Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kern County Supervisors' Discretionary Fund is $2.1 million

The Administration and Audit Committee (Committee) of the 2009-2010 Kern County
Grand Jury report addresses the operation of a funding source of the Kern County budget,
under the discretion and control of the Board of Supervisors (BOS), which the Committee
has identified as the “Supervisors’ Discretionary Fund” (SDF). For the fiscal year ending
June 30, 2009, there was approximately $2.1 million of taxpayer dollars in the SDF
which could be disbursed. The review of the SDF identified the following major
• the failure of the BOS to subject the anticipated disbursements from the
SDF to the normal budgeting approval process;
• oversight and reporting of the disbursements from the SDF is non existent;
• there is no policy addressing the funding of the SDF and unused funds are
carried over from year to year.
The Committee’s comments are not meant to detract from the fine work and reputation of
the many organizations which were the recipients of the questioned disbursements.
Nothing suggests participation was inconsistent with the procedures presumed to be in
place at the County level.
The Committee has not determined if the SDF should exist at all or if the SDF is to exist
in the future; however, through this report the Committee has attempted to suggest
safeguards which should be put in place.
The Administration and Audit Committee of the 2009-2010 Kern County Grand Jury
conducted an inquiry and investigation into the function of the Kern County Board of
Supervisors pursuant to California Penal Code §925.
During the investigation of the BOS, the Committee became aware the BOS was
directing County funds to various governmental units, agencies and non-profit
organizations within the County which appeared to be outside the normal budgetary
approval process. Subsequent investigation indicated the size of the Fund (SDF) for the
2009-2010 fiscal year to be approximately $2.1 million. The accumulated amounts are
not equally distributed among the Supervisors. At the beginning of the 2009-2010 fiscal
year each Supervisor had accumulated approximately the following amounts in the
Discretionary Fund: the First District Supervisor has $342,000, the Second District
Supervisor $212,000, the Third District Supervisor $409,000, the Fourth District
Supervisor $792,000 and the Fifth District Supervisor $291,000.
The official budget of the County of Kern contains no reference to any category of the
type which the Committee has identified as the “Supervisor’s Discretionary Fund” (SDF).
The Jury’s investigation indicated the amount of the SDF is included in a category titled
Special Services Budget unit 1040 which contains appropriations for a variety of services
and programs including Assessment Appeals Board expenses, contributions for employee
group life insurance premium, expenses for special studies and projects, consulting and
professional services expenses and general Board of Supervisors expenses not allocated
to individual supervisorial districts. In addition, the County’s contributions to private
non-profit agencies, the Kern Economic Development Corporation, Local Agency
Formation Commission, Kern Council of Governments and obligations incurred under
the County’s economic incentive program are also included in this budget unit.
As stated above when it came to the attention of the Committee an SDF existed, an
inquiry was made to the Auditor-Controller and to the County Administrative Office to
confirm the existence of the Fund. An interview of each County Supervisor was
conducted and the details of expenditures and the processes for disbursement were
discussed. Further, discussions were conducted with the County Administrative Officer
and County Counsel as to the operation of the SDF. Finally, the Committee reviewed
various documents and records pertaining to disbursements from the SDF.
1. Each Supervisor has an amount of appropriations set aside in an SDF over which
the Supervisor has sole authority in spending. Although the discretionary
spending is approved by the entire Board during public session it is usually a
Consent Agenda item and generally not publicly discussed.
2. The Grand Jury County Services and Special Districts Committee and the Audit
and Administrative Committee investigated a disbursement from the SDF to Sand
Canyon Volunteer Fire Department. The inquiry indicated $41,160 was disbursed
to the Sand Canyon Volunteer Fire Department (contract obligation between Kern
County and Sand Canyon Volunteer Fire Department) for the construction of a
100 x 100 foot prefabricated metal building to house fire equipment. During the
Grand Jury’s investigation it was disclosed the land for the building had not been
secured, the agreement with the fabricator specified a building 60 x 100 feet, the
Sand Canyon Volunteer Fire Department was not certified by the Kern County
Fire Department and the Department, through internal fighting, had two Boards of
Directors, each claiming to be the Certified Board (See Grand Jury report Sand
Canyon Volunteer Fire Department). The County has been made a party to a
Workers Compensation suit as a result of this involvement with Sand Canyon
Volunteer Fire Department.
3. The Committee investigated a disbursement of $9,000 from the SDF to the
Catholic Diocese of Fresno for school uniforms. The investigation indicated that
$10,080 was spent by Catholic Charities to secure the uniforms.
4. The Committee investigated disbursements to the El Tejon Unified School
District for fiscal years 2004-2005 ($9,600), 2005-2006 ($9,600), 2006-2007
($8,000), 2007-2008 ($9,600), 2008-2009 ($9,600) and 2009-2010 ($3,200 to
date). The Committee was informed this was for the Family Resource Center to
handle social services for the mountain communities.
5. The Sheriff’s Department, Mental Health Department, Kern Medical Center,
several Kern County Cities and numerous other organizations received
disbursements from the SDF over the five year period investigated.
6. Funding for the SDF has been sporadic. In some years $200,000 per Supervisor
has been allocated into the Fund. In other years the Fund has not had any
7. The Committee observed the SDF has been used to balance Supervisor’s budget
The Committee believes there is little, if any, general public knowledge concerning the
existence or size of the SDF. It appears selective/aggressive organizations or
departments, through word of mouth or past practices, have learned about the existence
of the SDF and informally asked or applied to a particular Supervisor for funding.
It should be noted no instances of obvious political abuse came to the attention of the
Committee during the investigation. However, the Committee believes the existing
process is unwise and unhealthy. Whether real or perceived, alliances are created and
favor curried by reason of such disbursements.
The Committee’s inquiries indicated that many County Departments, Special Districts
and other organizations have received various amounts over the five years of the SDF
investigated. Many of the disbursements should have gone through the normal budgetary
process as many of the monies went to Departments which have budgets.
Oversight exercised over the SDF is lax or non existent. As noted in the findings,
agreements which were secured were poorly drafted and the facts of the request were not
well researched. In addition, no follow up was performed to insure the funds were spent
in the manner intended.
The Committee recognizes the Supervisors will be reluctant to discontinue the use of the
SDF. The Committee believes the controls over the disbursement of the funds should be
strengthened. The funding of the SDF should be limited. Carryover of the SDF from
year to year and from Supervisor to succeeding Supervisor should be discontinued.
1. The oversight of funds disbursed from the SDF should be strengthened and there
should be a written agreement as to how the funds are to be spent and a report
prepared for review by all members of the BOS.
2. The SDF funding amount should be limited to $100,000 per year per each
Supervisor with no carryover of unused funds.
3. County Departments should not be allowed to use the SDF to circumvent the
budgeting process.
4. SDF should not be used to adjust for budget overdrafts.
The Committee reviewed and used excerpts from the Marin County 2000-2001 Grand
Jury report on the Supervisors’ Discretionary Fund in preparing this report.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors should post a copy of the report where it will be
available for public review.
Note: Present and past Kern County Grand Jury Final Reports and Responses can be
accessed through the Kern County Law Library and on the Kern County Grand Jury

The Napa County Grand Jury Article

We the people... order to insure the best possible government here in Napa County have volunteered for selection to serve on the Napa County Grand Jury for a one year term. Why don’t you join?

Since California became a state in the 1850s, Napa’s citizens have served on the Napa County Grand Jury (GJ). As you read this article, 19 of your neighbors are currently serving and writing reports on their investigations into the various government entities in the county and cities. These 19 started their quest last year by volunteering to serve for a one-year term (July 1-June 30). They met the basic qualifications which include: being a US citizen, citizen in Napa for at least a year, ordinary intelligence (the requirements used to say, “not decrepit”), and the ability to understand English. They submitted an application or were invited by the Court, met with the Judges for an interview, and ultimately were selected by their names being drawn from a drum. Nineteen of them were selected as jurors and 11 as alternates because some people do resign due to medical and other issues. The county pays for training provided by the California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA); the local CGJA chapter, made up of GJ alumni, also presents a mentoring program to help the jurors get started.

What exactly does the grand jury do? The California Penal Code specifies that the GJ make a confidential examination of the operations, accounts and records of officers, departments or functions of the county, cities or special districts—it has the responsibility and power to look at any aspect of local government. It is “we the people” in action. The GJ is not the typical criminal GJ you read about on the Federal level although it can be requested to assist the DA in reviewing a case. The GJ deals more with civil issues. Newly selected GJ members decides for itself—no one can tell them what to do—what areas they wish to investigate on our behalf. The GJ is independent of administrators, politicians and legislators. In recent years it has investigated many entities (see Report listing).

The GJ spends the first months of its one year term deciding what to investigate and how. The jurors then perform interviews with anyone they choose in local government (with the power of subpoena), reviewing records (with the power of subpoena). Finally they write and then make public a report with findings and recommendations. The topic of the investigation and all aspects such as the questions, names of the people interviewed, remain secret while in progress. Even the final report does not mention specific names of people interviewed in order to protect their confidentiality. Those are the rules of the GJ.

The final reports usually contain recommendations and ask the responsible entities to respond to these within 60 days for officials and 90 days for an agency. As an example, the 2007-2008 NCGJ recommended that a new fire station be built in Browns Valley and asked the municipal fire department and Mayor to respond. They did so collectively and agreed to go forward with plans for this station.

Since many reports are issued just before the GJ term expires, it falls to the next GJ to follow up to see if the recommendations have been implemented. Sometimes the next GJ decides to perform an additional investigation because the responses were found to be inadequate.

This system really allows citizens of “ordinary” intelligence to study the performance of their local government and to influence it in a powerful way. It is more satisfying than just complaining to one’s neighbors and friends about how bad things are. During the course of an investigation, jurors can learn and acknowledge exemplary performance as well as things not so pretty. It is a unique opportunity for a citizen.

The extent of the time required to accomplish this service varies but typically starts out taking 10-15 hours a week in the early stages and reaches a peak when the mustard blooms as reports are being written.

Those who serve describe it as one of the most meaningful and satisfying experiences in their lives and many ask to hold over for an additional year. Many former Grand Jurors work locally, as the Napa County Chapter of the CGJA, to support the Court in recruitment and orientation of new jurors with the goal of increasing diversity (age, geographic location, racial) and improve the effectiveness of the grand jury. The Superior Court has the responsibility of selecting and empanelling the GJ and the County for funding it.

You can apply today for service on the 2010-2011 Napa County Grand Jury : For more information contact the Court at 229-1110 or the Napa County Chapter at:

Recent Grand Jury Reports include:
• Napa Valley Transient Occupancy Tax
• County Jail and Juvenile Hall
• Child Welfare Services Department
• Office of the County Council
• Napa Valley Adult Probation Department
• Renovation of Farm Worker Housing Centers by the NV Housing Authority: A Case Study in the Failure of Government Stewardship**
• Napa Valley Unified School District
• Napa Valley Roads
• Retirement Benefits: County of Napa and City of Napa
• Napa County Emergency Communications
• Napa County Municipal Fire Departments
• Napa Sanitation District
• Napa Valley College
• St. Helena Unified School District
• Howell Mountain Elementary School District
• Pope Valley Union Elementary School District
** Received Excellence in Reporting Award from the CGJA 2008

By Daniel Mufson, President, Napa County Chapter, CGJA
Member of the 2007-2008 Napa County Grand Jury

900 case Backlog is a good case for the San Benito County civil grand jury

The backlog of more than 900 cases at San Benito County's Health and Human Services Agency (HHS) is a perfect candidate for investigation by the San Benito County Civil Grand Jury.

Last week HHS Director Kathryn Flores noted that the agency had more than 6,250 open cases (up from the last year's average of 5,230) in the Statewide Automated Welfare System (SAWS). However, the pressing problem was a 944 case backlog and files from 1,700 old cases (now reduced to 1,300) awaiting records/data transfer due to system limitations.

Put yourself in the shoes of an applicant: You apply for badly needed assistance only to discover that the system is overwhelmed and it could take weeks or months to have your application processed.

Flores reported that HHS has been working overtime and was arranging to get extra help from San Bernardino County as well as hiring additional caseworkers; however, it could take 4-6 months to train the new hires thoroughly.

According to the "Grand Jury serves a primary civil (non-criminal) function - namely the investigation of county and city government, special districts, and school districts. These civil investigations result in recommendations for improvements to save taxpayers' dollars and to improve services." If there is a service that needs improving, this is it.

In the case of HHS, the county and state are "joined at the hip." They work in close concert; the state sets the rules and, for the most part, provides funding and systems, while the county manages the program locally and delivers the services that enable benefits or contracts for them. Therefore, it is critical that the Civil Grand Jury to look at the entire system including state mandates and not merely the individual or county pieces.

If they find the state has some responsibility for the backlog due to system design, poor training materials, restrictions or any other reason they should refer their findings to the appropriate state agency and to the Milton Marks "Little Hoover" Commission.

The Little Hoover Commission is an independent state oversight agency created in 1962. It has a special charge, to wit: "unlike fiscal or performance audits, the Commission's studies look beyond whether programs comply with existing requirements, instead exploring how programs could and should function in today's world."

The original Consortium IV, commonly called C-IV (C-4), were four counties that came together in 1996 to develop the system. According to the usual over-hyped press release, "The C-IV System was successfully implemented by October 2004. The System is a user-friendly, customer-focused, on-line and fully integrated information system." The new system went into use in San Benito County at the beginning of November 2009 and that was when the economic crash hit - bad timing. Still, no system that requires months of training for experienced caseworkers can be classified as 'user-friendly.'

Director Flores told me that the system is working well in those counties where it has been in use for five years. Regardless, ease of training and use are key issues when it comes to systems that have been in development for many years - after all, they often become obsolete by the time they hit the field.

Some new sets of eyes from outside the system may be able to recommend constructive improvements, identify hidden bottlenecks and even lay the groundwork for better results the next time the state fields a system - there will be a next time. In the meantime, the aid programs are available, but they will not do much good for those just waiting in line.

Marty Richman is a Hollister resident.

Fresno Co. gets one-two punch on budget crisis

Fresno County government got a double dose of bad news Tuesday -- the grand jury declared the county's pension plan unsustainable just as county supervisors learned they face deep cuts next year, driven in part by soaring pension costs.

The county's pension costs are expected to rise by tens of millions of dollars each year and deprive taxpayers of government services, the grand jury said in a report issued Tuesday.

The report offered little new information about the pension problem, which has been looming for years. But it offered a painful reminder as supervisors learned they face a $23 million shortfall next budget year.

The county will need to eliminate at least 330 out more than 7,000 jobs, County Administrative Officer John Navarrette told supervisors Tuesday.

That amounts to nearly 9% of the county's discretionary spending this budget year. Most of the cuts are expected to come through layoffs, and not elimination of unfilled positions.

The county has a budget gap in part because it has fallen behind in contributions to the employee retirement plan and now must catch up.

Supervisors on Tuesday approved, as expected, a 13% increase in the county's contribution next budget year, to $143 million.

That doesn't include an additional $34 million the county will pay next year on debt for bonds the county used to bail out the pension system eight years ago. The county's pension bond debt for the next 24 years: more than $1 billion.

The grand jury report outlines well-established reasons for the county's pension debt -- huge investment losses and big benefit increases -- and criticizes supervisors for not showing more leadership on the issue.

Supervisors still were reviewing the report Tuesday, but some of them agreed with the key conclusion.

"I'm really coming to the conclusion that we don't have a sustainable program," Supervisor Judy Case said.

But Supervisor Henry Perea said officials shouldn't worry too much, pointing to a turnaround in the economy.

After losing about $1 billion in the stock market in recent years, the county's pension plan has recovered about $600 million of those losses, retirement officials said.

The county's biggest employee group, Service Employees International Union Local 521, criticized the report.

"We're not saying the plan is in great shape," said union spokesman James Geluso. "We're saying it's not as bad as the grand jury makes it sound. Things will get better."

The county has created lower benefit packages in recent years, but as the grand jury noted, the lack of new hires has meant little cost savings.

The grand jury laid blame for the pension debt at the feet of supervisors. They failed to say no to union demands for higher benefits, the grand jury said.

About 10 years ago, the county settled a lawsuit brought by employee groups over the way benefits were calculated and the county's failure to make contributions to the plan some years.

Then-Gov. Gray Davis vetoed the settlement amount, but county officials got around that by setting up a supplemental benefit. The result: Fresno County has one of the most generous retirement plans in the state, officials say.

In 1998, a county employee could retire after 30 years of service at age 60 and receive 70% of his pay, according to the grand jury report. Ten years later, an employee in the same situation would receive 98% of his pay.

Echoing criticisms others have made, the grand jury noted that the employees negotiating the settlement for the county stood to benefit from the increased benefits. The grand jury recommended the county set up a commission with employee groups and outside experts to examine the pension crisis.

At the direction of the board, Navarrette recently agreed to create such a task force, but said he wouldn't include outside representation until he worked with union groups. He said he wanted to get concessions before adding citizens to the task force.

The grand jury criticized county officials for failing to come up with more decisive action for pension reform than the proposed reduction of county staff. To close the pension gap, the county would have to fire 1,000 employees, the report says.

At the same time, the grand jury acknowledged that key pension reforms -- such as modifying the county's defined-benefit plans -- would require state legislative approval. The report asks supervisors to lobby for such changes.

Taft City Council Drafts Response To Grand Jury Report

TAFT, Calif. -- The City Council went through a scathing Grand Jury report line-by-line to address the findings and decide on whether to implement the recommendations jury members suggested.

Roughly half of the findings were statements of fact, and agreed upon unanimously, but the ones that offered opinions on whether City Manager Bob Gorson had the authority to grant pay raises to city department heads without an explicit resolution of the City Council were sharply debated.

The Grand Jury sided with City Attorney Kathy Gibson, who argued the city council had the final say on approving pay raises. But a second opinion obtained by the city from an independent attorney argued the council's budgetary approval process was enough guidance to allow Gorson to negotiate raises on his own.

The ambiguity over the pay raises was solved a few weeks ago, when the council approved a package of resolutions explicitly stating that the council has the final say on authorizing staff pay.

The jury offered eight recommendations, including more training for council members, an investigation into whether the raises were a gift of public funds, and to hold Gorson accountable for his actions.

Most of the other recommendations require further analysis, Mayor Dave Noerr said. That includes what to do with Gorson, who will be party to a personnel evaluation during closed session of the city council next week.

The council is drafting a procedures manual, which was one of the recommendations, but said much of the training recommended by the Grand Jury has already been completed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fresno council member touts new loan policies

Disputing a key claim of two recent grand jury reports, Fresno City Council Member Lee Brand on Friday said city officials did not have sufficiently strong policies to compel the provision of more detailed information on two loan-guarantee requests that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Brand said that problem has been resolved by the council's approval last year of his Better Business Act.

In a five-page written response to the grand jury released publicly Friday, Brand said the act "will substantially improve future evaluations of public-private ventures."

The grand jury issued two blistering reports this month, one on the disastrous Granite Park recreation-retail project in central Fresno and the other on the failed Fresno Metropolitan Museum in downtown.

The city guaranteed a $5.2 million bank loan to Granite Park Kids Foundation in 2004 and a $15 million bank loan to The Met in 2007. The cash-strapped city had to pay off both loans when they went into default.

Both grand jury reports criticize city staff, for failing to use common business sense in researching the loan-guarantee requests, and elected officials -- who had the only decision-making power that counted -- for failing to insist on more complete information.

But the reports also take City Hall to task for failing to follow its own policies designed to safeguard taxpayers when private ventures ask for city financial support.

The report on Granite Park, for example, discussed City Code Section 7-912, which requires applicants seeking city help to provide detailed financial information and undergo background investigations.

"All elected and appointed City officials interviewed by the grand jury appeared to be unaware" of the code's requirements, the report stated.

The report on The Met stated that the city's Economic Development Policy and Program requires a developer seeking city help to provide a detailed business plan.

"The Council may waive the requirement for the business plan," the report stated. "However, it was not done in this instance."

Emphasizing that he was speaking only for himself, Brand methodically reviewed each grand jury claim and explained why he believes the old policies were inadequate to the complex task of financial research.

For example, he said Section 7-912 "is only half a page long and provides minimal criteria for selecting and evaluating private sector proposals ..." He said the ordinance fails to require an appraisal of property used as collateral in a loan guarantee.

Brand said the most glaring shortcoming of the Economic Development Policy is that it permits the City Council to waive the business-plan requirement.

By contrast, he said, the Better Business Act, with its more stringent and detailed requirements, does a better job of protecting the public's interests while doing nothing to discourage well-designed private-sector proposals from coming to the city's attention.

Also, Brand said, "it is not the policy or mission of the City to be a lender of last resort for private sector business proposals."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Grand jury criticizes Fresno over troubled museum

Museum staff announced in January that the Met was closing abruptly because of financial troubles.

The city owns the downtown building after putting up the $15 million to cover overruns after the museum's $28 million renovation went over budget.

A grand jury report says Fresno city leaders took unnecessary risks with taxpayer money by granting the now-defunct Fresno Metropolitan Museum a $15 million loan.

The report issued Tuesday says the city showed poor judgment in putting up the loan.

It found that city officials were so eager to approve the project they didn't follow policies requiring background checks on applicants seeking financial help.

Former City Council Member Brian Calhoun says despite the risks, the council made the right decision.


Information from: The Fresno Bee,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fresno Grand Jury Report Criticizes City Over Handling Of Met

For the second week in a row, a Fresno County Grand Jury is criticizing Fresno City leaders for their handling of a multi–million dollar project.

On Tuesday, the Grand Jury released a report slamming the city for it's handling of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum.

The report claims the city lacked "diligence" in approving a $15 million loan for the museum back in 2007, citing a "desire to approve the project in spite of its possible risks."

The money was used for a renovation project.

The reports also found that:

* Members of the public were not sufficiently informed about the impact the loan could have on the city.
* Fresno City officials did not get a business plan from the Met before guaranteeing the loan.
* No background checks were performed on the Met principals, as required by City Code
* No appraisal of the property was done prior to approval of the loan.
* An investigation was not done on why the Met project was 100% over budget.

City Council members told the grand jury they felt pressure from community leaders to approve the loan, and didn't request more information because, "the met proposal was going to be approved anyway."

In May of 2009, the Met defaulted on the loan, which caused the city to have to pay it off using general funds.

By January of 2010 the museum was forced to close it's doors, after officials concluded their monthly expense could not be met by their monthly revenue

Monday, March 15, 2010

Grand Jury report Blames City of Fresno

The ballparks at the failed Granite Park Development will continue to belong to the City of Fresno.

An auction held for the Central Fresno property on Friday, failed to attract any bidders. That means the property will remain under the ownership of the city.

The City of Fresno has owned the property, after the foundation that originally owned the land defaulted on loans.

The parks haven't been used in over a year.

Development on Granite Park began back in 2002, when the developer approached the city about making the 42-acre parcel of land an indoor and outdoor sports complex.

However that vision never fully came to be. Last year, the development ran into trouble following claims the developer did not pay bills and workers' wages.

A Fresno Grand Jury report, released earlier this week, blamed the City of Fresno for the development's woes. The report said the development never should have been approved by the City, citing reasons such as not having a project manager, lack of conformance with city codes, not requiring the developer to produce a business plan and a conflict of interest with the city's controller and the project developer.

The City of Fresno has 90 days to respond to the Grand Jury report.

Hughson mayor, employee exonerated by Civil Grand Jury

By Maegan Martens
Education Reporter
209-634-9141, ext. 2015
POSTED March 12, 2010 10:11 p.m.

A new chapter in the on-going drama that is the Hughson City Council was released earlier this week when the Civil Grand Jury found that Mayor Ramon Bawanan and Management Analyst Dominque Spinale were not guilty of “wrongdoing.”
A grievance was filed with the Civil Grand Jury by the Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3 focusing on the actions of Mayor Bawanan and Spinale.
The report was made after Union Representative Doug Gorman filed a grievance with the city on Nov. 10, 2009, against Bawanan and Spinale for “serious wrongdoings” and actions that were “criminal in nature.” Bawanan turned over the grievance to the Civil Grand Jury to investigate his own actions in question at the Nov. 23, 2009 council meeting.
“If I am guilty of anything, I am guilty of not having a hidden agenda,” Bawanan said at the Feb. 23 City Council meeting. “I am guilty of playing by the rules.”
In their report released on Thursday, the Civil Grand Jury found that Bawanan and Spinale did nothing illegal nor acted improperly.
The union accused Bawanan and Spinale of seven instances of wrongdoing including filing a false police report, overstepping their boundaries by changing city building locks and refusing to provide the union with requested information.
During their investigation, the Civil Grand Jury reviewed documents provided by the City of Hughson and interviewed city staff, Bawanan and other persons of interest under oath, according to the Civil Grand Jury report.
The Civil Grand Jury reported on six findings, all of which found Bawanan and Spinale innocent of all seven charges alleged in the grievance filed by the union.
Hughson City Council member Thom Crowder said he believes the Civil Grand Jury — who found himself, council member Doug Humphreys and council member Ben Manley guilty of violating the Brown Act, the Hughson Municipal Code and the Fair Political Practices Code — is part of a conspiracy.
“There is a conspiracy and it’s not with Humphreys, Manley or myself,” Crowder said. “I’m here to protect the community.”
Crowder said he wasn’t surprised with the results of the second Civil Grand Jury findings that focused on Bawanan and Spinale. He went on to say believes the reason why the Civil Grand Jury had no findings on the two is because Bawanan works for the District Attorney’s Office.
“The grand jury is unconstitutional,” Crowder said. “They have little credibility and they did a bad job of investigating.”
Crowder said he provided the Civil Grand Jury with documents supporting sexual harassment claims committed by City Manager Joe Donabed, violations by Hughson Public Works Director David Chase and documentation of John Doe checks addressed to the city.
“There is nothing fishy going on in the city,” Crowder said. “It is factual. It is all backed up with documentation.”
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

SB County could get additional grand juries

The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County could have up to three civil grand juries impaneled under state legislation being considered that one supervisor says could serve as a meaningful reform.

The bill, introduced last month by Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley at the request of the county, would allow two more panels with the ability to investigate local government.

It would be up to the presiding judge of the San Bernardino County Superior Court to decide whether additional juries are needed and how long its members would serve. Similar legislation has been approved in Los Angeles County.

Under existing law, San Bernardino County has one grand jury made up of 19 members with one-year terms tasked with preparing an annual report on local government.

Separately, prosecutors can impanel special criminal grand juries to seek indictments.

The proposal is the latest reform suggested in the wake of a corruption scandal that has led to the arrest of five former county officials and raised allegations of bribery and conspiracy.

Last July, Supervisor Neil Derry introduced a proposal for an ethics commission in which an independent panel would be empowered to investigate elected officials and fine them for campaign finance violations. But the proposal has stalled since a September workshop where other supervisors expressed ambivalence about the idea.

Last month, District Attorney Mike Ramos proposed campaign-contribution limits, regulating political action committees and prohibiting supervisors from interfering in staff decisions. He said the recommendations were based on observations made during his office's three-year investigation of corruption.

Supervisor Paul Biane said creating additional grand juries could be an effective and inexpensive solution. He said it would spread the workload and allow juries additional time to investigate matters, addressing two common complaints raised by past grand juries.

"I look at the grand jury model, if expanded upon, is maybe what San Bernardino County needs instead of spending a couple million dollars a year on an ethics commission," Biane said.

He added that all the reform proposals deserve equal consideration and are not necessarily competitive.

Derry said adding more grand juries is no replacement for an ethics commission. Grand juries cannot issue fines, offer ethics advice or provide the continual oversight an ethics commission would, he said.

"It still operates under the courts and has limited scope," he said.

Charles Umeda, deputy district attorney and legal adviser to the grand jury, said while the grand jury has a greater workload and more complex cases in recent years it's still able to handle the investigations.

However, due to budget constraints grand jurors, who are paid a nominal stipend, only work three days a week, he said.

"I think the current grand jury could do more work if given more resources," Umeda said.

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said additional grand jury panels could be helpful. But for meaningful reform to occur, he said it's not enough.

Grand juries can only issue advisory reports with cities and counties free to ignore their recommendations, Stern said. He noted that last year's grand jury suggested that supervisors form an ethics commission and enact campaign contribution limits.

The grand jury bill will be considered by the Assembly Public Safety Committee later this month and could be considered by the full Legislature by August, said John Sobel, legislative director for Cook.

Reach Imran Ghori at 951-368-9558 or

Grand jury offers chance to probe into government

Maybe you can't beat City Hall and other government agencies. But, as a grand jury member, you can embarrass, educate and whip them into shape.

I bring this up because the Fresno County grand jury is looking for members for the 2010-11 term. Seventy-nine people have applied, but Judge Robert Oliver hopes the number will exceed 100 before Friday's deadline.

The 19-member grand jury does serious work -- as was demonstrated again last week with a no-holds-barred examination of the city of Fresno's costly taxpayer investment in the failed Granite Park project.

"Grand juries are an important part of the way we do business in California and around the United States," Oliver says. "They act as the eyes and ears of the public."

But I imagine that grand jury service is fun, too. It's not every day that rank-and-file citizens get subpoena power and can compel elected officials and bureaucrats to answer their questions.

I mean, wouldn't you like to dig deeper into the turkey that was City Hall's $15 million loan guarantee to the now-closed Fresno Metropolitan Museum?

Wouldn't you want to really know who and what are responsible for the financial troubles, conflicts of interests and terrible decisions made by local boards and officials throughout the county?

And, even better, publish what you find out?

Sounds like a slam-dunk -- even though the work, which averages 20-25 hours a week, comes with a meager $15-a-day stipend and mileage reimbursement.

To the credit of the grand jury and judges assigned to work with it, past panels haven't shied from casting a critical eye on their work.

A few years ago, the grand jury began regularly issuing single reports -- as it did on Granite Park -- instead of bundling them together at the end of the term.

It also stepped up recruiting efforts so that the panel better reflects the county's age, ethnic and geographic diversity. In short, the grand jury largely had consisted of older, white residents living in north Fresno. It would love to have jurors of all colors and ages from throughout the county.

"The public and the media now give more attention to one report than when they all come out at the end of the year, and this is benefiting the community," Oliver says.

"By encouraging a cross-section of the community to apply, it is broadening the life experience and perspective brought to the grand juror table."

Now, a few words about what to expect if you sign up. The application will be reviewed and you may be interviewed by a judge. Then the names of the top 30 candidates will go into a hopper. About 19 will be blindly selected, with the actual number determined by how many current jurors decide to return for a second term.

Applications are available by calling Sherry Spears, juror and public services manager for Fresno County Superior Court, at (559) 457-1605, or by visiting

One last thing. You can help the grand jury by sharing knowledge of government shenanigans. All tips are kept confidential. There's a form on the grand jury Web site.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Grand Jury Report Criticizes City of Fresno Over Granite Park Development

Grand Jury Report Criticizes City of Fresno Over Granite Park Development

Posted: March 9, 2010 11:36 AM
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A new Fresno County Grand Jury report is criticizing the City of Fresno for how it handled the failed Granite Park Development.

The report, which was released on Tuesday, says the city "failed to perform appropriate diligence" when reviewing the project.

It says this failure has exposed the city to the possible loss of $5 million in General Funds.

In it's findings, the Grand Jury claims the city did not require the developer, The Zone Sports Center, LLC and Granite Park Kids Foundation, to produce a business plan.

It also claims the City Council should have demanded background and financial information on the project prior to voting. According to Fresno City Code adopted back in 1985, anyone asking for financial assistance from the city, must make this information available to the Council.

City officials interviewed about this lack of follow through told the Grand Jury they were unaware of the requirements.

Other "red flags" not looked into by the city include the "developers lack of experience, prior failure to develop site, inability to obtain private financing without a guarantor and existing liens on the property."

The report also notes that no project manager was ever designated for the project by the city.

While investigating the issue, the Grand Jury also learned the city destroyed audio and video recordings from the council meeting in question-which occurred more than four years ago.

In it's recommendations, the report recommended the City comply with all City Code, that it employ due diligence to similar requests, that it retain videos and audio recording of all meeting indefinitely and provide ethics training for all employees.