Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ross Council to craft reply to report by grand jury

The Ross Town Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to consider and respond to the Marin County civil grand Jury's report titled "Marin Clean Energy: Pull the Plug."

Ross is the only Marin municipality that initially pledged to become a member of Marin Clean Energy and later voted to back out. Marin Clean Energy is a joint powers authority set up to provide electricity from sustainable sources, and it plans to begin providing power from a contracted source by later this year.

The meeting is set for 8 a.m. at Town Hall at 31 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The role, rewards of grand jury

Dear editor, The state of California celebrates Grand Jury Awareness Month each February. The timing is particularly appropriate because shortly the Napa County Superior Court will begin the selection process for the 2010-2011 Napa County Grand Jury. Nineteen members of the county, as diverse as possible, will be called together for a term that runs from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.

The term “Grand Jury” may conjure up visions of a federal grand jury impaneled to look at potential criminal activity. However, county grand juries are impaneled to act as an “arm of the court,” as authorized by the state constitution, to be a voice of the people and a conscience of the community. The primary duty of the Napa County Grand Jury is to investigate and report on county government operations to be assured that the responsibilities are being fulfilled efficiently, honestly and in the best interest of the public. Between county and municipal agencies, there are more than 100 public entities that the Napa County Grand Jury endeavors to investigate over a five-year period.

In addition to a routine review of governmental agencies, the Grand Jury may respond to specific citizens’ complaints, investigate areas of public concern identified in the media, follow up on recommendations by previous grand juries (or trouble areas identified by grand juries in other California counties) and various other sources of information. When appropriate, formal reports are issued as a result of an investigation. These reports are provided to the media, public libraries, and can be viewed on the Napa County Superior Court Web site.

Being a grand juror is a one-year commitment and requires attendance at periodic full-panel meetings, committee meetings, background research, interviews and report preparation. Much of the time required is during “normal” working hours as this is when public officials and agency workers are available for interviews. The reward of being a grand juror is the satisfaction you receive working with 18 fellow residents of the county to improve local government for all of us. Application for grand jury duty can be made online at gov/GrandJury/GJ apply.htm

John K. Morris, foreperson / 2009-2010 Napa County Grand Jury

Grand jury finds fault with Banning agency

A Riverside County grand jury is calling for changes to the Community Redevelopment Agency in Banning.

Following an investigation into the agency, the grand jury has issued a seven-page report with its findings and recommendations.

The report states the agency and Banning Cultural Alliance, a nonprofit organization, agreed on a $343,000 two-year contract in August 2006 that called on the alliance to present arts and cultural events and redevelopment activities. However, the group did not perform certain activities, such as a Banning marketing campaign.

The grand jury takes the governing board of the redevelopment agency, the City Council, to task. It states, "An examination of the relationship between the Alliance and the redevelopment agency revealed a willingness by the board to fund the group without any measure of accountability, without measure of success or failure and without demands for return of funds not spent on contractual obligations."

The grand jury says the board should cease and desist awarding any redevelopment money to the alliance.

The grand jury also recommends the redevelopment agency commit to major improvements in east Banning to reduce blight.

In a statement, Banning Mayor Bob Botts says the agency will carefully review the grand jury's recommendations, including issues related to the alliance.

Karen Clavelot, president of the alliance board of directors, could not be reached for comment.

Reach Erin Waldner at 951-763-3473 or

Friday, February 26, 2010

DeFazio charged with perjury before grand jury

Prosecutors allege DeFazio lied about Postmus' 'secretly controlled' PAC
February 26, 2010 8:29 AM
Natasha Lindstrom

VICTORVILLE • Investigators with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office arrested local developer John “Dino” DeFazio early Thursday on two felony perjury charges tied to alleged false testimony before the grand jury, as the biggest corruption scandal in county history continues to unfold.

DeFazio, 50, of Apple Valley was arrested at a residence around 7:10 a.m. and booked into Victor Valley Jail, according to booking logs. His bail was set at $50,000.

The California Attorney General and county DA jointly filed the two felony counts, which prosecutors said stem from sworn testimony DeFazio gave to the San Bernardino County Grand Jury in October 2009. The testimony related to a Political Action Committee “secretly controlled” by former 1st District Supervisor and county Assessor Bill Postmus.

Prosecutors allege DeFazio, owner of Artisan Real Estate and personal friend and real estate partner of Postmus, knowingly lied to the grand jury when he told them Postmus and former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman “had nothing to do with the administration” or direction of expenditures from the Inland Empire PAC.

If convicted, DeFazio could face up to four years in state prison.

The Inland Empire PAC is the tool that Postmus allegedly used to funnel a bribe from developers with Rancho Cucamonga-based Colonies Partners LP, according to a complaint filed by the DA.

On Feb. 10 prosecutors charged Postmus and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin on felony charges relating to bribery, alleging they conspired with two Colonies developers to win a $102 million settlement from the county through corrupt means. Prosecutors allege the Colonies developers plotted to get a favorable settlement through threats, inducement, extortion and bribing county supervisors and top aides with $400,000, which was allegedly funneled through various PACs.

Three other alleged co-conspirators — including a current supervisor and chief of staff who allegedly accepted bribes — have not been charged.

Aleman, who agreed to testify against his colleagues in exchange for reducing his own six felony charges related to perjury before the grand jury, told prosecutors Postmus used DeFazio’s name as chair of the PAC, but Postmus and Aleman ran the committee and controlled its funds, including accepting a bribe from Colonies developers, according to court records.

DeFazio told the Daily Press on Feb. 10 that his PAC had raised over $300,000 and was not under the direct control of Postmus. He said Aleman may have had access to his e-mail address.

“I mean he helped me create an e-mail account. I think he had, you know, my password, and I think he night have sent some e-mails... but I had no involvement in that,” DeFazio said on Feb. 10.

DeFazio has called Aleman’s and investigators’ accusations “factually flawed and untruthful,” and Postmus has called prosecutors’ allegations “lies” that “will be proven wrong in the end.”

DeFazio’s arrest also comes just six days after DeFazio filed a civil claim against the county (click here to read the claim), Ramos and other prosecutors for violation of civil rights, slander, defamation, interference with business trade and more.

DA spokeswoman Susan Mickey said investigators in her office hadn't known about the claim, and even if they did it wouldn’t have affected Thursday’s charges.

Read Friday's Daily Press for the full story. To subscribe to the Daily Press in print or online, call (760) 241-7755

Santa Clara County Superior Court seeking civil grand jury volunteers

By Mercury News Staff
Posted: 02/25/2010 05:50:00 PM PST
Updated: 02/25/2010 05:50:01 PM PST

Santa Clara County Superior Court is seeking volunteers to serve on the 2010-2011 civil grand jury.

Residents who have lived in the county for one year, are U.S. citizens and 18 years of age or older may apply for service. The one-year term will begin June 24.

The civil grand jury is part of the judicial branch of government and serves as the county's investigative body. If functions as a civil watchdog by exercising its authority to examine all aspects of county and city government and special districts, including school districts. It also has the authority to inspect the adult and juvenile detention facilities in the county.

During the one-year term, grand jurors will be expected to commit to 20-25 hours per week, and often more.

For more information and to get an application, contact Gloria Alicia Chacon, court manager, at 408-882-2722, or visit the court's Web site at to download an application and to learn more about the history and process of the civil grand jury.

The deadline to submit applications is March 5.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Illegal migrants costly to San Bernardino County

Illegal migrants costly to San Bernardino County
Total spent on illegal immigrants elusive
Stephen Wall, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/20/2010 02:50:10 PM PST

Four years ago, a group of concerned citizens expressed outrage at the cost of illegal immigration to San Bernardino County taxpayers.

The price tag for six county departments to provide services to illegal immigrants was more than $38 million a year, the county Grand Jury found.

Most of the money was spent on emergency health care and law enforcement-related services for illegal immigrants.

But that was just a fraction of the tab.

Fourteen other unnamed county departments had no idea of their costs for illegal immigrant services. If those departments had provided numbers, the bill would have been substantially higher, the Grand Jury's report stated.

The Grand Jury recommended that the county immediately require all departments to start tracking their costs.

The information should be made available to the public as well as to state and federal lawmakers who would take action to solve the immigration crisis if they knew the true cost of the problem, according to the report released in 2006.

In response, the Board of Supervisors directed all departments to track the costs, but not all of them have been complying, officials said.

County supervisors want to find out what happened.

"The public has a right to know who's receiving the services and whether or not they're entitled to them," said Supervisor Neil Derry. "These are dollars that are being used by people who don't belong here that either could be used to provide services to legal citizens or returned to them in the form of lower taxes."

Supervisor Josie Gonzales also wants to know why some departments have not followed through on the board's direction.

"The fact that we continue to incur costs for services that are extremely difficult to recover funds for is of great concern to me," Gonzales said.

Supervisor Paul Biane said he will ask Chief Administrative Officer Greg Devereaux to look into the matter. But he isn't optimistic that tracking the information will make much of a difference.

"It would be great to know," Biane said, "but at the end of the day, I don't think it will mean more revenue to the county of San Bernardino to support us for the services we provide."

Brad Kuiper, who was foreman of the Grand Jury at the time, said county officials should be complaining louder.

"It's very frustrating to me and the Grand Jury," said Kuiper, a 71-year-old Apple Valley resident. "It's all taxpayer money and we don't seem to have a vote on any of this. Until it comes from the grass roots, it's obvious that none of these people that we've elected to office are going to do anything about any of this stuff."

The county is mandated by state and federal law to provide services to illegal immigrants.

Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, the county hospital in Colton, must treat every person that enters the emergency room, regardless of income or immigration status.

The hospital's health care cost for illegal immigrants was nearly $9 million in 2006. Today, that number is about $18 million, said Frank Arambula, the hospital's chief financial officer.

The hospital gets back about $5 million from Section 1011 of the Medicare program, which helps reimburse hospitals for emergency services provided to illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants make up about 1,400 emergency room patients a year, which equates to about 5 percent of total admissions, Arambula said.

"Is it a strain on our resources to provide these services? No," Arambula said. "Our mission is to take care of the sick who can't pay for health care. If someone doesn't have treatment, they could potentially infect others."

The county pays a hefty price to provide other services to illegal immigrants.

The District Attorney's Office spends about $9 million a year to prosecute cases against illegal immigrants charged with crimes, according to the 2006 Grand Jury report.

District attorney's spokeswoman Susan Mickey said she could not provide an updated cost.

"No one here has any idea where that ($9 million) figure came from," Mickey said. "We do not track cases by immigration status. We do not track by ethnicity or race or anything. If they break the law, they're prosecuted, whether they're legal or illegal."

The county Public Defender's Office also spends $9 million a year to provide criminal defense for illegal immigrants who can't afford their own lawyers, the report said.

County spokesman David Wert could not provide an updated cost.

Wert said the numbers provided to the Grand Jury were one-time estimates provided by the county administrative office at the Grand Jury's request. The county does not track costs for the Public Defender's Office because the county must provide services and there is no reimbursement from the federal government, Wert said.

Tracking costs is also extremely difficult because determining immigration status is a separate legal process, Wert said.

The Sheriff's Department does track the cost to jail illegal immigrants. Sheriff's employees undergo special training by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to determine the immigration status of inmates for purposes of reimbursement.

In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the county spent $15.8 million to jail illegal immigrants but only got back $2.2 million from the federal government.

"It has a huge impact on the county and especially the Sheriff's Department budget," said sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. "It also taxes our jail population."

In recent years, the department has left more vacant positions unfilled and cut back on some crime-prevention and community programs as a result of not being fully reimbursed for the cost of jailing illegal immigrants, Beavers said.

For the first time, the county is seeking federal reimbursement for probation services provided to juvenile illegal immigrants. County officials are requesting $5.5 million this year to cover that cost.

Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, blamed the federal government and Democrats in the state Legislature for not dealing with the immigration crisis.

"They don't want to take this seriously," said Knight, whose district includes Victorville and Adelanto. "Unfortunately, counties like Los Angeles and San Bernardino are taking the brunt of a lot of this cost. How many of the basic services we provide are being stripped away because we're spending our money on illegal immigrants?"

Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, said citizens deserve to know how many of their tax dollars are spent on illegal immigrants.

"It's not the state's job to close down our borders," said Miller, whose district includes Chino and Chino Hills. "It's the federal government's, and we're not doing it. If we're unwilling to do our job, we should at least pick up the cost of the burden we're placing on our states."

Read more:

Kern County Grand Jury Report Dominates City Council Meeting, Miller Calls for Council Censure of Thompson

City Manager Gorson Blast Councilman Thompson as "Rogue Councilman" at Thursday News Conference, Says Stress at City Harming Employes
by Michael Long - February 20, 2010

Pubishers Note: In order to give the reader a more complete version and better understanding of the conflict at the Tuesday Taft City Council, The Independent has posted several videos on the Taft Independent Facebook page presenting each city councilperson's remarks on the ongoing debate over the Kern County Grand Jury. If you are not a member of Facebook, simply go to and register - it is a free service and search for Taft Independent. The Independent's Facebook page will be displayed with the video's available for view in the order that the council persons spoke at Tuesday's meeting. Also, City Manager Bob Gorson held a wide ranging 30 minute news conference refuting claims made by Councilman Cliff Thompson, calling Thompson a "Rogue" City Councilman who is playing games and hurting the city.

A recently released Kern County Grand Jury Report that criticized City Manager Bob Gorson, and the Taft City Council dominated the Taft City Council meeting on Tuesday evening.
Councilman Cliff Thompson, who was cited by the Grand Jury for having "violated public trust", gave a Power Point slide presentation to the council critical of Gorson, Councilman Randy Miller and the Independent for its new coverage of the City Council.
Later, Councilman Paul Linder read a prepared statement critical of Thompson apologizing to the public for the embarrassing media coverage of the Grand Jury investigation.
"When personal agenda's, dishonesty and release of privileged information occurs in an attempt to move the attention away from poor decisions or dishonesty, it becomes a sad time in our history," Linder said.
Linder also read a statement from Councilman Randy Miller who was absent from the meeting which called on the council to censure Thompson.
"I ask this council to consider Council censure of Mr. Thompson, as he has not lived up to his responsibilities as a Taft City Councilman," Miller wrote.
Mayor Dave Noerr also made a statement about the Grand Jury findings, rejecting the reports finding that the council had failed in it fiduciary responsibilities.
In another development on the infighting at Taft City Hall, Taft City Manager Bob Gorson held a wide ranging 30 minute news conference on Thursday where he defended his tenure as City Manager, and called Councilman Cliff Thompson a "Rogue Councilman" whose harassment of city employees has caused enough stress that city employees required medical treatment.
Gorson said that Thompson had approached him about employment with the City of Taft but said that as long as he was city manager, Thompson would never be an employee of the city.
Gorson also rejected Thompson's claim at Tuesday's City Council meeting that he had offered Thompson a public safety job with the city.
All videos of councilmen statements and Gorson news conference can be seen in their entirety on the Taft Independent's Facebook page.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Taft Gorson fires back, blasts Thompson

Taft City Manager Bob Gorson kept quiet Tuesday night during a lengthy attack by Councilman Cliff Thompson.

Thursday afternoon he fired back, taking shots at Thompson and questioning the Kern County Grand Jury report released last week that was strongly critical of both Gorson and the city council.

Gorson accused Thompson of everything from trying to pressure him for a city job to trying to fire him and making life difficult for city employees.

Gorson also released a copy of the letter he sent in response to the Grand Jury report.
That letter accused two Grand Jury members of pressuring him about an item on the agenda for a December council meeting and called their conduct “inappropriate at best and perhaps unethical and intrusive at worst.”

Gorson said Thursday he was stunned at the Grand Jury report, especially one section that he said implied he had given confidential information from a subpoena to the media.

“I expected fair and unbiased treatment so I was shocked at the unfair treatment,” Gorsons said of the report. “That implies that I leaked something, and I resent that.

Thompson, Gorson said, “is the only one that leaks “ privileged information.

Gorson saved his strongest words for Thompson, who has been accused by unnamed employees of “creating a hostile workplace.”

In a 30-minute press conference held before about 25 people, most of them city staff members, Gorson placed the blame on Thompson for stress on city staff and said Thompson’s Tuesday night PowerPoint presentation on city staff raises was more than just inaccurate.

Gorson said the numbers in Thompson’s presentation were wrong – that a starting salary Thompson mentioned was off by $450 per month and that the employee received just 20.5 percent in raises instead of 40 percent as Thompson said.

“This was just one of the latest slanderous and false allegations by Cliff Thompson against several hard working and dedicated employees of the city of Taft. This reflects his unethical behavior and total lack of integrity,” Gorson said.

Thompson, Gorson said, “is a rogue councilman committed to destroying people at city hall.”

Thompson’s actions, Gorson said, have added to the stress level at city hall to the point where he is working through the city’s risk management agency to start a stress reduction program.

“It is very difficult,” Gorson said. “It is very difficult when you’ve got city employees having a hard time dealing with stress.”

He said Thompson and Councilman Craig Noble were wrong when they said Gorson offered Thompson a job as a safety coordinator.

Gorson said instead that Thompson “pressured me multiple times ” for a job as assistant city manager and public works director.

He said he finally told Thompson off:

“As long as I am city manager here you will not be hired by the city of Taft,” Gorson said he told Thompson.

Gorson said he would not make any response to continued questions about his business relationship with Thompson.

Both men were castigated for engaging in a conflict of interest.
Gorson said the ongoing controversy that has engulfed city government is harming not only the people that work at City Hall but the city’s long-range goals.

Despite the problems, Gorson said he wants to stay on.

He said he was asked by Mayor Dave Noerr if he plans him on staying on the job.

“My preference is to stay here,” Gorson said he told Noerr. “My preference is to stay here and help implement this vision.”

Yolo County grand jury looks for next year's members

For those who cringe at the sight of a jury duty notice, Yolo County's grand jury is not similar.

For the following year, Yolo County is seeking new members for their grand jury, which unlike the "petite" jury, members serve for a year and volunteer their time to serve as an investigative branch of the judicial system. In Yolo County, the grand jury also serves as a criminal grand jury.

Not all states have a grand jury, but California still believes in this system, said Edwina Harper, jury services supervisor for Yolo County Superior Court.

"The grand jury is an investigatory body for your local government," Harper said. "They take complaints from local county citizens."

A position on the grand jury is not usually for the pay: Grand jury members receive $15 stipends per meeting, plus mileage. Members meet a couple times each month.

After serving two terms as foreperson for the Napa County Grand Jury, Chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the California Grand Jury Association (CGJA) William Trautman said the grand jury experience is not for the money but for more fulfilling reasons.

"The incentive is grand jurors perform a year of public service with a real and unique chance to make their local government better," Trautman said in an e-mail interview. "When a grand jury does an investigation, makes findings and recommendations to a particular agency, there is nothing more satisfying than to see that agency accept and carry out the recommendation."

Yolo County's grand jury is searching for about 19 Yolo County residents to serve as members. Current Yolo County Grand Jury Foreperson Barbara Sommer said there are a lot of retired members each year, but a younger presence would diversify the investigative body. To apply, applicants must be over 18 years old.

"[As a member,] I learned a tremendous amount about county government," Sommer said, who runs the monthly meetings as foreperson. "[The grand jury] is a real cross section of the community. There are people with different backgrounds."

The CGJA serves as the backbone for grand juries in California counties. Since counties' grand juries are self-run with little support from within county judicial systems, the CGJA steps in to train and provide resources to members.

"Since most counties provide only limited training, CGJA puts on concentrated training seminars involving 12 hours of intensive work in grand jury essentials, grand jury history, local government, investigations, interviewing and final report writing," Trautman said. "Each year, CGJA trains approximately 900 incoming jurors throughout California."

Sommer said students who have lived in Yolo County for at least a year should consider applying - she said grand jury service looks good on a resume. The grand jury considers that members have work, family and school obligations and plans meetings accordingly.

The application process is more of a lottery, Sommer said. After submitting an application and a quick interview with a superior court judge, draws are made for the jury and for back-up members, should anyone drop out during their year of service. If chosen, applicants become sworn into the grand jury by the end of June.

The deadline to apply is Apr. 15. Other criteria for membership and the grand jury application can be found on Yolo County's grand jury web site at

SASHA LEKACH can be reached at

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Editorial: Marin Supervisors need to be more open about pet account

Staff Report
Posted: 02/14/2010 09:03:49 AM PST

FOR YEARS, the county Board of Supervisors' discretionary fund was one of the Civic Center's best-kept secrets. Supervisors would use it to dole out cash to local civic groups and efforts that knew about it and knew who to ask for money.

In 2001, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury helped pull back the curtain when it questioned the propriety of each supervisor having access to a pot of taxpayer cash for pet projects.

We want to be clear on one point. Most of the time, the money is spent on modest grants for worthy local projects and needs. Money from this fund has helped support: Safe Grad nights at local high schools; scholarships for needy kids to go to summer camps; programs for Alzheimer's patients and their families; and local civic events and programs.

Until recent years, however, those expenses were never clearly detailed in the county budget. When supervisors finally agreed to do that, it required a complex journey through the county's Web site to findÊwhere the reports were tucked away - and that information was made public after the the money had been spent. Each supervisor could spend $100,000 a year without the county board - or anyone else - having to approve the checks before they were issued.

Supervisor Judy Arnold last year got her colleagues to put the appropriations on their agenda for approval before the checks are written. While helpful, the board still merely rubber-stamps each supervisor's requests.

We applaud the grudging moves toward more transparency, but it is still difficult to figure out where the items and details are on the supervisors' agenda.

Our beef is with the process far more than with how the money is spent. The lack of clarity and accountability is especially troubling at a time when supervisors are talking about difficult budget cuts.

Each and every expense should be clearly presented on the agenda. You shouldn't have to be an insider to be able to find the information.

Of course, when it comes to accepting political credit for "their" contribution of taxpayer money, supervisors often are gladly taking bows in front of their constituents and reap political rewards.

The board also needs to establish clear policies for how the money is spent.ÊSupervisors recently approved Supervisor Charles McGlashan's request for $10,000 for Teens Turning Green, a local environmental awareness group, "to support the effort to get the single-use bag ban ordinance legislation approved."

The item was approved by the board without question. There should have been some.

To use the money to promote public awareness about environmental issues among teens is a sound goal, but to support political action or a campaign is a misuse of taxpayer money.

When asked, McGlashan said that the description of the expense was "an error."

By having well-defined policies, such an "error" should not get past county staff, its fiscal and legal watchdogs and then be approved by the supervisors. Taxpayers, after all, are writing the checks, and they deserve better.

Given the county's serious budget problems, each supervisor having a private account of taxpayer cash for pet projects does not mesh with their argument about the need to cut programs and services.Ê

Taxpayers deserve clarity and accountability when it comes to how their hard-earned money is spent.

Riverside grand jury interviews former and current Indio City Council members

Sunday, February 14th, 2010.
Issue 06, Volume 14.

RIVERSIDE - A Riverside County grand jury has been interviewing former and current Indio City Council members, but those who have been questioned declined to comment, citing secrecy rules or lack of knowledge about the probe, it was reported today.

Mike Wilson, a former councilman who served for 13 years, told the Desert Sun he was interviewed twice in January. By law, grand jury proceedings are kept secret until they are concluded.

"I have been before them and I can't say what (it is about) exactly," Wilson said.

Though the nature of the inquiry is unknown, it comes as city grapples with a multimillion-dollar deficit and city leaders face criticism for their spending habits. Early retirement deals have also been a source of concern, including one for City Manager Glenn Southard, the the highest-paid city official in the Coachella Valley who plans to retire April 1.

City leaders have been criticized recently for putting federal funds at risk, for the city's credit card policy, and for hiring an expensive firm to analyze and make recommendations regarding the city's financial woes.

Councilwoman Lupe Ramos Watson told the Desert Sun she was informed of an ongoing grand jury inquiry but had not testified before the panel.

Watson said City Attorney Edward Kotkin told her that the grand jury asked for documentation on how the city responded to a previous investigation, but did not have any additional details.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Grand jury blasts Taft city government, urges citizen engagement

BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer | Tuesday, Feb 09 2010 02:28 PM

Last Updated Tuesday, Feb 09 2010 02:28 PM

The Kern County grand jury issued a blazing condemnation of Taft City Manager Robert Gorson and the Taft City Council Tuesday.

It paints a picture of a fractured, under-educated city council that is incapable of holding a rogue city manager in check and calls on the citizens of Taft to become informed and involved in cleaning up their government.

The report finds Gorson ignored state law and Taft ordinances to dole out large raises to his top management staff without a vote of the Taft City Council.

And it states that council members were ignorant of the law and failed to hold Gorson accountable.

The grand jury report also blasts Gorson and Taft City Councilman Cliff Thompson for failing to publically disclose a $200,000 investment Gorson made in Thompson's business.

Contacted Tuesday, Gorson was polite but would only repeat a single phrase as an answer to questions.

"I don't have a response," he said.


Taft Mayor Dave Noerr dismissed the grand jury report as "opinion" and said the full council would consider the report and establish its own path forward.

Noerr said jurors overreached by taking one disputed issue and making the blanket statement that the city council has failed in the whole of its fiduciary duty.

Debate sparked in September after The Californian reported on the raises -- seven of which a defiant Gorson handed out against the advice of Taft City Attorney Ed Gordon of the Gibson & Gibson firm.

Gorson said last year that Taft ordinances and city custom allowed him to hire employees, negotiate their contracts and set their pay without a council vote.

Gibson's opinion and the grand jury say Gorson is wrong.

"The City Manager has opted to pick and chose only the portions of City Codes that will be convenient to meet his needs," the grand jury report states.

In the fall, as the controversy over the raises and the relationship between Gorson and Thompson exploded in Taft, city council members hired attorney Michael Jenkins to draft a second legal opinion about Gorson's actions.

Jenkins' opinion backed up Gorson's argument.


But Tuesday's grand jury report states that Jenkins' opinion gave Gorson "unaccountable financial powers to redistribute budgeted salary funds within a fiscal year," was based on legal case law that had "no relevance to the issues under review," and the council's motivation for hiring Jenkins was suspect.

Hiring an attorney for a second opinion is within the city council's power, said grand jury Foreman John Mainland.

But, Mainland said, "just because you don't like an opinion, you can always find one you can agree with."

The grand jury reported that during a Dec. 15 meeting, council members officially refused to accept a "comprehensive rebuttal" of Jenkins' opinion issued by the city attorney firm of Gibson and Gibson.

Council members Thompson and Craig Noble asked for the memo to be placed on the agenda, Thompson said.

Minutes of the meeting show that Noerr, Councilman Paul Linder and Mayor Pro-Tem Randy Miller all voted against filing the memo from Gibson and Gibson.

Noerr said the council already had two opposing opinions on the issue -- meaning that the question of Gorson's actions was ambiguous enough legally that the council could act on its discretion.

Miller stated, during the meeting, that the issue of employee raises issued by Gorson was "water under the bridge."

The council also voted, on Dec. 15, against a Thompson/Noble agenda item that would have asked the California attorney general's office to issue a ruling on Gorson's actions.

"I didn't think it was necessary," Noerr said.

The grand jury report said the council picked the legal opinion it preferred.

"The City Council has spent too much time trying to circumvent the City Attorney's opinions," the report states.


The grand jury report also takes Thompson to task for failing to accurately complete financial disclosure forms and voting on Gorson's contract while he was in a business relationship with the city manager.

Thompson said the grand jury "did a great job" and he took responsibility for failing to file his paperwork correctly.

"It was done out of not knowing how to fill them out," Thompson said. "I was wrong, completely."

He also said he never got enough training, as a council member, to know that he should have abstained from votes related to Gorson's job performance.

Mainland had a different take on the Taft City Council claims it wasn't aware of the proper way to do things.

"You took an oath. You need to know what laws you have to abide by. 'I don't know' or 'I didn't know' has never been an excuse," Mainland said.


The grand jury recommends the city council hold Gorson accountable for violating the law. But it also calls for Taft citizens to hold the council accountable.

"The only follow-up is the people in Taft," Mainland said. "There is a situation there and it needs to be addressed by the voters. If the people don't get involved then they deserve what they get."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hughson: No option but to move for recall

2-2 council vote leaves grand jury finding of conspiracy unapproved
By Patty Guerra
HUGHSON Residents continued to demand the resignations of three city councilmen targeted in a Stanislaus County civil grand jury report and said they have launched a recall effort.

"I am truly saddened for the community and the citizens," said George Carr, chairman of the Citizens for Better City Government. "At this point, with your refusal to acknowledge the grand jury's report, the work that went into that, the findings, at this point we have no other option. To avoid that we would truly like to ask that you step down or the proceedings will continue."

Carr's group announced at Monday night's City Council meeting that it is circulating recall petitions, the first step in the process.

In December, the grand jury issued a report finding that Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley violated state meeting law conspiring to fire City Manager Joe Donabed and pushed their agenda ahead of the city's. The grand jury said the three should step down or be removed from office.

Humphreys did not attend Monday night's City Council meeting; Crowder and Manley did not respond to the statements. But after the meeting, Crowder said the calls for his resignation were "nauseating."

He said the grand jury's investigation was incomplete and ignored pertinent information regarding wrongdoing in the city administration.

As for the people who want to see him step down, he said they should run for office if they think they can do a better job.

"They should put their names on the ballot or shut up," he said.

The city's response to the grand jury report was included in Monday night's agenda. Mayor Ramon Bawanan drafted the response, though City Attorney John Stovall said the council needed to vote on it because it technically comes from the city.

Bawanan's proposed response agreed with the grand jury's findings that the three councilmen should lose their seats, the council should conduct due diligence in searching for a new city manager and be more transparent in its decision making, and that officials should get more training in the Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law.

The motion failed to get council approval, stalling on a 2-2 vote, with Bawanan and Councilman Matt Beekman in favor and Crowder and Manley against. Bawanan said he will put the matter on the council's next meeting agenda, when he hopes a full council will be on hand to consider it.

Bawanan questioned Crowder on the logistics of teleconferencing into City Council meetings when he undergoes surgery on his right knee in San Francisco next month. The council earlier approved Crowder's request to take part from the hospital, with the caveat that he be in a place that is open to the public and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bawanan said a nurse from a local hospital contacted him and said that kind of access would not be allowed where she worked. So he called St. Mary's in San Francisco, where he was told there is a limit of two visitors per room.

"I heard there were a number of individuals who wanted to attend the meeting there," Bawanan said. He asked Crowder to supply some kind of documentation that they would be accommodated.

Crowder said later that he has assurances from the hospital that he will be moved to a larger room if needed and there will be room for anyone who wants to visit. He pointed out that one of the things the grand jury faulted Crowder for doing was trying to start an investigation by not going through the city manager.

"An investigation ? isn't that what the mayor just did by calling the hospital?" Crowder said.

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Grand jury: Scrap county accountability position

Kern's grand jury wants the county administrative office to scrap its new ethics and accountability officer position -- but that won't be recommended.

And at least two county supervisors think it's a bad idea.

"Scrap the grand jury," said Supervisor Don Maben.

The Kern County grand jury said in a report released this week that auditor-controller staff and the CAO administrative analyst should do the work of the county compliance and accountability officer in question.

The Board of Supervisors created the job in September 2008 to address several ethics concerns, the last straw being revelations of lax cash controls, sloppy contract review and other ethical lapses under former Public Health Department Director B.A. Jinadu.

The county hired Carl Breining to do such things as ensure departments implement auditor-controller recommendations and do ethics training. County Administrative Officer John Nilon said Thursday the job has expanded to include, among other things, ensuring compliance with new federal legislation designed to keep health records confidential and tracking and reporting on the county spending of stimulus money.

Breining's salary is $75,981 a year; his benefits take him to $125,992, Nilon said.

Jurors didn't fully report on what Breining's doing, Nilon said.

"The grand jury did a nice job in its analysis and research but perhaps it was too centralized, didn't get the breadth and depth of the responsibilities of the position," he said.

Maben said without Breining's position, the county wouldn't know whether departments implemented audit recommendations for a year, when the next audit was done.

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL, Californian government editor | Thursday, Feb 04 2010 04:47 PM

Last Updated Thursday, Feb 04 2010 04:47 PM

"We need to make sure they're implemented now, not later," Maben said.

He and Supervisor Michael Rubio pointed out Breining s going to recommend management fixes at government insurance administrator Kern Health Systems.

The grand jury said the audit division of the auditor-controller's office has been beefed up since the accountability officer job was created and it's following up on audit recommendations "in a timely manner." In fact, it said, its personnel can do most of the compliance and accountability officer functions.

Jurors noted Kern Medical Center and the Public Health Department have compliance officers.

The county administrative office has 90 days to respond to the grand jury report. Nilon said his office will not recommend that the position be cut.

Grand jury seeks volunteers to serve as jurors for next term in Solano County

Solano County Superior Court is looking for a few good jurors.

The Solano County civil grand jury is seeking volunteers to serve as jurors for the 2010-11 term.

People who have lived in the county for one year, are United States citizens and at least 18 years of age may apply.

Part of the judicial branch of government, the civil grand jury serves as a watchdog agency and may examine all aspects of county and city government, school districts, special districts, prisons and jails. The grand jury also may look into citizen complaints dealing with government inefficiency or misconduct.

Grand jury service involves a time commitment of 10 to 25 hours per week from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, and grand jurors may serve two consecutive one-year terms.

To apply, contact Jamielynne Harrison at 207-7302, or visit the court Web site at to obtain an online application.

Taft: Kern County Grand Jury to Release Taft City Council Report Tuesday Morning

Investigative Body Looking Into Real Estate Investment, Employee Raise Issue in Taft City Government
February 7, 2010
The Kern County Grand Jury will release a report on Taft City Government on Tuesday morning, February 9th.

The Grand Jury has been looking into several issues in Taft City government since September 2009, but the proceedings are secret and no issues that the government body has been looking into have been publically disclosed.

But city hall has been plagued with several internal problems such as accuations of employee harrassment by a city councilmen, alledged illegal employee pay raises by staff, and a real estate investment by City Manager Bob Gorson with Councilman Cliff Thompson.

At about the same time the Grand Jury began its investigation into city hall, which was dislcosed at the Taft Council meeting by Councilman Cliff Thompson last Fall, the council hired an outside attorney at a cost if $15,000 to look into the pay raise isssue, and a $200,000 real estate investment that city Manager Bob Gorson made with Councilman Cliff Thomspon.

The law firm issued an opinion that the investment was not a violation of the law, and that the pay raises were within the authority of City Manager Gorson.

The opinion differed with an earlier opinion issued by the city attorney that said that the pay raises were not authorized without council approval and were inviolation of the law.

The city has since hired another law firm, at a reported cost of $29,000 to look further into the two issues, and allegations of employee work place harassment against Councilman Thompson. Thompson has refused to meet with law firm investigators.

Taft City Council members received an advance copy of the report late Friday.

The Kern County Grand Jury is an independent body of 19 citizens, that investigates all aspects of county government, special districts and cities to ensure effective government and that public monies are being judiciously handled.

The Grand Jury may issue an accusation against public officials that may result in removal from office if upheld by the Court. The Grand Jury may also subpoena persons and/or records to obtain information on subjects under investigation.

The Grand Jury is sworn to complete confidentiality as it pertains to complaints, witnesses or content of investigative matters. Grand Jury members may not disclose any information they receive in their capacity as a Grand Juror unless permission is given.

At the end of its term, the Grand Jury issues a Final Report to the presiding Judge. These reports include recommendations and findings of each committee and are available to the general public and media.