Wednesday, June 30, 2010

San Joaquin's grand jury issues 13 reports

By The Record
June 29, 2010 12:00 AM

STOCKTON — The elections process would be more effective if county residents voted strictly by mail, the San Joaquin County grand jury said in its 2009-10 report. And taxpayers could save up to $1 million by casting their ballots that way.

The research into a mail-only voting system was described in one of 13 reports the outgoing grand jury made public Monday.

Among other things, the jury also analyzed policies and procedures of the county Housing Authority, criticized Child Protective Services for its complaint process, called for the censure of three San Joaquin Delta College trustees, examined Stockton's follow-up on municipal audits and questioned appointments to boards and commissions.

The grand jury also released follow-up details on nine reports from 2008-09 and issued reports on the operations of law and justice facilities.

SLO Grand jury shines light on solar power

Panel urges local governments to better promote solar power and energy efficiency
By David Sneed |

Cities and the county should do more to promote solar power and make buildings energy-efficient, which would reduce energy costs and create jobs, the county’s civil grand jury has concluded.

A report by the grand jury urges local governments in the county to invest in solar power — rooftop panels in particular — and energy efficiency.

“To make these gains locally will take a lot more than talk, however,” the report concluded. “Bold leadership is a must.”

The grand jury said the county should use grants and other incentives to encourage the installation of solar panels.

The county’s sunny climate is ideal for photovoltaic generation, the report noted.

James Caruso, a senior county planner, said his department has not yet seen the report. However, the county is already doing many of its recommendations, including creating a county position to oversee renewable energy programs. The Board of Supervisors recently created such a position and filled it from within with planner Trevor Keith.

The county also recently updated its open-space element, which encourages all kinds of solar and other renewable-energy projects in the county, Caruso said.

As evidence that the county is not yet exploiting its solar potential, the report cites county statistics that show only a fraction of homes in the county are being outfitted with solar power. There are some 114,000 single-family homes in the county, yet only 214 of them applied for solar installations in 2009, and the number was only 167 in 2008.

“With 114,000 potential rooftops, clearly solar energy is not being fully utilized,” the report stated.

The report acknowledges that two large-scale commercial solar projects are proposed for the southeastern corner of the county. They are undergoing county planning review.

These are controversial, however, based on their potential impact on endangered species and opposition by some neighbors.

Read more:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shasta County Grand jury calls county animal shelter unhealthy and beyond repair

The Shasta County animal shelter on Radio Lane in Redding is beyond repair, the 19-member Shasta County grand jury agreed today.

Calling the shelter, which is more than 55 years old, inadequate and unhealthy, the grand jury said in its annual report today that the county should consider contracting with the Haven Humane Society, when funding becomes available, for the sheltering, care and licensing off all county animals.

Mayra Morris, the shelter’s manager, agreed today that the shelter is indeed old and dilapidated and that a new one is needed.

“Yes, this is not the Taj Mahal,” she said.

But she opposes the county contracting with Haven, saying she believes her staff does an excellent job, saying the shelter’s adoption rate is about 78 percent.

She also took issue with several findings in the grand jury report, which she said were inaccurate.

“I was disturbed with the whole report,” Morris said. “I wish the jury would have consulted with me more.”

Although the 2006-07 grand jury recommended in its report that a new animal shelter be built, the 2009-10 grand jury said that “nothing has been done to improve the facility or working conditions.”

But in comparison, it said, the Haven Humane Society facility is larger, well maintained, well organized and offers a wide range of services.

“As a first step, Shasta County should consider an agreement with Haven Humane Society to temporarily house county animals and livestock, excluding high-risk animals, during periods of crowding,” the grand jury report said.

But, it also says, when there’s money available Haven should shelter all the county’s animals on a permanent basis.

When the grand jury toured the facility, the report said, jurors found no isolation area for sick animals.

“During the inspection, several sick animals were outside, unsheltered and tied to a fence,” the report said.

But Morris said those dogs were only tied to the fence for 15 minutes before the facility opened as their outdoor and sheltered runs were being cleaned.

Still, the report said, poor air circulation between the main animal population and sick animals continues to put healthy animals at risk of contracting disease.

“Having no air conditioning in the facility when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees has a potential adverse effect on the animals, workers and the public,” the grand jury report says.

And, it says, due to the urine-saturated surfaces, the stench in the animal shelter cannot be eliminated by normal cleaning.

“This creates a potential health hazard to all involved,” the report concludes.

According to the grand jury’s report, $3 million had been set aside toward the projected cost of a new shelter, which is about $8 million.

Due to economic conditions, however, some of that money was transferred to save 16 jobs in the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, and the remainder was transferred to the county’s general fund, the report said.

Morris disputed that claim, saying the $3 million still remains available for the construction of a new animal shelter, which she believes would now cost less than $8 million due to the economy.

San Joaquin County Grand Jury: Censure Delta board members

Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 12:00 am

By Layla Bohm, Maggie Creamer and Ross Farrow
News-Sentinel Staff Writers | 0 comments

Several San Joaquin County Delta College board members should be censured for violating rules, the county Grand Jury ruled.

Grand jurors, who released their final reports Monday, opened 15 new investigations over the past year and followed up on nine open investigations from previous juries. They also visited and reviewed county law enforcement agencies and holding centers, including a prison in Tracy.

The civil Grand Jury took on new cases that included whether the public appointment process is fair, allegations of negligence at the county-run children’s center and discipline at Delta College, and they briefly discussed courthouse security in light of a recent attack on a judge.

Overall, the Grand Jury reviewed 50 complaints, 19 of which were not within the jury’s jurisdiction. The full, 180-page report is available at Some of the jury’s investigations involved:

VIOLATION OF BROWN ACT: Delta College trustees violated the state’s open record law in two separate incidents, according to the Grand Jury report. The jury called for censure of the trustees involved in both violations.

Censure is used rarely, college president Raul Rodriguez said, but he believes it is appropriate if the violations of the act occurred.

“It’s basically public embarrassment or humiliation. You have your name out there with a violation. There is no real teeth or consequences,” Rodriguez said.

Part of the problem with enforcing the jury recommendations is that the report did not include the names of the trustees who participated in the incidents, instead labeling them as Trustee A, Trustee B, etc. He said the jury is supposed to be sending a letter to the college’s lawyers with the names of the trustees.

“I don’t know why they are being so secretive,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t name names.”

The report states that three trustees violated the act by discussing a board issue outside of a public meeting.

One trustee contacted two others and asked them to vote with him or her when an issue came up before the board. When the trustee contacted two of the other board members, they reported that member to the Grand Jury.

The other incident happened when two trustees disclosed confidential information from a closed session in a public meeting even though other trustees attempted to stop them.

Besides censure of the trustees, the other main recommendation includes holding mandatory training on the Brown Act quarterly.

COURTHOUSE SECURITY: In light of the March 4, 2009, attack on Judge Cinda Fox by Lodi murder suspect David Paradiso, the Grand Jury asked the Sheriff’s Office for its “Post Incident Review” while investigating court and jail security.

Before that incident, custody staffing levels had been reduced, the Grand Jury wrote in its report. There were not enough deputies in the courthouse, and they can be distracted due to the high volume of cases and paperwork. Bailiffs have been told to slow down and concentrate on courtroom security, the report says.

However, the Sheriff’s Office declined to release the full report to grand jurors because the District Attorney’s Office is still investigating. The matter fell to the District Attorney because a Lodi police detective shot and killed the assailant, and prosecutors take the lead in all officer-involved shootings.

Though the District Attorney’s Office in January notified Detective Eric Bradley in writing that his shooting was justified, they have not released their final report.

COMMITTEES: The Grand Jury determined that the Lodi City Council, other city councils in the county, Board of Supervisors and local school districts fail to actively publicize their openings.

The Grand Jury recommends that:

• Supervisors, city councils and school boards advertise committee openings through Twitter, movie theaters, TV, radio and announcements at public events. • Annually review appointee performance. • Develop a process to remove someone from a committee. • Perform criminal and credit background checks prior to appointment.

The following agencies must respond to the Grand Jury recommendations within 90 days: the Lodi, Stockton, Lathrop, Tracy, Manteca, Ripon and Escalon city councils, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, San Joaquin County Office of Education, the Lodi, Lincoln, Manteca, Stockton and Tracy unified school districts and the San Joaquin Delta College Board of Trustees.

STUDENT DISCIPLINE PROCEDURES: The jury heard a complaint about a student who was suspended for a year after Trudy Walton, the vice president of student services at San Joaquin Delta College, received several reports about “inappropriate behavior/disturbing communication/harassment toward Delta College students.”

The male student said he made comments critical of the vice president and was complaining about the student discipline procedure.

The student said Walton set up a meeting to discuss the complaints she had received, and he arrived at noon. He was then informed that his appointment was at 11 a.m.

The jury recommended that the college set up a policy requiring written confirmation for misconduct meetings. It also recommended that an alternative official who had not been criticized by the student should deal with the discipline to “avoid the appearance of Impropriety.”

Rodriguez said the trustees had already started reviewing their procedures.

“We realize there are some things that have been there a while that are out of date,” he said.

MORADA MOSQUE: The Grand Jury ruled that the Morada Area Association’s complaint about the county’s approval of a Muslim mosque in Morada is “without merit.”

The Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors complied with the California Environmental Quality Act and gave adequate notice of public hearings, according to the Grand Jury. The Board of Supervisors approved the project in 2009.

The county approved a 14,000-square-foot mosque to swerve up to 282 people on a 2-acre site on the eastern Highway 99 frontage road between Morada and Hammer lanes.

CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES: Some people complained that county social workers did not act in the best interest of children who were removed from homes.

The Grand Jury found that parents do not know how to report possible social worker misconduct, and that Child Protective Services doesn’t have a policy for dealing with such complaints. Jurors recommended that the agency create such a policy and make the complaint process public in print and online.

San Mateo County Grand jury takes on touchy subject: illegal immigration

By John Horgan
San Mateo County Times
Posted: 06/28/2010 11:18:49 PM PDT
Updated: 06/28/2010 11:18:50 PM PDT

It's been the elephant in the San Mateo County living room for some time. But few policymakers or politicians have been willing to even admit it's there.

That changed last week. Suddenly, the controversial matter of illegal immigration was front and center, placed there by the county's civil grand jury.

The sensitive subject came up in a grand jury report on escalating public health care costs. The recommendation concluded in part that one way to trim those expenses would be to halt heavily subsidized non-emergency health care for uninsured illegal residents of the Peninsula.

The county, the report noted, is one of the few in California that provides such services for illegal immigrants.

Earlier this decade, as a county task force studied ways to handle health care for the uninsured, a survey found that there were about 40,000 targeted adults who did not have health insurance.

Of those, it was estimated, about half were not U.S. citizens. How many of those were illegal immigrants was unclear.

Those figures were for adults only. Children — whether here illegally or not, or whether they were U.S. citizens born to parents here illegally — were not included because they already had a functioning health care safety net financed by the county and its taxpayers.

When questions were raised about the impact of illegal immigration on the county's increasingly ambitious and well-intentioned health care effort at that time, there was little reaction.

One county honcho simply dismissed the topic as "a hot-button issue that comes and goes." End of discussion. After all, the economy was strong. Unemployment was low. Tax revenues were flowing.

Then things changed. Today, the county and state are hurting big time. It's as bad economically as any of us have seen in our lifetimes.

That appears to be one of the rationales for the grand jury's recommendations, which also include cutbacks in services for certain categories of the poor and other uninsured adults.

Naturally, there were immediate cries of pain. Humanitarian concerns were paramount. If these folks are here, runs the logic, their medical needs should be addressed.

If not, supporters of the illegal residents believe, a lack of preventive care and prenatal assistance will only lead to public health costs for the population at large. And, besides, it's the right thing to do in a civilized society.

Maybe so. But there can be little doubt that the county's generous health-benefits package can be a magnet for people without means and without proper immigration status.

If nothing else, the grand jury recommendations deserve a thorough and unbiased discussion. However, early returns indicate that such an honest conversation may not be in the political cards. For the county's taxpayers — and legal residents — that would be a shame.

Devastating critique

Another hot topic throughout the county continues to draw fire on all sides of the debate.

High-speed rail, a proposed system that would run from San Diego to Sacramento and San Francisco, is front and center now. The project would become an integral part of an expanded Caltrain corridor.

This month, Liam Julian, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, produced a lengthy and devastating critique of the many questionable assumptions involved in the plans for high-speed rail nationally and, in particular, Florida and California.

It can be found at However, Julian's work does not address a key issue for Peninsula residents: High-speed rail's intimate relationship with Caltrain.

El Dorado County Grand jury blasts City Council in annual report

“Major changes” are needed to a South Lake Tahoe City Council that is constantly bickering, routinely drops controversial issues, and operates at a “barely functional level,” according to the 2009-2010 El Dorado County grand jury report.

The report, posted to the grand jury's Web site this weekend, recommends further training for South Lake Tahoe's elected officials and senior staff, taking stronger stances towards inappropriate conduct, changing the city's nepotism policy and adhering to the city's written policies rather than using historically accepted practices.

The report also recommends the city hire an independent consultant to review city practices and make a report available to District Attorney Vern Pierson for possible legal action.

Under California law, the City Council has 90 days to respond to El Dorado County Superior Court's presiding judge, Suzanne Kingsbury, regarding the report's findings and recommendations.

The grand jury is composed of 19 citizen volunteers who conducted “extensive investigations” over the past year, according to a letter from Foreman Rene Van Asten in the report.

Highlights from the report include:

— “Constant hostility and bickering among members of the City Council and their unprofessional conduct has resulted in a consistent 3/2 split vote creating two 'camps' of Council members. The voting often appears to be the result of Council members pursuing personal agendas rather than operating in the best interests of the City. The bickering and nitpicking between Council members during meetings, combined with hostile comments to media outlets and behind the scenes ‘back biting' has resulted in the failure to address routine and important business entrusted to the Council by the citizens of the City of South Lake Tahoe.”

— “Council members and senior staff are unwilling or afraid to address and deal with the existing hostile work environment. In a matter that involved an inappropriate written poem (involving sexual comments from one Council member to another), the City Manager and the City Council failed to take action until questioned by the Grand Jury.”

— “When a City Attorney recommended that the City Finance Director be placed under the direct control of the City Council, rather than the City Manager, the Finance Director expressed strong opposition. This action came after the City Attorney had challenged the Finance Director about the propriety and amounts of an expenditure made by the City. This move for the Finance Director to be placed under City Council control was a suggestion that had been made by a City Council member in prior years. The City Manager, fearing loss of supervisory control of the Finance Director, advised the City Council that the Finance Director would probably file an official complaint against the City Attorney and the City charging them with harassment if the move took place. This statement was viewed by some employees as a threat by the City Manager.”

— “During a contentious June 30, 2009 City Council meeting it was suggested that the City Manger should resign. Testimony received indicated the City Manager later threatened to file a Workers Compensation claim, hire outside counsel, and sue the City.”

— “The City Manager used intimidation to retain control over parts of government. The City Manager attempted to keep the Finance Director under his direct control. He informed the City Attorney that he could make the Finance Director's complaints against the City Attorney “go away” if the City Attorney dropped the suggestion to move the Finance Director under the direct control of the City Council as an ‘at will' employee.”

— “Based on testimony received by the Grand Jury the public impression is that the City of South Lake Tahoe has a 'bush league' City Council, which is incapable of maintaining confidences, operates in an atmosphere of intimidation, and is frequently distracted from important City business by personal feuds. The Council operates at an inconsistent and barely functional level.”

— “Prior to being interview by the Grand Jury, some employees were counseled by the City Attorney on how to testify in a manner that was designed to limit the information that the Grand Jury would receive. City employees who had been subpoenaed to testify before the Grand Jury were instructed by memo that they should not volunteer any information, and they should not attempt to refresh their memories when asked about specific events or topics. The memorandum and the counseling go beyond normal and acceptable witness preparation for testimony in Grand Jury proceedings.”

— “The City's government employs a notable number of married couples and family members among its employees, commission members, and elected officials. Some of the related employees are in positions of significant influence. Although the policy relating to nepotism does not seem to have been violated, the existence of these close relationships has resulted in an atmosphere where many employees are afraid to discuss operational problems in the City. They are concerned that their observations might be viewed as criticism of family members. In testimony received, there is ‘angst' by City employees who believe, that employees who have spoken about problems within City government have ended up on ‘layoff lists.' This fear is so pervasive that some witnesses requested assurance, when they appeared before the Grand Jury, that members of the Grand Jury were not related to officers and employees of the South Lake Tahoe City government before they testified.”

— “City Council members and City officials have varying degrees of understanding and openly disagree with the Brown Act. Although bound by the laws of the State of California to obey the same, some violate them on a regular basis.”

— “A City Council member filed a complaint with the Grand Jury that the City Manager was operating without authority and not doing his job. The Council member also made these remarks in public. The Grand Jury received testimony and found these accusations without merit and misleading. The City Council hires and supervises the City Manager and apparently was unwilling to conduct its own investigation to address these accusations. Instead, the Council attempted to use the Grand Jury as its tool to correct a situation that was completely within their jurisdiction.”

— “Testimony supports that City officers and employees at times operate using accepted historical practices that conflict with official written policy. This has resulted in misunderstandings, contentious City Council meetings, and a public impression that the City's government operates outside the law. These misconceptions could expose the city to lawsuits.”

— “A member of the City Council requested reimbursement for legal fees paid to an outside law firm. The legal advice consisted of a legal opinion and preparation of a letter to the Fair Political Practices Commission. No contract had been signed and the City Council had not approved the expenditure in advance. The City Manager stated that he gave verbal approval for the expenditure. California State Law clearly states that government contracts for payment may not be backdated. All unusual expenditures should be approved in open session. The City's Purchasing Policy and Procedural Manual calls for the presence of written contracts when professional services are sought, and makes no provision for payment and reimbursement absent the presence of a contract.”

— “The City Council, in its reports, procedures and by evidence received by the Grand Jury, points to a severely handicapped organization that needs major changes. The 2009-2010 Grand Jury has recommended to the County Supervisor for District V, that the City of South Lake Tahoe needs a ‘Management and Procedural Review' to be conducted by an independent consultant. The consultant should make their report to the District Attorney for possible legal action. This Grand Jury is of the opinion that an accusation for malfeasance or nonfeasance by this City Council may be appropriate after the study is concluded. The Grand Jury only touched the ‘tip of the iceberg' in its investigation and recommends that the citizens of South Lake Tahoe get involved with their City government. It is up to the citizens to establish the kind of governance they desire, to exercise their democratic right to vote, and get a City government that works for the common good and in an efficient manner for its citizens.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

SLO Grand jury: School district overlooked misconduct when hiring administrator: High school principal had been embroiled in allegations of misappropr

The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) June 26, 2010

By Sarah Linn, The Tribune, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

June 26--Atascadero Unified School District officials recommended hiring Atascadero High School principal E.J. Rossi despite allegations that he had misappropriated public funds at another school district, according to a grand jury report.

"When we hired Mr. Rossi (in 2007) as assistant principal, it was our understanding that the issues with his former district had been resolved," district Superintendent John Rogers said. "Apparently the issue wasn't resolved. That became revealed later."

In its nine-page report, the civil grand jury examined whether Atascadero Unified failed to perform due diligence in hiring and promoting Rossi.

Rossi worked as a superintendent and principal for the San Ardo Union School District in Monterey County from September 2003 to July 2007. He accepted the position of assistant principal at Atascadero High School in August 2007.

Days after Rossi's departure, however, the San Ardo district discovered about $6,000 in missing equipment and funds, the grand jury found. Rossi agreed to pay restitution.

Then an annual district audit for fiscal year 2006-07 revealed "improper accounting and documentation leading to a shortage of $56,000," the grand jury reported. The shortage was attributed to Rossi. Another audit ordered by the Monterey County schools superintendent confirmed those findings.

The Monterey County District Attorney's Office also investigated the case, concluding in January 2009 that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal prosecution.

When San Ardo learned Atascadero was eying Rossi as a potential principal, the school district sent copies of its audit findings to the Atascadero Unified School District Board of Trustees and school administrators. San Ardo's superintendent also discussed the situation with an Atascadero administrator, the jurors found.

"Testimony revealed that this information was not shared with the hiring committee, and it was disregarded because the audit referred to 'the previous superintendent' rather than to Mr. Rossi by name," the grand jury said.

When Rossi approached Atascadero's superintendent and director of human services "to explain he was under investigation," the grand jury reported, "both chose to treat this as a minor misunderstanding between Rossi and his former employer and again, failed to inform the hiring committee."

In addition, jurors found that Atascadero Unified conducted only two telephone reference checks when considering Rossi for the principal position. (The Monterey County schools superintendent later denied being contacted by Atascadero Unified.)

"Our typical practice is to have six," Rogers said. "Why six weren't recorded? I can't answer that at this point."

Rogers said he couldn't speak about what information was shared by Atascadero administrators with the hiring committee, as he was on medical leave "pretty much through the hiring process."

However, he noted the allegations that Rossi had misappropriated funds were viewed as just that.

"Certainly, the more information that's available, the better the decisions are going to be," Rogers said. "At the same time, the information needs to be other than allegations. ... That's problematic too, to make decisions based on other than what is known."

Rossi, who became the Atascadero High School principal in August 2008, signed a settlement agreement in December 2009 in which he agreed to repay $32,000 of the missing $56,000.

"To our view, the conflict was resolved satisfactorily by both parties," Rogers said.

In its report, the grand jury also investigated allegations that Rossi mishandled student activity funds at Atascadero High, but it was unable to find supporting documentation.

Jurors recommend that Atascadero Unified implement a new policy requiring the superintendent to conduct a full investigation whenever civil or criminal complaints are lodged against staff members. The grand jury also recommends that the district contract with an outside agency to conduct pre-employment background checks on job candidates with access to public funds.

The Atascadero Unified School District has until Sept. 16 to respond to the grand jury report.

"We will be reviewing district hiring practice and modifying it as it is appropriate to do so," Rogers said.


Contra Costa Grand jury report cites appearance of conflict of interest in First Five

By Rick Radin
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 06/26/2010 04:02:37 PM PDT
Updated: 06/26/2010 05:43:49 PM PDT

A recent Contra Costa County civil grand jury report criticized First Five Contra Costa for what it said is an appearance of a conflict in interest in awarding contracts, but commissioners say they already comply with a key recommendation.

"A Commissioner who has a financial interest in the awarding of a contract is (now) required to disclose the interest and recuse him or herself from the vote," according to the report. He or she is not required, however, to abstain from discussion or leave the room during the vote, the report said.

"Take a board member who gets $1 (million) or $2 million for his business and he is able to be in on the discussion and then he's there when the vote takes place," said jury foreman Ron Tervelt. "There could be an intimidation factor, the appearance of an ethics violation."

First Five Contra Costa invests Proposition 10 tobacco tax revenues in local health and education programs for expectant parents and children birth to age 5.

Commissioners who may be awarded contracts are required to recuse themselves from discussion and votes on the contracts, said Supervisor Susan Bonilla, of Concord, the board's representative on the commission.

Since March, commissioners have also had to leave the room when these discussions and votes take place, said First Five Executive Director Sean Casey.

Tervelt said First Five may have made the changes because of the questions jurors asked during the investigation.

Casey said commissioners made the changes based on what they learned was going on in other counties during an annual review of conflict of interest issues with county counsel.

The probe was done last fall and the report was released April 28.

The panel asked that Contra Costa's First Five avoid appointing commissioners who would be likely to bid on contracts.

However, First Five's governance structure mandates that service providers fill some commission seats because they have critical expertise, said Sherry Novick, head of the statewide First Five association.

The grand jury also recommended that the commission change auditors periodically to assure an independent assessment of First Five's finances.

The panel undertook the probe because it received complaints about the commission, according to the report.

The complaints included allegations of conflict of interest, misappropriation of funds, manager bias, favoritism and sexual harassment.

The grand jury report found no wrongdoing in these areas.

First Five Contra Costa and the board of supervisors will issue replies to the report in late July or August, Bonilla said.

Grand Jury Recommends City Police Patrol Fresno County Islands

In an effort to save the county money Fresno county grand jury members have recommended that "Fresno Police" provide law enforcement for county islands.

Right now Sheriff's deputies serve those areas.

According to the report grand jury members believe the current patrol system is inefficient and agencies struggle with boundary confusion.

Nearly fifty thousand people live in the county islands city and county leaders are now on the clock they have sixty days to provide written responses to the grand jury's recommendations.

Grand jury: More public scrutiny needed for Placer County supes’ $100,000 donation pot

By Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer

Placer County supervisors need to tighten up on the $100,000 they donate every year from county coffers to non-profits and community organizations, the grand jury says.

In a report made public Friday, the Placer County grand jury said it found there is no current system in place for all requests – accepted and denied – to be publicly reviewed.

And there is no follow-up to document how funds that were approved were used, the report said.

At issue is a sometimes-controversial $100,000 funding pot at the disposal of supervisors that provides sums from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars for what they consider worthy causes.

Four of the five supervisors – Jim Holmes, Robert Weygandt, Kirk Uhler and Rocky Rockholm – make their own recommendations to the board. The grand jury reports that supervisors’ aides filter the requests and forward only the ones they recommend for approval to their district supervisor. From there, they go to the county executive officer for inclusion on the board agenda.

District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery inherited a committee system from her predecessor Bruce Kranz, who had opposed the donations because he considered them a campaign “slush fund.”

Event coordinator Linda Robinson of Auburn Family Night Out said the funding her group regularly receives from supervisors has helped in a time when gross revenues have declined because of the economic downturn.

Robinson said Auburn Family Night Out would have no problem providing more information on how the funds were spent.

“We gratefully accept them and they’re well-used,” she said.

The grand jury report said that its investigation found no method in place to track applications that were denied.

And the grand jury said the depth of information in applications was spotty – with some consisting of nothing more than a flier.

Rosemary Frieborn, humane officer with the Humane Society of the Foothills, said the idea of more transparency through public airing of both accepted funding applications and denials is a good idea.

Frieborn, who has clashed with board members over animal care issues, said her group has received funds in the past when supervisors asked her to apply. The money was well-used to help fund the Cat House rescue center and buying a veterinary trailer but Frieborn said hard economic times dictate that the funding program be suspended.

“There are too many other things that are being cut back on,” Frieborn said. “When you’re calling a county department and they’re saying that they can’t help that day because of staff cutbacks then it’s time to put this giveaway on hiatus for awhile.”

While the grand jury report doesn’t address the validity of the fund as a whole, it does state that policies are in place but not being followed as supervisors distribute the $20,000 each of the five is allocated for their districts.

Instead, the board has been “inconsistent and non-compliant” when applying its own criteria for revenue-sharing funding requests, the report states.

Supervisors and CEO Tom Miller are being asked to respond to a series of grand jury recommendations that include:

* All requests for revenue sharing funds, including those being denied, are publicly noticed for review on the board’s agenda

* The board requires all organizations receiving revenue sharing funds submit documentation within 30 days after an event stating the funds were used for the approved request.

* If an organization fails to submit the post-event documentation, they will not be eligible for future funding

* Use of a standard application form for all five districts.

Other issues tackled by the grand jury include city managers’ salaries, the availability of audit information and more businesslike libraries. A more extensive report on other grand jury findings will appear in a future edition.

The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at

San Mateo County can't afford to offer extra health services for the poor and uninsured, grand jury says


Posted: 06/25/2010 07:54:44 PM PDT
Updated: 06/25/2010 07:55:16 PM PDT

San Mateo County Medical Center should stop treating poor and uninsured patients through programs that aren't mandated or funded by the state and federal governments because it relies too heavily on growing county subsidies to operate, a new civil grand jury report recommends.

On the chopping block should be long-term care to indigent elderly patients, full health-care services to undocumented adults and to individuals and families with incomes between 100 to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and optional Medi-Cal services such as acupuncture and podiatry, according to the San Mateo County civil grand jury.

Concern about the medical center draining the county's coffers is not new: Within the past six years, the board of supervisors has launched several studies, a work group and a task force to assess the disparities between what health services are mandated, needed and offered.

The grand jury found that San Mateo County offers more health services than is legally required and offered by other California counties.

San Mateo is one of nine counties among the 58 in California that provide full health care services to illegal immigrants.

Also, like other Bay Area counties, San Mateo County allows individuals and families with incomes higher than the federal poverty level to receive health services mandated by the state for the "medically indigent." Instead of 100 percent, San Mateo allows incomes up to 200 percent. San Francisco has set its ceiling at 500 percent.

And while some California counties, including Alameda and Fresno, eliminated optional Medi-Cal services — such as podiatry, optometry, acupuncture and chiropractic — after the state stopped covering them last year, San Mateo County has not, according to the grand jury report.

"The county should consider eliminating programs that are not mandated by, or fully funded by, federal or state monies," the grand jury recommends.

Supervisor Carole Groom said she disagrees with the report's conclusion.

"We're a civilized community and a civilized country and we have to take care of people," Groom said. "It's not just the right and decent thing to do, it's a public health issue. You can't have people ill out on the street."

As required, the county will draft a formal response to the grand jury report, said spokesman Marshall Wilson. He noted that the health-care services also serve a preventative role that "ultimately saves money by reducing costly visits to the emergency room."

Bill Blodgett, the grand jury's foreman, said he understands that supervisors frequently reflect the socially progressive values of their county. In difficult financial times, however, the county just can't afford to be as generous.

"We'd love to do everything for all people, but the fact is the revenues aren't there," Blodgett said. "It's not easy, but our elected officials need to make the call on how far we are going to go to serve the indigent."

On Wednesday, the board adopted a $1.7 billion budget for the coming fiscal year. To offset a deficit of $126 million, the county plans to take $90 million from its dwindling reserves and cut $36 million from programs. But the deficit could increase by up to $100 million, depending on state budget decisions, according to County Manager David Boesch.

The $242.1 million medical center operation received a $66.6 million subsidy from the county this fiscal year. Almost 7 percent of San Mateo County's estimated 718,989 residents are living below the poverty level, according to the grand jury report, and 7.6 percent are uninsured.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grand jury questions Hercules affordable housing, business loan programs

By Tom Lochner
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 06/19/2010 08:41:25 PM PDT
Updated: 06/20/2010 05:24:47 PM PDT

By Tom Lochner

The Contra Costa civil grand jury is accusing Hercules of questionable practices and a lack of transparency in its affordable housing and business loan programs.

In a report titled "The Crumbling Pillars of Hercules -- Casting a Shadow of Impropriety," the grand jury examines the city's relationship with NEO Consulting Inc./Affordable Housing Solutions Group. The company, once owned by City Manager Nelson Oliva, did $950,000 worth of business with the city this fiscal year and last, running a half-dozen programs ranging from affordable housing to "general administration support."

NEO's business with Hercules is poised to grow to more than $1.1 million in fiscal year 2010-11, part of a list of city contract renewals totaling about $6.6 million that is on Tuesday's City Council consent calendar.

"Hercules officials routinely award public service agreements to NEO ... bypassing any competitive bidding process," reads a segment of the grand jury report's summary.

Oliva divested himself of his financial stake in NEO -- the initials stand for Nelson E. Oliva -- a few months before he became city manager in April 2007, ceding ownership of the company to two of his daughters, Hercules officials have said.

Hercules Mayor Kris Valstad said last week the city is taking the grand jury report seriously and that some of the points it raises, including what he characterized as "the nepotism issue," have already been addressed. For several months now, members of Oliva's family have not owned any interest in NEO, said City Attorney Mick Cabral.

Two Oliva daughters -- Taylor Oliva, a December college graduate, and Adrianna Oliva, a 2009 high school graduate -- were CEO and Chief Financial Officer of NEO Consulting Inc. according to a Statement of Information filed with the California Secretary of State in July 2009. The two also were directors of the company, along with another sister, Gabrielle Oliva. NEO general manager Walter McKinney and Nelson Oliva's administrative assistant at City Hall, Eguzki Olano, are the other directors listed on the July 2009 statement.

The company filed an updated Statement of Information in February showing McKinney and Olano as the only two directors and McKinney as the sole officer. The company's "principal executive office," according to the February statement, continues to be at the same address in Southern California as in the company's initial, 2005 statement filed by Nelson E. Oliva.

The company's Web site,, as of Friday, described Taylor Oliva as the company's president and "guiding force," part of a four-person leadership team that also includes McKinney, former City Manager Mike Sakamoto, and his son, Jonathen Sakamoto.

The Web site notes the company's current involvement in construction management and its success in landing $7.8 million in state grants for the $50 million-plus, Hercules Redevelopment Agency-sponsored, mixed-use Sycamore North project, to include 96 affordable housing units.

Taylor Oliva could not be reached Thursday at the affordable housing office, located in a portable next to Hercules City Hall. On Friday, Jonathen Sakamoto, who answered the phone, said she was in a meeting.

The grand jury report also chastises the city for not recording and not keeping minutes of council subcommittee meetings; for making deals involving agency-owned or agency-financed residential properties away from public view; for failing to advertise agency-owned residential properties for sale to the general public; and for providing loans to city officials or family members.

Cabral questioned the accuracy of the grand jury report.

"There are many factual errors that need to be corrected, beginning with the outrageous title that has no relationship to the substance of the report," Cabral said. He did not specify the putative errors and said the city will provide a detailed response within the time allowed.

The city has until Aug. 2 to respond to the grand jury's findings and recommendations, which include calls for more ethics and conflict of interest training and more transparency.

The NEO list of contract renewals for 2010-11 on Tuesday's consent calendar include: Affordable Housing Program, $408,500; Sycamore North management, $240,000; Community Beautification Program, $150,000; Portfolio Administration and Compliance, $60,000; General Administration Support, $120,000; and Business Development Loan Program, $50,000. The list also includes a program that was not on the previous year's list: Wastewater Treatment Plant Development services, $90,000.

Details of the contracts were not included with Tuesday's agenda packet. There was no discussion of the contracts when the list went before the council Finance Subcommittee last week.
# if you go What: City Council meeting
# Where: Hercules City Hall, 111 Civic Drive
# When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
# Grand jury report:

Mendocino County Grand jury calls for 100% mail-in voting

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 06/24/2010 12:00:15 AM PDT

Better proof-reading, replacing polls with mail-in ballots countywide and more use of the county website are among the 2010 grand jury's recommendations for the Mendocino County Registrar of Voters Office.

The GJ on Monday released the report, "And the Vote Goes to...: 2009-2010 Mendocino County Election Report" after observing ballot collection and transfer to county elections staff during the November 2009 general election and the June 2010 primary election.

The GJ noted there were problems with the official ballots given out during the June primary, and the public reported "numerous typographical errors, spacing anomalies and content omissions" on the pre-election sample ballots for the same election.

The registrar has contracted with the same private vendor for the past eight years to translate, press-check, print and mail the primary election sample ballots, according to the report.

"All 24 different sample ballot pamphlets were mailed directly by the vendor with only a cursory county press-check," the report states, noting that county staff proof-read the PDF files before sending them to the vendor.

The Registrar's Office responded via radio and press releases immediately, but "there was no immediate posting on the county website," according to the report.

One corrected sample ballot was sent to each household. The reprinting "may result in mail-in ballots being received before accurate sample ballot pamphlets," according to the report.

In addition, some voters got the wrong party affiliation on their official ballots, "resulting in their receiving an incorrect primary election ballot and having to take corrective action," the GJ report states.

The GJ recommended "in the future, the sample ballot pamphlets and official ballots be thoroughly press checked by the registrar of voters' staff prior to mailing."

Looking into the process of placing candidate statements on the sample ballots in the November election, the GJ also found that the cost of printing, handling and translating candidates' statements sometimes exceeds the deposit the county charges candidates.

"The county has not always collected the actual costs from candidates," the report states.

The GJ recommends that the registrar collect unpaid candidates' fees within six months of an election and publish a list of uncollected fees in local media outlets "in the same manner as tax-default notices."

The GJ also recommends that candidates' statements be posted on the county website.

The GJ found that establishing a polling place "far exceeds the cost of mail-in ballots," and recommended that the Board of Supervisors petition the California Secretary of State to use vote-by-mail ballots for all of Mendocino County.

"Considering the high percentage of mail-in ballots being used now, it would be cost-effective to move the county to a total mail-in ballot system," the report states. "While the GJ understands that many people enjoy the social aspects of the local polling stations, the harsh reality is that the county budget is in dire straits."

The GJ notes there are 247 voting precincts, and only 25 polling places, and that moving to an all mail-in ballot system would reduce payroll cost, rent and equipment transportation and maintenance.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Civil grand jury accuses chairman of Santa Clara Valley Water District of flouting state ethics laws

By Brandon Bailey
Posted: 06/20/2010 02:58:35 PM PDT
Updated: 06/21/2010 10:11:17 AM PDT

Santa Clara County's civil grand jury has accused the chairman of the countywide water district of flouting state ethics laws by promoting a series of district projects likely to increase the value of his family's land holdings in Alviso.

A report by the grand jury says Richard Santos blurred the lines between his personal interests and his duties as a public official, most notably in pushing the Santa Clara Valley Water District to build a $1.3 million educational center — which critics describe as unnecessary and overpriced — on land next to a mobile home park Santos inherited from his father.

Santos, a retired San Jose fire captain and longtime Alviso resident, disputed the criticism and denied acting for personal gain. In an interview, he insisted he has followed legal advice while fighting for projects that would benefit all of Alviso, a community that has long complained of neglect by local government agencies.

"I did my job like I'm supposed to, and I'm going to continue to do it," said Santos, 66.

The civil grand jury acts as a local government watchdog; it can make recommendations but cannot impose penalties or issue criminal indictments. The latest report, released Friday and signed by forewoman Angie M. Cardoza, marks the third time in five years that a civil grand jury has accused the water district of mismanagement and overspending.

"He has failed to uphold his ethical obligations," the report said of Santos, adding: "It is difficult to determine when he is participating as a private citizen promoting his own interests and when he is participating as a public official."

Water district CEO Beau Goldie responded with a statement defending the board's ethical practices, adding that the jurors "unfortunately made some findings and recommendations that may not be accurate."

A spokeswoman said the district, which is responsible for water-supply and flood-control projects across the county, would not comment on specifics.

But one board member called the report "well-documented." Larry Wilson, who voted against the controversial education center in 2008 and has often sparred with Santos, said he believes the report should be reviewed by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, which can levy fines for violations of California's political ethics law.

The grand jury's months-long investigation focused on Santos' efforts to promote district projects in the mostly blue-collar community of Alviso, where the southern waters of San Francisco Bay lap at the northern edge of San Jose. Though once an independent city, Alviso was annexed by San Jose in 1968.

Santos, the son of a former Alviso mayor, has an ownership interest in 23 properties in Alviso, including the Summerset Mobile Home Park off Gold Street. While he represents a large swath of the county on the water district board, the grand jury characterized Santos as being overly focused on Alviso.

Jurors particularly criticized Santos' efforts to promote construction of the education center, consisting of a large gazebo, interpretive displays and public restrooms, on state-owned land near Gold Street. While questioning the project's expense, the jury report said it would provide a "park-like setting at the entrance to the Summerset Mobile Home Park."

The jury also criticized Santos for pushing a separate restoration plan for the nearby Alviso Slough. The plan calls for clearing vegetation and deepening the channel to allow boating, water-skiing and other recreation, which the jury concluded would raise the value of land in Alviso, including Santos's holdings.

Both the educational center and slough restoration were approved by a majority of the water board.

In a third case, the jury said Santos unsuccessfully urged the district to pay for modifications to the Alviso clubhouse of the South Bay Yacht Club, to which he belongs.

Santos insisted he won't profit personally from any of the Alviso projects. He said the education center would be an attractive feature and "gateway to the community," but denied it would affect the value of the mobile home property.

He said the slough restoration was important for flood control in an area that suffered repeated and devastating floods during the last century, although district officials have said the restoration goes beyond flood-protection efforts.

Santos abstained from voting on both projects in recent years, on the advice of the district's legal counsel. The grand jury, however, criticized him for taking part in board discussions about the projects and found Santos cast two votes related to the projects, after abstaining from earlier votes.

Santos said the jurors are "good volunteer people" who were misled by his political opponents, whom he declined to name. "I've been fighting to protect my community," he added, "after Alviso's been neglected for 42 years."

Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approves budget, grand jury report response

Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Posted: 06/23/2010 01:30:09 AM PDT

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved the county's budget for the next fiscal year Tuesday and instructed staff to further explore the impacts of proposed state and federal budgets.

At Tuesday's meeting, the board considered support for a state budget titled “California Jobs Budget,” proposed by Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, which borrows from the state's Beverage Container Recycling Fund and repays debt through a new tax on oil severance.

The supervisors instructed staff to create a response that would weigh in on parts of the bill rather than support or oppose it.

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said this may be an opportunity for local government to provide input to its representatives.

”I'm seeing this as an opportunity to provide some feedback on specific elements of this proposal rather than a thumbs up or a thumbs down,” he said.

According to staff, the additional revenue could save the CalWORKs program slated for elimination by the governor, provide repayment for mandated reimbursements owed to local governments and fund community mental health services that were expected to be reduced under the governor's plan.

But the staff also cautioned that the proposed budget would create a bigger gap in the following fiscal year, and it would result in a shift of responsibility to counties, including a transfer of state prisoners to county jails for state prisoners sentenced to terms of less than three years.

Department of Health and Human Services Director Phil Crandall, who has been meeting with the California State Association of Counties in Sacramento regarding the budget, said he is concerned over the shift in responsibility. He supported the county taking its time to see how the proposed budgets develop.

”This is a very dangerous time, and from my perspective, slower is better,” Crandall said.

State and federal sources account for more than two-thirds of all revenues included in the county's adopted 2010-2011 budget.

The roughly $303 million budget includes 15 percent cuts for most departments and a reduction in the contingency reserve to restore proposed cuts to the UC Cooperative Extension, the Office of Emergency Services and the grand jury. The contingency reserve will be set at $893,785.

The general fund's expenditures total more than $91 million, and the overall budget and the general fund each grew by less than 1 percent from the previous year.

Other cuts included may result in fewer hours at the animal shelter and reduced maintenance for groundskeeping, trash collection and upkeep of floors and public areas.

In other matters, the supervisors approved the county's response to the grand jury's recommendation for an overhaul of the governmental structure at the county level.

The grand jury released a report in May saying that Humboldt County needs a stronger chief administrator and a part-time Board of Supervisors to be more efficient.

The response disagreed with several of the grand jury's recommendations and indicated that some were “unwarranted” and others “not reasonable and potentially in violation of state law.”


At A Glance:

$303 million total

$91 million general fund

$893,785 contingency reserve

15 percent cuts across the board for most departments

SLO Grand jury criticizes cities’ vehicle systems

Government vehicles driven and taken home by employees need better regulation, report finds
By Cynthia Lambert |

Several cities in San Luis Obispo County need to tighten policies on city vehicles that are taken home by employees and keep better track of drivers’ safety records, according to a grand jury report.

The county’s seven cities have a total of 444 vehicles, 62 of which are allowed to be taken home.

The civil grand jury found that Morro Bay does not have a policy addressing take-home vehicles for city employees, even though four of its 52 vehicles can be driven to an employee’s residence.

City Manager Andrea Lueker said the city’s current resolution, created in 1994, deals with employee reimbursement for expenses when using vehicles for city business.

The policy will be revised to include specific information, such as which employees could take a vehicle home, she said.

The report found that only Arroyo Grande, Atascadero and Pismo Beach enroll their employees who use city cars in a state Department of Motor Vehicles program, which alerts the city when a driver is ticketed or involved in an accident.

The grand jury recommended that the remaining cities enter their employees in the program.

It also recommended that Grover Beach, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo either develop or strengthen their policies.

Grover Beach’s policy, for example, does not make any reference to employees having a valid California driver’s license, nor does it document that employees have received and read the policy.

City Manager Bob Perrault said the City Council would likely look at bolstering the policies as the report recommended.

Paso Robles’ policy states that employees must have a valid California driver’s license but does not specify how or if the employee’s license or driving record is checked.

Paso Robles City Manager Jim App said officials are still reviewing the grand jury’s findings.

The grand jury also noted that Pismo Beach employees took home the highest percentage of vehicles, with 11 of 43 vehicles taken home, or 25 percent.

City officials there told the grand jury that Public Works Department staff members need them to respond to emergencies at the city-operated sewage treatment plant.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated on Twitter by following @SouthCountyBeat.

Read more:

Plumas County Grand Jury Final Report

Plumas County Civil Grand Jury
Quincy, California

June 18, 2010

For Immediate Release

Fire - the Greatest Threat in Plumas County
Are We The Next Angora Wildfire Victims?

Today the Plumas County Civil Grand Jury published its 2010 Final Report. Detailed in it are the panel’s Findings, Recommendations, and Background Information focused on its Wildland & Structural Fire investigation:

* One-fifth of Plumas County’s parcels (many with homes, businesses, or multiple dwelling units) have been approved for development with no fire protection.
* There are no State (CAL FIRE) fire fighting units in Plumas County. This situation has left the County at risk for catastrophic fires.
* CAL FIRE has a land swap agreement with the US Forest Service in Plumas County for fire protection. The US Forest Service does not fight structure fires.
* Plumas County could be next to suffer major devastation from another Angora Wildfire that destroyed an entire community in South Lake Tahoe.
* The Plumas County Board of Supervisors has done little to protect the public from fire risk, including not acting on the advice of its own Emergency Services Advisory Committee.
* By not taking action, the Plumas County Board of Supervisors has failed to organize financial support for volunteer fire departments, the only protection against structural fires in the County.

The Plumas County Grand Jury has concerns that this situation exists in other California counties where CAL FIRE similarly has no physical presence. The Grand Jury recommends that citizens of these counties ensure they have fire fighting protection for their homes and property by contacting their local fire departments.

See the “Fire” section, page 31, in the 2009-10 Final Report found at the following web site:

Willits PD working under leaking roof, Mendocino County GJ finds

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 06/23/2010 12:00:28 AM PDT

Panel recommends a complete re-engineering' of building

The Daily Journal

Staff at the Willits Police Department work next to buckets of water and electronic equipment covered with plastic sheets as repairs to a leaky roof remain unsuccessful, the Mendocino County grand jury reported Monday.

In a report titled "Working in the rain, a public facility at risk," the GJ states that it visited the WPD, located on the first floor of the Willits Justice Center, which it rents from the county, on Feb. 2.

During the visit, GJ members noticed "several buckets half full of water, electronic equipment covered with plastic sheeting," and stucco siding on the outside of the building that was "buckling and delaminating."

According to the GJ, the roof of the building has leaked since it was first occupied in 1988, and repeated attempts to repair it by Mendocino County General Services (MCGS) have been unsuccessful.

"The roof still leaks, and rainwater continues to intrude into the structure of the building," the report states, explaining that the water buckets, potential for mold and dry rot and deteriorating stucco created a safety hazard for workers. In addition, the plastic sheeting hampered work productivity.

"The GJ is concerned with health and safety issues when employees work in an unsafe environment," the report states. "The Willits Justice Center is in need of a considerable amount of repair, (and) a complete re-engineering is needed."

The GJ recommends that, "in accordance with the lease agreement, the MCGS make all necessary repairs to the building ... and consult with an outside engineer to inspect for structural damage."

In a finding unrelated to the condition of the building, the GJ also noted that the recent closure of the Willits branch of the county Superior Court has had a negative impact on the WPD.

"WPD officers who must appear in court now travel to Ukiah or Fort Bragg, (often) creating overtime cost," and, since multiple officers can be called to testify for the same case, the WPD is left under-staffed at these occasions," the report states. "Officers' time was better-utilized when subpoenaed to the Willits Superior Court."

In Our Opinion: Travel stipends should stop

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 06/21/2010 09:53:59 AM PDT

We agree with the Mendocino County Grand Jury that the District Attorney should have taken action to force County Supervisor Kendall Smith to repay the county the money she owed after a close look at her travel expenses showed she had charged the taxpayers for about $3,000 in expenses that were not eligible.

Smith has consistently refused to pay the money back and the DA should use her power to make her write that check.

But Smith's greed has been decried on this page before.

Today we want to take up the grand jury's call for the county supervisors to revert back to a mileage and expenses reporting system for all travel and expenses.

Giving themselves nice monthly checks for "expenses" regardless of where they travel or how often is an insult to the taxpayers and ludicrous in a time of budget constraints.

Furthermore, it gets the supervisors out of having to report to the public where they travel and who they meet with when they do.

We think it's imperative that the supervisors go back to submitting mileage forms and receipts for stays at hotels, or meals that they believe the taxpayers should pay for.

After all, a lot of what supervisors do each day is aimed at getting reelected. Campaign costs can easily be masked in a monthly travel stipend that might be clear if the receipts were scrutinized.

And, we've said it before, but we hotly disagree with the notion that supervisors should get paid to travel to and from work in Ukiah. That goes against any normal mode of business expense reimbursement we know of and getting to work from your district comes with the territory as an elected official. It's not enough that each supervisor makes three times the median wage of people in this county. They have to be paid to drive to work too?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Napa County Grand jury faults jail care for mentally ill

A Napa County grand jury report found that the Napa County Department of Corrections is not equipped to aid a growing population of mentally ill inmates.

“NCDC staff reported the number of mentally ill individuals is increasing and that mental health services are insufficient to handle those individuals,” the report says.

Several jail staff members told grand jurors the jail is not equipped to provide housing, psychiatric treatment and medication for those who need it, the report said.

In 2009, two inmates committed suicide and three others attempted suicide. One inmate, having what appeared to be a psychotic breakdown, assaulted a corrections officer, the grand jury said.

Inmates at the jail include patients from Napa State Hospital who are awaiting trial for alleged violent offenses committed at Napa State, the report notes.

Jail staff can not always separate mentally ill inmates from the general population, the report said. Staff can provide only three hours of counseling services per week via closed circuit television.

Staff members can’t require that mental health patients take medications. When those patients refuse, it increases the risk they might injure themselves, other inmates or staff, the report says.

NCDC Director Lenard Vare agreed with many grand jury findings, saying the jail’s mission is much different than that of Napa State Hospital, where the inmates often come from.

“It is an enormous burden on my corrections officers because they’re higher risk,” he said. “The officers are at higher risk from assaults and other violent behavior from the mental health inmates.”

“It’s a traumatic event for any normal person coming to jail, but for a mentally ill person there are issues they have to deal with,” Vare said.

Managing mentally ill inmates is more expensive and requires more resources for the jail, he said. They often stay at the jail for months as their cases go through the court system, he said.

“I don’t believe the jail is necessarily the best place to house a person with serious mental health issues,” Vare said.

The grand jury also criticized assumptions the county made regarding evidence-based practices and how they will affect recidivism, or repeat offending. Evidence-based practices are those that have been shown to reduce recidivism.

These assumptions could lead to problems as the county rolls out its Adult Correctional System Master Plan, a blueprint for the jail and other adult correctional needs in the next 20 years, the grand jury said.

The plan projects what the future needs will be based on inmate populations. The county used general system trends from 1996 through 2006 to determine that the population of the jail could be between 424 and 472 by 2025.

However, if certain evidence-based practices are added within the justice system, the total jail population would only be 324 in 2025, the county says.

The grand jury pointed out that the definition of recidivism varies. Jurors were wary of counting on evidence-based practices to lower jail populations so dramatically. The county does not track recidivism, the report said.

“Without a tracking system in place, how is it possible to evaluate the effectiveness of existing rehabilitation/treatment programs?” the report asks.

The master plan says evidence-based practices can reduce recidivism up to

30 percent, but the jury wasn’t finding the supporting research. "Assumptions should be based on something stronger than ‘coulda,’ woulda’ or ‘shoulda,’” the report says.

The worst-case scenario is that the county builds a new jail, then realizes that its inmate projections were incorrect, the report says.

Vare said that recidivism is a county-wide issue, not just for the jail. The criminal justice committee has a definition and is talking about how agencies are going to track it, he said.

The jail does keep records of every inmate that has been in its custody going back for some time, he said.

The county still needs more time to see how its Community Corrections Service Center, a program for certain offenders on probation or in custody that opened in March 2009, is affecting repeat offenders, Vare said.

The county has until Aug. 19 to respond to the grand jury, said Molly Rattigan, a management analyst in the county’s executive office. “That gives us time to really look at the recommendations and the findings that they gave,” she said.

Until then, she and Chief Probation Officer Mary Butler declined to comment on the report.

Jury foreman John Morris said he is prohibited by law from commenting further on the report.

He did say the jury tried to be reasonable in its recommendations and commend things the county is doing well. “We’re not just here to tear things down,” he said.

Grand jury sees need to consolidate Marin's government entities

Richard Halstead
Posted: 06/18/2010 09:00:31 PM PDT

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury added its voice to those calling for consolidation of Marin's 130 local governmental entities.

In a report issued Friday, the grand jury noted that many sanitary, fire and other districts provide similar services. For example, 16 districts or municipalities provide fire service and 23 districts or municipalities provide sanitary service.

"With shrinking dollars and a faltering economy, it is definitely time to look at exactly how much it really costs to govern the county," the grand jury said.

The cost of local governance totals more than $1.4 billion a year, amounting to $5,422 per resident, according to the grand jury.

Unlike typical grand jury reports, which contain a list of findings and recommendations, the governance report merely attempted to document the number of government entities, their cost and duplication of services.

"What we were trying to do was look at the big picture, to help citizens get an idea of the total expenditures," said Judy Chapman, the jury's forewoman. "Because consolidation has been talked about for ages, we were trying to think of a way of approaching it that would be different."

The report noted that in addition to county government there are 57 advisory boards, 11 municipalities, 19 school districts, a community college district, 33 special districts and seven special purpose districts.

According to the grand jury, district budgets account for about 30 percent of the $1.4 billion cost of governance, while county government accounts for about 30 percent and the municipalities account for about 19 percent.

The governing boards representing the county's 130 governmental entities are composed of 664 members, most of whom receive compensation for their service, the report stated. Compensation includes salaries and/or payment for attending meetings plus reimbursement for expenses such as travel and parking. Some members receive life insurance and health benefits.

The grand jury said it found no evidence that individual compensation of board members was excessive. It did, however, document substantial differences in compensation between districts. For example, the annual cost for Novato Sanitary District's five board members is $72,862 while the cost for the San Rafael Sanitary District's five board members is $3,400. The annual budget of the San Rafael Sanitary District is $4 million larger than Novato's $9 million annual budget.

June Brown, an administrative services manager with the Novato Sanitary District, said board members there receive $225 per meeting and are eligible for health and dental benefits, even though not all board members take advantage of the perk.

Novato Sanitary District manager Beverly James said the comparison with San Rafael may be misleading.

"It's not clear from the report that everybody was reporting the same expenses," James said. "San Rafael is part of the Central Marin Sanitation Agency so some of their board expenses are covered under Central Marin."

In addition, the $72,862 expenditure was for 2007-08. "At that time we did have some extra committee and board meetings because we were embarking on the construction of a new treatment plant," James said.

Often in the past talk of consolidation has amounted to just that - talk.

In 2007, a proposal to merge fire departments in the Ross Valley was dropped after a consultant's study concluded the move could cost an additional $2 million a year.

A study that same year found that San Anselmo and Fairfax could save a total of $430,000 annually by combining their police departments. But the two towns haven't even been able to agree to share dispatch services. Negotiations broke down in 2009 over where those services would be located.

Late last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 1232 authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, which gave the Marin Local Agency Formation Commission the power to merge the six districts of the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin regardless of any local vote on such action.

Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan, who serves on the commission board, said Peter Banning, the commission's executive officer, has been meeting with SASM members and discussing ways the districts could share resources to boost operational efficiency.

But McGlashan said "political" consolidation still appears elusive. He said one sticking point is pensions and health benefits for district employees.

Pat Guasco, who was re-elected to the Ross Valley Sanitary District board in November, said, "I'm not so sure it would be of any benefit to the Ross Valley Sanitary District to get thrown into a pile of other agencies that are having real financial and budget issues. I want to make sure we protect our Ross Valley ratepayers."

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at

Mendocino County GJ: County holding on to mountain of evidence

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 06/19/2010 12:00:23 AM PDT

The county's main evidence storage room is packed to capacity with about 96,000 pieces of evidence because of a communication problem with the District Attorney's Office and a shortage of staff, according to the Mendocino County grand jury.

The GJ released a report, "A Mountain of Evidence: A Report on the Mendocino County Main Storage Evidence Room," on June 9.

The GJ found the facility organized but "overcrowded with evidence from closed and adjudicated cases."

The evidence, stored in containers on 10-foot-high shelves in the 5,000 square-foot building, "may not be purged until notification from the MCDAO," according to the report.

The GJ blames the overcrowding partly on an ongoing "lack of communication between the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office and evidence room staff," claiming the District Attorney's Office doesn't notify the storage room's staff when court cases are resolved in order to purge the evidence for those cases.

The District Attorney's Office has a form available for cases where a person claims their property, but in the absence of a claim or court order, the evidence stays in storage.

The District Attorney's Office currently doesn't use the form, "Mendocino County District Attorney Office Disposition-Evidence Memo," or the sheriff's form, "Authorization for Release/Disposition of Property," to authorize the release or the destruction of evidence.

The report calls for the district attorney to pick one of the forms to use.

"Purging and disposition of evidence requires greater staff than is currently available," the report states.

Currently, purging evidence requires a technician to pick a container with an old date; research the case to find the name of the perpetrator or perpetrators; search the District Attorney's Office and court records; check the name of each perpetrator for active arrests, bench warrants, pending felonies or pending litigation; and check the statute of limitations for certain crimes.

Some evidence must be kept as long as 99 years, the GJ notes.

The evidence room stores items for all local law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, Cal Fire and the state Department of Fish and Game.

The GJ notes the evidence room has a full-time and a part-time evidence technician, a skilled job estimated to require three years of supervised training. The GJ recommends that the Board of Supervisors add an evidence technician job, and that the sheriff recruit a student or volunteer as a part-time aide.

The GJ notes four evidence technicians were employed at the storage facility previously, and that evidence intake doubled in the last 10 years.

The GJ recommends that the sheriff and evidence technician list upgrades the evidence room needs, and that the sheriff create a five-year plan to complete them.

The GJ also notes as a discussion point, not as a recommendation, that the evidence room "reeks of marijuana which becomes moldy when stored, causing health hazards for employees."

The GJ found that the storage facility has poor ventilation.

Other recommendations include use of a bar code system for evidence storage, which the GJ notes the Sheriff's Office is evaluating for use countywide.

Currently, records detailing where evidence is stored are kept manually in a card file with no backup, and the GJ recommends installing a sprinkler system in the office area to protect the records in case of fire.

Recommendations also include correcting a tripping hazard and trimming a tree that encroaches on nearby power lines.

Friday, June 18, 2010

San Luis Obispo Grand jury praises ECHO in review

Posted: Friday, Jun 18th, 2010
BY: Aaron Crutchfield

A new report issued by the San Luis Obispo County grand jury praised the El Camino Homeless Organization and said it should be studied as a model for the rest of the county, while stating cities throughout the county need to be more involved in solving the county’s homeless problem and the county needs a powerful homeless services coordinator.

The report stated that ECHO, an all-volunteer organization, has provided 62,000 bed nights for homeless persons since opening in 2001. ECHO moved from month to month between Atascadero churches before moving into space in the First Baptist Church on Atascadero Mall in 2006 with room for 31 beds. ECHO also funds motel rooms for families when the shelter is full. ECHO has also historically provided supper for 45 people each evening, but recently has been doing it for 60.

In 2008, 639 people volunteered as overnight chaperones for ECHO.

ECHO gets support from local governments and a variety of donors, and through donated labor, the First Baptist Church’s modest fee and in-kind donations from other organizations, ECHO spends about $6 per person per night.

“Because ECHO has a system that works, their ideas and methods should be expanded to other areas within the county,” the Grand Jury said in its report. “[Community Action Partnership of SLO], Five Cities Homeless Coalition and other groups now working with the homeless should meet with the staff of ECHO and be mentored in the areas of recruiting, training and effectively utilizing volunteers.”

The grand jury’s view of homeless services in the rest of the county wasn’t as rosy.

In Paso Robles, which has the second-highest homeless population in the county, there is no shelter the grand jury is aware of.

Meanwhile, in the city of SLO, which has the highest homeless population in the county, CAPSLO runs the Prado Day Center and the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter.

The grand jury said the Maxine Lewis Shelter is not large enough to provide beds for all who seek them in SLO and the facility is in poor physical condition. CAPSLO runs an “overflow” shelter program with the Interfaith Coalition to provide beds for homeless women and families at local churches and synagogues.

Local cities and the county have supported an 86-page document titled, “Path to a home: San Luis Obispo Countywide 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness,” published in October 2008, but the grand jury said none of the governmental agencies have actually adopted it because adoption would obligate them to actually implementing the plans objectives.

“Path to Home includes a ‘housing first model’ for helping the homeless,” the grand jury said in its report. “The theory is that the best way to assist the homeless population is to first put the people in stable housing and then provide supportive services to help them remain housed while addressing the problems that led to their homelessness. This approach, we were told, has worked well in large urban areas that have old or empty buildings that can be converted to low cost housing. Whether ‘housing first’ will work as well in SLO County is problematic, because housing here is scarce and expensive.”

The county has proposed a “homeless campus” on South Higuera Street in SLO to combine services at the Prado Day Center and the Maxine Lewis Shelter into one place, making it so the homeless don’t have to travel around the county seeking services.

The grand jury recommends that the county and all incorporated cities should adopt and begin to implement the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, and also that the county and all cities should establish and fund a line item in their budgets specifically supporting services, including more housing, for homeless persons.

The grand jury also wants to see a full-time homeless Services Coordinator with a staff, including a grant writer, to oversee the 10-year plan and monitor funds directed toward helping the homeless.

The grand jury also wants to see the homeless Services Campus built as soon as possible, while the county, South County incorporated cities and nonprofit organizations should pursue joint efforts to build and operate a facility that provides both day services, such as those provided now by the South County People’s Kitchen, and night services which are not currently provided. The grand jury said the South County shelter could look to ECHO as a model.

The grand jury also wants to see a shelter in Paso Robles.

“Unless local governments and private organizations join together and expand available resources, the homeless adults and children of San Luis Obispo County will continue to struggle and far too many, including hundreds of our children, will remain homeless,” the grand jury said in its report.

There were 3,829 homeless people in SLO County in January 2009, according to the report, 1.5 percent of the county population, with 1,372 children or teens under the age of 18 included in that total. The grand jury interviewed 342 homeless adults for its report.

Twenty-five percent of the interviewees slept outdoors (in a tent, under a bush, etc.); 21 percent were in a car, camper or other vehicle; 18 percent were guests of family or friends; 12 percent were in a shelter; about 11 percent were in housing provided by a transitional housing program; and 10 percent spent the night in a motel. The remaining three percent did not respond.

Of the 3,829 homeless (1,372 children) in the county in January 2009, 1,025 (88 children) were in the city of SLO, while 572 (144 children) were in Paso Robles, 501 (64 children) were in unincorporated areas, 275 (38 children) were in Grover Beach, 209 (27 children) were in Atascadero, 118 (14 children) were in Arroyo Grande, 66 (five children) were in Morro Bay and 48 (three children) were in Pismo Beach. Further, there were 988 homeless children counted in public schools throughout the county but their places of residence were not available to the enumerators. Also, the home city of 27 persons was not included in the January 2009 report.

Thirty-five percent of the respondents said they were homeless because they were unable to pay rent while 20 percent said unemployment was the cause, with substance abuse, divorce and low wages each cited by 15 percent of respondents.

The complete 4,000-word report is available at the grand jury’s website at www.slo

Mendocino County Grand jury turns to AG's Office over Smith's travel expenses

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 06/18/2010 12:00:16 AM PDT

The Mendocino County grand jury has asked for an opinion from the Attorney General's Office in an attempt to force the District Attorney's Office to get 4th District Supervisor Kendall Smith to repay the county more than $3,000 of travel money she allegedly misused.

The GJ released a report June 14 titled "It's Not Over Yet!: A Failure to Collect Mendocino County Supervisor Travel Overpayments," criticizing the District Attorney's Office for its use of "prosecutorial discretion" in choosing not to pursue repayment of $3,087, the amount of travel reimbursement the auditor's office estimated Smith allegedly claimed but didn't incur over two years.

The report cites a state law that authorizes the GJ to "order the district attorney of the county to institute suit to recover any money that, in the judgment of the grand jury, may from any cause be due the county."

GJ Forewoman Kathy Wylie requested an opinion from the state AG's office "concerning the apparent discrepancy" between that law and the district attorney's "use of prosecutorial discretion in this matter."

Three previous grand juries have questioned the District Attorney's Office's refusal to enforce that law, following investigations into the county supervisors' travel expenses.

The 2008-09 grand jury recommended Smith repay $3,087, the minimum amount the county auditor calculated Smith was overpaid in travel reimbursements between June 2005 and November 2006.

Smith allegedly rented a room in Ukiah or $100 per month "as needed to do her job," according to the 2008-09 GJ report, while also claiming a "per-diem" reimbursement for daily, round-trip mileage to Ukiah from her Fort Bragg home.

In her response, Smith says the auditor's recommendation "clearly states may' have been overpaid," adding, "It also states that a historical analysis of past claims was not done. It is not a comprehensive audit of the Fourth District Supervisor's claims, the immediate past Fourth District Supervisor or any other supervisor's claims."

The 2008-09 GJ claimed Smith said she didn't understand the county's travel and meal reimbursement policy at the time, and interpreted it incorrectly.

Smith's attorney, James L. Larson, said Smith's claims were always reviewed and approved before being paid, and were submitted in good faith, an April 2008 response from Mendocino County District Attorney Meredith Lintott says.

Responding to the GJ's demand to pursue reimbursement from Smith, Lintott filed an Aug. 22, 2007 brief stating the superior court had no jurisdiction to institute recovery "because the amount claimed is less than $5,000."

Lintott's brief also says "evidence of specific intent to defraud would need to be proved for the county to prevail," and says she found no evidence to support that.

During that same time frame, travel expenses claimed by 5th District Supervisor David Colfax and 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches were also in question.

"It appears to the GJ that elected officials in Mendocino County may file fraudulent claims of less than $5,000 without repercussion from any county department, including the MCDA's office," the 2009-10 GJ report states.

The 2009-10 GJ report refers to a supervisor who repaid travel reimbursement overcharges in full, and another who promised to repay but "reneged."

The current GJ report recommends county supervisors "immediately reimburse the Mendocino County taxpayers for any unearned or inaccurately reported (travel) overpayments, as required for any other county employee."

It also recommends the Board of Supervisors eliminate the travel stipend it adopted in January 2008 and go back to claiming actual expenses.

The stipend increased supervisors' compensation and retirement benefits, and the county's payroll costs, according to the GJ - a finding county officials agreed with in their responses to prior GJ reports.

The GJ also recommends that the Board of Supervisors resolve that a 10 percent salary reduction the board implemented should apply to the board as it does to other county employees.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mendocino County Grand jury to MCSO: Arrest a Plumber - Fix the Jail!

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 06/17/2010 12:00:38 AM PDT

Plumbing problems abound at the county jail, according to a report released June 9 by the Mendocino County grand jury.

The report, "Arrest a Plumber - Fix the Jail!: A Report on the Mendocino County Jail and Courthouse Holding Cells," recommends the Sheriff's Office develop a plan to fix the plumbing and recommends using asset forfeiture money to renovate the jail.

The GJ found the jail "in dire need of maintenance and repair," according to the report.

Among the problems the GJ found were toilets with leaky bowls and continually running tank water; too much or too little water pressure in drinking fountains; some drinking fountains running continually; leaky plumbing on the jail's outside walls; and repairs made with self-manufactured parts, including a combination of various metals and plastics.

No maintenance personnel are assigned to the jail, and the GJ recommends that the county General Services Agency assign a full-time staffer to the jail.

The GJ recommends full staffing, but notes the jail is under a hiring freeze and that six vacant jobs are likely to remain empty because of budget cuts.

Jail staff include a captain/commander, two lieutenants, six sergeants (eight are allocated), two sheriff's service technicians (five were allocated), 41 line staff (46 are allocated). Seven employees are bilingual.

The daily staffing minimum includes eight line staff and one sergeant, and the jail could fall below that minimum "if anyone calls in sick," according to the report.

"Under-staffing results in long hours, and may result in errors due to fatigue," the report states.

The GJ notes there was a suicide and 184 reported safety issues involving inmates with mental health problems in 2009. No data is kept regarding attempted suicides.

The jail's capacity is 302 inmates; there were 257 inmates when the GJ visited in October. That included 35 women and 222 men.

The jail is divided to allow segregation of prisoners by gender and other classifications, including non-sentenced, sentenced, violent, protected custody and those with gang affiliations.

The prisoners must also be transported to the courthouse separately, according to classification.

One of the cells at the courthouse had a drinking fountain with high water pressure, which spewed water onto the floor when used, causing a safety hazard, the GJ reported.

Mendocino County Grand jury calls for hiring of deputies, K-9 program on coast

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 06/17/2010 12:00:41 AM PDT

The hire of two sheriff deputies on the coast and re-establishment of the K-9 program in Fort Bragg are among the Mendocino County grand jury's recommendations for the sheriff's Fort Bragg substation and holding cells.

The GJ report, "Bring Back the Dog!: A Report on the Mendocino County Sheriff's Fort Bragg Substation," was published June 9.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office shares the county-owned building with the Fort Bragg Police Department, according to the report, and the substation includes an evidence room, holding cells and perimeter security fencing.

The report included a recommendation that "the Mendocino County Sheriff replace the K-9 unit," but doesn't say when the program was discontinued, why it was discontinued or how much it would cost to reinstate it.

The dog would sniff out drugs, find suspects who may be armed and protect officers, according to the report.

The GJ also recommends filling two empty deputy jobs, one in Fort Bragg and one on the South Coast.

"A South Coast resident deputy position is critical to this remote area in order to shorten response time, which may be one to two hours," the report states.

The report doesn't say how long the two jobs have been vacant, why or what it would cost to fill them.

The staff at the substation includes a lieutenant, three sergeants, nine deputies, an animal control officer, a detective and an evidence technician/office assistant, whose weekly hours were reduced to 32.

The report also recommends recruiting and training a student to help with office duties.

Evidence that isn't needed after cases are resolved accumulates because the District Attorney's Office doesn't notify the evidence room when court cases are resolved, according to the report. The GJ recommends that the sheriff "encourage" the district attorney to adopt and use the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office Disposition-Evidence Release Memo.

The GJ also found there is no security camera monitoring the south entrance of the building and the fenced parking area, and recommended the county General Services Department install one.