Monday, August 29, 2011
Long Beach Taxpayers Association to File Complaint with Civil Grand Jury Against City for "Corruptive" Fiscal Practices
Beach Post has learned that the Long Beach Taxpayers Association will file a complaint this week with the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury seeking "judgment on years of corruptive practices that have resulted in the lack of fiscal discipline in managing the City’s finances," according to the Association's leaders Kathy Ryan and Tom Stout.
In a statement released to the Long Beach Post, Ryan and Stout claim, "The recent labor negotiation between the Police Officers Association and the City of Long Beach has added insult to injury. The lack of will by management to negotiate meaningful pension reform for the people became the last straw..."
The Civil Grand Jury, according to their web site, "acts in a 'watch-dog' capacity, by examining carefully and completely, the operations of various government agencies within Los Angeles County...Any private citizen, county official, or county employee may present a complaint in writing to the Civil Grand Jury. The Civil Grand Jury limits its investigations to possible felonies and to charges of malfeasance (wrong doing) or misfeasance (doing a lawful act in an unlawful manner) by public officials. Any request for an investigation must include detailed evidence supporting the complaint. If the grand jurors believe that the evidence submitted is sufficient, a detailed investigation will be held."
According to Ryan, the Association will present a complaint claiming that Long Beach city leaders:
- "Allowed the unfunded pension liability to get to an unmanageable $1.2 billion dollars without notifying the citizens of Long Beach before February of 2011."
- "Allowed the in-lieu pick up by the city/citizens to continue until the present, written into each subsequent contract, when it was meant as a concession in one contract instead of raises. This has cost the city/citizens millions over the years in services and infrastructure."
- "Approved new retirement ages in 2002, when the City Charter states the ages to retire to be 65 for miscellaneous employees and 55 for police and fire. Even though the options given by CalPERS, when the pensions were enhanced by the City Council in 2002 did not include retirement ages of 65 and 55, but the City Council had an alternative; they could have done nothing and left the status quo and not enhanced the pensions, leaving the retirement ages as is."
More to come...
Siskiyou Daily News
Posted Aug 29, 2011 @ 08:58 AM
Siskiyou County —
Though it has been a year since the incident began unfolding, the details surrounding a repossession of vehicles from the Yreka Auto Center (YAC) keep coming.
In a Thursday, Aug. 25 story, the Daily News outlined the 2010-2011 Siskiyou County Civil Grand Jury’s findings regarding the Aug. 26 incident as published in their report that was released Tuesday.
The Grand Jury investigated the situation after receiving a complaint contending that the Yreka Police Department and Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office failed to adequately help YAC and several residents after cars were taken from the lot at 1425 S. Main St. in Yreka.
In the report, and detailed in the Daily News article, the Grand Jury says that a wholesaler who had six vehicles on the YAC lot to be sold became involved in a civil lawsuit with Express Auto Funding, the company that had loaned YAC money to buy cars to sell on its lot and ultimately ordered the repossession for lack of payment.
The report says the Grand Jury was advised in January 2011 that Express Auto won the lawsuit and was granted a writ of possession that resulted in Express Auto obtaining legal rights to the vehicles.
But the wholesaler – Todd Williamson of Williamson Motor Company – called the Daily News on Friday and denied the claim.
Williamson said he has not gone to court with Express Auto. Despite their efforts to obtain the titles to the vehicles, they have not, he said.
While Express Auto has not returned the cars, “I still possess the titles and ownership of the cars,” Williamson said.
He said Express Auto is scheduled for court appearances with YAC – set in Sonoma County Superior Court for a summary judgment conference Sept. 20 at 8:30 a.m., settlement conference Sept. 26 at 9 a.m. and trial Oct. 21 at 8:30 a.m. – and he is waiting to see how that case pans out before doing much more on his end.
Express Auto Funding Director David Lachtman told the Daily News Friday that, “Officially, we have no comment.”
A Grand Jury representative could not be contacted by press time to determine where the Grand Jury had received the information.
“Everything is still up in the air,” Williamson said.
– Jamie Gentner can be reached at email@example.com
Friday, August 26, 2011
Salary information is more transparent on website, but city manager takes issue with other jury recommendations.
By Barbara Diamond, firstname.lastname@example.org
August 25, 2011 | 4:39 p.m.
Information about city employees' salaries are easier to find after the Orange County Grand Jury in June dinged the city for its lack of transparency.
The information, which was formerly available but scattered on the city's website, has been consolidated into a single-page format, with hyperlinks to help folks more easily find salaries and benefits.
But that doesn't mean the city agreed with all of the Grand Jury's conclusions or recommendations.
"It is important to question the amount spent on personnel and municipal services to ensure they are appropriate in the light of a city's particular service demands, the market, local economy and community preferences," said City Manager John Pietig. "However, to effectively compare personnel costs, the Grand Jury would have to undertake a more in-depth analysis of services provided by each city in Orange County."
Pietig's comments on the Grand Jury findings and recommendations were included in a response to the Orange County Superior Court, as requested by presiding Judge Thomas J. Borris.
The recommendations included conducting a review of the need for what the jury deemed a relatively high number of upper-level — or highly-paid — positions in relation to the city's population of less than 25,000.
Pietig responded that staffing and service levels are subject to annual review in the budget process.
Moreover, in the last three years, 10 positions have been eliminated, three of them with salaries of $95,000 or more a year, he said.
Pietig also took exception to the jury's conclusion that population was a proper basis for evaluating staffing levels. Pietig said an equitable evaluation must take into consideration the types and numbers of services provided and the number of people for whom the services are performed.
He pointed out in his response to Borris that Laguna is the only city in South County with its own year-round municipal transit system, among other services that many other cities do not provide.
"Residential population does not represent service population," Pietig said. "Laguna Beach frequently serves over 100,000 people a day."
The Grand Jury report also focused on possible abuses related to compensation paid to elected officials in the wake of the Bell financial scandal.
None were found.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Published: Aug 24, 2011 at 12:49 PM PDT
MARICOPA, Calif. — The city of Maricopa released its long-awaited response to scathing reports by the Kern County Grand Jury. While the city agreed on some points raised by the grand jury, it rejected others and flatly disagreed on one key point: Maricopa will not disincorporate.
A series of reports by the grand jury questioned city financial practices, the professionalism of its police department as well as the city granting an exclusive contract with Randy's Towing, in which the city received 25 percent of impound storage fees.
Eric Ziegler, former city manager of Taft, was brought on staff to help the ailing city, and it was Ziegler who drafted the city's response to the grand jury. City council members adopted his recommended response.
They agreed to follow some the recommendations made by the grand jury, such as developing a plan for debt payment.
The grand jury also recommended disbanding the police department, calling its two-man force "unprofessional and lacking integrity."
But Ziegler maintained doing away with the police department was premature, and noted that some in the community were not happy with the level of service previously provided by the Kern County Sheriff's Office when Maricopa contracted with the county for police services.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Marin Independent Journal Editorial
Posted: 08/23/2011 02:00:00 AM PDT
MICHAEL Lappert has earned a reputation for speaking his mind during his two terms on the Corte Madera Town Council.
He did that last week when he ripped into the Marin County civil grand jury, essentially questioning what right "housewives and hardware store owners" serving on the grand jury have to criticize the way Corte Madera conducts its business.
Lappert could use a civics lesson. And he owes the members of the grand jury, a panel of volunteer government watchdogs appointed by the Marin Courts, an apology. And more respect.
The 2010-11 grand jury examined Corte Madera's finances and expressed alarm that the town has maintained a slim reserve, far below the 10 percent to 15 percent most towns seek to have.
The grand jury's report was particularly critical of the town's purchase of the Park Madera shopping center for $10 million — a price that exceeded the town's appraisal. The property has been a drain on the city's budget for years. This is not a revelation.
Lappert has maintained the purchase made sense because the land could someday be part of expanding the town park. He may be right — some day.
The grand jury also questioned the wisdom of the town, once flush with tax revenue thanks to its two regional shopping centers and car dealerships, failing to maintain prudent reserves.
Lappert dismissed the grand jury's findings as a "hit piece," rather than showing respect for the effort of 19 independent residents who studied the facts and did the math, coming up with a sum different than did Lappert and other council members.
Lappert is part of an unfortunate Marin trend. In recent years local leaders too often have attacked the grand jury's motives and even its right to exist rather than doing the right thing, which is to thoughtfully respond to the grand jury's honest criticisms and questions. After all, a civil grand jury is appointed each year by a judge to keep an eye on local government for the rest of us.
Here's what Lappert said:
"One day they're mowing their lawn and they go to work at PG&E and the next day they're on the grand jury?" he asked, attempting to dismiss their work.
Grand jurors could easily say this of Lappert: "One day he's running an ice cream store and the next day he's on the Town Council."
They won't. They have more respect for community service than that.
The grand jury is supposed to reflect a broad range of perspectives, professions, areas of expertise and political priorities.
Grand jurors don't expect everyone to agree with their findings or recommendations, but they look into local issues and problems brought to their attention and, collectively, give their opinion and advice in the form of reports.
Lappert is outspoken, interesting and, often, entertaining. Sometimes, he's even right. But in ridiculing the grand jury, he was disrespectful of citizens serving their community — the same thing he does as a Town Council member.
He was wrong.
Perhaps some day he will step forward and join other citizens on a civil grand jury and find out just how wrong.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In a rare meeting with members of a Sacramento County Grand Jury, concerned parents, teachers and district employees from the Twin Rivers Unified School District asked about the jury’s findings.
The meeting was organized by community activists who said the report has outraged many and created many questions. More than a hundred people showed up at the Robertson Community Center in Del Paso Heights for the meeting.
“Maybe this is a wake up call to say ‘hey, you need to be involved,’” said Derrell Roberts, with the African American Leadership Coalition.
The report came out at the end of June, but Monday’s meeting was the first chance concerned parents could come and discuss the findings together in a public setting.
Three members of the grand jury explained how they determined the Twin Rivers Unified School District had uncontrolled spending, was plagued with animosity, and had costly lawsuits.
“It’s unprecedented,” said John Ennis, a teacher in the district who came to the meeting. “We have three grand jurors in there answering questions and educating the public about their report.”
Parents who live in the district said the meeting was necessary.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Willie Bennett, a concerned parent. “Now that I am here, my ears are getting bigger.”
The Twin Rivers School Board is in the process of forming a response to the Grand Jury Report.
One of the board members at the meeting, who didn’t want to go on camera, told KCRA 3, he thought the changes recommended by the grand jury are appropriate.
Read more: http://www.kcra.com/news/28945929/detail.html#ixzz1W0ZgKwVZ
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/22/2011 03:38:25 PM PDT
SAN BERNARDINO -- Airport officials have submitted their formal response to a blistering Grand Jury report that second-guessed some of their decisions in the effort to turn the former Norton Air Force Base into a civilian airfield.
The San Bernardino International Airport Authority board's nearly 600-page response -- essentially a compilation of its own findings -- contains several capitulations to the Grand Jury's recommendations, as well as a defense of its work at the former air base.
"While the SBIAA recognizes the tangible benefits and value of all of the recommendations contained in the document, it is essential that the foundational errors be addressed to ensure the integrity of this process," wrote Mayor Pat Morris, who also is president of the authority board, in a letter to the Grand Jury that accompanied the response.
The airport authority board -- a joint-powers authority composed of San Bernardino County and the cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Loma Linda and Highland -- has spent weeks condemning the Grand Jury for how it went about examining the board's financial practices, construction management and developer contracts.
A Grand Jury-commissioned audit by the San Francisco-based auditor Harvey M. Rose Associates also raised questions about the airport's relationship with Scot Spencer, a convicted felon who has served time in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud and has been banned from the aviation industry.
At one point, airport officials said the civil Grand jury report, released June 30, repeated several errors that are far from "anything resembling reality."
Airport officials have argued that the auditors did not look at all the information given to them by airport management.
The airport's formal response was submitted Thursday, nearly two weeks before an Aug. 30 deadline.
Notable agreements with the Grand Jury's recommendations include:
Developing comprehensive policies and procedures, and refining efforts to ensure in-depth documentation of business processes and transactions.
Rotating financial auditing firms every five years and seeking a reputable, independent auditing firm to look at all expenses connected with the airport terminal project and other projects.
Reviewing contracts for construction services and operations managed by Spencer and making any changes necessary to protect the airport from future risks.
The authority board said many of the recommendations already have been addressed, and all will be undertaken within the 12 months suggested by the Grand Jury.
Morris wrote that the recommendations already implemented "are now a part of our annual evaluation matrix."
The airport board also put into place its own set of updated procedures, including an annual performance review of executive management and staff.
In defending their efforts, officials have pointed to Boeing Co.'s test work at the airfield as an example of the airport's viability.
They also cite a joint research project by Cal State San Bernardino and Cal State Fullerton that shows the airport is expected to produce an estimated $1.2billion in annual economic activity, including 9,355 jobs and $500million in annual payroll.
Read more: http://www.sbsun.com/news/ci_18734211#ixzz1W0ZCG4uK
By Nancy Pasternack/Appeal-Democrat
Marysville officials take issue with complaints outlined in a Yuba County grand jury report regarding the city's use of a police vehicle, and transparency with public records.
The City Council approved Marysville's response letters to the 2010-11 report Tuesday, including one that calls the jury's findings and recommendations "deeply flawed" and "not based on fact."
The document at issue was a portion of the report titled "Police Car Not in Compliance" which, the report explains, was an investigation of a resident's report of an unmarked, unlicensed vehicle being driven by police personnel.
"Grand Jurors made an unannounced visit to the Marysville Police Department. The vehicle in question was in the parking lot and was in violation of California Vehicle Code," the report reads.
It was determined that the vehicle had recently been purchased from another jurisdiction, the report goes on to say, and the Police Department was in the process of obtaining permanent license plates.
"Marysville Police Department must comply with even the most basic of laws, or risk losing public confidence in their integrity and commitment to uphold the law," the report chided.
The city's response concluded that the jury's recommendations, "will not be implemented because they are not warranted and they are in part, diatribe."
A second grand jury report issue received a mixed response from the city.
According to the jury's findings, "no consistent written minutes exist for Marysville City Council meetings."
City officials responded that all minutes for all 2010 and 2011 meetings are available.
Those for 2008 and 2009 were incomplete — according to the city's response — after a decrease in staffing left the clerk's office shorthanded. Those, "are in the process of being completed," reads the response letter.
The grand jury report accuses the city of granting access to available recordings of city council meetings to a grand jury member, and of denying access to a regular citizen making the same request.
City officials flatly denied the charge, and said a policy that allows citizens to set up appointments to access such recordings is adequate.
The city recently implemented one grand jury recommendation regarding the provision of a "dedicated device to be used by the public," to view electronically recorded meetings.
CONTACT reporter Nancy Pasternack at 749-4781
Monday, August 22, 2011
City Issues Preliminary Response to Alameda County Grand Jury Report
By Barbara Grady
Published on Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Over the weekend, the city of Oakland released its preliminary response to the 2010-2011 Alameda County Grand Jury Report about problems in the city's Building Services Division, as well as about Oakland's parking bureau and regional emergency communications.
The bulk of the response focused on Building Services - the subject of reportedly thousands of complaints against Oakland City Hall in the past couple years.
The city said it already addressed the problems about parking and emergency communications with new equipment and systems. It also said it "is committed to transforming its code enforcement" processes and its Building Services operations. It said it will make "immediate change efforts" to improve transparency in its operations and customer service; create a data management system that the public can access to look up property issues; revise its due process procedures so there is a predictable timeline between notices and liens and fees; and fix its appeals process.
Responding point-by-point to the Alameda County Grand Jury's findings, the city said it concurs with many of the findings, specifically that building inspectors need to be better trained, that the department's citations need to describe a violation rather than just cite a number of a code - something that leaves many small property owners bewildered - and that Building Services establish and adhere to deadlines for responding to fined property owners.
Some say these three changes would go a long way in answering thousands of complaints the city reportedly received about Building Services in recent years. These include being charged that it issues confusing notices that anyone without sufficient Internet skills for searching the city's ordinances would not understand, that its inspectors sometimes bully and intimidate property owners and that it doesn't answer inquiries or requests for appeals.
The grand jury found that building inspectors often operated in an atmosphere of "hostility and intimidation" when dealing with property owners. Oakland Local reporting found that some Building Services inspectors allegedly would threaten property owners, saying they'd run them out of business, or slap higher fees on unless the property owner complied to an abatement notice without trying to appeal. One inspector was said to have thrown out all the furnishings and contents of a home, leaving the resident nothing. The city agreed that it needed a training program for inspectors so that, among other things, they will be "working with - not against - property owners."
The city also agreed it must fix the appeal process and with the need to establish a "clear, simple, effective appeals process" after the grand jury found that its appeals process was "broken" and many property owners said was non-existent. The city also said it would follow a grand jury recommendation that it develop a centralized case management system accessible to building inspectors and property owners alike.
In its weekend response, dated today, Aug. 15, the city said it only "partially concurs" with several other grand jury recommendations. One of the items it agrees with is that going forward, it makes sure that the actual property owners receive the violation and lien notices. The city blamed the fact that property owners often don't get these notices on the county's property records, and then said the city would have its own new data system installed and implemented in 18 months.
For complete story go to: http://oaklandlocal.com/tags/alameda-county-grand-jury
Nevada County has released its responses to Grand Jury reports filed earlier this year calling for some policy changes and infrastructure upgrades at two county departments.
In June, Jurors released a report finding a breakdown in communication at Child Protective Services, which allowed one case of child abuse that was reported to the office to go unrecorded and, subsequently, not followed up by staffers. Once the Grand Jury brought it to CPS attention, the agency immediately followed up on the claim, Grand Jury records show.
In its response, the county agreed it dropped the ball on the report in question, which was made last year in person at the CPS' office. But, county officials said the report was an isolated event, given its rigorous standards for following up on such reports.
“There is inconclusive evidence that other reports of suspected child abuse may have gone unrecorded,” county officials said in the report.
Cases are intensively followed up on, said Social Services Director Alison Lehman, who oversees CPS. Phone reports of abuse are immediately recorded by social workers and reviewed and reconciled with written reports received and those that come from law enforcement, she added.
In 2010-11, the 15.5-employee office received 950 reports of child abuse, Lehman said.
To correct the problem, by Sept. 30 the office will implement a system requiring all walk-ins filing an abuse report to log in, so the matter is documented and followed up on, she said.
“The safety of children in our community is our highest priority,” Lehman said. “Our social workers have chosen this field because of their commitment to keep children safe.”
The Grand Jury also recommended the Sheriff's Office move immediately to improve security and video surveillance at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility in Nevada City. The facility houses all county jail inmates.
Jurors found the facility lacked adequate video surveillance, proper locks on some doors and the minimum secutiry area has drop ceilings where inmates could potentially hide contraband materials.
In its response to the report, county officials agreed with the report.
The Grand Jury's report recommended the county “immediately” invest in a new security system. The Sheriff's Office recently put the system, which includes increased camera surveillance, out to bid, said Sheriff Keith Royal.
Estimated cost is about $875,000, he added.
Supervisors are scheduled to consider and potentially approve the new system at their Tuesday, Aug. 30, meeting.
To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
The Corte Madera Town Council's response the the report and recommendations of the 2010-11 grand jury is dismissive and insulting.
Councilman Michael Lapppert's comment that the grand jury is comprised of "housewives and hardware store owners" is insulting to the citizens who volunteer and who are empaneled grand jurors. Local citizens give up quite a bit of time because they care about Marin.
What is his attitude about the fitness of ice cream store owners to serve?
This dismissive attitude by the council is nothing new and should come as no surprise, as this is consistent with its response to any criticism.
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 08/21/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.
In April, the Contra Costa grand jury released a report regarding the Mt. Diablo district's 2010 Measure C bond, organizational structure and finances. I recently obtained the district's response, which was sent May 24. I am posting both (excerpted) below:
"Grand jury report: Financial challenges persist at MDUSD
Mt. Diablo Unified School District, like other school districts, has suffered revenue losses.
The District has had ongoing budget deficits due to declining enrollment and reduced state funding.
The district continues to face increasing costs for salaries and benefits.
In an effort to address revenue losses and to complete identified projects not funded by a 2002 Bond, the district board of education sought passage of a bond measure that was later approved by the voters.
Four factors raised questions regarding the board's procedures and transparency:
An expedited bond initiation process.
A lack of open discussion at board meetings of the full range of costs for financing a
Revisions to the organization's structure within the district.
Continuing budget shortfalls.
Completed initial bond offerings suggest that bond interest expenses should be less than the worst-case scenario calculated by the bond adviser or reported in the news media.
A potential 42-year life of the 2010 bond could tie taxpayers to a long-term financial commitment that significantly impacts future boards' ability to address funding shortfalls.
... On March 9, 2010, a resolution to seek voter approval for a $348 million bond was unanimously approved by the board. Alternative bond financing measures provided by a financial adviser were reviewed by district staff.
However, these financing alternatives were not discussed at open board meetings.
The resolution was placed on the June ballot for voter approval.
The terms and conditions of the bond included maintaining the existing tax rate (currently $60 tax per $100,000 of property valuation), and extending the repayment duration for up to 42 years. In the judgment of the board, this scenario provided the best opportunity for voter approval.
... Some parents mounted a 'Yes on C' campaign that was funded by an assorted group of interested parties.
There was no formal rebuttal on the ballot measure filed with the Contra Costa County Elections Office.
The 2010 ballot measure does not state a range of costs to the taxpayers for the entire bond term. Voters approved the bond in June 2010.
The Bond measure, from inception to voter approval, took only five months. ...
1. No discussion of the 2010 bond's possible financial ramifications took place at open board meetings before the board passed the resolution to proceed with a ballot measure. ...
1. When contemplating future taxing measures, the board should allow sufficient time for full disclosure to the public of financial information including legal fees, underwriting costs and repayment obligations.
The board should develop a written process addressing discussion of the financial consequences of taxing measures in a public forum and share their proposal with the public in the next 180 days."
Here's the district's response (excerpted):
" '1. No discussion of the 2010 bond's possible financial ramifications took place at the open board meetings before the board passed the resolution to proceed with a ballot measure.'
The respondent disagrees with the finding and is unclear as to the factual basis there for. The board had an extensive conversation on March 9, 2010, concerning the possible financial ramifications of the bond.
The board discussed the tax rate extension, tax rate estimates, the par amount of the bond, and a possible bond proceeds schedule. There has been no allegation that the board neither was provided, nor failed to consider all legally required information. ..."
AUG. 17 UPDATE: I spoke to Lloyd Bell, the current civil grand jury foreman. I asked him about the district's response to finding number 1, since this directly contradicts the grand jury's finding. Bell said the grand jury does have options to follow up.
"It's very important that the public also has within its authority the ability to appear at a board meeting and question their response to the grand jury's inquiry," Bell said.
Do you believe the board should have discussed the report and response during a public meeting?
Thursday, August 18, 2011
BY STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writer
firstname.lastname@example.org | Saturday, Jul 30 2011 09:00 PM
Last Updated Saturday, Jul 30 2011 09:00 PM
Felix Adamo / The Californian
Maricopa Police Chief Derek Merritt addresses what some citizens consider are too strict traffic code enforcement policies.
MARICOPA -- The chief of police in this hardscrabble town has had a change of heart -- and policy.
But the change didn't come easy. It was accompanied by sleepless nights and a rise in blood pressure for Maricopa Police Chief Derek Merritt.
No more, he says, will cops in this city of 1,200 in western Kern County pull over motorists for hanging a necklace from their rear-view mirror, having a crack in their windshield or driving with a burned-out license plate bulb.
In the past two years, Maricopa police have stopped hundreds of motorists for these and other "equipment violations."
The law is the law, Merritt says, and he's not about to apologize for his officers enforcing it.
But there's the law and then there's public sentiment, grand jury reports, media stories and political pressure.
"All of those factors came into play," the 41-year-old chief says without bitterness. "All I can say is, maybe we get it now."
But good police work is also important, he acknowledges, and frankly, while he's proud of his men, he's a little embarrassed by just how gung-ho some of his officers have been.
For example, pulling over motorists for driving 50 mph in a 55 mph zone.
"To be honest, that's chicken****," he says, not mincing words.
Other violations he wants to ease up on include license plates partially obstructed by trailer hitches and pulling over drivers who have clear plastic covers over their plates -- violations The Californian found in an examination of hundreds of tow records from the last 3 1/2 years.
Illegal? Yes. But Merritt says maybe it's time to reprioritize.
Earlier this year, a Kern County grand jury committee recommended disbanding the city's police department, saying the MPD lost track of 94 citations and formed an inappropriate relationship with Bakersfield-based Randy's Towing, a company that opened a tow lot in town and gave a piece of the action -- about 25 percent -- to the city.
Merritt says the jury never made it clear that the 94 missing citations were "unissued." He's not making excuses, he says, but the difference is significant between citations that have been issued to motorists and losing track of tickets that were blank.
When asked whether a huge increase in cars being towed -- beginning in 2010 -- was intended as a way to generate revenue for the city, Merritt didn't hesitate.
"I gotta be honest ... yes," he says. "The city's budget was dying."
BOOM TO BUST
It's been more than a century since a black-gold rush transformed this isolated bend in the road into a bona fide boom town.
Heavy crude still rises molasses-thick from the arid hills around Maricopa --albeit in smaller quantities -- but being atop one of the greatest oil deposits in California has not proven to be a guarantee of prosperity for this town made mostly of clapboard and nails, all tied together by the fierce independence of its residents.
Indeed, the oil profits that made some rich and others comfortable are not much in evidence in this economically depressed community where the main business district is dominated by a row of desolate storefronts and the city government appears to be flat broke.
In fact, the grand jury also recommended Maricopa lose its status as an incorporated city and be taken over by the county.
TOWING FOR DOLLARS
Through a public records request, The Californian obtained the Maricopa Police Department's vehicle tow records from January 2008 through part of June 2011.
The records were not uniform. Many included a detailed narrative report of the stop. Other narratives contained little detail; some stops included no narrative.
The records show that in 2009, the city towed 55 vehicles as a result of traffic stops by police. Thirty-four drivers were Hispanic, 21 were white.
The following year, those numbers ramped up tremendously, with the total number of vehicles towed surpassing 300, nearly four times the previous year's total.
Of the 308 vehicles impounded after traffic stops, about 78 percent were driven by Hispanics. About 19 percent were white.
In all years examined, including long before Merritt became chief in January 2010, the number of Hispanic drivers who saw their cars towed far outnumbered whites.
But charges of racial profiling, which have been flying around for weeks, simply are not borne out by the numbers, the chief says.
"I have no idea why more Hispanics are unlicensed," he notes, though he suspects most are illegal immigrants who, by law, cannot obtain a California driver's license. Mexican ID cards and driver's licenses shown to officers by many of these motorists lend credence to that theory.
"Seventy-eight percent of the people we issue citations to are Caucasian," Merritt says. "For whatever reason, more Caucasians are licensed."
The Californian looked only at citations involving vehicles that were towed, not all citations issued to drivers.
Maricopa resident Brian Warren, who attended last week's city council meeting, said "it's a valid argument" that the city used added enforcement to raise much needed revenues.
But as desperate as the city is for additional funding, Warren says, in the end, it wasn't a good idea.
"It's not right," he says.
DRIVING THROUGH MARICOPA
In reading hundreds of police reports on impound-related traffic stops, the reasons police gave for stopping vehicles included the old standbys like speeding and failure to stop. But according to the reports, many stops were made because a license plate light was not working, a plate was partially obscured or the car was missing a front license plate.
Other motorists were stopped for having tinted windows, a cracked windshield or something hanging from a rear-view mirror. "Modified exhaust" was also a common violation.
Some were pulled over for driving too slow.
On Jan. 31, Officer Jim Dinsmore stopped a 1998 Honda Accord driven by 25-year-old Jessie Valle.
Valle had seen the signs posted by a local business accusing the cops of pulling over as many cars as they could.
According to the report, he told Dinsmore that when he stopped at a stop sign in Maricopa, he counted to three, apparently so there would be no mistaking his intention to stay within the law.
"I was nervous," he told Dinsmore.
Even when Valle reached beyond the city limits to the section of Highway 166 where the 55 mph speed limit resumes, Dinsmore reported Valle drove at a grandmotherly 35.
Dinsmore pulled him over for going too slow.
Valle did not have a valid California driver's license, so Dinsmore cited him for that as well -- and called in Randy's Towing.
Valle couldn't be reached for comment. Tow records don't specify whether the '98 Honda was ever retrieved by the owner following the mandatory 30-day impound period.
The cost of the impound fees would likely have soared into the thousands, possibly a wash compared to the actual value of the car.
BEING TOO CAREFUL
On Feb. 24, 2010, Taft resident Alvaro Hernandez Velasco, who was 23 at the time, was clocked driving 25 mph in a 35 mph zone in Maricopa, according to police records. Velasco said he did not have a driver's license, but the computer system was down, so it was apparently impossible to verify his DMV status.
Velasco was cited for "impeding traffic," though no mention was made on the citation of whether there was any traffic to impede at 5:30 a.m.
There is no record on the ticket that Velasco was cited for driving without a license. Still, his 2001 Honda Accord was confiscated.
The following month, the same officer pulled over Simon Silva for driving 50 in a 55 mph zone. Silva had no driver's license, so his Ford Aerostar was towed away. It's impossible to tell from records supplied by police whether the van was released back into Silva's custody.
Neither Velasco nor Silva could be reached for comment, but it seems plausible that both men were driving below the speed limit in response to swirling rumors that the Maricopa police were pulling over more vehicles than there are residents of the city.
Kathleen Curtis, of New Cuyama, paid more than $500 to retrieve her 2004 Dodge Stratus from Randy's impound yard in Maricopa last year.
It was July 1 and her granddaughter was heading toward home after borrowing the car for a trip to Bakersfield. At some point, she became tired and turned the wheel over to her boyfriend, Felix Rodriguez, who was a few months shy of 18.
According to the officer's report, he pulled over the Dodge because the rear license plate light was out. It turned out the teenager did not have a driver's license.
The car was towed.
"I felt like they were pulled over for no reason," Curtis said.
When they retrieved the car, they found that the light had been unplugged from inside the trunk. They didn't accuse anyone of anything, but Curtis said she felt unsettled about the whole experience.
UNLICENSED DRIVERS A SERIOUS PROBLEM
Whether one agrees or not with the enforcement methods used in Maricopa, The Californian's examination of citations and tow records there reveals a serious problem: There are thousands of unlicensed drivers on Kern County's roads.
The newspaper's analysis of sobriety checkpoints in Bakersfield in 2009 revealed similar statistics. The checkpoints weren't nabbing large numbers of drunken drivers, but they were netting unlicensed drivers by the dozens.
Driver's license violations have been rising steadily in recent years, both statewide and at the county level, according to the State Office of Traffic Safety. While authorities say many of those who drive without a license are illegal immigrants, drivers can have their license suspended or revoked for a number of reasons, including multiple DUIs, nonpayment of traffic fines and other problems.
In January of this year, at least 33 vehicles were impounded by Maricopa police. But those numbers fell dramatically in the spring after a local businessman began to complain that the aggressive enforcement was killing business in the city, including sales generated by the thousands of vehicles per day that can pass through the city on a big weekend.
When the grand jury issued its report, and news outlets from Los Angeles to New York produced stories on the topic, the number of tows dwindled.
The practice came to a screeching halt in June, when Maricopa police impounded just five cars, a strong indication, critics say, that the department decided to rein in a policy it already knew was questionable at best.
Merritt says, in the case of Maricopa, city hall simply can't fight the forces that rose up in indignation.
The handwriting was on the wall. Visits from the American Civil Liberties Union, a scathing grand jury report and even pressure from some on the city council made it clear Merritt had to make the problem go away. He had to make changes.
But Merritt emphasizes the increase in citations and tows was not a result of a fundraising effort, at least not directly. Yes, the deal with Randy's Towing was seen as a way to pad city coffers.
"A few thousand a month for this little city," he says, "that's a lot."
"But the increase in enforcement is directly attributable, he says, to the large number of volunteer, part-time reserve officers he brought in to cover the city 24 hours a day, every day, instead of the partial-day patrols that were common before he became chief.
And some of the "reserves," he acknowledges, were too active in the field, too anxious to write tickets -- with one officer in particular writing many more citations than anyone else.
"To be honest, some of the guys needed additional training," Merritt says.
Merritt says he sincerely wanted to make a real difference when he became chief. People were driving through Maricopa as if it were "the Indy 500," he remembers. And no one seems to notice that arrests for methamphetamine sales and other serious felonies have increased during his tenure.
But now he sounds tired. He acknowledges he rose too quickly to the rank of chief, and he's had to learn as he goes.
He makes $25 an hour with no health or retirement benefits. He pays for his own gun and his own uniforms. And he stays in Maricopa four nights a week.
"We're just trying to do right here," he says. "That's all."
Posted June 16, 2011 at 5:43 p.m.
The Ventura County Grand Jury recently concluded that workplace bullying is a problem in county government offices and encouraged county officials to develop a policy against bullying in the workplace.
"Unfortunately, bullying is not limited to schools," the grand jury stated in a letter released in late May.
The 2010-11 grand jury investigated bullying within county government after getting a complaint about it. As part of this, the grand jury interviewed past and current county employees who were the targets of bullying or witnessed it.
John Nicoll, assistant county executive officer and the director of human resources for the county, said county officials are preparing a response to the grand jury's report.
"We understand the concerns about conduct like that in the workplace," Nicoll said.
Grand jurors found employees "were yelled at by managers in group meetings and in public areas."
Also, employees, including some highly experienced ones, "were excessively monitored by managers to such an extent that they left their positions," the grand jury's report stated.
Some employees went to other agencies, while others accepted "a demotion to receive that transfer."
Others left county government for other jobs or retired earlier than they had planned because of a "manager's bullying behavior," the grand jury found.
Some employees were isolated both "organizationally and physically," the report stated.
The report found the county "has no written policy specifically directed against bullying in the workplace."
It also found that processes to report workplace bullying "are not trusted by employees because the agency with the alleged bullying issue is allowed to investigate complaints using personnel within its own organization."
Nicoll said there are mechanisms now in place for county employees to file a complaint if they believe they have been discriminated against.
As to the allegation by the grand jury that county employees have left their jobs because of workplace bullying, Nicoll said he "would be upset if someone were legitimately fleeing the workplace if they felt they were being mistreated" and felt they had no recourse but to leave.
"We do not tolerate employees being mistreated because they've filed a complaint," Nicoll said. "I'm disappointed if someone left for that reason."
Nicoll said he did not know how widespread a problem workplace bullying is in the county government.
However, he said "the county has gotten very limited number of complaints of inappropriate treatment by their supervisors."
The Workplace Bullying Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating workplace bullying through research and education, commissioned a 2010 study that found 35 percent of workers in the United States have experienced bullying firsthand. Men constitute 62 percent of bullies, while women make up 58 percent of the targets of bullying, according to the study. Female bullies target other women 80 percent of the time, according to the study, done by Zogby International. The study found workplace bullying is a silent epidemic since many workers who are victims of it or witness it fail to report it.
The group, which is based in Washington state, defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming abusive conduct committed by bosses and co-workers against others. Workplace bullying is legal in many states across the nation, according to the institute. The institute is working to introduce bills in various state legislatures that would make workplace bullying illegal.
The institute also found that workplace bullying costs companies millions of dollars in employee turnover, lost productivity and lawsuits. The grand jury seemed to agree, stating in its report that workplace bullying costs taxpayers additional money because the county must incur the cost of recruiting and training replacement personnel for those who have left their jobs because of bullying.
To be successful in today's workplace, employees must know how to stand up for themselves, said Barbara Pachter, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based business etiquette expert and the author of the book "The Power of Positive Confrontation."
"If someone does not speak up for themselves, the bullying is far more likely to continue," Pachter said.
But standing up for oneself in a productive way means a worker must at once be assertive without being offensive, she said. To do so, it helps to use "a lot of "I" statements, she said, as in, "I find that action or statement offensive," rather than "you" statements, as in, "You are rude or abusive."
The grand jury is recommending the Ventura County Board of Supervisors issue a policy against bullying and collect data "to identify the existence and extent of bullying in branches of county government."
Such a policy should include descriptions of bullying behaviors to educate employees on unacceptable workplace behaviors and encourage employees to report this type of workplace abuse, the grand jury said.
On the Net:
Read the grand jury's report at http://portal.countyofventura.org/portal/page/portal/Grand_Jury.
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 08/17/2011 03:56:45 PM PDT
The Corte Madera Town Council was mostly dismissive in its response to a scathing Marin County Civil Grand Jury report on the town's finances, with one councilman even making scornful remarks about the grand jury itself.
While discussing Corte Madera's official response to the June report on Tuesday night, council members asked Town Manager David Bracken and Assistant Town Attorney John Abaci to emphasize that despite low reserve levels, Corte Madera has invested heavily in critical infrastructure, including street repairs and flood preparedness.
"We have made huge investments in this town," Councilwoman Diane Furst said. "Our investment ... in a huge flood control project is exactly where our reserves should go."
In a letter to the grand jury that will go out later this month, town officials say they disagree with the grand jury's finding that Corte Madera failed to set aside adequate reserves for two decades.
"The town was experiencing general fund reserves meeting levels considered prudent by the report until the fall of 2008," the letter states. "Beginning at that time and continuing until today, the town's revenues sharply declined due to the severe downturn in the economy."
The letter notes that in June the Town Council set a reserves goal of 10 percent of general fund expenditures, or about $1.3 million. In addition, Corte Madera designates its reserves in multiple funds, and therefore the grand jury may have underestimated the money it has on hand in case of a disaster, the letter said.
Bracken told the council Tuesday that town officials made an effort "to be careful of the (letter's) tone.
"We didn't want to be overly critical of the grand jury, but we did want to state that we didn't agree with everything that was in that report," he said.
However, Councilman Michael Lappert was less restrained in his assessment of the report, calling the document "just a hit piece."
"The vehicle that was used to do this was so suspect and so cheap that I don't want to give it another five seconds of our time," Lappert said.
"A grand jury — is this populated like by housewives and hardware store owners?" Lappert asked Abaci. "One day they're mowing their lawn and they go to work at PG&E and the next day they're on the grand jury?"
"I tip my hat — that's just great work they did," he added with a laugh later in the meeting.
The grand jury report found that despite high per-capita revenue from sales taxes generated at major shopping centers and car dealerships, Corte Madera has the lowest reserves of any Marin municipality both in total dollars and as a percentage of its budget. The report recommended Corte Madera adhere to "best practice" financial policies, take a longer view of its budget and maintain higher reserves, among other suggestions for improving the town's money woes.
Corte Madera officials say they don't plan to generate reams of documents outlining the town's financial goals, something they feel would be necessary under the grand jury's recommendations.
"We're a small town — we have fewer than 10,000 residents," Furst said. "Do we really need to generate budget paperwork along the lines of what San Francisco has?"
Officials noted that a concise budget summary was available to the public for the first time this year.
Councilwoman Carla Condon added that she doesn't believe the grand jury considered information she provided on the town's finances prior to publishing its report.
"Every year we prioritize ... how the budget is going to be spent," Condon said. "Either public safety services or infrastructure have always gone first. I don't see any need to redo what we've already done."
However, Councilman Bob Ravasio said Corte Madera would do well to follow the grand jury recommendation about creating a budget template that outlines long-term goals.
"We need to work on our budgeting process in the way we set goals, set priorities," Ravasio said. "I would really like to see us move more toward some of the models that are mentioned in the grand jury report."
Ravasio's comments didn't make it into the final letter employees are crafting.
The one grand jury finding town officials fully agreed with was the assessment that the 2006 purchase of the Park Madera Center on Tamalpais Drive for $10 million has exacerbated Corte Madera's financial problems. Officials say they expect revenues from the center to increase this year.
Contact Jessica Bernstein-Wax at email@example.com
By JOHN ASBURY
Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
When a Riverside County civil grand jury looked at the Twin Pines Ranch boys probation camp more than a year ago, it found dilapidated buildings, leaky pipes and health code violations.
The jurors also took issue with the per-capita spending and the fact the facility, a last-chance destination for delinquent boys sent there by the juvenile court system, was operating at about 50 percent capacity.
But since the critical report, the staff and residents of the 64-year-old site in the mountains south of Banning have renovated it into a pastoral ranch that more resembles a summer camp or college campus.
Officials say the picture today is far different than a year ago. Bathrooms were repaired. In the kitchen and dining hall, where the grand jury found conditions that "make cleaning and sanitation difficult," significant work has been done.
Efforts have gone further. The residents have turned dirt lots into manicured lawns. Under way is a remodel of the boys bunkhouse.
The efforts are part of the work program that, along with school instruction, make up rehabilitation efforts for the boys placed at Twin Pines.
The ranch houses offenders from age 15 to 18 who are taken out of their home to complete a six-month to one-year program. Their crimes range from habitual misdemeanors to felonies. It is up to a judge to determine whether someone should be sent to Juvenile Hall, where the average stay is less than a month, or a longer-term camp.
In the past year, Twin Pines has shifted from military-style routines to a greater focus on academics and job skills.
Officials from the Riverside County Probation Department, which operates the ranch, say its rehabilitation programs justify the cost of running Twin Pines.
"We're not here to punish these boys, we're here to get them back on track," said Chris Wright , assistant director of the Probation Department's Youthful Offender Program. "We don't care what brought them here. Everyone deserves a second chance."
Ranch officials said they hear success stories regularly from former residents who return to visit. Men have relayed stories of earning college degrees and building professional careers. One teen was being scouted by the NFL.
The boys sent to Twin Pines are held to a strict daily schedule. Two hours of schoolwork include instruction and independent study to finish high school courses. They spend another two hours learning skills such as woodcarving, cooking or auto mechanics that can help them make careers.
The rest of their day, the boys spend time doing work around the 1,100-acre ranch, such as landscaping, cleaning and painting.
The majority of the ranch's food is grown on site, with livestock, as part of an agricultural program.
"This teaches them the skills they need for job placement as soon as they can get out of here," Wright said. It also instills in them a good work ethic and sense of pride at their accomplishments, he said.
Twin Pines residents have competed against other schools in CIF football and a championship baseball program.
They also are drug tested regularly. Twin Pines has an on-site substance abuse counselor and psychologist.
Families visit the ranch every Sunday.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
CRISTA JEREMIASON/Press Democrat
By GLENDA ANDERSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 6:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 6:48 p.m.
Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Hamburg has dropped off a committee charged with drafting regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, citing a potential conflict of interest.
His daughter, Laura Hamburg, is considering opening a dispensary, he announced Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting.
The announcement came less than a week before the two-member committee was scheduled to meet for the first time, said Supervisor John McCowen, the other member.
Hamburg could not be reached Wednesday, but McCowen said his decision was not in response to criticism from the Mendocino County grand jury, which alluded to Hamburg’s votes on other marijuana-related issues.
In its April report “A Pot Paradox or Bud Bingo?” the grand jury recommended that supervisors who grow marijuana recuse themselves from voting on medical marijuana regulations.
It does not name names, but Hamburg is the only supervisor commonly known to grow marijuana.
He has a marijuana prescription for an undisclosed medical condition. His family members, including his wife and daughter, also have marijuana prescriptions. Last year, Hamburg said they grew about 25 plants on his property outside Ukiah.
In its report, the grand jury also voiced concerns over regulating dispensaries. One concern is whether the county would be violating federal marijuana laws by enacting an ordinance.
However, the grand jury concluded the benefits of regulating dispensaries outweigh the risks. Regulations would give the county some control over where the dispensaries are located, according to the grand jury.
Mendocino County officials took an early lead in regulating marijuana production, going so far as to issue permits to growers willing to pay a registration fee. But they are behind the curve on dispensaries.
Lake County supervisors on Tuesday adopted an ordinance regulating dispensaries, joining several jurisdictions in Sonoma County in trying to control the proliferation of pot shops. Lake County’s ordinance requires that dispensaries have permits and limits their number in the unincorporated county to five.
Updated: 08/17/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg Tuesday announced he was stepping down from the ad-hoc committee recently formed to write regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries.
"I'm doing that out of an abundance of caution to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest," Hamburg said during the portion of the Board of Supervisors' meeting reserved for the supervisors' reports.
"My daughter ... has decided that she wants to explore opening a dispensary herself."
The committee hasn't yet had its first meeting, Hamburg said. He added that he would be part of the vote when the dispensary regulations go before the board in draft form.
Hamburg's exit from the committee leaves 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen on the ad-hoc.
County Counsel Jeanine Nadel said the board will discuss at its Aug. 23 meeting either appointing a second supervisor to the ad-hoc committee or allowing McCowen to draft an ordinance that would contain the regulations on his own.
"I understand the reasoning, and I think it's an appropriate action to take, but I was looking forward to working with you," McCowen said to Hamburg. "I think you bring, obviously, a wealth of experience and perspective to the issue, and it would have been a good balance that would have been well received in the community, but we'll carry on."
In its recommendation earlier this year that the county adopt regulations for dispensaries, the Mendocino County grand jury recommended that the board not appoint supervisors who had grown marijuana.
Tiffany Revelle can be reached at email@example.com, or at 468-3523.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Posted at 10:33 PM on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011
By Lewis Griswold / The Fresno Bee
Woodlake police should have been ordered to answer a Tulare County grand jury subpoena seeking a police report of a shooting-range mishap, the Fifth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The ruling, issued earlier this month, reverses a decision by Tulare County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Hicks rejecting the subpoena that sought the Woodlake Police Department's internal investigation.
However, the ruling may be moot because the grand jury issued its final report on the incident more than a year ago.
The Tulare County District Attorney's Office, which advised the grand jury in the subpoena, declined to say whether the matter will be pursued further. Grand jury proceedings are secret, Tulare County District Attorney Shani Jenkins said Thursday.
Woodlake city attorney Tom Watson said it's a dead issue, but the ruling clarifies a point of law.
Crime and courts coverage
"We got a clear guideline on how to deal with these things in the future," Watson said.
The legal back and forth stems from an incident in January 2009 when Leland Perryman of Exeter, who lives near the shooting range, was on a walk about a mile away and got hit.
The bullet came within half an inch of his heart, punctured a lung and broke at least one rib, he said.
"I'm kind of glad to see this [the appellate ruling]," he said. Perryman said he suspects the internal report, which the grand jury sought through its subpoena, has details that have not been made public.
Hicks quashed the subpoena on grounds that the grand jury was engaged in a civil proceeding, which required an affidavit showing "good cause" for needing the information.
But the higher court said a grand jury investigation is not a civil proceeding, so the affidavit wasn't required. Woodlake Police Chief John Zapalac said the department no longer uses the range.
By Matt Wilson
Posted: 08/11/2011 11:00:00 PM PDT
The city of Cupertino has responded to three civil grand jury reports focusing on emergency dispatch, fire department response and the rehiring of pensioners. The reports were released in June.
At its Aug. 2 meeting, the city council granted city manager David Knapp authorization to pen response letters to the civil grand jury. Cities are required to agree or disagree with each of the jury's findings and recommendations in the reports. The city had until Sept. 16 to respond.
The grand jury found that in spite of public opinion, there are situations that warrant rehiring pensioners. The grand jury stated that the 15 towns and cities may be inadvertently creating demand to rehire pensioners, because the public sector retirement age is relatively young at roughly age 50 to 55.
The grand jury recommended that cities such as Cupertino continue to pursue a higher retirement age within its public sector unions and associations and make rehiring pensioners a policy decision if they have any desire to end the practice. Cupertino contracts with Santa Clara County and does not have its own fire or police department services.
The city, however, sent a letter agreeing with the recommendations.
In another report, the grand jury found that it is very costly to equip a fire department to report to only the occasional fire.
The report states that the county and its 15 cities have not been active enough in challenging their fire departments
to adopt changes that are more cost-effective, and that unions are more interested in job preservation than in providing services at reasonable costs.
Also, sending firefighter paramedics and fire-fighting equipment to all non-police emergencies is unnecessarily costly when less expensive paramedics on ambulances have the skills needed to address 96 percent of calls that are not fire related, according to the report.
The grand jury recommended that the county's cities determine the emergency response service they want to achieve and work toward that goal. The grand jury also recommended that cities adopt emergency service facilities and staff or contract to meet demand.
The letter from Cupertino states that the city has already achieved the emergency response it desires.
In its report on emergency dispatch, the grand jury concluded that dispatch consolidation would result in more cost- effective and efficient emergency response and should be implemented throughout the county. In addition, radio equipment has not been standardized and impedes effective county-wide communication and emergency dispatch.
The grand jury recommended that cities with their own dispatch centers and cities such as Cupertino that use county communications for dispatch should consolidate dispatch with neighboring jurisdictions and where appropriate. The grand jury also urged cities to continue working with the Silicon Valley Regional Interoperability Project to achieve county-wide standardization radio technology.
The city agreed with the recommendations and is already a member and contributor to the Silicon Valley Regional Interoperability Project.
For more information about the civil grand jury and to view reports or read city responses, visit www.scscourt.org.
10:53 PM PDT on Wednesday, August 10, 2011
By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The elected leaders overseeing San Bernardino International Airport voted Wednesday to agree to all but one of a civil grand jury's 16 recommendations despite staff spending more than a month attempting to discredit the panel's critical report that picked apart the oversight to develop the airport.
In its June 30 report, the civil grand jury raised several concerns taking issue with the airport's use of an auditing firm founded by the airport authority's executive director. It also questioned whether an individual who received two no-bid agreements to develop the airport may have inflated construction costs.
Cost to build a main passenger terminal for commercial aviation flights as well as a high-end general aviation terminal and three-story U.S. Customs building for international arrivals has grown in cost from $45 million to $142.5 million since 2007.
There are no scheduled commercial flights.
The authority has until Aug. 30 to formally respond to the grand jury's recommendations. Sam Racadio, the board's representative from Highland, suggested changes to wording so that rather than the authority saying it is considering doing something, that instead it say it "will" do something.
Those were the only changes made to the responses before they were approved at Wednesday's meeting, the last of three meetings focused almost entirely on responding to the grand jury's assertions.
"This airport is ready to fly and we must begin treating it as the big corporation that it will become," said Josie Gonzales, San Bernardino County supervisor and member of the authority, likening the airport to a "little ugly leftover" before the authority invested in its development.
"As this airport grows, we become a competitor ... and this airport is ready to compete," she said.
The only recommendation the authority didn't agree with was the grand jury's suggestion that the airport stop all payments related to $4.06 million it agreed to spend on used aviation equipment in 2007.
The recommendation doesn't apply because the deal is done, "and there are no similar agreements pending at this time," according to the authority's response.
The airport had agreed to pay that amount to Norton Development Co., one of several companies managed by the airport's developer, Scot Spencer, for 11 jet bridges, baggage claim systems, seats and more that had been used by American Airlines in its John F. Kennedy terminal in New York as far back as 1975.
The grand jury had said there was one remaining jet bridge being refurbished and that taxpayers could save $134,689 if the airport refused to buy it.
Spencer, who had no prior experience developing an airport and had been sentenced to several years in federal prison in the mid-1990s for fraud related to the bankruptcy of Braniff Airlines, has also received a percentage of all construction contracts awarded to build the airport.
In response to another recommendation that the authority require Spencer to present detailed monthly progress reports as mandated in his agreements, the authority said it agreed, but instead said the agency's chief financial officer would submit copies of reports and documents related to the airport's construction on a monthly basis.
"At the discretion of the (authority), the developer may be required to provide additional documentation upon demand," according to the authority's response.
Implementation of most of the recommendations would take anywhere from less than a month to a year, according to the letter to the jury.
The authority is made up of elected leaders from San Bernardino County's east valley including the county, the city of San Bernardino, Colton, Highland and Loma Linda.
The group is related to the Inland Valley Development Agency which earns revenue from tax increment and has been overseeing redevelopment of the former Norton Air Force Base since it closed in 1994 and has been funding the airport's construction and operation.
The airport authority's executive director and assistant director, as well as San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris -- the group's president -- have spent more than a month defending their efforts to open a commercial airport. The grand jury report was the result of two years of investigations, interviews and an audit by San Francisco-based firm Harvey M. Rose Associates, which the grand jury hired for $75,840.
A draft version of the letter to be sent to the jury says, "this type of review, analysis, and open dialogue is both welcome and required," but reiterates what Morris and Donald L. Rogers, the executive director, have said since the report was released to the public on June 30. They contend there are a number of significant factual errors and misstatements.
"While the SBIAA recognizes the tangible benefits and value of all the recommendations contained in the document, it is essential that the foundational errors be addressed to ensure the integrity of this process," states the letter to be signed by Morris.
Included in the response to the grand jury is a copy of an economic impact report commissioned and paid for by the agency funding redevelopment of the airport, the Inland Valley Development Agency.
That study looked at all of the development that has occurred at the base since it closed in 1994, not just the airport, including the jobs created at Stater Bros. headquarters, Mattel and other businesses that located their distribution and industrial hubs at sections of the former base developed by Hillwood Development Corp.
Other attachments include a memo from a Washington D.C.-based attorney who earlier determined that Spencer's actions at the airport didn't violate his Department of Transportation ban from aviation.
Aviation construction consulting firm Faithful Gould compared the cost to build San Bernardino Airport -- a four-gate airport -- versus several others with nine to 36 gates. Based on $58.3 million to build the passenger terminal, nothing else, the authority spent $14.6 million per gate for the airport's four gates, according to the report. The average cost based on the seven other airports that were considered was $42 million per gate.
FOR THE ARGUS-COURIER
Published: Monday, August 8, 2011 at 8:47 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 8, 2011 at 8:47 a.m.
(Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories examining the condition of south county roads. Next week’s story will look at county-maintained roads.)
Petaluma officials agree with recent grand jury findings that the city’s roads are deplorable, but there isn’t enough money to fix them, they say.
“No matter what you do, the dollars aren’t there,” said Petaluma Mayor David Glass.
A section of the 2010-2011 Sonoma County Grand Jury Report, titled “Petaluma Potholes,” finds that “staff reductions, due to budgetary priorities, have left the city without the proper resources required to adequately maintain all city infrastructure.”
The grand jury report comes at the same time as a Metropolitan Transportation Commission pavement condition index that ranks Petaluma’s roads as the worst in Sonoma County — for the second time in two years.
To address the road conditions, the grand jury makes four recommendations, two of which the city has already addressed with its recent consolidation of the Public Works and Water Resources and Conservation departments into a single department. The other two involve spending more money on maintaining and repairing roads, and locating additional “future funding sources.”
“I think the recommendations are good,” said the city’s capital improvements manager, Larry Zimmer. “Whether or not we can meet the funding recommendations is another matter.”
Zimmer said it would cost about $6 million a year to simply maintain the roads in their current condition, and even more to fix all the potholes and degraded surfaces.
“In our current economic state, I don’t see how that’s possible,” he said.
Petaluma Councilmember Mike Healy agrees. He said the city only receives about $3 million a year through a combination of state gas tax money and state and federal grants. The city does not use general fund money for roads.
“We spend what money we can,” Healy said. “Unfortunately, it’s a triage situation. We know the streets are falling apart. That’s been the story for the last 10 years.”
When it comes to budgetary shortfalls, Glass says Petaluma is in the same leaky boat as most California municipalities, but with additional challenges.
“Petaluma is an older town, a model of small-town development with no money to change the infrastructure to smart growth,” he said.
The mayor contrasted Petaluma to cities like Sonoma, where there is a big tax base and limited infrastructure to maintain, and Windsor, where the roads and pipes are still relatively modern and new.
Glass also suggested that Petaluma’s pavement problems are just a piece of the difficult economic picture that has forced the city to make cuts in all areas, and that road maintenance comes after basic services.
“There are other obligations that come before potholes, like police and fire,” he said. “And we’re going to be in this state of affairs for quite some time to come.”
And even when the economy improves, he said, the city will first have to replace the reserves it has depleted to maintain basic services and offer early retirement for some employees in order to cut its workforce expenses.
“We will have to restore what we’ve chopped when better times come,” he said.
One bright light in this otherwise dismal picture, according to Glass, is that the city has been undergoing a process of departmental consolidation, and created a city workforce that can save money by multitasking.
That means the city can juggle funding by assigning employees to a variety of different jobs, all of which are funded by different pots of money
For instance, if an employee works on park maintenance one day, that portion of his or her salary will come from the General Fund. If the same employee fills potholes the following day, state or federal road grants will pay for those hours. And if the same worker repairs sewage pipes on the third day, that money will come from a special enterprise project.
“We will be able to use our various pots of gold to offer some relief for the General Fund,” he said.
In the meantime, Petaluma will be lowering its pavement condition index a bit by eliminating one lane of Petaluma Boulevard in each direction, from Washington Street to D Street. The MTC pavement condition index is based on how many lane miles a municipality has. Lane miles equal the number of miles a street runs, multiplied by the number of lanes.
Zimmer said the transformation of Petaluma Boulevard is really a safety issue — the unusually narrow double lanes cause a lot of accidents — but it will also help the MTC numbers.
The city will also continue to maintain arterial roads and collector roads, but those are the ones that get the most traffic and are currently in good enough condition to preserve.
Small neighborhood roads will probably continue to get worse, because there is not enough money to repair them so they can be maintained.
It’s a condition of federal road grants to focus on the major roads, Zimmer said, and it’s just good sense, given the lack of funding to it all.
“I’d love my street to be repaired,” he added, wistfully.
(Contact Lois Pearman at email@example.com)
By Rick Radin
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 08/07/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
PITTSBURG -- East Contra Costa's only taxpayer-supported health care district is proposing to spend less than half its budget this fiscal year on the community programs it was set up to support, just a year after a civil grand jury criticized it for not directing more money toward serving residents.
The rest of the 2011-12 budget would go toward district expenses such as employee wages and board compensation, legal services and strategic planning.
The Los Medanos Community Healthcare District is budgeting $405,422 for its own expenses compared with $325,879 on grants to community nonprofits and an eyeglass program for needy schoolchildren.
The district is proposing to spend $164,000 on wages in 2011-12, including a $100,000 annual salary for Administrator Bobbie Palmer, who has moved from part time to full time. That is roughly double what it spent on district wages last year.
Palmer was formerly receiving $48,000 a year for a 20-hour-a-week position.
Palmer declined to comment on the budget, including questions about her salary and a plan to spend $4,500 to buy Apple iPads for each board member so they can communicate with each other.
"Somebody just said 'I want an iPad, how about the rest of you guys?' " said Joe Rubi, a former board member and a longtime critic of the current board. "They already have email, home phones and cellphones, so why do they need iPads? That's a luxury item."
The district was the subject of a 2010 civil grand jury report that criticized trustees for spending an average of half of its revenue from 2006 to 2009 on community programs.
In response to the report, the district produced a balance sheet that showed it spent about 69 percent of its budget on programs during those years.
The district has budgeted 44 percent of revenues on programs this year, compared with 49 percent last year. About 73 percent of district residents are in Pittsburg, 22 percent in Bay Point and close to 5 percent in four other communities. The district is funded through a 1 percent property tax assessment. A recent grand jury report also criticized the Mount Diablo Healthcare District, a similar special district, for spending only 10 percent on programs out of the $2.45 million it collected from 2000 to 2009.
Los Medanos board member Eva Zendejas Vera said Palmer's position has always been full time, but she's been paid a half-time salary in the past.
The five board members will continue to receive about $4,800 each in annual stipends for attending two meetings a month. Vera said the district has been struggling with a loss of property tax revenue. Los Medanos had more than $1 million in revenues in 2007-08 and 2008-09 compared with $731,400 in 2011-12.
"We get our money from property tax, but our expenses have stayed the same," Vera said.
Board members Marilyn Condit, Linda Strong, Vern Cromartie and board President Darnell Turner did not respond to requests for comment on the district's spending.
"(Board members) are doing all they can to not say anything about what's going on," Rubi said. "If you challenge them, they just get mad and chew you out."
The board is scheduled to discuss the budget at Monday's meeting.
"This shows a very cavalier attitude toward the people's money," said Kris Hunt, of the Contra Costa Taxpayers' Association, which had a representative at the district's July 18 budget meeting. "This (assessment) is an item that's hidden away on the property tax bill."
Among the 16 nonprofit groups receiving annual funding are Delta Memorial Hospital Foundation, Delta 2000/Bay Point All-Star Cheerleading and East County Midnight Basketball.
The largest beneficiary in 2010-11 was John Muir Community Health Alliance, which received $146,222 to provide blood pressure and diabetes checks for minority residents and information about health care options.
Vera acknowledged that "two or three" of the nonprofits have not returned required documentation verifying that they have spent the money as intended.
"They're not doing their program, obviously," Vera said. "We would like them to return the money."
Despite the criticisms, incumbents Condit and Vera were re-elected in November. Strong was the only challenger to win a seat.
Three other challengers, including Rubi, were defeated.
Contact Rick Radin at 925-779-7166.
by the numbers
Top expenditures from Los Medanos Community Healthcare District's proposed budget for 2011-12 fiscal year:
Legal Services: $40,000
Board Stipends: $24,000
Strategic Planning: $20,000
Auditing Services: $12,000
Board Seminars/Travel: $12,000
John Muir Community Health: $146,222
Delta Memorial Hospital Foundation: $84,000
Pittsburg schools adult education: $80,000
Los Medanos College nursing program: $60,410
Loaves & Fishes of Contra Costa: $40,000
If YOU GO
WHAT: Los Medanos Healthcare District board meeting
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Board room, 2311 Love-
ridge Road, Pittsburg
Councilman Dave Garner's job as a prosecutor was raised in a July 28 letter to the city, but attorney Nicole Delerio told councilmembers — who'll meet again Monday about the grand jury report — that the county panel operates as a separate, distinct body from the district attorney.
The grand jury may consult with the D.A.'s office but doesn't have to — and "we have no evidence it did," Delerio said at the council's Aug. 1 meeting.
"There is not, in fact, a conflict of interest," she said.
Garner said Friday that Delerio came to the right conclusion and that Monday's study session should be significant.
"It'll be more fireworks," Garner said.
He added of the issue about a potential conflict that he's flattered to be seen, three years out of law school, as having such influence — but that he didn't play the role the letter suggests.
John T. Harris, an attorney in Gridley, had written Mayor Jerry Fichter late last month and cited Garner's deputy D.A. work as a reason why "he must recuse himself from any discussion of, or participation in the city's analysis and reply to the grand jury's report."
"This obvious conflict necessarily prevents him from participating objectively," wrote Harris, a member of the law firm of Harris, Sanford & Hamman. Harris could not be reached for comment Friday.
The grand jury's report includes an account of the $964,949 paid over nine years to former Gridley councilman Thomas Sanford, an attorney in the same firm. He worked as city energy commissioner and as principal investigator for a Department of Energy contract that helped fund the biofuels project.
Harris in his letter states that then-Mayor Frank Cook had suggested creating the energy commissioner post after Sanford's departure as a councilman. City Councils reviewed the contract yearly and found value in the post, Harris said.
The grand jury said the multi-million project produced no biofuels plant and benefited few people.
An Aug. 1 City Council meeting included Councilman Dan Boeger's objection to Garner referring to a "good ol' boy network" in Gridley blocking efforts by some residents to learn about the biofuels plan.
Boeger had said the network made possible schools, a museum and the Gridley Memorial Hospital.
"I don't like the comments about the old boy network," Boeger said. "It served the city of Gridley for many years."
Garner said the people of Gridley built the community, not Boeger and his friends.
CONTACT reporter Ryan McCarthy at 749-4780.
Read more: http://www.appeal-democrat.com/articles/city-108965-attorney-gridley.html#ixzz1V3lVgjlZ
The Gridley Herald
Posted Aug 05, 2011 @ 02:23 PM
A letter from Attorney John Harris, of Harris, Sanford & Hamman, asking for Gridley Vice-Mayor Dave Garner to recuse himself from Grand Jury response deliberations due to potential conflict of interest was read in part by Mayor Jerry Fichter during a study session held Monday night. Vice-Mayor Garner works at the Butte County District Attorney's Office as a Deputy District Attorney.
Harris' letter, read in part by Mayor Jerry Fichter, stated Vice-Mayor Garner had notified Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) in a letter dated January 21, 2011, that the City of Gridley was "rumored to be under a Grand Jury investigation.”
City Attorney Nicole Delerio of Rich, Fuidge, Morris and Lane Inc., told Council members that after review by her office it was determined that there was no conflict of interest and Vice-Mayor Garner did not have to recuse himself from Grand Jury discussions as Council and staff deliberated responses to be made to the 19 findings and nine recommendations included in the 2010-2011 Grand Jury report.
Planning Commission Chair Mike Trainer asked if the letter from Harris was going to be made public and City Administrator Rob Hickey said yes copies could be obtained at City Hall.
City Administrator Rob Hickey presented responses to the Grand Jury report in a draft form with Council members agreeing to most with no changes. Eleven of the 19 findings were discussed and Energy Commissioner Dan Boeger gave a presentation outlining many facts of the 17 year bio-fuel research project, under scrutiny by the Grand Jury, noting errors and misunderstandings by the Grand Jury.
“But the Grand Jury confuses the 'Gridley Project' DOE grant with other city activities such as its ongoing $5m/year electrical business and economic development activities, thus mixing Apples and Oranges.'
Of concern for Boeger and others is the fact that former City Administrator Jack Slota and Former City Finance Manager Brad Wilkie offered to be interviewed by the Grand Jury but were not contacted.
Former Butte County Supervisor for the Fourth District Curt Josiassen told Council members his family had spent tons of dollars over eight years trying to get rid of rice straw.
"My family spent a lot of our own money trying to solve a huge problem. We need to find a solution. This became a very focused issue for the rice industry when Gridley stuck their neck out for me who had been trying to solve this problem. I read the Grand Jury report several times. The City of Gridley took it on for a whole group of us who aren't in the City. All rice straw is not in the City limits. The County and Air Pollution supported your project. We are still trying to find a solution," Josiassen said.
"As long as people continue to throw stones we will be the losers. I hope you give the right response. Hundreds of millions are at risk trying to solve the problem. Nobody likes smoke. I don't know what else we can do. Thank you to the City of Gridley. You have guts to stand up for a huge part of the County. I got hold of the Grand Jury report and couldn't stand it. Government research is what creates new opportunities for all of us," Josiassen said.
After one hour was spent on responses due to the Grand Jury by August 15, 2011, Council members agreed to end the current discussions and meet again Monday, August 8, 2011, at 5:30 p.m., to continue work on the Council's responses.
The City Council meeting followed with two public hearings held.
The first public hearing was held to approve the assessment of $1,933.55 to 203 Nevada Street for the construction of sidewalk and ramp improvements and the next, property liens for unpaid water and sewer accounts to property owners. For fiscal year 2009/2010, 62 accounts had liens put on totaling $42,276.36, compared to 2010/2011 which was just 27 liens totaling $6,833.88, the lowest being $4.87 total due and the highest $1,409.23.
A Proclamation for National Night Out was read and presented to Gridley-Biggs Police Chief Gary Keeler by Mayor Jerry Fichter.
An agreement between the City and Gridley Union School District was approved by Council members to help with the cost for the construction of a sidewalk in front of the McKinley School where four trees are planted curbside. The City of Gridley currently has $30,000, available for sidewalk construction. The amount submitted by the school district was $48,484. Agreeing that school sidewalks are also a benefit to the City , Council members voted to pay $23,000 of the cost.
The second reading of the continued existence of the Gridley Redevelopment Agency with the payment of $167,830, as a community remittance was heard.
City Administrator Rob Hickey asked that $100,000 be added as an administrative line item for the HOME investment partnership with Gridley Springs to cover staff time and council members approved.
A Study Session will be held Monday, August 8, 2011, at 5:30 p.m., to discuss the response to the Grand Jury which is due August 15, 2011. The City Council will meet that night at 7 p.m.
The city Planning Commission, in the nicest possible way, told San Francisco's civil grand jury Thursday that they were full of it when they objected to the way the commission and the Board of Supervisors approved plans to remake and enlarge the Parkmerced apartment complex on the city's southern border.
The commission unanimously approved a letter, which Commissioner Kathrin Moore described as "softened" from the original legal response, gently slamming each of the points in the grand jury's May report, "The Parkmerced Vision: Government-by-Developer."
No, the development does not conflict with state law and yes, it protects the rent-controlled units, the commission answered. Yes, there are plenty of penalties if the director doesn't follow through on his promises and yes, the developer (and the commission) have paid plenty of attention to the impact any future sale will have on nearby residents and businesses.
And when it came to the grand jury's recommendation that the city pull a key section of the development agreement, the commission said that just isn't possible because the whole purpose of a development agreement is to guarantee construction rights to a builder in exchange for a variety of public benefits and services. Without that guarantee, the commission said, nothing gets done.
The unanimous vote was a change from the commission's hotly contested 4-3 vote earlier this year to recommend approval of the project.
- John Wildermuth