Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tulare Grand Jury: Pension fund scrutiny is worth a look

Tulare County took the unusual step last week of weighing in on an issue before it had even been asked.

That might be some indication of the importance of the issue — public employee pension reform.

The Grand Jury recommended that Tulare County examine its employee pension plans and consider having employees increase the amount they contribute.

That recommendation simply goes along with the trend that has been prevalent in the private sector for decades and which is gaining sure and progressive traction in the public sector from the federal level on down. Organizations are coming to the same conclusion: They cannot fully fund the contributions to their employees' pension plans and are seeking a larger share from the employees.

Some commenters have questioned why the Grand Jury is even considering this issue. We believe that it is both pertinent and relevant. Rising expenses for retirement benefits threaten the solvency of all our public institutions. The appropriate agencies ought to make review of those finances their priority.

It is not a coincidence that several local public agencies in Tulare County have recently changed their policies regarding employee contributions for retirement benefits.

In the case of Tulare County employees, the Grand Jury's assessment of the pension fund indicated that the fund can only pay 91 percent of its obligations at present, a decrease from 116 percent 10 years ago. Projecting current returns on investment, the Grand Jury estimates that ratio will decline to about 76 percent by2018. Meanwhile, at current levels, the amount the county is contributing to the fund will nearly triple in that time.

Those numbers ought to make our policymakers take notice. These are significant expenditures of taxpayer dollars that could jeopardize the county's ability to deliver services.

As remedies, the Grand Jury recommended:

ª Consider seeking higher contributions by employees to their pension plans.

ª Raising the age for eligibility for receiving pension benefits.

ª Eliminating practices that allow employees to "spike" their pension benefits by counting other benefit contributions as their salary.

ª Changing the conditions for employment of new hires.

Those also are all strategies that are being recommended with other public agencies. They have generally been adopted already by private businesses.

There is some disagreement over the picture painted by the Grand Jury. Supervisor Phil Cox, who also serves on the Tulare County Employees' Retirement Association (TCERA), said the county's pension fund is sound and has all the money it needs to fulfill its obligations.

It's not surprising that there is some disagreement over the fund's financial health. It is subject to many changing factors. The Grand Jury is right, however, to raise the issue. Supervisors would be wise to at least consider some examination and review of the pension funds and to consider strategies to protect it.

This shouldn't be seen as an attack on the retirement plans of employees. It should be seen as a way to protect the integrity of those plans. Prudent management of pension funds is a safeguard for employees just as much as it is for taxpayers.

Other agencies have faced the same issues. They have also learned that it does not take that long for the assets in a fund to deteriorate. There have been plenty of casualties in recent years to the lack of proper planning.

The county's fund might be fine now, but will it always be?

It wouldn't hurt for the county to take the steps to find out.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Report: San Mateo County school districts lack anti-bullying policies

By Neil Gonzales

Posted: 05/25/2011 06:15:15 AM PDT
Updated: 05/25/2011 07:01:21 AM PDT

San Mateo County public school districts lack policies that specifically address student bullying, a civil grand jury report has found.

Among the report's findings, five districts -- Bayshore Elementary, Hillsborough City Elementary, La Honda-Pescadero Unified, San Carlos Elementary and Woodside Elementary -- don't have either a stand-alone bullying policy or a harassment policy that covers bullying issues. These districts also don't have a process to enforce consequences for bullying or harassment, the report said.

The report, released Tuesday, urged districts to develop or strengthen policies that target bullying. However, some education leaders said Tuesday that their districts are tackling bullying in various ways even if they don't have a specific policy addressing it.

Hillsborough City Superintendent Anthony Ranii acknowledged that his district currently doesn't have a board-enacted policy on bullying. But the district has other measures in place that speak to bullying and harassment. Those include programs at the district's schools that handle student aggression "very well," he said.

A board policy can be part of efforts to fight bullying "but is not the only piece," Ranii added. Still, he said, Hillsborough City leaders will "look at the grand jury's findings and recommendations carefully."

South San Francisco Unified has a harassment policy that includes bullying concerns. It has also launched an anti-bullying campaign because of a heightened awareness of students repeatedly being attacked physically, verbally or online, district board President Maurice Goodman said.

"We're trying to be as responsive and proactive as we can," Goodman said. "The district is bringing in parents, the community, and school staff and administrators to address the issue."

The grand jury's other findings include:

Two out of 23 districts (Cabrillo Unified and San Mateo Union High) have a bullying policy and an enforcement process separate and distinct from those dealing with harassment.

Eighteen districts, including Cabrillo Unified and San Mateo Union High, have harassment or conduct policies that include bullying in some form but not necessarily cyberbullying.

Ten districts have no enforcement process pertaining to bullying or harassment.

Among its recommendations, the grand jury encouraged the county schools superintendent to call for a meeting by the start of the new academic year in which representatives from all the local K-12 districts explore developing standardized policies on bullying and enforcement.

The grand jury's report comes as national efforts seek to clamp down on various kinds of bullying. AbilityPath.org, an online special-needs advocacy group based in Burlingame, has launched its "Disable Bullying" campaign, aiming to engage a broad coalition of parents, educators, activists and policymakers across the nation to prevent attacks against students with disabilities.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education sent out letters to schools, colleges and universities reminding them that tolerating or failing to adequately address ethnic, sexual, gender or disability-based harassment could place them in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.

Contact Neil Gonzales at 650-348-4338.

Five districts don't have either a stand-alone bullying policy or a harassment policy that covers bullying issues.
Just two districts have a bullying policy and an enforcement process separate and distinct from those dealing with harassment.
Eighteen districts have harassment or conduct policies that include bullying in some form but not necessarily cyberbullying.
Ten districts have no enforcement process pertaining to bullying or harassment.


Sonoma: Changes sought to whistleblower procedure

Sonoma County grand jury: 'Complicated process deters people with valid complaints'


Published: Saturday, May 28, 2011 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 28, 2011 at 10:34 p.m.

For those trying to expose waste, fraud and abuse in government, the path can be torturous. Whistleblowers must contact one agency after another, and in the process, they can lose both their anonymity and faith in any follow up.

The Sonoma County grand jury reached those conclusions after months of studying the issue. The panel is now calling for a change, saying that gaps between state and local options for whistleblowers may be turning some away.

“It is likely this complicated process deters people with valid complaints from following through,” the grand jury said in an interim report issued two weeks ago.

A countywide whistleblower program with a single hotline would improve the process on the local level, the panel found.

“The (grand jury) did find instances where if there was a uniform program throughout the county, things would be a heck of a lot better,” said Chris Christensen, the grand jury foreman.

He declined to elaborate on those instances. The report said only that the current system — where various local governments take and investigate complaints separately, with the state doing the same on its level — left “many possibilities for either suppressing critical information and/or for career-altering retaliation against a whistleblower.”

The report called for a centralized effort encompassing all 110 local governments, including the county, its nine cities, and districts and boards overseeing fire protection, schools, water, parks, health care, cemeteries, transportation, garbage and other services.

The proposal raised eyebrows among local public officials, who questioned its scope and whether it would duplicate existing efforts.

“I’m all for shining a bright light on everything we do,” said Mitch Stogner, executive director of the North Coast Rail Authority. The railroad agency is one of 100 independent public entities, aside from the county and cities, asked to consider the proposal.

“A pretty good case could be made that this might be overkill,” Stogner said.

Others said that rather than a centralized program, complaints are better handled from the start by the government or agency in question.

“My immediate reaction is that it seems like it’s adding an extra layer level of government — one further removed from our employees and our constituency,” said Petaluma city manager John Brown.

Like other local governments, the city receives citizen complaints through elected officials and its various departments. Most are handled internally, though some are turned over to outside investigators, Brown said. Employee complaints are generally handled by the personnel department, he said.

“We try to respond to everything that appears to be legitimate,” he said.

The grand jury identified at least 11 California counties that it said had formal whistleblower programs. San Francisco’s came under fire in news reports last week with allegations that the program operates in secrecy, doesn't hold employers accountable and leaves whistleblowers to fend for themselves.

“I can see how the grand jury would want a (centralized) program,” said David Heath, interim general manager of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, another of the 100 independent agencies. “The whole trick is the devil is in the details.”

Under the grand jury’s proposal, complaints from the hotline would first be evaluated for validity. If warranted, they would then be referred on for investigation by the “appropriate levels of government,” the report said, without giving further details.

The county Auditor-Controller’s Office, which handles some whistleblower duties for county government, would be a first option to handle those administrative duties, the report said.

But the cash-strapped county government doesn’t have funds set aside for such a program, Sonoma County Administrator Veronica Ferguson said.

The estimated $15,000 cost for the hotline could be shared by the various participating governments, the grand jury noted. It did not estimate administrative costs or say if those would also be shared.

“I don’t want to say we won’t (participate),” Ferguson said. She added that she thought the county’s own options for whistleblowers “worked well.”

“The question is, would we add value?” she said.

A second option would put the grand jury in charge of the program.

A California grand jury expert said that move, which would significantly expand the panel’s duties, may be unprecedented in the state. Typically, grand juries have functioned as a destination of last resort for whistleblowers, the expert said.

“It doesn’t sound much different from what grand juries do anyway. But I don’t see how they could become an official clearinghouse for all complaints,” said Jerry Lewi, who was speaking for himself but who serves as public relations chair of the California Grand Jurors’ Association, the main training body for grand juries in the state.

Fiscal constraints could make the administrative role a difficult one for the all-volunteer, 19-member panel. The grand jury’s county-supplied budget, now at $75,000, is set for a $6,300 cut in July.

The jury also would be looking at an additional estimated 50 complaints a year, up from the current number of 70.

Jury Foreman Christensen said the larger workload would be daunting but not overwhelming. “Our group kicked it around. They felt that if nothing else happens, they could be involved,” he said.

The grand jury is set to issue its final report, including the interim whistleblower report, on June 30. A response from the county administrator is required within 60 days. The county Board of Supervisors, city councils, and the county auditor-controller, all of whom are elected, must respond within 90 days.

The grand jury has also requested responses from the 100 independent agencies, districts and boards.

Contact Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Grand closing? The report on the new City Hall project by the San Diego County grand jury questions key assumptions

Written by Michael M. Rosen
Friday, 27 May 2011 13:49
Whither the new city hall project?

The $300 million project was yanked from the November 2010 ballot after supporters grew wary of placing it on the ballot next to a proposed sales tax increase, and has remained in limbo ever since.

Proponents, like Mayor Jerry Sanders, argue that building a new home for city operations will save millions of dollars in the long run, when weighed against renovating and upgrading the current, forlorn, Soviet-style monstrosity centered at 202 C Street. They also contend that city employees—and the residents they serve—need a new home that will inspire civic pride. Moreover, they note that the downturn in the housing and construction markets presents a unique opportunity to build at a steep discount.

Opponents, led by City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, regard the project as a gigantic white elephant that the city can’t even dream of affording, given its $70 million-plus budget deficit. Far better, they say, to live within our means and bring our current building up to snuff. A new structure won’t make residents’ lives any better, and the intangible benefits of appealing new architecture don’t outweigh its costs.

On Monday, the San Diego County Grand Jury, after studying the issue in depth, largely sided with the opponents, reporting that “the City can have a safe city hall that will be functional for many years without borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars that provide no new services.”
Part judicial body and part civic watchdog, the Grand Jury isn’t well understood by most San Diegans. While the term “grand jury” conjures up the handing down of criminal indictments, the San Diego County Grand Jury is charged with “investigating, evaluating, and reporting on the actions of local governments and special districts.” The grand jurors serve a year-long term, essentially performing full-time duties during that period, and are nominated by Superior Court judges. They monitor election results and processes, investigate corruption, and generally take a long, objective view of issues of importance to San Diegans in general.

In publishing the results of its findings, the Grand Jury reported the following facts:

Structural maintenance has been routinely neglected at city hall over many years.
The financial report on the existing city hall covering leasing, retrofitting and new construction was completed in 2008, but lease and construction conditions have changed significantly since 2008.
With the changes in the economy since 2008, the rehabilitation, construction and lease costs noted in the commissioned study are seriously outdated.
Construction of a new city hall is projected to cost nearly $300 million.
The City’s ability to finance large capital projects is questionable.

In other words, things are bad at the current City Hall, but many of the projections and budget assumptions are obsolete.

The Grand Jury also arrived at the following findings:

The existing city hall is in disrepair.
The City has granted itself exemptions from established safety and habitability standards.
The published estimated city hall rehabilitation costs appear to be more than required to ensure public and employee safety.
Third-party building owners/leasing agents confirm a continued downturn in lease rates.
The $500/square foot estimated construction cost for the new building is inconsistent with the $200/square foot rate currently available for the purchase of existing buildings of sufficient size to accommodate the City’s needs.

Specifically, the Grand Jury concluded that, “for the rehabilitation option, the City used the maximum rehabilitation cost instead of the minimum cost to ensure public and employee health and safety.” In other words, while 202 C requires significant work, the projections for renovations put forward by new city hall advocates are overstated, presumably—and perhaps deceptively—to make the case for new construction that much more attractive.

Based on these facts and findings, the Grand Jury issued the following recommendations:

Obtain cost information from current lessors for extending lease agreements beyond existing termination dates.
Determine if departmental downsizing will allow for a long-term reduction in leased space requirements.
Re-evaluate and report the costs associated with retrofitting the existing city hall, considering minimum/maximum expenses along with public safety.
Re-examine purchase options for temporary and permanent solutions.
Re-examine and report current construction costs and cost savings vs. those used in 2008 and 2009.
Inform voters and other interested parties about the future of San Diego city hall.

Thus, before moving forward, the Grand Jury advised, city planners have some serious homework to do.

The report won plaudits from new city hall skeptics like DeMaio. “I applaud the San Diego Grand Jury report for questioning the renovation and leasing estimates used by the City to push for a new City Hall,” DeMaio said in a press release. “This report validates our concerns that the project would cost millions of dollars we simply do not have.”

DeMaio went further, “call[ing] on city leaders to abandon this project. There are plenty of common sense alternatives that deserve consideration. San Diego taxpayers deserve an open and honest discussion on this important subject, with accurate and up to date information.”

Whether such an honest discussion will materialize remains to be seen. But in the meantime, the Grand Jury has done an admirable job examining these issues closely.

Michael M. Rosen, a San Diego Newsroom contributor, is an attorney in Carmel Valley.


California Residents Cry Foul After Former Police Chief Accused of Leaving 600 Cases Unfinished

By Michelle Macaluso

Published May 27, 2011

Things are running afoul in a small California town, where residents say they feel betrayed by city officials who failed to keep tabs on a former police chief charged with leaving hundreds of unfinished cases just sitting on his desk.

A recent report released by a Fresno County grand jury says former Fowler Police Chief Darrell Jamgochian held up the legal process after more than 600 cases were locked in his office, some so long that they can't be prosecuted any more because the statute of limitations has run out.

The cases, some of which included serious crimes such as attempted murder and sexual offences, date back as far as 2004, and the report faults the city manager and city council for providing oversight of Jamgochian.

At a city council meeting on Tuesday. residents of Fowler, population 5,400, had the opportunity to address the council and voice their concerns. One demanded that the council resign for failing the community.

"I would respectfully request that each and every one of you resign. Do the right thing and resign. Don't come up with some Mickey Mouse response to the grand jury, telling them they're wrong. Man up, take full responsibility for your inactions," resident Jeff Budwig said.

Budwig later told the Fresno Bee that he didn't think Jamgochian intended not to file the cases, but things "got away from him and it snowballed."

Jamgochian, who resigned in January, didn't attend the meeting. He has yet to be charged with anything, though the Grand Jury investigation is still under way.

"You guys need to serve us better," Lawrence Brookter, a Fowler resident and former Fresno police officer, told city officials at the meeting Tuesday. "Things just aren't right here with the police department and the citizens of Fowler."

Derek Thomason, a support systems manager for the Fowler Police Department hired to help Jamgochian file cases with the district attorney, admitted at the meeting that he was the whistleblower who led the grand jury into the investigation. He said he acted after he noticed the stacks of cases piled up in the chief’s office.

“I initiated the complaint with the Fresno County Grand Jury, because these things needed to be exposed, they needed to be addressed, and steps need to be taken to make sure this doesn't happen again," Thomason said. "I am the whistleblower, and you can fire me if you like. But I've done my duty here, and I challenge each and every one of you to do your duty."

The City Council revealed a draft response letter to the public that admitted there was a delay of 600 cases filed, but believed the council did their jobs properly. The letter also suggested that some findings in the grand jury report were false.

Fowler Mayor David Cardenas said at the meeting that the council became proactive once it learned of Jamgochian's alleged transgressions.

"I'm very sorry that those issues were not addressed accordingly or ... as fast as it probably would have been possible. But the council did the right thing," Cardenas said.

But resident Tiffany Rodriquez says she filed over 20 different complaints to the police department for over two years that ranged from sexual assault, domestic violence and restraining order violations, and help never came from the police.

“That’s just how things have been running in Fowler for so long. If you’re friends of whomever is in charge, then you don’t have to abide by any laws. If you look at all my police reports, it was always Darrell Jamgochian,” Rodriquez said.

Rodriquez also says that copies of her criminal reports were stolen numerous times. Her car was broken into twice and her house was robbed. “These are the kind of things that the chief of police said that these were just coincidences,” she said.

For many victims, the cases have grown too old to be prosecuted under the state’s statute of limitations.

John Moreno was a Fowler police officer for over 24 years before resigning shortly after Chief Jamgochian was appointed chief.

Moreno states that he had to resign because the city would have fired him for trying to expose the corruption in the department. “The stuff that Jamgochian was doing was being brought to light and brought to the city manager’s attention and it was brushed and swept under the rug,” Moreno said.

Moreno filed a lawsuit against the city of Fowler because of the inconsistencies in reporting policies.

The police department sends an average of 185 cases to the DA every year.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/05/27/calif-police-chief-left-600-cases-desk-charged/#ixzz1NhqYminn

Santa Clara County mail-in ballot hiccup may have impacted local races, report finds

By Mike Rosenberg

Posted: 05/27/2011 06:16:24 PM PDT
Updated: 05/27/2011 11:09:33 PM PDT

Santa Clara County election officials sent more than 7,500 mail ballots to the wrong addresses during last June's election, unwittingly canceling votes cast by some South Bay residents even as those living out of state received ballots.

A report released Friday from the county's civil grand jury concludes the Registrar of Voters does not follow the proper procedures to avoid errors when mailing out ballots to people who have recently moved.

The findings stem from the grand jury's investigation into the June 2010 primary election, when about 550,000 of Santa Clara County's 825,000 voters received their ballots through mail.

The vendor the county election's office hired to mail the ballots erroneously forwarded 7,668 ballots to former South Bay residents who had recently moved, the grand jury found in its investigation.

Of those, the vendor mailed 2,030 ballots to people who moved outside the county -- some even outside the state -- and were thus ineligible to vote in the local election. The vendor caught the error in time, however, and the county told the grand jury it voided those ballots.

An additional 3,124 ballots were incorrectly sent to voters who had moved to a new ZIP code within the county, which changed the local contests they could vote in, such as school board races and city tax measures. The county had to void all those ballots and resend new, correct ones.

The grand jury found, however, that the election office didn't clearly inform those voters that their first ballot was voided and that they needed to mail back a second one. Some of those voters most likely never sent their second ballot, the grand jury concluded.

"Thus, for some, without their knowledge their votes may not have been counted," the report concludes. "In a close election, such as the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District Board of Trustees, where one candidate won by just two votes, every vote matters."

The final 2,514 ballots were sent incorrectly to people who had moved but were still in the right voting district. Election officials simply updated their addresses and counted their ballots as valid.

Although less than 1 percent of mail voters received an incorrect ballot, the report concludes that the elections office needs to improve its policies to prevent the error from happening again. It recommends new policies, such as ensuring the mailing vendor signs a document indicating it has updated its address list.

"This doesn't surprise me at all -- nobody's checking their work," said Sharon Sweeney, a member of the citizens advisory commission on elections.

Election officials could not be reached for comment late Friday, but they told the grand jury that their normal checks-and-balances process was thrown out of whack because of the error made by their vendor.

Still, the grand jury found the registrar does not have clear contract provisions requiring the vendor to properly handle address changes.

It's only the latest hiccup for the registrar.

Election officials had to work overtime during November's election cleaning smudges off more than 100,000 mail ballots that initially could not be read by their ballot-counting machines. The company that produced the ballots, ProVoteSolutions of Porterville, took responsibility for that problem. The vendor responsible for the June 2010 error was not named in the grand jury report.

In 2008, the department ran out of ballots at some precincts, discovered some electronic voting machines weren't working and that dozens of precincts did not have bilingual materials.


San Diego Grand jury takes on City Hall project

Cost projections for staying at current civic center painted an inaccurate picture, report says

By Aaron Burgin
Originally published 1:52 p.m., May 23, 2011, updated 6:28 p.m., May 23, 2011

San Diego city officials exaggerated the costs of staying at the current City Hall to justify spending nearly $300 million on a new civic center, the San Diego County Grand Jury said in a report released Monday.

The grand jury’s report runs counter to the city’s contention that the construction project would be cheaper than renovating the complex and leasing downtown office space for overflow office space.

“The city can have a safe City Hall that will be functional for many years without borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars that provide no new services,” the report says.

The decision on whether to build a new civic center has been pending decades. In recent years, opponents have argued that a new edifice would be fiscally irresponsible during an economic crisis. Supporters, including Mayor Jerry Sanders, have argued the converse.

Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, defended figures the city used to justify its support of the project.

“I have no idea what numbers the grand jury used on which to base its conclusions,” Goldstone said. “Our numbers were provided by nationally-recognized experts and were vetted extensively.”

Critics, including Councilman Carl DeMaio, capitalized on the grand jury’s findings and called on the city to drop the project.

“The report validates what our opposition has been, that developers have been pushing this project and that city government has been using very faulty and misleading financial projects to try to cram it through,” DeMaio said. “I hope this is a nail in the coffin for the project and that we move toward more common sense alternatives.”

The “common sense alternatives” DeMaio referred to include downsizing certain city departments to reduce the need for office space, which the grand jury also recommended in its report.

The City Hall project was tabled last year because city officials did not want it to appear on the November 2010 ballot alongside a sales-tax measure, which voters rejected anyway.

Since the election, four council members — DeMaio, Sherri Lightner, Kevin Faulconer and recently elected Lorie Zapf — have signed a memo that they will not pursue the City Hall project without a public vote, effectively creating a veto-proof majority.

The council in February voted to spend $4.2 million upgrading the current building with a complete fire sprinkler system, in part because the new civic center project was not moving forward.

The concept of a new facility to replace the aging building and consolidate the downtown office space it rents has been considered in each of the past three decades. In its most recent incarnation, city officials proposed a 19-story, 576,000 square-foot building at C Street and First Avenue, where Golden Hall sits just west of the existing City Hall

Officials have argued that the 1964 City Hall is in disrepair and that it would be more cost-effective to replace the building rather than spend millions to renovate it and renew leases on 500,000-square feet of office space.

A study done for the Centre City Development Corp. in 2009 by Jones Lang LaSalle, one of the top three international real estate firms, appeared to substantiate the city’s claims. It said it would cost the city nearly $417 million over the next 15 years to rehab the old building and continue to rent office space, compared to $359 million to build a new complex over the same period of time.

The city at the time was poised to enter into an exclusive negotiation with Portland developer Gerding Edlen to build a new Civic Center complex.

The study came under fire at the time from leasing specialist Irving Hughes, a San Diego-based firm, which argued the report used overinflated rental figures to justify the project.

“There’s no excuse for disregarding or misrepresenting the facts, no matter how noble the goal,” Jason Hughes, a principal with the firm, wrote in a July 29, 2010, opinion piece in the U-T. “The city shouldn’t tell voters it’s cheaper to build than to remodel and lease non city-owned office spaces when it’s clear that such is not the case.”

The four-page grand jury report echoes Hughes’ sentiments, questioning the city’s renovation and leasing estimates, which it says were based on pre-recession figures and the top end of cost estimates.

The grand jury said it found that downtown lease rates this year range from $1.70 to $1.90 per square foot, far less than the $2.50 to $2.75 per-square-foot rental rates cited in the city report. It also said the city used the maximum cost estimate for rehabbing the building instead of the minimum cost to ensure public health and safety.

Goldstone, in a prepared response, said the city’s lease estimates were based on response from landlords of the city’s privately owned annexes.

“The city specifically reached out to each of its landlords and asked them to price out an extension, knowing that the city was looking to vacate its leases once they expired,” he said. “This gave them every opportunity to provide the city with their best rates. The lease information used by the city in its analysis was based upon these responses.”

The grand jury recommended, among other things, the city study current rates rather than use older rates to justify the new facility; determine if downsizing departments will allow for a long-term reduction in leased space requirements; re-evaluate the cost of retrofitting the existing building considering both the minimum and maximum expenses along with public safety requirements; and re-examine and report current construction costs and cost savings against those used in 2008 and 2009.

While the project is dormant, DeMaio said he is concerned that the city will to try to revive the project, despite the council bloc opposed.

“That is why I am hoping this report puts an end to this,” he said.


San Joaquin County Grand Jury: Fire cutbacks essential

Stockton looks to close five engine companies, cut engine and truck crews
By Christian Burkin
Record Staff Writer
May 24, 2011 12:00 AM

STOCKTON - The San Joaquin County civil grand jury Monday released a report saying Stockton Fire Department crews are too big and recommending cuts that it estimated would save millions of dollars.

The Fire Department's standard response to a single-alarm structure fire is three engines and two trucks, with four firefighters on each engine and five on each truck. Those numbers are protected in labor agreements between the city and Stockton Professional Firefighters Local 456.

In a written statement, Capt. Dave Macedo, president of the firefighters union, said the grand jury's analysis was shallow and contained nothing new.

"The City of Stockton can save money if it employs fewer firefighters. We doubt anyone would disagree with that," the statement said.

In its report, the grand jury recommended cutting engine and truck crews by one firefighter each and establishing a relief pool with the remainder to reduce overtime. The grand jury estimated savings from those reductions at $5 million to $7 million annually.

The Fire Department's staffing, and the contractual protection of that staffing, has come under heavy criticism. Advocates of Measure H, a city-backed ballot measure intended to shift power over the department to the City Manager's Office, called for cuts similar to those recommended by the grand jury. That measure won easy approval from Stockton voters last year.

Working under a worst-case budget deficit projection of $37 million, the city has proposed closing five engine companies and cutting engine crews to three firefighters and truck crews to four.

According to the grand jury report: "Every fire chief in the country would embrace four firefighters on the engines and five on the trucks, but in reality the cost to sustain those firefighters must be addressed at a time when cities are planning deeper cuts to city services to balance the budgets."

Though several large cities in Northern California maintain staffing similar or identical to Stockton's, the grand jury concluded, "Stockton has more in common with other cities in San Joaquin County than with San Jose, San Francisco or Oakland." Those larger cities may have similar staffing, the grand jury concluded, but they also have infrastructure Stockton does not. The grand jury also said those cities are planning to cut their crews.

The grand jury also said the 3.5 percent of Stockton's calls are for fires, part of a nationwide pattern of falling fire numbers.

Macedo said the comparison to Manteca, Lodi and Tracy doesn't bear out under scrutiny. Stockton has a greater proportion of old housing and mid- and high-rise buildings that Manteca, Lodi and Tracy lack. He added that Stockton fire is responsible for the Port of Stockton and a broad industrial base to worry about.

"It's an older town, the buildings are beat up and dilapidated, and even though they're abandoned, people are living in them," he said.

Citing a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation - called "two in, two-out" - requiring at least four firefighters at a burning building before entry, Macedo said a cut to staffing could slow response times. The three firefighters on the first engine to arrive at a structure fire would have to wait until more units arrived before going in.

"We're going to have to wait for the next engine to get on scene before we can go in," Macedo said. "Can we do it? Yeah, but the fires are going to get bigger."

A study in 2010 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded four-person fire crews overall work 25 percent faster than three-person crews. The union has long campaigned to protect its staffing, holding firefighting simulations to influence the thinking of local policy leaders and opinion makers.

Stockton Vice Mayor Kathy Miller said she hadn't seen the grand jury report Monday but that its findings were consistent with an outside analysis commissioned last year from the International City/County Management Association, which made similar recommendations.

"The public had been asking those same questions, and our response was Measure H," Miller said. "We couldn't control (staffing costs) contractually, and now we can."

Miller said "the safety of the public and of our firefighters is a top priority." Still, she said, the city must find ways to be more efficient.

Macedo said staffing cuts are almost inevitable. The Fire Department is expected to come up $19 million short next year. That can't be made up with wage and benefit concessions alone, he said, and the city has proved willing to impose cuts it can't negotiate. Macedo said firefighters are still negotiating with the city and making credible offers.

"We can get pretty close to saving all those jobs and doing what the city wants to do," he said. The city of Stockton has 90 days to respond.

Staff writer Daniel Thigpen contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Christian Burkin at (209) 546-8279 or cburkin@recordnet.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/burkinblog.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Grand jury: Santa Clara County agencies doing good job tracking sex offenders

By Sean Webby

Posted: 05/27/2011 03:39:59 PM PDT
Updated: 05/27/2011 03:57:48 PM PDT

Despite growing budgetary constraints and the unintended consequences of Jessica's Law, Santa Clara County law enforcement agencies are "diligently and successfully" monitoring the whereabouts of thousands of registered sex offenders in the county, according to a Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report released Friday.

The report concludes that four major agencies in the county -- San Jose police, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, the District Attorney's Office and the state parole division -- were well-organized with programs to make sure sex felons are living where they say they are living.

Under Megan's Law, registered sex offenders must tell local law enforcement agencies where they reside. In many cases, an offender's name, crimes and exact address is then published on the Megan's Law website managed by the state attorney general's office.

The sheriffs' department, for example, reported a 95 percent compliance rate.

"We believe the high compliance rate is due to the coordinated efforts by all law enforcement agencies in Santa Clara County," said sheriff's Lt. Dianne Camarda. "Some of our effective tools are utilizing focused enforcement and sharing resources to save personnel costs and to accomplish our common goal, which is to protect the community in which we live."

However, Jessica's Law, the controversial law passed in 2006 that prohibits sex offenders from living near schools, parks and other areas, has also forced many offenders into homelessness, the report notes. As of now, at least half the county's sex offenders are homeless. Although they are required to check in with law enforcement more frequently, their whereabouts cannot be confirmed and they are difficult to track.

The report quoted an interviewee as saying "law enforcement can only do so much. Parents have the responsibility to monitor their children's activity and know what is going on in their neighborhood.''

Contact Sean Webby at 408-920-5003.


Santa Barbara County Grand Jury Report Looks at Recidivism Among Mentally Ill

It makes note of Laura's Law, of which a Noozhawk series sparked a deeper discussion about helping those who need but aren't receiving treatment

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper | Published on 05.26.2011

A Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report released Thursday looks at recidivism among the mentally ill and what steps county leaders should look at going forward. It focused on a specific “target population” — the mentally ill, possibly substance-abusing, uninsured, indigent, homeless individuals cycling in and out of jail.

“The jury believes the cost of jailing and tending to the medical needs of these individuals on an ad hoc, recurring basis is greater than the cost of a planned and sustained effort that addresses their problems at the outset,” the report stated.

It cites statements from homeless advocate Roger Heroux’s research, which states that the chronic homeless make up about 15 percent of the total homeless population but consume 50 percent of the resources allocated to homelessness. Based on that assumption, the report implies that expenses to deal with the chronically homeless totaled $12 million just this year.

Heroux’s report also analyzed the cost of providing supportive housing. His report was administered in 2006, so costs would be higher now, but the comparison is still interesting.

Heroux estimated that supportive housing costs $28 per day and homeless shelters $16 per day, while jails cost $86 per day, psychiatric facilities $800 and hospitals $1,600.

“The jury is not aware of any studies that compare the current estimated cost of the chronic homeless to the cost savings for Santa Barbara County if these people were diagnosed, treated, housed and monitored from the very beginning,” the report stated.

The jury also calls on the Board of Supervisors to produce a document comparing the current total yearly costs of the incarcerated mentally ill indigent homeless to the estimated total yearly cost of providing housing, medical and psychological services, case management, outpatient care and other needed services to create stability for these particular individuals.

The report also mentions Laura’s Law, a bill that requires outpatient treatment, by court order, for people who are unable — or won’t — access mental health services voluntarily.

It notes discussions entertained by county supervisors in 2003 about the law. Since no funding was dedicated to the bill, officials deemed it too costly to be implemented at the time. The ability to enforce a court order also presented a challenge, but the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services agreed something needed to be done about the issues raised by the legislation.

The discussion was largely silent until Noozhawk published a series on a patient death at the county’s psychiatric health facility. Those stories prompted discussion among ADMHS’ Mental Health Commission, which proposed that a pilot program be put forward to deal with the problem.

That program, currently under way, seeks to allocate current Assertive Community Treatment Team resources to 15 seriously mentally ill, high-risk individuals who are not receiving treatment. But the program depends on patients accepting help voluntarily, instead of a court-ordered treatment program as provided for under Laura’s Law.

“This jury report notes that some mentally ill people in need of assistance may not be aware of their condition and some resist intervention,” according to the report. “How well ACT can break the resistance to voluntary treatment, or whether or not ACT will utilize legal avenues at its disposal to compel treatment, will be major factors in determining success.”

The report also confirms Sheriff Bill Brown’s statement from earlier this year in which he told county supervisors that the county’s jails have become de facto mental institutions.

“An estimated 25 to 30 percent of those incarcerated at the Main Jail were on psychotropic medication,” the report states.

It also takes on Prison Health Services, the company that the county contracts with to operate medical, and mental health, services within the jail. Concern was expressed for mentally ill inmates who may not be capable of requesting help for mental illness, and many of the jail custody staff aren’t trained to identify those symptoms. The company’s contract expires in June and is subject to renewal.

“The jury found that not only have the promises noted above not been achieved, some of the conditions of the contract have apparently not been met,” the report said. A handful of items were listed, including intake screening by PHS mental health professionals at the time of booking.

Though a part-time jail discharge planner has been hired, the report said it is not equivalent to case management and follow-up.

“Individuals are likely sent back to the streets of the county, homeless and mentally ill, with a high probability that their lives will end prematurely from substance abuse, an undetected/untreated physical ailment, exposure to the elements or a combination of these factors,” according to the report.

The report also calls for the Sheriff’s Department to conduct an audit on Prison Health Services, and calls for more mental health treatment beds in the community, as well as in the jail.

Click here to read the full report.


Tulare Grand Jury urges pension plan changes for county workers

Written by

Tulare County and its employees may have to increase their contributions to the county's retirement plan by millions of dollars over the next few years, the county's Grand Jury has concluded.

The Grand Jury is recommending that the retirement plan reduce expenses by raising employees' minimum retirement ages, altering the plan for new employees and ending employees' ability to use "salary spiking" to increase the amounts of their monthly retirement checks.

One of the ways spiking occurs stems from the flex benefit the county offers full-time employees, a minimum of $241.77 added to each of their two-week paychecks — or more, depending on the workers' positions — to offset their medical insurance costs.

County employees have the option of receiving the money untaxed, which most do, or as taxable income.

To calculate retirement pay, the Tulare County Employees' Retirement Association takes the 36 consecutive months during which the employees received their highest levels of pay. By taking the flex benefit as taxable income, that money is counted as additional pay and can raise the monthly pension payments that retirees receive for the rest of their lives, according to one of two Grand Jury reports issued to TCERA on May 15.

And there are other ways employees can spike their salaries to im-prove their retirement pay, including cashing out unused vacation or sick leave prior to retiring and accepting car allowances for using their personal cars rather than using county cars for work, according to the report.

"This allowance is then included in the final average monthly salary and can result in enhanced pension benefits," it states.

The Grand Jury recommends reducing the retirement plan's costs by developing policies to prevent spiking.

Members of the Grand Jury launched their investigation of TCERA not because of complaints or accusations of wrongdoing but rather because of growing interest in pension plans and taxpayer contributions to them.

Among the Grand Jury's findings:

ª TCERA's pension program had a market value of more than $833.3 million on June 30, 2010, the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year.

ª The plan had enough assets to cover only 91.6 percent of its anticipated future costs. That ratio has declined over the years, from 116.9 percent in 2001.

TCERA is obligated to pay retired employees' pensions, using money paid into the plan by the county, its employees and returns on pension fund investments.

The county's contribution to the plan was 11.4 percent of its payroll in the fiscal year ending in 2008, or about $23 million. The Grand Jury reports that ratio is expected to increase to 19.3 percent, about $68 million, by 2018.

Despite the increase, the plan's funded ratio is expected to drop to 75.9 percent by that time, the report states.

"It is impossible for the Grand Jury to see how the plan recovers from this position, even if the ratio falls no further than 75.9 percent by 2018," the report states.

Those numbers are based on the pension plan's investment averaging returns of 7.9 percent over the next several years.

But the Grand Jury cites a November presentation to the TCERA board of directors by the plan's financial adviser, who reported that the returns through 2018 likely would average only 5.4 percent.

That's part of the reason the Grand Jury predicts the county's pension contribution will rise so much.

Another reason is the added expenses the pension plan incurred starting in 2005, after the county reduced the minimum retirement age for most employees — except those in public safety jobs — to collect full pensions and related benefits from 61 1/4 to 57.

"We must realize that without major changes, the county's pension costs soon will spiral out of control. The current path is unsustainable," the report states.

Additional recommendations by the Grand Jury include:

ª Develop a plan to get the plan's funding ratio at 100 percent by June 30, 2022.

ª Assume the plan's investment returns from 2012-22 will average 5.4 percent. "This will accurately reflect the county pension plan contributions that will be needed if those contributions are the only remedy for the shortfall."

ª Consider raising minimum retirement ages to begin collecting full pensions — age 50 minimum for public safety workers.

ª Reset pension benefits for new hires, which could include providing defined contribution plans, like the 401(k) retirement plans commonly offered by private businesses.

That way, if investments go bad and retirement funding suffers, the risk falls upon the employees, not the county, nor does the county have to pay additional dollars to cover retirement plan costs, the report said.

ª Negotiate through employee union representatives that in any given year, individual employee contributions to the pension plan be at least equal to the county's contribution.

It's estimated that by the end of this fiscal year, Tulare County will have paid more than $24.2 million into the pension plan, about 10.6 percent of the county's eligible payroll.

Employees' contributions are expected to total $16.9 million, an average of 7.6 percent of their salaries.

David Kehler, TCERA's retirement administrator, declined to comment on the Grand Jury reports, but did say his agency is preparing written responses.

The response deadline is Aug. 10.

County Supervisor Phil Cox, who also is a member of TCERA's board, said during Tuesday's county Board of Supervisors meeting that he disagreed with the Grand Jury indicating that the county's pension assets are in bad shape.

He said the Grand Jury used old financial information that reflected the worst economic time of the decade.

As of April 30 of this year, the value of the pension plan's assets was more than $1.1 billion."Tulare County has a healthy plan," he told the audience at the board meeting, adding that he was confident TCERA would respond to the claims to the satisfaction of the public.

The Grand Jury report acknowledges that Tulare County's pension plan is doing better than those of many other counties.

It notes that Fresno County's grand jury reported that county contributions to its pension plan are expected to exceed 52 percent by 2013.


Marin County rejects grand jury homeless plan

Posted: 05/26/2011 08:01:49 AM PDT
Updated: 05/26/2011 08:01:56 AM PDT

NOVATO, Calif.—Marin County supervisors have rejected a grand jury's recommendation that they make the implementation of a permanent emergency shelter program for the homeless a top priority.

The Marin Independent Journal reports that county supervisors endorsed a staff report against the recommendation on Tuesday.

The civil grand jury in March said there are hundreds of homeless families and individuals in Marin County who need shelter and called for the emergency shelter program.

County officials say they are focusing on developing plans that prevent homelessness and quickly move families and individuals into housing, avoiding shelters altogether.


Mendocino County GJ finds officer misconduct, doesn't elaborate

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 05/27/2011 05:07:16 AM PDT

The Mendocino County grand jury this week reported it received complaints of officer misconduct during warrant searches and found them valid, but didn't say how many complaints there were or against what law enforcement agencies.

The grand jury released its report, "Walk the Talk: A Report on Search Warrants and Officer Conduct," on Sunday. The report details the search warrant process, makes recommendations regarding officer training and discusses "unethical behavior" in general terms.

"Complainants are interviewed but rarely choose to make a formal complaint due to fear of reprisal, or have changed their mind after venting their frustrations," the report says. "Most officers are honest and professional. They discharge their duties in a respectful manner, consistent with their sworn oath of office. Unfortunately a few rogue officers' unethical behavior places a black cloud over all officers."

Only two specific examples are cited: one where the county of Mendocino paid out a $35,000 settlement "to a person who suffered an injury when a search was conducted at an incorrect address," and a complaint about officers not providing a copy of the search warrant.

"It is a common misconception that a search warrant must be shown prior to entering a residence or that a copy of the warrant must be left at the scene by law enforcement," the report says. "This misconception was the basis for one of the complaints that the grand jury accepted for investigation.

"Television gives the public the impression that officers carry search warrants in hand, present it as they are executing the warrant, and explain why the warrant is being served.

"It is unrealistic to expect law enforcement officers to explain to the person why his/her property is being searched, and how the search will be conducted in every circumstance; however, citizens should be treated with courtesy and respect."

Search warrants are required for homes, areas of a business closed to the public and locked compartments of a vehicle, according to the report. Parolees and probationers don't have the same right to privacy that other citizens have and can be searched at any time, the grand jury stated.

When officers arrive at a home to serve a search warrant, they knock on the door and announce themselves unless "exigent circumstances" (i.e., medical emergency, officer safety when a suspect could be armed, imminent escape of a suspect, imminent danger of injury or death, serious damage to property or imminent destruction of evidence) prevent it.

Officers may enter forcibly if there is no response to the knock within a reasonable time, the report states, explaining, "The officers' concern is the delay may allow the destruction of evidence."

"Depending on the circumstances, it is not required that the warrant be shown or a copy be left with the person whose property is searched; however, (state law) states that a receipt is required for any items taken," the grand jury report says.

An officer needs a warrant, consent or exigent circumstances to enter any area where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, according to the grand jury report. Search warrants require probable cause, including search for a person, evidence or both.

A warrant requires a judge's signature on a sworn affidavit that includes a description of the property or person to be searched, probable cause and evidence expected to be found. The process requires returning to the court a list of items seized and the status of that property.

"Law enforcement has conducted searches at incorrect property addresses," the report states.

The report concerns search warrants served and executed by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, police departments in Ukiah, Willits and Fort Bragg, county Probation Department, Bureau of Land Management, California Highway Patrol, state Department of Fish & Game, Cal Fire and other state agencies.

The report takes a vague focus on the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, noting in its "background" section that the Task Force operates under the state Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, which funds the commander's salary and the office rent.

Each local law enforcement agency contributes officers and $3,500 annually for office administration and supplies. The Mendocino County Probation Department no longer contributes $3,500 to the Task Force, and it and the Willits Police Department no longer have officers on the Task Force, but serve on its executive committee.

The team includes the commander, two deputies and a police dog from the MCSO, one officer each from the FBPD, UPD and CHP, a secretary and an evidence technician.

The Task Force investigates major crimes, which may include homicide, rape, eradication, cultivation, production, distribution and sales of marijuana, methamphetamine and other illicit drugs.

The grand jury's report notes that each law enforcement agency is responsible for the behavior of its Task Force assignee, and that the commander has no authority to discipline or terminate officers for misconduct, but can make recommendations to the parent agency.

"The Task Force accepts and investigates all verbal complaints, but refers formal complaints to the parent agency of the officer involved," according to the report.

The Task Force served 143 search warrants in 2009. Investigation and documentation for each search warrant required an average of 15 hours of officer time, according to the grand jury.

"Officers are held to a higher standard of behavior than the general public," the grand jury report notes. "Each local law enforcement agency has similar policies for conduct, ethics, and behavior. Officer misconduct includes: lying, theft or embezzlement, use of profanity, speeding without emergency lights, use of excessive force, intoxication while on duty, absenteeism, tardiness, sleeping on duty and violating safe working practices."

Officers are subject to progressive disciplinary measures, including reprimand, time off/additional training, administrative leave, demotion, suspension without pay and termination, the report states.

The grand jury notes that higher-ranking officers on the Task Force supervise others, and "the manner and style of supervision varies among supervisory officers; this discretion may lead to confusion among officers."

The grand jury recommends that "law enforcement review their Code of Conduct and Ethics" quarterly and undergo "sensitivity training and random psychological testing."

The grand jury also recommends that the Task Force commander "immediately report any complaints of misconduct to the parent agency;" that officers "treat all persons with dignity, respect and courtesy at all times with conditions permitting;" and that the Task Force team "explore the use of video recorders to be worn and activated at all times, except while conducting sensitive investigations."


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Viewpoint: Grand jury bill is 'Exhibit A' of Legislature's dysfunction

By James Spagnole
Special to The Bee
Published: Thursday, May. 26, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 11A
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 26, 2011 - 6:40 am

America's cynicism with politics continues. No wonder – the following typifies why everyone is ready to suspect the worst of every elected official.

Roger Dickinson, a newly minted Assembly member, submitted a packet of bills nearly before the ink dried on his inauguration papers. One, Assembly Bill 622, purports to improve the existing civil grand jury system and professes to fix "abuses."

It was heard April 5 in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The new assemblyman is on that committee. Testimony was taken from three organizations, all opposed to the bill. Their reasons and concerns were cogent, clear and well-stated. They raised procedural and substantive issues. They were followed by six members of the public who all stated their strong opposition, also stating clear reasons that justify further inquiries by the commission chairman or members. No one except the author testified in support of the bill.

In the face of organized opposition raising serious questions about the bill requiring further investigation, the chairman disregarded the need for any further investigation and called for a vote. The measure passed out of Judiciary on a 6-4 vote and went to Appropriations since it contained language that identified it as containing an unfunded state mandate.

The bill was set for hearing in Appropriations. The same witnesses were prepared to testify in opposition, this time armed with specific data and estimates that the bill will force costs of upward of $250,000, possibly resulting in costs in excess of $1.5 million upon counties if passed as submitted. This is where it gets interesting.

The Appropriations Committee procedures ignored the fact that the unfunded mandate issue is a potential compelling defect greater than the procedural and substantive issues raised at the Judiciary hearing. It removed the bill from the hearing calendar and put it on the suspense calendar. Normally this would mean the bill would languish and most likely disappear. Not in this case.

Without further hearing, the matter has been set for a vote in Appropriations on Friday, with specific instructions from the chairman that no testimony for or against the bill will be permitted.

Assuming that the Appropriations Committee will vote along party lines similar to the Judiciary Committee, this bill will reach the floor for consideration without being fully vetted or discussed, all in the face of no voiced support other than the author's, and of specific evidence in opposition that highlights serious defects and the creation of another unfunded state mandate.

The purpose of the bill? To radically reduce the confidentiality and latitude inherent in a civil grand jury's ability to privately examine complaints about governmental operations, and to remove the confidentiality of witnesses testifying before a civil grand jury by requiring such testimony, if taken under oath, to be "public," recorded and with counsel present.

This bill, if passed, would remove one of the few remaining vehicles for citizens to ensure that local government operations are examined honestly, without fear of retribution. It would also make it nearly impossible for a civil grand jury to write a report within the time frame allotted by law by establishing unrealistic and obstructive time frames for discussions with affected governmental bodies before publication of its findings.

All of this is with no support by anyone other than the author, a freshman legislator, and in the face of substantial organized opposition and the creation of an unfunded state mandate, and most important, without a hearing on how this unfunded state mandate will impact counties already reeling under the most serious budgetary crisis since the Great Depression.

And people wonder why legislators are held in such disrepute.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/05/26/3654874/grand-jury-bill-is-exhibit-a-of.html#ixzz1NT7LHYQ9

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Riverside Grand Jury: County not doing enough to ensure mental health of inmates

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Issue 21, Volume 15.

RIVERSIDE - A grand jury investigation into the treatment of mentally ill inmates in Riverside County jail facilities uncovered a number of problems, including a shortage of psychiatric specialists, lost records and inadequate transition care.

The Board of Supervisors accepted the 19-member grand jury's findings without comment today and directed the Executive Office to draw up a response in the next 60 days.

The report examined practices and policies at the county's five jails, where, on average, about one-third of detainees require mental health services. The sheriff's department contracts with the Riverside County Regional Medical Center and the county's Department of Mental Health to provide treatment.

According to the grand jury, the jails are generally not staffed with mental health professionals who can screen an inmate on arrival to determine whether the prisoner is in genuine need of psychiatric care.

The report also found that correctional personnel are sometimes unable to identify a patient, leading to missed treatment opportunities and a heightened risk of "decompensation."

According to the grand jury, there were indications that inmates who required anti-psychotic drugs to control behavioral disorders missed them because of irregular pill distribution.

Jurors found that when inmates were transferred to state facilities for evaluation or treatment, their information packets were hand-carried, resulting in documents being lost.

One of the panel's key concerns was the lack of available psychiatric staff "to identify and treat in an individualized manner those treatable inmates suffering from serious mental disorders."

The grand jury was also critical of the lack of a formal "treatment facility" within the jail system, and that inmates with psychiatric issues had no option but to disclose their problems to correctional officers, instead of conferring privately with a specialist.

Upon release from jail, psychologically disturbed inmates are sometimes left to their own devices, without direction on where to find assistance, according to the report.

The grand jury made a number of recommendations, beginning with the designation of a treatment facility, which it said could be established in an unused 96-bed health ward at the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.

According to the grand jury, the county should strengthen policies to ensure mental health evaluations occur within 24 hours of a detainee's incarceration, and that within 72 hours of booking, a treatment plan be developed for an inmate with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

The report said new guidelines should dictate that mentally ill inmates receive medications on a 24-hour basis and that each jail has a mental health specialist available day or night.

According to the grand jury, discharge planning should be part of each mentally ill inmate's release, with county personnel arranging for "medications and therapy," as well as helping with "housing, government benefits assistance (and) employment opportunities."


Marin grand jury revisits gang issue amid spate of violence

By Gary Klien
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 05/24/2011 04:51:43 PM PDT

Despite a recent flurry of headlines about gang combat in Marin, a civil grand jury investigation turned up no statistics to prove there is a serious increase in gang crime.

"The jury found such information to be virtually nonexistent or spotty at best," the grand jury said in a report issued Monday. "The small amount of data that does exist can be interpreted to support any point of view.

"The best interpretation we could make by analyzing the nominal data available was that the increase in crime is 'probably' not significant."

The grand jury, an independent investigative body empowered by the local court, made the recommendation in its latest report: "Gangs of Marin: A Tale of Two Counties." The report was a follow-up to a similar study in 2008, when the grand jury concluded that "Marin's gangs are less violent and their numbers are growing more slowly than in other Bay Area communities."

The grand jury said it was prompted to revisit the subject after a rash of news stories about armed gang combat over the past six months. Some of the violence occurred in areas not associated with Marin's gang subculture, including a double-shooting at the Hamilton Marketplace in Novato and a fatal stabbing in San Rafael's Gerstle Park neighborhood.

Despite the ferocity of the attacks, however, the grand jury said Marin continues to be somewhat insulated from the gang problems plaguing other Bay Area counties. It credited Marin's vigilant and engaged citizens, the county's relative geographic isolation from more gang-prone areas and the proactive work of law enforcement agencies, probation officers, educators, municipal officials and community youth programs.

"They have seen and recognized the potential havoc gangs can wreak on our society (but mostly on our youth) and they are working diligently to keep Marin's proverbial 'finger in the dike' to keep local gang activity at a trickle in Marin rather than a torrent," the report said.

The grand jury especially credited the effect of nighttime gang sweeps, during which investigators conduct unannounced searches of gang members who have waived their Fourth Amendment rights as a condition of probation.

"In addition to specific violations, the sweeps provide valuable information to law officers and the probation department that they could never acquire in any other way," the grand jury said. "They also keep gang members more law abiding when they realize their probation can be terminated at any time for violating the conditions of their probation grant."

Novato police Chief Joseph Kreins said the grand jury report was thorough and balanced.

"Actually I think we've been pretty successful," he said. "I think the level of (interagency) cooperating is about as good as it's been in a long time."

The title of the grand jury report refers to the observation that there are two overlapping societies in Marin — upstanding citizens, and a small but insidious gang culture — whose worlds rarely come into contact. The former group is usually oblivious to the latter, but the cultures sometimes collide when gang violence spills out into the broader community, the grand jury said.

"This analogy of the two counties was a direct result of our discussions with gang members," the grand jury said. "They were the ones who postulated the presence of an alternate Marin. They took delight in the fact that they see us, but we tend not to see them.

"They were amused to call our attention to the fact that citizens of Marin who eat in restaurants, have their landscapes groomed, cars washed or repaired, or take local buses, have most assuredly rubbed shoulders with bona fide gang members."


San Mateo Grand jury suggests schools address bullying

May 25, 2011, 03:53 AM Daily Journal Staff Report

Bullying has gained wide media coverage in recent years but many San Mateo County districts have neither a policy regarding such harassment nor a method for handling the problem — an issue the grand jury recommends be addressed within the next year.

In a five-page report released Tuesday, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury explored what rules are in place throughout the county and found much work is needed. Only two of the 23 county school districts — San Mateo Union and Cabrillo Unified — have bullying policies. Eighteen, including the previous two, have some form of harassment policy which does not necessarily include cyber bullying, according to the report.

As a result, the grand jury recommended the San Mateo County superintendent of schools facilitate a meeting before the end of the 2011-12 school year to develop standardized policies on bullying and enforcement of those rules. The public should then be made aware of the goals and possible punishment for bullying.

Defining bullying as “aggressive behavior that is intentional, repeated over time and involves an imbalance of power or strength,” the report noted it can take many forms like physical violence, name calling, intimidation, exclusion or online posts. In 2003, the California Department of Education published Bullying at School to assist school communities in recognizing, understanding, defining and responding to bullying. California Education Code gives districts the ability to suspend or expel students for bullying but not all districts have policies on such procedures, according to the report.

Five districts — Bayshore, Hillsborough, La Honda-Pescadero, San Carlos and Woodside — have neither a bullying nor a harassment policy, according to the report. Ten districts have no enforcement policy when it comes to bullying. Many do, however, use a good conduct code or administrative recourse for acts of harassment.

To read the full report visit www.sanmateocountycourt.org/grandjury.


San Mateo Grand jury urges Menlo Park and East Palo Alto police to use Tasers

By Joshua Melvin

Posted: 05/24/2011 06:28:02 PM PDT
Updated: 05/24/2011 11:08:44 PM PDT

Menlo Park and East Palo Alto are the only two San Mateo County cities that don't arm officers with Tasers, and they should start doing so because the devices save money and prevent injuries, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.

The grand jury found that Tasers, although still dangerous, reduce the likelihood that an officer will get hurt during a confrontation with a suspect. Injuries result in increased costs to taxpayers in the form of disability payments and higher insurance rates, the report said.

Both Menlo Park and East Palo Alto officials said they plan to explore arming their officers with Tasers. East Palo Alto police Chief Ron Davis said they are a "good tool," and he wants to begin talking with the community about them this summer. The department initially couldn't afford the roughly $40,000 to buy the devices, but now Davis said it's a question of getting residents' backing.

"There is a lot of stigma attached to it," he said. "But we're in a position where we can present an intelligent argument for devices that can reduce injuries to officers and (the public)."

Menlo Park police Chief Bryan Roberts said the prevailing wisdom in the department was that officers had enough tools to deal with unruly suspects. But Roberts came to the Peninsula from Citrus Heights, which uses Tasers. "I think they have a lot of value," Roberts said. "It is something we are going to evaluate here."

Officers from the 18 other city police departments in the county -- as well as BART police, San Mateo County Sheriff's Office deputies and California Highway Patrol officers -- all carry the devices. In total, the agencies' officers used their Tasers roughly 130 times over the past two years, with no reported deaths or serious injuries.

Officials of one city, which was not identified in the report, noted that a Taser was used to subdue a person who would have been shot.

However, critics have argued that Tasers can spur heart attacks in people who, for example, have a pre-existing condition or are under the influence of drugs. Some have also argued officers use the weapons to get control of people who could be subdued by other means.

"Taser devices can be misused by officers, just as any other use of force can be misused," the report said.

However, the jury didn't find any instance of improper use in the past two years. It noted that most agencies offer extensive training.

The jury recommended that the Sheriff's Office change its Taser-use policy, which says deputies have to make physical contact with a suspect before they are allowed to draw their stun guns. All the other departments that operate in the county use a different policy, which allows officers to use the less-lethal weapons whenever they decide its necessary.

Sheriff Greg Munks said deputies are already allowed to use whatever force they deem appropriate, including stun guns. But the Sheriff's Office policy is intended to keep deputies from using Tasers frequently and before other methods such as verbal commands and physical restraint holds. "I don't want them to go straight to the Taser," Munks said.

Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Yolo County Grand Jury: Conflicts of interest, Brown Act violations, STAR testing errors, among findings of Winters school district investigations

• Mon, May 23, 2011
"The District was particularly resistive to Grand Jury inquiries and made simple inquiries more procedurally difficult than necessary."
There was a clear conflict of interest in a consulting contract award made by the Winters Joint Unified School District (District) to a designated employee’s paramour not disclosed at the time the award was made, and the employee participated in the selection of the consultant. The failure to fully and fairly disclose the existence of financial or strong personal relationship between the parties to a contract is a violation of State law and District Bylaws. These violations could allow the District to nullify the existing contract and consider discipline for the designated employee. The 2010/11 Yolo County Grand Jury recommends the District’s Board of Trustees take several actions regarding the no-bid contract inappropriately awarded by a District designated employee to that person’s paramour.
The Grand Jury found that the nonrenewal of another District designated employee’s contract may have been influenced by the conflict created by the hiring of the consultant. The Board's decision not to renew a designated employee’s contract in March 2010 proved to be highly divisive and generated numerous requests for investigation by the Grand Jury. These allegations concern violations of the Board’s Policies and Bylaws and the State’s open meeting Brown Act. While the Grand Jury’s powers to investigate school districts are limited under the law, it may investigate procedural and operational issues but is not permitted to investigate substantive concerns. The Grand Jury found that the WJUSD Trustees violated the Brown Act by failing to place their decision about the nonrenewal properly on the agenda for open roll call. The Grand Jury found multiple examples in which the WJUSD Trustees violated the open meeting law.
The Grand Jury found multiple examples in which the WJUSD Board violated its own Policies and Bylaws regarding treatment of community members. Particularly egregious behaviors that should be stopped immediately are disrespectful comments and gestures made by the Board to community members during Board meeting public comment periods. The Grand Jury commends the 2010/11 Board on the steps it has taken to improve meeting professionalism.
The Grand Jury also found multiple errors in administering the State’s annual standardized STAR testing in April 2011.
The District was particularly resistive to Grand Jury inquiries and made simple inquiries more procedurally difficult than necessary.
The Yolo County Grand Jury functions as a citizen “watchdog” organization to review the operations and performance of county and city governments, school districts, and special districts. Based on these assessments, the Grand Jury publishes its findings and may recommend constructive action to improve the quality and effectiveness of local government.
The public can access the full Winters Joint Unified School District report and the seven reports already released this year at the Grand Jury website: http://www.yolocounty.org/index.aspx?page=780. The Grand Jury will release the remainder of this year’s investigative reports and the final published volume of all twelve reports on June 30.
The 2010/11 Yolo County Grand Jury initiated an investigation into the Winters Joint Unified School District (WJUSD) in response to citizen complaints regarding 2009/10 Board of Trustees’ actions at meetings and treatment of community members, particularly in response to the nonrenewal of a designated employee’s contract at the high school. These allegations concern violations of the Board’s Policies and Bylaws and the State’s open meeting Brown Act. While the Grand Jury’s powers to investigate school districts are limited under the law, it may investigate procedural and operational issues but is not permitted to investigate substantive concerns.
The Grand Jury found a clear conflict of interest in the award of a consulting contract to a WJUSD designated employee’s paramour, not disclosed at the time the award was made. A related violation occurred when the designated employee participated in the selection of the consultant; the designated employee should have been recused from the selection. The Grand Jury found contracting practices which appeared to have conflicts or disqualifying interests. The Grand Jury recommends the Trustees take several actions regarding the no-bid contract inappropriately awarded by a WJUSD designated employee to that person’s paramour. The District was particularly resistive to Grand Jury inquiries and made simple inquiries more procedurally difficult than necessary.
The Grand Jury found that the nonrenewal of another WJUSD designated employee’s contract may have been influenced by the conflict. The Grand Jury found that the WJUSD Trustees violated the Brown Act by failing to place their decision about the nonrenewal properly on the agenda for open roll call. The Grand Jury found multiple examples in which the WJUSD Trustees violated open meeting laws and its own Policies and Bylaws.
The Grand Jury found that the District does not have an adequate method for handling citizen complaints and ensuring provision of adequate and respectful responses. The Grand Jury recommends that the Board of Trustees take immediate steps to abide by its own Policies and Bylaws and the State’s open meeting act. Particularly egregious behaviors that should be stopped immediately are disrespectful comments and gestures made by the Board to community members during Board meeting public comment periods. The Grand Jury commends the 2010/11 Board on the steps it has taken to improve meeting professionalism.
The Grand Jury found multiple errors in administering the State’s annual Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) testing in April 2011.
The Grand Jury received complaints alleging violations by the Winters Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees and District administration concerning Board governance and open meeting laws. The Board’s decision not to renew a designated employee’s contract in March 2010 proved to be highly divisive and generated numerous requests for investigation by the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury’s investigation expanded to encompass both the 2009/10 and 2010/11 school years and identified several other areas of concern. The alleged problems and violations include:
1. Conflict of interest in awarding of consultant contract
2. Ralph M. Brown Act (open meeting) violations
3. WJUSD Board of Trustees policy issues and violations
4. STAR administration problems
California Penal Code Section 925 provides: “The grand jury shall investigate and report on the operations, accounts, and records of the officers, departments, or functions of the county including those operations, accounts, and records of any special legislative district or other district in the county created pursuant of state law for which the officers of the county are serving in their ex officio capacity as officers of the districts.”
California Penal Code Section 933.5 further provides: “A grand jury may at any time examine the books and records of any special-purpose assessing or taxing district located wholly or partly in the county or the local agency formation commission in the county, and, in addition to any other investigatory powers granted by this chapter, may investigate and report upon the method or system of performing the duties of such district or commission.” Since assessed property within a school district is subject to a special tax for maintenance of schools in the area, school districts are included in this section.
The Grand Jury interviewed WJUSD Board members, District Administrators and staff as well as community members. The Grand Jury reviewed WJUSD Board of Trustee Bylaws, District Policies, Board meeting documents, the Brown Act, WJUSD documents and internal communications.
The City of Winters is located in the western portion of Yolo County and was founded in 1875 and incorporated in1878. The current population is approximately 5,500 with an additional 3,000 residing in the surrounding rural areas. The school district serves approximately 1,630 students attending the following schools: Waggoner Elementary, Shirley Rominger and Winters Middle Schools, Winters High School and Wolfskill Continuation High School.
1. Conflict of interest in awarding consulting contract
Rules concerning conflict of interest
“The Board of Trustees desires to maintain the highest ethical standards and help ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the District and the public... A Board member or designated employee makes a governmental decision when acting under the authority of his/her office or position votes on a matter, appoints a person, obligates or commits the District to any course of action, or enters into any type of contractual agreement on behalf of the District… Board members and designated employees shall disclose any conflict of interest and as necessary shall refrain from participating in the decision.” (WJUSD Board Bylaws 9270) “Every agency shall adopt and promulgate a Conflict of Interest Code pursuant to the provisions of this article. A Conflict of Interest Code shall have the force of law and any violation of a Conflict of Interest Code by a designated employee shall be deemed a violation of this chapter… Disqualification shall be required by the Conflict of Interest Code when the designated employee has a financial interest.” (California Government Code 87300 et seq)
District’s designated employee conflict of interest in award of consultant contract
The Grand Jury reviewed all consultant contracts awarded January 2009 through March 2011. The Grand Jury discovered that a $20,000 maximum no-bid contract is extant (April 2010 through June 2011). The contract was awarded to a consultant who has an amorous relationship with a WJUSD designated employee who had direct hiring authority. This relationship was not disclosed to the Board prior to the award of the contract. The relationship was later nebulously described as a “personal relationship” after the contract was awarded. The designated employee was then questioned by some on the Board about the appropriateness of the award. The employee informed the Board that District’s lawyers had previously advised the employee that the relationship did not create conflicts in the award process. Seeking legal advice may not qualify as disclosure of a financial interest.
The failure to fully and fairly disclose the existence of a financial or strong personal relationship between the parties to the contract is a violation of State law and District Bylaws. A further violation occurred when the designated employee participated in the selection of the consultant. These violations could allow the District to nullify the contract and consider discipline for the designated employee.
Further conduct of consultant
The consultant was hired to review class block scheduling, purportedly based on the consultant’s experience with the subject and as a mathematics consultant in similar schools. The Grand Jury received evidence showing this consultant’s opinion may have been a factor in some Trustees voting not to renew another designated employee’s contract. The consultant opined based on observations made for one day or less at the worksite under the auspices of studying class block scheduling. The designated employee was not informed that the consultant was engaged in a personnel evaluation when the consultant was at the worksite. The Grand Jury learned that some Trustees would have evaluated the consultant’s opinion in a different light and may not have made the nonrenewal decision had they known of the conflict of interest.
Later, members of the community discovered a public link on the consultant’s Facebook page that they found very disturbing and brought their concern to the Board. The reference (from Wikipedia) concerned a slave-turned-butler in the 1800s. The name of the butler was the same as the designated employee whose contract had not been renewed. Subsequently, the Facebook page was removed from the public domain.
District responsiveness to the Grand Jury
The District was particularly resistive to Grand Jury inquiries and made simple inquiries more procedurally difficult than necessary. Mindful of the statutory charge of “watchdog organization”, the Grand Jury will continue to seek access to District or their representatives with an expectation of respect for the process and confidentiality of the proceedings.
2. Ralph M. Brown Act (open meeting) violations
The purpose of the Brown Act is to allow the public to attend, observe, monitor, and participate in the decision-making process at the local level of government. “The public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.” (California Government Code 54952) The Brown Act bars public agencies from conducting nonpublic serial meetings, from taking action on items not placed on the agenda, and from limiting public comment.
Requests regarding compliance with the Public Records Act
The District provided redacted e-mails to community members regarding the failure to renew a designated employee’s contract in response to a public records request. The Grand Jury received a request to review all e-mails between Board of Trustees and a District designated employee to determine if the redactions were valid.
The Grand Jury reviewed subpoenaed copies of redacted and unredacted e-mails between the Board and District Administration. There was insufficient evidence to opine whether a violation of the public records act occurred. However, it is unclear whether all relevant e-mails and attachments were provided. Due to time constraints, the Grand Jury could not thoroughly investigate the matter.
Nonrenewal of another designated employee’s contract
A request was made that the Grand Jury investigate the nonrenewal of a designated employee’s contract. California law bars a Grand Jury from inspecting personnel records of school district employees or substantive decisions by school districts such as the actual selection of school personnel. However, the Grand Jury is empowered to investigate what procedure was followed.
WJUSD met in closed session in March 2010 to consider the nonrenewal of a designated employee’s employment contract. “As a condition to holding a closed session on specific complaints or charges brought against an employee by another person or employee, the employee shall be given written notice of his or her right to have the complaints or charges heard in an open session rather than a closed session, which notice shall be delivered to the employee personally or by mail at least 24 hours before the time for holding the session. If notice is not given, any disciplinary or other action taken by the legislative body against the employee based on the specific complaints or charges in the closed session shall be null and void.” (California Government Code Sections 54950 et seq, Ralph M. Brown Act)
The Grand Jury determined that the designated employee may have been entitled to notification regarding the Trustees’ decision not to renew the employment contract. No such notice was provided the employee.
Roll call vote
The Grand Jury learned that a closed session Board vote was held March 4, 2010, regarding the nonrenewal of a designated employee’s contract. On advice of District counsel, the Board did not report the roll call vote during the open session. The Board later determined it had violated both the Brown Act law and its Bylaws (Government Code 54957.1, Board Bylaws 9321.1). The Board decided to utilize the “correct or cure” procedure that includes placing the item on an upcoming agenda and announcing the roll call vote at the next open meeting, scheduled for March 18.
The “correct or cure” procedure was not placed on the March 18 agenda. Conflicting evidence was provided to the Grand Jury regarding whether the roll call vote was announced at the March 18 meeting. The Grand Jury was unable to obtain any contemporaneous written, audio or video recording evidence verifying that the “correct or cure” roll call was announced at the March 18 meeting. However, on May 6, 2010, minutes of the March 18 meeting were amended to state that the roll call announcement had properly been made on March 18.
Serial meetings
“A majority of the members of a legislative body shall not…use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body. A majority of members may not develop a concurrence as to action on business through serial meetings, intermediaries, communication or other means of subterfuge.” (Government Code 54950 et seq, Ralph M. Brown Act) Business decisions agreed upon between two or more Board members outside of a public meeting also constitute a violation of WJUSD Board Bylaws Section 9012 (a) regarding serial meetings via electronic communications.
School personnel decisions are made in closed session and are not governed by the Brown Act. However, if the deliberations are conducted via e-mail, they are no longer in closed session, lose the protection of confidentiality, and become subject to the Brown Act.
The Grand Jury obtained copies of e-mails that showed Board members were engaging in nonpublic discussions regarding whether to renew a designated employee’s contract. They also engaged in nonpublic discussions regarding the Board’s response to the public outcry about the nonrenewal. Other prohibited subject areas were also discussed. The e-mails indicate that District staff, privy to the communications, knew the Brown Act was being violated.
Public comments at Board meetings
Members of the public are encouraged to attend Board meetings and address any item on the agenda. So as not to inhibit public participation, persons attending “shall not be required to sign in, complete a questionnaire, or otherwise provide their name or other information as a condition of attending a meeting.” (Board Bylaw, Section 9323(b), April 16, 2009) The Brown Act permits anonymous public comment, allowing for the Board to request individuals to identify themselves by name only and not in any other way.
The Grand Jury reviewed a sampling of Board agendas from the last two school years. Throughout the two years, agendas require members of the public to complete a Request to Speak form, noting their name and address, and submit it before the first speaker is called for public comment. Requiring speakers to provide more than their names is a violation of the Brown Act and Board Bylaws.
3. WJUSD Board of Trustees policy issues and violations
The Board consists of seven members. Any person 18 years or older who is a citizen of the state, a resident of the school district, a registered voter and not legally disqualified from holding civil office is eligible to be elected to the Board without any other qualifications. Members serve a four year term, which is staggered so that as practicable one half of the members are elected in each even numbered year. The Board President is elected from among its members to provide leadership on behalf of the Board and the educational community it serves.
Meeting misconduct
The Board of Trustees is elected by the community to provide leadership and citizen oversight of the District. “The Board shall ensure that the District is responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of the community… Each member is expected to act with dignity and understand the implications of demeanor and behavior. The Board expects its members to act with dignity and govern in a dignified and professional manner, treating everyone with civility and respect.” (Board Bylaws Section 9000 et seq)
The Grand Jury determined that 2009/10 Board members displayed less than professional conduct during both public and closed session meetings. The Grand Jury determined through substantial evidence that, on multiple occasions, Board members engaged in eye-rolling, snickering, and negative body language. One Board member made an explicit sexual hand gesture mimicking male masturbation, and on another occasion a Board member gave an obscene hand gesture, while community members were attempting to address the Board. Board members raised their voices, “shouted down” people giving public comment and other Board members, and publicly tore up a document provided to them by a community member. Some community members and fellow Trustees felt harassed and intimidated by Board behavior. Harassment is specifically prohibited by WJUSD regulation.
The Grand Jury determined that that 2010/11 Board of Trustees has made strides to improve its conduct since last year. This year’s Board has sought to improve how the Board operates, including more structure, better management and increased civility.
Board training gaps
The Grand Jury determined the Board is not required to attend or sponsor for itself any training with regard to governance, open meetings, Robert’s Rules of Order, or similar subject matter commonly used to conduct public meetings. The District is not required to and does not maintain any written record of training attended by Board of Trustees members.
Trustees did not attend training during the 2009/10 academic year. Some Board members attended governance training in fall 2010 and additional training is planned for spring 2011, organized by District staff. Board members are expected to participate in professional development and encouraged to attend workshops and conferences relevant to their individual needs or the needs of the Board. Individual current Board members recognized the need for Board training to help them understand their responsibilities and develop “boardsmanship” skills.
Citizen complaint process
The Grand Jury reviewed the WJUSD Policy Manual that specifies the process for the public to submit written complaints to the District (Section 1312). The public may complain about matters concerning both academic matters and the administration of the District.
The WJUSD Board of Trustees Bylaws establish Board conduct and set the standards of governance. The Bylaws state “To maximize Board effectiveness, and public confidence in District governance, Board members are expected to govern responsibly and hold themselves to highest standard of ethical conduct.” (Board Bylaws 9905(b))
There is a lack of clarity and consistency in the Bylaws regarding the process for submitting, receiving, and responding to complaints from community members and school personnel to the Board. When concerns are brought to the Board through letters and e-mails, there is no clear policy whether such communications constitute complaints and are therefore left to judgment. At times, complainants believe they have submitted complaints but may not receive written responses. The District is unclear about whether a response should be generated and, if so, by whom.
There is a lack of follow up and accountability to ensure issues are resolved. The Board does not seem to embrace its role as overseer of the District. Some Board members and District staff dismiss any issues and concerns expressed by certain community members, viewing them as complainers, characterizing these individuals’ expressions of desires to meet to discuss problems as “disingenuous”. Even written communications among Board members and District staff during the period of January 2010 through May 2010 revealed unprofessional and disrespectful comments.
4. Standardized Testing and Reporting Results (STAR) 2011 administration problems
History of STAR
The STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program began in 1998. In this annually administered program, most students in grades 2 through 11 take the State's academic content standards test plus a nationally normed standardized test. Each school must report individual students' scores to their parents, and group results are released in mid-August. Schools are required to report these results to the State. Failure to properly report these results can affect funding and accreditation for the school.
Rules regarding which students must take or can be excused from the tests are quite specific. Parents may request in writing to the principal that a student not be tested. The Individual Education Programs (IEPs) of some special education students specify they should not be tested. Other special education students are tested in alternate ways, e.g., in Braille or with extra time, if included in their IEP. English learners, no matter what their proficiency, must take the STAR tests unless excused by their parents or their IEP.
WJUSD STAR testing issues
The Grand Jury learned that there was a 10-day window in mid-April 2011 in which STAR testing was to be administered and completed. Numerous problems were identified regarding the planning, training and implementation of the 2011 STAR testing at the Winters High School. The Grand Jury determined that:
• There was an absence of adequate training and preparation provided to staff;
• There were no high school administrators present to provide oversight on the day of testing;
• There were not enough copies of tests ordered and some students could not be tested; and
• Staff had advised administration of their concerns prior to the testing date.
It is unclear to the Grand Jury why these issues were unresolved prior to the start of testing.
April 13, 2011, was the first scheduled day of testing. On April 14, 2011, the District Administration finally began to address the continuing issues by scheduling additional training for the teachers, securing additional test copies and rescheduling tests. As of early May 2011, the Grand Jury was unable to determine if the issues were resolved. These problems have led to frustration, confusion and distrust by segments of High School personnel, parents and the Winters community towards District administrators and the Board.
F1. The failure to fully and fairly disclose the existence of financial or strong personal relationship between the parties to a contract is a violation of State law and District Bylaws. A further violation occurred when the designated employee participated in the selection of the consultant. These violations could allow the District to nullify the contract and consider discipline for the designated employee.
F2. The consultant may have been a factor in WJUSD’s decision not to renew another designated employee’s contract. Disclosure of the amorous relationship between the consultant and a designated employee may have influenced the Trustees’ decision.
F3. The WUJSD Board of Trustees violated the Brown Act by engaging in serial e-mail discussions preparatory to voting.
F4. The WJUSD may have violated the Brown Act by failing to provide 24 hour notice to a designated employee whose contract was not renewed.
F5. In March 2010, the WJUSD Board itself determined that it violated the Brown Act by failing to report a roll call vote during an open session related to its decision not to renew a designated employee’s contract.
F6. A Brown Act violation occurred on March 18, 2010 when the Board failed to place a “correct or cure” procedure on the agenda.
F7. The Board’s requirement that the public submit home address information when addressing it is a violation of its Bylaws and the Brown Act and dampens public participation. At most, the Board can require speakers to state their names.
F8. There were multiple incidents of errors, poor judgment, and unprofessional behavior by Board members and District staff during the period covered by this report. Viewed together, these actions promoted confusion and distrust within segments of the community and Winters High School staff towards the Board and District Administration that still exists.
F9. The Board does not consistently follow its own Policies and Bylaws related to conduct, decorum, civility and respect at public meetings.
F10. The explicit sexual gestures made by Board members in the 2009/10 school year were consistent with harassment and intimidation.
F11. There is no requirement that Trustees participate in training on Brown Act, Board Bylaws, Board Governance, meeting management, professional behavior at meetings or other subject matter pertaining to District oversight.
F12. The 2009/10 Board did not receive any training in its roles and responsibilities.
F13. The 2010/11 Board of Trustees is commended for participating in training held in fall of 2010 on the Brown Act, Board Governance, leadership and meeting management organized by the District office staff. District staff are planning another governance training for May 2011.
F14. There is a lack of clarity and consistency regarding the process and procedure for handling complaints from staff and community members about District administrators submitted to the Board. No response at all or responses that in effect, simply say “Thank you for your letter/sharing your concerns” are not sufficient and can be interpreted as disregarding and demeaning.
F15. The District was inadequately prepared for the STAR testing at Winters High School scheduled in mid-April 2011. As of early May 2011, it is unknown whether the District’s attempts to resolve the problems have been successful.
F16. The District was particularly resistive to Grand Jury inquiries and made simple inquiries more procedurally difficult than necessary.
R1. The Board should seek legal advice regarding the appropriateness of rescinding or otherwise voiding the consulting contract and the disgorgement of improperly obtained funds.
R2. The Board should consider discipline for the designated employee whose actions created a conflict of interest with WJUSD in connection with awarding a consulting contract.
R3. All Board members and District administrators should participate in annual mandatory training on Brown Act, Board Governance and Board Bylaws. Trustee participation records should be maintained within the District Office.
R4. The Board should immediately discontinue harassing conduct such as sexual and/or obscene gestures, uncivil and rude conduct between Board members and the public.
R5. The Board should immediately begin to follow its own Bylaws, Policies and procedures, as well as the Brown Act, including stopping meetings by serial e-mail communications and allowing speakers to disclose only their names at Board meetings.
R6. The Board should develop a plan for responding to citizen complaints and monitoring the process to ensure adequate follow-through and resolution.
R7. The District and its representatives should familiarize themselves with California Penal Code related to Grand Jury roles and responsibilities in order to minimize confusion and resistance to future Grand Jury investigations.
R8. The Board should place this report on an agenda for an upcoming public meeting so the community has the opportunity to listen to and comment on WJUSD responses by September 30, 2011.
Pursuant to California Penal Code Sections 933(c) and 933.05, the Grand Jury requests a response as follows:
From the following governing body:
• The Winters Joint Unified School District, Findings F1 through F16, Recommendations R1 through R8