and awards contracts to concessionaires and raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest involving harbor commissioners.

It also said the district could lose out on additional funding if too much sand prevents boats from launching.

District officials agreed that it’s difficult or impossible to launch a boat when the sport launch is sanded in and when the large boat launch is in shallow water — and that the district could lose money as a result.

But they said the grand jury disregarded district efforts to maintain the viability of the launches, by dredging and planning for future projects. The district has been continuously dredging both launches since March, Harbor Manager Steve McGrath said Thursday.

The district is seeking grants to rebuild and extend its large boat hoist 60 feet into deeper water. A 2007 study concluded the project would cost $700,000.

In a previous interview, McGrath said, “Our inability to launch boats has a greater (impact) on our public service function than on our bottom line.”

The harbor district was formed in 1954 and includes most of the county south of the Cuesta Grade, with the exception of Morro Bay and Los Osos.

Its five-member Board of Commissioners oversees a $4.1 million budget, two-thirds of which is funded by property taxes.

The district has in the past three years increased by 22 percent the amount of money it has raised in enterprise funds, or money that comes from the district’s business operations, such as the paid-parking lot in Avila Beach.

The enterprise funds have increased to $1.2 million from $1 million — a point commissioners felt was overlooked.

Commissioners felt the grand jury “didn’t recognize the overall picture and focused on some small areas,” McGrath said.

The recommendations from the civil grand jury are advisory only, but the district was required to respond to the report by Sept. 23.

Commissioners responded to several other points, including:

• The commission disagreed with the grand jury report’s claim that the district has no competitive bidding policy for concessionaires. One has been in place since April 2008.

• Commissioners agreed with a report recommendation that the district should promote the rental availability of an assembly room in its Gateway building.

• Commissioners will meet to further discuss the grand jury’s point on potential conflicts of interest before Dec. 21.

The report stated that harbor commissioners should not vote on issues involving a service provider with whom they have a business relationship, or on issues involving the San Luis Yacht Club if they are members.

More online

To read the county grand jury’s report, go to www.slocourts.net/grand_jury.

To read the Port San Luis Harbor District’s response, go to www.portsanluis.com, click “Meeting Agendas and Minutes” and select the agenda from the Aug. 24 meeting.

Read more: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2010/08/26/1265052/port-san-luis-harbor-district.html#ixzz0xqI6ahBb

Sutter Creek drafts Grand Jury response

Friday, August 27, 2010

By Matthew Hedger

E. Peterson & Company
A copy of the City of Sutter Creek's proposed response to the 2009/2010 Amador County Grand Jury report has been released prior to a special city council meeting Aug. 30, expected to draw a vociferous crowd.

The draft response begins by saying city leaders appreciate the seriousness of issues raised and acknowledges a jury finding that the council has "final overall responsibility for all aspects of the city's operations."

It does, however, say that the jury was "incorrect" in its comments suggesting councilmembers were unaware of many issues.

"This implies that if it were not for the Grand Jury Report, many of these issues would never have been revealed or corrected," states the response, penned largely by Sutter Creek City Manager Sean Rabe. "This is incorrect, especially regarding the Finance, Administration and Personnel section of the report. The City Council has taken very significant actions to correct many of these issues long before they were referred to the Grand Jury."

In all, the draft says the council agrees with 53 jury findings in the finance, administration and policy section of their report, partially agreed with 3 findings, and disagreed with 6 statements, including one suggesting the use of city credit cards to pay for meals with consultants and contractors, and then seek reimbursement from same, was a conflict of interest. It also rejects a suggestion that the city's finance department be required to report directly to the council, and a suggestion to renegotiate city employee contracts.

"The city council feels that although there is significant support for this issue, the benefit package of city employees is a matter for collective bargaining process rather than the Grand Jury," states the draft response.

An exhortation in the jury's report calling for citizens to become actively involved to help city government "avoid defaulting to continued mismanagement" is referred to in the response as "an unwarranted insult and below the professional standard expected of a Grand Jury recommendation."

City leaders also disagreed with the jury's finding that their public-funded partnership with the privately held Amador Council of Tourism could be a conflict of interest.

Regarding jury findings concerning the city's Sanitary Sewer Management Plan, the preliminary response from the city is largely agreeable, and recommends implementing many of the jury's recommendations. But the city disagreed on several other points, including an allegation that much of the SSMP work had been neglected due to the city's "budget crisis."

The city also agreed with many of the jury's statements concerning the Waste Water Treatment Plant, including a finding that the plant was not operating as planned. City leaders have stopped short, however, of agreeing with an allegation that a $2.2 million upgrade to the plant was a failure, saying that suggestion is premature, pending a final review and report on plant operations, expected within 90 days. The council also responded that it "agrees in part" with a finding that the WWTP effluent is currently exceeding Regional Water Quality Control Board standards and that the plant modifications "did not establish compliance." The council also agreed that sub-contractors hired to perform the work were poorly managed. A slew of problems identified with the plant is the subject of an independent analysis currently being conducted, which is expected to be completed and presented to the council by the end of the year. Financial problems associated with the plant have been referred to the new finance director, who is expected to report on his findings within 90 days.

Grand Jury findings of perceived problems facing the city's police department were, by and large, accepted by city leaders, with many of the jury's recommendations to solve them listed as implemented. Many of the procedural and staffing issues identified have been alleviated by the departure of the multi-tasked former Chief of Police Rob Duke and the subsequent hiring of a new chief. The city disagreed with a jury allegation that a shortage of staff officers was causing them to be reactive, rather than proactive.

"There is not enough evidence to support this finding," states the report, "The SCPD has a long history of effective investigations and successful prosecution of major crimes."

Procedural changes related to animal control within the city which caused confusion and were identified in the jurys' report have also been addressed, according to the city's response. The city has re-implemented their contract with the county for animal control services, and all officers have been apprised of proper procedures. The council is disagreeing with a recommendation that the agreement with the county be renewed annually, pointing out it has been in force continously since 2005 and is self-renewing.

The city provided two attachments to the draft response, one, listed as an audit committee preliminary report, and the second, a task list related to financial control issues. Both documents outline the city's continued attempts to codify and manage tasks the jury felt were not being performed correctly.

A special city council meeting to discuss the preliminary draft response to the Grand Jury Report is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Community Center.