Monday, October 31, 2011
By Marga K. Cooley/Associate Editor email@example.com | Posted: Sunday, October 30, 2011 12:30 am |
Santa Barbara County, in conjunction with the District Attorney’s Office, is working to establish a partnership with local educators to stop a growing truancy problem.
The effort is in response to a Grand Jury report that shows the truancy rate for the county’s approximately 66,000 public school students has skyrocketed — from 21 percent in 2007-08, to 31 percent in 2009-10.
Truancy refers to a student having more than three unexcused absences.
The upward trend began in 2008, when the cash-strapped county Board of Supervisors decided not to fund an existing program, which would have cost about $215,000 that year and required ongoing revenue of $226,900 beginning in 2009-10.
Earlier this month, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino and 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal agreed to serve as an ad-hoc committee and work with the district attorney’s office and local school districts to develop a plan to address the problem.
The move is something that local school superintendents said earlier this year they would welcome.
Lavagnino said Friday that District Attorney Joyce Dudley will be studying a program in the Bay Area next month that could serve as a blueprint for Santa Barbara County.
“There’s an enforcement procedure, but there’s also hand-holding to get the kids to class and find out what the systemic problems are that are associated with truancy,” he said.
In the meantime, Lavagnino said, he and Carbajal will be talking to school district officials about their involvement.
According to Deputy District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss, a successful program will require at least some funding from the county.
Beyond that, he said, the parties will have to look at creative ways to put a budget together that can operate such a system.
That may involve private funding, he said, adding that the District Attorney’s Office is “actively engaged in looking at community interest along those lines.”
The Grand Jury report notes that state and federal funding for truancy programs is no longer available.
While Auchincloss points to a bare-bones truancy program in place now that involves sending letters to school districts and parents, Lavagnino said he doesn’t think that approach is effective, especially in Santa Maria.
“I look at the socioeconomic and cultural setup in Santa Maria and I don’t think sending a letter from the DA to somebody’s house saying your kid isn’t going to class would be a very effective way to deal with the problem,” said Lavagnino. “I think in Santa Maria we have to find out why kids aren’t going to class. Are they working? Are they ditching and their parents don’t know it?
“I’d like some real fixes instead of trying to Band-Aid it,” he continued. “We’re kind of blazing our own trail to get everybody involved.”
Pointing to the big-picture impact that truancy has on society in terms of its cost to taxpayers, as well as to school districts, Lavagnino said he wants to fix the fiscal problem “and turn people into taxpayers instead of benefit recipients.”
According to the Grand Jury report, the unemployment rate for working-age people over 25 who have not completed high school has grown from 11 percent in 1992 to nearly 16 percent in 2010. Comparatively, the unemployment rate for high school graduates with no college has gone from about 7 percent in 1992 to about 8.5 percent in 2010, and for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, from 2.5 percent in 1992 to 4 percent in 2010.
“You are required to have your kids in school, and at the end the only way to deal with it is enforcement, but I just want to make sure that’s the last resort,” Lavagnino said. “It’s probably not the most effective way to communicate with most of these people.”
Auchincloss said that the DA’s office is committed to reestablishing a truancy program because it’s an invaluable aspect of criminal intervention and prevention, and because of the value of education.
More importantly, he said, there is a need to understand what’s causing the problem.
“That’s where a truancy program comes in,” Auchincloss said. “Our truancy program as it existed in the past worked to identify the root causes, and used truancy as a bellwether to determine what kids are at risk in our community.”
Lavagnino said he hasn’t done any outreach with regard to local school districts since the ad-hoc committee was formed on Oct. 18, and none has contacted him. But, he said, it’s early in the process.
“I know their budgets are tight as well,” he said, “but I think everybody is going to have to tackle this thing together.”
Read more: http://www.lompocrecord.com/news/local/education/county-da-working-to-develop-truancy-plan/article_3b65e266-02b3-11e1-85c3-001cc4c002e0.html#ixzz1cOsiLKjA
By Brian Bullock / Staff Writer / firstname.lastname@example.org | Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 12:05 am |
The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury thinks all law enforcement patrol cars in the county should be equipped with video cameras.
For the Guadalupe Police Department — one of only two agencies in the county without them — that means an investment of around $65,000. Chief George Mitchell will put forth that information and a request to fund the effort to the City Council when it meets at 6 tonight at City Hall, 918 Obispo St.
According to the report, all county law enforcement vehicles are equipped with audio/visual equipment except those in the cities of Guadalupe and Santa Barbara. The report recommends those cities have such equipment installed on its patrol cars — 35 in Santa Barbara and seven in Guadalupe.
The grand jury estimates the cost per unit between $8,000 and $9,500, an amount not many departments can afford right now, according to Mitchell.
“Due to reduced budgets that all police departments are experiencing, they’re all looking for grant funding, so its getting hard to find,” said Mitchell. “We have no funding this year with the Police Department budget, so we’ll take it to the next level and ask the City Council.
“For us, it would have to be something that was planned for. Other than that, there would have to be some kind grant windfall or something like that.”
The report, published earlier this month, says that in an effort to maintain openness and accountability in government and to help protect agencies from litigation, audio/video technology should be installed in patrol vehicles. The report was in response to requests in July that local law enforcement agencies provide more transparency in their operations.
The county Sheriff’s Department installed the equipment in 53 of its patrol cars back in 2000. The report also indicates the Santa Maria Police Department has had similar equipment in all 32 of its cars since 2000, while Lompoc installed the equipment this year in all 11 of its patrol cars.
“It’s basically been driven by the grand jury’s look into the cameras,” Mitchell said of his request. “So we’re just trying to be in compliance with addressing their concerns and seeing what we can come up with.”
The council also will hear reports on its Guadalupe Street (Highway 1) improvement and street overlay projects.
Approximately $2 million in overlay and Guadalupe Street (Highway 1) improvement projects were recently finished, and City Engineer Dennis Delzeit will brief the council on their completion.
The projects were accomplished with a variety of funding, including Measure D, Proposition 1B, State Transportation Program Exchange funds and federal funding, according to the staff report.
Read more: http://santamariatimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/santa-barbara-county-grand-jury-recommends-cameras-in-police-cars/article_56dc6436-fed3-11e0-ba3f-001cc4c002e0.html#ixzz1cOs6hat4
October 31, 2011 11:16 AM
Brooke Edwards Staggs
VICTORVILLE • Though Victorville wasn’t mentioned in the San Bernardino County Grand Jury’s 2011 report, that doesn’t mean the citizen group’s two-year probe into corruption allegations turned up nothing, according to a source close to the investigation.
Instead, the grand jury has turned its findings — including results of a lengthy, county-funded forensic audit — over to the FBI, the source told the Daily Press. The FBI then asked that some members of the grand jury join a special task force charged with looking into Victorville.
The grand jury began questioning city officials in spring 2009, as concerns continued to emerge over finances, the November 2008 campaign and handshake contracts allegedly made under former City Manager Jon Roberts.
Over the next two and a half years, council members and city staff were questioned, documents were subpoenaed and the county Board of Supervisors agreed to spend $195,000 to have New York-based auditor Kessler International look into the allegations.
For the first time in the history of San Bernardino County, six citizens were held over from the 2009-10 grand jury to continue serving with the next year’s watchdog group. Those members were released from service at the end of June, though a source who didn’t have permission to speak on the issue said at least two joined a task force to work with the FBI on both Victorville’s case and corruption concerns that have emerged related to San Bernardino International Airport.
Victorville staff hasn’t heard anything from the grand jury since the 2010-11 citizen group disbanded and issued its report at the end of June, according to City Manager Doug Robertson.
Two staff members are tentatively scheduled to meet separately with the Securities and Exchange Commission next month, Robertson said, as part of the federal agency’s ongoing probe into Victorville’s bond expenditures.
“The city has had no contact from any other investigatory body,” Robertson said in an email, “nor have any employees been interviewed by any other agency that we are aware of.”
In September, Councilman Mike Rothschild asked the District Attorney’s office, which oversees the grand jury, to look into statements made by Councilwoman Angela Valles following closed session talks. The DA issued a letter a short time later dismissing the concerns.
Valles said she spent several hours meeting with representatives from the DA’s office last week, expressing her concerns over the way Victorville operates.
“I believe in our justice system and I know that the wheels of justice turn slowly,” Valles said. “Hopefully we can get some closure to the investigations soon.”
Brooke Edwards Staggs may be reached at (760) 955-5358 or at bedwards@VVDailyPress.com.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Updated: 10/30/2011 12:00:01 AM PDT
Mendocino County departments responded in August and September to a report from the county's civil grand jury recommending that the county regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.
The report, titled "A Pot Paradox or Bud Bingo?: A Report on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Mendocino County," says all that's required to open a dispensary is a business license, which doesn't provide for "the needs of neighbors and communities to be protected from public safety impacts" of dispensaries.
"The public safety impacts are currently being met, regardless of the existence of dispensaries," Mendocino County Counsel Jeanine Nadel wrote in her response.
The grand jury report also notes two dispensaries were opened earlier this year in the coastal town of Mendocino, both within 1,000 feet of schools.
Nadel responded that she has "no specific knowledge" of that and two other of the grand jury's findings.
The county Treasurer-Tax Collector's Office, which the grand jury criticizes for being "unable to accurately state how many (dispensaries) or collective business licenses have been issued," stated in its response that it knows about at least one of the dispensaries in the town of Mendocino.
"The (office) has issued one business license for medical marijuana distribution in Mendocino Township and has no specific information regarding a second establishment," Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Schapmire writes in her response.
Schapmire also notes that, contrary to an earlier estimate of 10 dispensaries in all of Mendocino County, her office has issued four business licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries or collectives.
Nash Gonzalez, director of the county Planning and Building Services Department, gives the exact addresses of both Mendocino dispensaries and their relative distances from the local high school.
"The two dispensaries that staff is aware of are located at 10470 Lansing Street ... located approximately 897 feet from the high school and 675 feet from the community center, which has after-school programs. The second is located at 10483 Lansing Street, approximately 500 feet from the community center and 890 feet from the high school," Gonzalez writes.
His office reviews the business licenses "for use and occupancy only," he writes, adding that determining whether the license is for a dispensary "would be difficult ... until such time as a specific use type is defined for marijuana dispensaries."
Gonzalez responds to the grand jury's claim that "an undetermined number of (dispensaries) have been established" in the county, saying county code doesn't provide for marijuana sales as a permitted use.
"Many of these so-called dispensaries have or are applying as some form of retail sales (i.e. herbal sales, etc.)," Gonzalez writes. "Therefore it is difficult to fully evaluate such uses unless it is specifically noted on an application that such uses are medical marijuana dispensaries."
The grand jury notes in its report that "There are no grounds for denial by the county (of the establishment of a dispensary) except the limitations imposed by the business license process."
Nadel agrees with the finding. Gonzalez also agrees, but notes that "sale of marijuana is not a permitted use contained within the county's zoning ordinance and is thus not permitted and a business license could be denied.
"However, (Planning and Building) staff cannot regulate a marijuana dispensary' when an applicant for a business license does not represent such use on an application, and calls it something else that could be permitted within the confines of retail sales."
Responding to a recommendation that the county adopt regulations regarding the production and sale of food-based medical marijuana items, Gonzalez says his staff is "more than willing" to meet with Nadel and Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman to craft the language of an ordinance regulating dispensaries "as it relates to zoning/land use/building and safety issue (sic)."
He goes on in his response to recommend that the county Health and Human Services Agency's Division of Environmental Health have input about that recommendation.
Environmental Health Director John Morley disagrees with the recommendation, citing a California Department of Public Health determination that "edible products containing marijuana may not legally be sold as food pursuant to the Sherman Food, Drug and Cosmetic Law ... or the California Retail Food Code."
Morley continues, "Edibles that contain marijuana meet the statutory definition of drugs' under the Sherman Law because they are being used in the cure, mitigation and treatment of disease. The edible merely becomes the drug delivery system."
The grand jury also recommends the county establish fees to cover its regulation and enforcement costs.
Gonzalez recommends in his response that "a permit or entitlement be utilized as a mechanism for regulation and enforcement," noting the recommendation needs further analysis.
The grand jury also recommends that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors adopt an ordinance that would address neighborhood safety concerns, mobile dispensaries, patient/caregiver relationships, medical marijuana transportation within the county, a definition of a mature, female plant and a minimum age requirement for anyone allowed inside a dispensary.
Nadel notes in her response that the Board of Supervisors formed an ad-hoc committee to write an ordinance regulating dispensaries.
Tiffany Revelle can be reached at email@example.com, or at 468-3523.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Is it just me, or have we been here before? In 2003, 2006 and again in 2008, massive revenue measures have been passed by voters for the purposes of funding and fixing our schools. This is in addition to the millions in rainy-day funds that are given to the district each year because of sudden budget problems. I say, “given” because the school system is a state entity. We can’t really tell it what to do with the money it receives, though state law requires certain oversight for bond money.
In 2009, The City’s civil grand jury issued a report called, “Use it or Lose it: A Report on the Surplus Real Property Owned by the San Francisco Unified School District.” It seems that dwindling numbers of students since 1978 has resulted in shuttered schools that are still owned by the district. At least 10 parcels have been designated “surplus” by an advisory committee set up by the school district to study the problem from 2006-07.
According to representatives of the school district, selling the property is complicated, and in some cases, state law restricts the use of money from the sale of real property.
The grand jury report concluded that, “The city and county of San Francisco should not allocate to the SFUSD any further ‘rainy day’ or ‘bail out’ funds until such time as the SFUSD has sold the properties it already identified as surplus.”
Believing that this conclusion was a bit harsh, in November 2009 the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution asking that the school district “bring its surplus property disposition plan(s) before the Joint City and School District Select Committee in a timely manner for review and consideration.”
No such plans have ever been presented to that committee.
The grand jury report does not estimate how much money could be made from the sale or lease of surplus school property, so I’m not necessarily suggesting that people vote against Prop. A. I’m merely suggesting that, as the grand jury report stated, “the SFUSD is poised to waste the extraordinary amount of time and money that has already gone into determining how to dispose of or manage some of its real property. The SFUSD should take the remaining critical steps.”
Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2011/10/pension-reform-backers-san-francisco-are-not-gop-heroes#ixzz1bk4WsVQw
By Cynthia Lambert | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the wake of a civil grand jury report that found a conflict of interest at a South County sewage treatment plant, a review by the county auditor-controller has found there is sufficient oversight of finances to prevent such conflicts.
Auditor-Controller Gere Sibbach — who was not investigating whether or not a conflict of interest existed at the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District — found a few areas he called a small “breakdown of their systems.” But by and large his office’s review of some district finances and methods was far brighter than a critical report the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury released in June.
The grand jury report alleged a conflict of interest exists at the sanitation district because John Wallace serves as the treatment plant’s administrator while his engineering firm, the Wallace Group, provides engineering services for the district.
The grand jury also criticized the district board for failing to recognize the conflict.
The board vehemently disputed that conclusion, stating in a rebuttal that a conflict does not exist, the grand jury’s assertions were largely inaccurate and its “depiction of the board of directors as being generally ‘unaware’ is both inaccurate and offensive.”
The district provides wastewater treatment services to about 39,000 people in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano.
Sibbach didn’t determine whether he believes a conflict exists at the sanitation district. Instead, he focused his review on what types of policies the district has in place regarding district finances to offset any potential conflict.
“The district has been making some changes, and I think they’re going to come out of it with stronger financial controls and more transparency than they had before,” he said Friday.
Sibbach released a final copy of his review to the district board members on Friday, in which he primarily reviewed documents in fiscal year 2010-11, which ended June 30.
Among his findings:
• In one out of 23 instances, the district’s list of checks to be issued (called a warrant register) was only signed by one board member. District practice requires two board members to sign it. In three of 13 separate instances, Wallace and one board member had signed to authorize payments to Wallace’s firm. Sibbach recommended that Wallace not be allowed to sign for payments made to his company, and as of August, he has not been authorized to do so per a new district policy.
• The district board receives quarterly financial reports, but Sibbach did not find a year-end report showing the budgeted estimates compared to actual results. Michael Seitz, the district’s attorney, said the board does receive the information while preparing the following year’s budget, just not in a formal report.
• The district’s cash balances have decreased by about $1.8 million over the past three fiscal years.
• Costs for Wallace Group services in major budget items were not always easily identified or separated from other project costs. But the information in the budget and board reports from fiscal year 2011-12 improved.
• The district has a clear and well-understood organizational structure, and all employees and officers who have to disclose economic interests have done so.
The board has also split Wallace’s contract into two: one for his administrative role, a second for engineering services his firm provides. The board moved to do so before the grand jury report, Seitz said, “and so the inference that the grand jury caused that is not particularly accurate.
“But,” he added, “the fact that we were getting looked at did cause us to be a little more self-introspective in terms of what we’re doing.”
Seitz said the board will discuss a response to Sibbach’s review at its next meeting.
Read more: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2011/10/22/1806829/conflict-of-interest-controls.html#ixzz1bjwZ7vik
Saturday, October 22, 2011
The transcripts, released last week, detail Burum's March 2009 testimony before the county's civil Grand Jury in which he described how attorneys for his firm, Colonies Partners LP, impeached nearly every witness called by San Bernardino County's lawyers in the months leading up to the county's decision to settle with Colonies.
In testimony, Burum said attorneys representing the county were giving the Board of Supervisors bad advice and telling them they were winning in court despite evidence to the contrary, according to the 130-page transcript.
"It is fundamentally unfair and, in our view, contrary to the law, that the grand jury was not provided with copies of Mr. Burum's testimony prior to being asked to return the indictment," Burum's attorney, Stephen Larson, said in a telephone interview.
None of Burum's 2009 testimony was provided to a special criminal grand jury, which indicted Burum and three former county officials, including former Colonies consultant Jim Erwin, in May on charges of conspiracy, bribery and conflict of interest, among other charges. Prosecutors allege the county's landmark $102 million settlement with Colonies Partners in November 2006 was tainted by bribery and extortion. A federal investigation is under way as well.
Five of the seven charges against Burum, including all bribery-related charges, were subsequently dismissed after a judge determined the criminal statutes used to charge Burum were either erroneously applied or the statute of limitations had lapsed for charging Burum with such crimes. Judge Brian McCarville also dismissed one felony count of misappropriation of public funds against the other three defendants - former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former assistant assessor and union boss Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt.
During his 2009 testimony, Burum laid out his interpretation of the nearly five-year legal battle over who was responsible for flood-control improvements at Colonies' Upland development, which resulted in two Superior Court rulings in the developer's favor.
"I'm going, `Are they in the same courtroom I'm in, because they're getting killed every day?"' Burum said during his testimony.
He said Colonies made strong headway during the 2006 trial, and the county resorted to having a witness go on the stand and attack his character.
Burum said what made him angriest - when he broke off communication with county supervisors - was when the county forced him to build a flood control basin on Colonies' property with enough storage capacity to protect residents from a 100-year flood, then reversed its position after the trial court ruled the basin's construction was the county's responsibility.
On appeal, the county unsuccessfully argued that the basin was not needed, and that its existing earthen berm easement was sufficient. The county requested construction on Colonies' property be halted until the conclusion of litigation, a move Burum said was an attempt to bankrupt Colonies and force and end to the lawsuit.
The judge denied the county's motion for a stay on the construction of the basin, allowing Colonies to proceed with the second phase of its residential development, Colonies at San Antonio.
As the trial moved forward, so did settlement talks between the county and Colonies' attorneys. Burum said during his testimony that he pushed to settle the lawsuit for a discounted value, despite what he said could have been upwards of a $750 million judgment that could have bankrupted the county had it lost to in court.
Though initial damage estimates by Burum's camp ranged between $250 million to more than $300 million, efforts were under way in 2006 to change state law so that when the government abused a private property owner the government was held to the same standards as the private sector. As to damages, that would mean three times the amount of whatever the jury awarded.
"So ... if we continued down the road at ($250 million), the verdict against the county could be a $750 million verdict against the county, which would bankrupt the county," Burum said during his testimony. "Everyone in political circles also knew this. This was a hotly contested issue."See complete story at: http://www.contracostatimes.com/california/ci_19078164?nclick_check=1
By TIFFANY REVELLE The Daily Journal
Posted: 10/21/2011 11:59:37 PM PDT
An efficiency audit of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office revealed discord among department employees about the county's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance, and urged county leaders to rethink the way it's enforced.
Codified as County Code Chapter 9.31, the ordinance allows up to 25 medical marijuana plants per parcel, and up to 99 plants per parcel with a permit from the Sheriff's Office, as long as the gardens meet state and local requirements, including documentation that the plants are grown under a doctor's recommendation.
"The 9.31 program is by far the program that causes the greatest chasm of disagreement within the department," states the audit report, which was written by Harris & Harris Enterprises.
The Board of Supervisors hired the consultant earlier this year to do the audit. Part of the consultant's methodology was to survey Sheriff's Office employees and to interview management, supervisors and others in key roles.
In a section of the report that highlights recurring themes in the responses, the report details feedback about the 9.31 permit program.
"Some feel strongly it is a program that is based in the reality of the situation related to marijuana in California and is a realistic and worthwhile program whose time is now," the report says. "Others believe the program is illegal, runs counter to overall crime prevention in Mendocino County, is potentially criminal-friendly, reduces morale and is poised to bring more crime to the county and potential corruption to the department."
The report goes on to list the 9.31 program as one of the reasons staff gave for declining morale in the department, saying the program is "viewed by many staff as acquiescing to the drug culture and potentially could attract gangs and more criminality."
The 9.31 program is currently overseen by a sergeant. The audit report says some in the department think the program should be run by non-sworn staff or by retirees.
Sheriff Tom Allman said he's looking into the idea of having his non-sworn staff run the program.
Disagreement over the politically-charged marijuana issue is to be expected, he said.
"It's fair to say 9.31 is not embraced by law enforcement, but it was adopted by the Board of Supervisors, and we are merely carrying it out," Allman said.
He stopped going to the meetings where the details of the county ordinance were hammered out in 2009, he said, "because it was hard to tell the direction of the meeting."
Second District Supervisor John McCowen, one of the two county supervisors appointed to write the regulations and conduct the meetings to gather public input, said the process was slowed by voluminous public speakers opposed to county regulation.
Since the law was revised and approved in 2010, it's also been the subject of a lawsuit that's not yet resolved, and of scrutiny by 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who said during his campaign that he questioned whether the ordinance is legal.
Mendocino County Counsel Jeanine Nadel has contended that the county is within its constitutional rights to enforce the ordinance and to treat violations as nuisances.
"I didn't ask for 9.31, but I'm carrying it out as directed," Allman said.
The report notes "a significant concern" among Sheriff's Office staff that the ordinance creates "a public perception that Mendocino County is significantly less likely to take a strong stance against drug production and sales, and that this could attract more criminal activity, more gang activity (often associated with illegal drug production), violent drug robberies, and other activities endemic to drug production."
The fact that the federal government still lists marijuana as an illegal drug is also a cause of concern, the report says.
An excerpt quoted in the audit report from the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force's 2010 annual report says the Task Force was "inundated with complaints from citizens about marijuana gardens in their neighborhoods. Indoor grows are becoming the norm and many citizens are tired of the effect on their life. The smells, the noise and the high-volume, short-term traffic are causing home values to go down."
The excerpt goes on to say the occurrences of locally-grown marijuana being traded for methamphetamine from the Central Valley and Southern California have also increased, with marijuana's trade value fluctuating "as the value of marijuana decreases due to an over-saturation of the market.
"Traditional outlaw motorcycle gangs are becoming involved in the lucrative marijuana market in this county. Under their protection/extortion, growers are moving their product."
And, the excerpt says, the gangs are trying to recruit members to expand further into the local market.
Also interesting, according to the Task Force, is "how many dealers of methamphetamine have switched to the marijuana trade because the penalties are less harsh."
Additional follow-up reports on the sheriff's audit are planned for upcoming editions of the Daily Journal.
Tiffany Revelle can be reached at email@example.com, or at 468-3523.
Friday, October 21, 2011
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.
Read more: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2011/jun/16/grand-jury-finds-workplace-bullying-a-problem/#ixzz1bRnaNERO
Monday, October 17, 2011
Posted: 10/15/2011 09:52:49 PM PDT
Updated: 10/17/2011 09:54:37 AM PDT
A somber anniversary passed just a few days ago for Jack Kazanjian, 15, of Redwood City.
It's been a year since a close friend took his own life after the relentless taunting of others -- much of it over the Internet.
"He was gay, and he was getting bullied," Jack said. "I posted on Facebook for people to stop, but on the Internet no one cares."
In the year since his friend's death, however, local, state and federal efforts to battle bullying in its various forms have increased.
San Mateo County school districts, spurred by a recent grand jury report that pointed out a lack of policies specific to bullying, are working to strengthen their procedures. The governor has signed anti-bullying bills into law, and the federal government already launched several initiatives to address student-on-student harassment.
Local students are also doing their part, whether it's participating in a simple round-table discussion or planning a rally to encourage other youngsters to stand up to bullying.
In recognition of October as National Bullying Prevention Month, Jack, fellow students and school officials at Fusion Academy in San Mateo held a group discussion about bullying. They also watched a video about Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, of Buffalo, N.Y., who killed himself last month after suffering gay slurs online for more than a year -- a case that has caught national attention.
"A lot of kids don't care about other kids but themselves," Jack said.
Jamey's plight echoed what happened to Jack's friend a year ago. "One of the kids kept making fun of him," Jack recalled. "The bully had his friends post comments on the Internet. They wrote, 'Everyone hates you' and 'Why don't you just die.'"
Online bullying can be particularly devastating, said Dan Morgan, Fusion's chief administrator. "It's there forever. It's easy to say something anonymously, and it can really, really hurt."
Brian Buntz, executive director of the youth-development nonprofit Dream Volunteers in Redwood City, agreed with that assessment. "What the Internet has done, especially social websites, is it has given young people tools to engage in bullying-type activities behind closed doors," Buntz said.
As part of the nonprofit's anti-bullying campaign, which is being launched this year, teen members are organizing a free concert and rally to raise awareness of the severity of the problem. The event, which targets middle school students and their parents, is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City.
"We're trying to get students to reach out to each other when they see bullying," Buntz said. "We also want to let them know where they can get help from adults -- after-school program directors, school counselors, school officials and police -- so they don't feel isolated and powerless."
According to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, 28 percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported that they endured bullying such as punching, name-calling and the posting of insulting messages online on a repeated basis during the 2008-09 academic year.
About 6 percent of students in that age group reported being cyberbullied in 2008-09, according to the center.
A higher percentage of students who were cyberbullied skipped school or got into campus fights than those who were not cyberbullied, the center said.
According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, more than 160,000 children in the country miss school every day just to avoid being bullied.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has approved a pair of anti-bullying laws. Assembly Bill 9 requires districts to have a uniform process for addressing bullying complaints. It also mandates that school personnel intervene, so long as it's safe to do so, if they see bullying. Assembly Bill 1156 requires that all school employees go through bullying-prevention training. It also allows bullying victims to change schools in their district.
On the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education and its partners have engaged in summits the past two years to work out a national strategy against bullying. Last year, the department sent letters to schools, colleges and universities reminding them that they could be in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws if they fail to adequately address ethnic, sexual, gender or disability-based harassment.
In response to the San Mateo County grand jury report, representatives from local districts convened last month to explore ways to beef up student-conduct policies to address bullying more effectively. One of the issues has been that a school might have a policy that uses different language in regard to bullying compared to the district office, county schools Superintendent Anne Campbell said.
So the districts' representatives looked at making "everything consistent in terms of understanding what bullying is and the consequences of it," Campbell said.
The Sequoia Union High School District is putting together a committee to craft a new anti-bullying policy, Superintendent James Lianides said. Sequoia Union has pursued a number of measures over the years to combat bullying, such as having older students mentor their younger counterparts and developing a conflict-mediation program.
"We've had a lot done in the last several years to really create climates across the district that provide safe environments for all students," Lianides said.
Contact Neil Gonzales at 650-348-4338.
28 percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported that they endured bullying.
6 percent of students in that age group reported being cyberbullied.
A higher percentage of students who were cyberbullied skipped school or got into campus fights than those who were not cyberbullied.
More than 160,000 children in the U.S. miss school every day just to avoid being the victim of bullying.
Sources: National Center for Education Statistics and National Bullying Prevention Center
If you want to do more
What: Free concert, rally sponsored by Dream Volunteers for middle school students and their parents to raise awareness about bullying
When: Begins 3:30 p.m., Oct. 24
Where: Fox Theatre, Redwood City
Sunday, October 16, 2011
firstname.lastname@example.org | Sunday, Oct 16 2011 11:38 AM
Last Updated Sunday, Oct 16 2011 11:40 AM
A recent Kern County Grand Jury report wondered about the economic solvency of a certain Kern County city. The same could be asked of the future of East Hills Mall located in northeast Bakersfield.
After its owner, BH Mall LLC of Los Angeles, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, the latest chapter in this saga is that it went to auction in September -- and not a single bid was offered.
The decline of East Hills Mall has progressively worsened. Only a few remaining independent merchants are left.
The mall was built in 1988, and it became home to anchors, Mervyn's, Gottschalk's and Harris, drawing in a steady number of customers. But when the economy soured, the major retailers pulled out; it's been a domino effect ever since. However, a few stories, such as Payless Shoes and Daniel's Jewelers, remain.
The aesthetics in and around the place certainly don't help in luring customers. The landscaping sorely needs work; weeds abound, garbage is scattered, and the parking lot needs repair.
And what greets customers once they arrive? Windows boarded up with plywood at the former Harris and Gottschalk's stores giving the appearance of an abandoned warehouse or worse.
"It looks condemned," said a clerk at one of the stores who gave his name only as Joseph. Renovation is desperately needed in its interior and exterior.
Inside the mall, it's a ghost town and you have to wonder how the remaining merchants survive.
I walked in recently and spoke to one shopkeeper. In the span of five hours, she had made one $6 sale she said. Living on this side of town, Nancy Giertz says she shops at East Hills about 3-4 times a year, mostly to get her nails done, go to Payless Shoes or take the kids to the dollar movie theatre.
Giertz wants to see brand name stores, such as Kohl's, come to East Hills.
"I feel our side of town is forgotten," said Giertz. "Everything is going across town."
Being an east sider myself, I couldn't agree more so I decided to pick some brains and pose the question: Can East Hills Mall be saved?
"You're not going to get a Nordstrom's where you have a dollar movie theatre," said Richard Chapman, president of Kern Economic Development Corporation.
East Hills faces a myriad of challenges, some beyond its control. That includes the sagging economy that makes retailers hesitant to come in and set up business. As Chapman and others point out, East Hills has multiple owners and they must be willing to work cooperatively and develop a plan to rescue the troubled mall.
"It's the property ownership that's going to be the issue," said Bob Bridges, a real estate professor at USC's Marshall School of Business. "You need to get everyone to sign off on working together in the mall's best interest."
So far, it's unclear whether the separate owners are even talking to each other.
The largest properties at East Hills -- the former Gottschalk's, Mervyn's and Harris stores -- have separate owners, including El Corte Ingles, a department store chain based in Madrid. BH Mall LLC owns and runs the center portion where the current stores are located.
A few years ago, 25 students from USC conducted a real estate feasibility study of the mall as a class project under the guidance of professor Bridges. After analyzing its numerous challenges, including poor planning and access to the site, the students concluded the solution was to demolish the site and start anew.
But the new form would have to be radically different -- with a mixed use of an outdoor mall, office space, perhaps apartments and even medical providers.
"It is a viable site for retail once the market recovers," Bridges said.
Who knows how long that will take.
In the meantime, Nick Danesh of BH Mall LLC is just trying to keep the doors open any way he can. Danesh feels the city can help out by waiving the $100 business license fee it charges to new owners who decide to open a business at East Hills and he is working on a proposal that he describes as the "East Hills Incubators," which he wants to present to the city soon.
But it's doubtful the city can do anything -- at least not right now -- to save East Hills. It faces possible foreclosure.
"It's got to go through its evolution process," said city economic development director Donna Kunz. Besides, the city has no funds to do anything since redevelopment agencies are locked up in a lawsuit with the state right now.
As for that Grand Jury report released earlier about a certain city facing insolvency? The recommendation: Disincorporation.
Perhaps East Hills may have to go through the equivalent measure. What would you suggest?
Jose Gaspar is a reporter for "KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News" and a contributing columnist of The Californian. These are the opinions of Gaspar, not necessarily The Californian. Email him at email@example.com.
Born: Sacramento, CA, 1959
Current Gig: San Francisco Public Defender
Why should we vote for you?
I am the only candidate who has a track record of fighting for fiscal accountability in order to preserve basic services and jobs while standing up for this City's progressive values and the people of this City. I've taken on tough issues like police misconduct and pension reform—issues that no other elected official would touch. I believe in merit-based decision-making, and would not be influenced by special interests or power brokers. I have run one of the most effective and efficient public law offices in the country. The public defender's office received the American Bar Association's top award for the best public law office in the country. I've also received the City's top managerial excellence award and have the experience to manage city departments. I have founded several organizations that are model collaboratives. Most importantly, I have an inclusionary style of leadership that would provide greater citizen participation in civic affairs and would bring honest and ethical government to SF.
List a few of your most significant endorsements.
I have received endorsements from the right and left of the political spectrum, from former Senator Quentin Kopp, who supports my fiscal reforms, to former Board President Matt Gonzalez, who supports me for my progressive values. I have been endorsed by a wide range of organizations, including the Chinese American Democratic Club, the Richmond Reform Democratic Club, Tenants Association Coalition, Tenant Rights Association and the Lower Fillmore Neighborhood Association.
Which one do you feel best exemplifies the reasons why you are running for mayor?
I am proud of them all, but the most important reason is that I will bring open, ethical, honest and transparent government to City Hall and decision making. I will be a Mayor that will stand up for San Franciscans.
What's your favorite place in San Francisco?
I love spending time at Golden Gate Park, riding my bike with my daughter when the streets are closed to traffic.
What is the single biggest issue facing San Francisco right now?
Retirement salaries are one of the greatest escalating costs facing our City. Our pension system is not sustainable. Every year, our pension costs are going up by over $100 million. Last year, a police officer earned $516,000 right before retiring. This retired officer is now entitled to receive a pension package of $240,000 each year for the rest of this officer’s life. This real-life case exemplifies the single biggest issue facing San Francisco right now: the City’s fiscal crisis, and ensuring that the pension system doesn’t bankrupt our City.
Pension reform will realign the City’s budget to prioritize our future: keeping schools open and restoring summer school, investing in job-creating micro-enterprise to get food on the table, reducing the licensing burdens on small business owners and restructuring the tax laws to make them fair. Without pension reform, the City faces near certain bankruptcy and I am the candidate who is not afraid to bring to light the backroom deals that compromise the future of this great City.
This is not to say that pension reform is the only problem. I believe on a federal level, the income tax laws must be reformed to ensure that the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. I would also reform the business tax law in SF and move towards a gross receipts tax instead of a payroll tax, which discourages job growth and hiring. I would also identify and eliminate waste in government.
Whether and how we address pension reform is of crucial importance in this election. Since 2005, retirement costs have skyrocketed from $125 to $400 million a year. These costs will increase to $800 million annually in just the next four years without reform.
My reinvestment plan instead creates 28,000 new jobs and $4 billion dollars of new economic activity. Now is the appropriate time for San Franciscans to invest in the future.
Would you continue with the Central Subway construction project as planned or would you re-evaluate?
I strongly believe that the questions that have been raised by the Civil Grand Jury must be answered and addressed before the City moves forward. As Mayor, I would investigate the recommendations made by the SF Civil Grand Jury, which concluded that the Central Subway needs to reevaluated in light of the huge cost increases that are now coming to light for the first time. Originally projected in 2003 to cost approximately $650 million, the price tag has now escalated to a projected $1.6 billion, with the City on the hook for any potential cost overruns.
Furthermore, the addition of a new subway line will add to an existing operating deficit which will stretch the SFMTA’s existing maintenance environment to the breaking point. The project does not link the new line to existing Metro and BART lines, it ignores service to the Financial District, and ignores current 2011 transportation trends which virtually guarantee that it will be outdated by the time it opens several years from now.
As mayor, I would call for a hearing on the Central Subway project in order to review the issues identified in the grand jury report. This review should include potential redesigns of the project, or, if it’s the right thing to do, scrap the project altogether in favor of using existing SFMTA infrastructure to improve transit along the Chinatown-Financial District corridor. I will not have ordinary taxpayers pay for the special interests that would profit from this project and will move it forward only if the plan’s benefits to traffic flow in the City outweigh the budgetary burden and long-term maintenance and infrastructure costs of maintaining the Central Subway.
Do you support either of the two pension reform measures on the
I am the proponent, along with Civil Grand Jury former person Craig Weber, of Prop D, the measure that was placed on the ballot by 50,000 voters. The Civil Grand Jury spent two years studying pension reform and issued two reports: Beyond Our Ability to Pay (2009) and Pension Tsunami (2010). See sfpensionreform.com.
One of the greatest problems this City faces is its escalating pension and benefit costs for City employees. Currently, the City has a $4.3 billion unfunded liability for health care costs and a $4 billion unfunded liability in pension costs, that is driving the City’s contribution to the pension costs from $175 million five years ago to a projected $800 million in the next four years.
San Francisco needs its next Mayor to be firmly committed to solving this problem. Regardless of which measure is approved by the voters, additional reforms would be needed. As Mayor, I would be committed to solving this problem through a series of reforms that would include a separate health care reform measure.
In 2009, the civil grand jury issued a report showing that pension spiking was a problem in the police and fire departments, costing taxpayers $120 million. Additionally, in 2011, the Retirement Fund granted $170 million in “bonus” cost of living increases to pensioners, even though the City faced a $300 million deficit and the pension fund had lost money.
In 2010, I met with members of the civil grand jury who felt that their calls to reform the pension system had been ignored by elected officials. After I too urged Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors to take on this issue, I and others gathered signatures to place a pension and health care reform measure on the ballot in November 2010, when it garnered 116,000 YES votes, but failed to pass.
Taking what I learned from that experience, I retained former City Attorney Louise Renne’s law firm to help draft Proposition D for the November 2011 ballot. Proposition D improves on the earlier proposal by exempting workers who earn less than $50,000 from any increases in retirement contributions and sets a graduated contribution rate so that more highly paid employees will contribute to their retirement at a higher rate than lower paid employees. It also provides a fairer, more sustainable retirement reform system for new hires and prohibits pension spiking.
Proposition D, if approved, will be the largest fiscal austerity measure in the history of the City, saving taxpayers $1.7 billion over the next decade. It will enable the City to utilize some of the savings to prevent further cuts and even restore important City services.
When Mayor Ed Lee was appointed mayor, he pledged to address the City’s growing pension crisis. I supported his original measure, but his plan and the resulting cost savings were significantly weakened through the process of “meet and conferring” sessions with the unions, even though no negotiation was necessary because, since pension benefits are not subject to the requirement of collective bargaining. Lee’s plan also assumes a 7.75% rate of return, which all investors, including Warren Buffet, say is unrealistic. The pension has never realized more than an average of 5% over the past 10 years. Because Proposition D’s contribution rates are greater, it provides greater flexibility in the event that the pension fund earnings fall below the expected projections.
While Proposition C purports to address the pension crisis facing our City, it saves much less, and does much less in terms of pension spiking. It also fails to cap pensions and still allows some employees to receive 90% of the income they received while working. In short, it does not result in long-term, sustainable pension reform.
The proponents of Proposition C claim that Proposition D would more likely be subject to a legal challenge. Both C and D raise contribution rates, and it is likely that both will be challenged. Retirees have already said they would challenge Prop C.
Prop C addresses the $4.3 billion unfunded liability by requiring city employees to contribute .25% towards their health care costs beginning in 2016. I believe this is insufficient and would work to decrease the City’s health care costs while requiring a greater contribution, based on income.
Proposition C is 250 pages while Proposition D is 12 pages in length. Because these competing pension reform measures may be confusing to the voters, I have proposed a series of debates to assist voters in understanding the relative merits of the two pension reform measures. Unfortunately, Mayor Lee has declined this opportunity to inform voters so that the electorate can make an informed decision between the two pension reform measures. I hope Mayor Lee will reconsider his decision to have a full discussion of the two measures.
As rents in San Francisco continue to rise, there are fears that SF is becoming a luxury bedroom community for Silicon Valley, with working-class families being pushed out of the market. Would counteracting this transition be a priory in your administration?
As Mayor, I would slow certain housing in favor of adding affordable housing units and artist loft to counteract the trend of working-class families leaving San Francisco.
I will do more to make San Francisco affordable for the middle class and those of lesser means by continuing to disallow landlord to furnish good cause for eviction. Instead of developing luxury units at the current rate of 120% I would offer incentives to developers to slow this in favor of injection more affordable units onto the market; suitable for families and the working class. Development of artist lofts makes life more affordable for artists who could consolidate their work and home into a single space and I would specifically incentivize development to make housing affordable for the artists of San Francisco. Last but not least, I would have the communities involved in the planning process so that current residents can voice their concerns before development begins. Ideally the new development comes in a pricepoint within reach for the existing community. I also favor public-private partnerships and would bring in developers and community-based organizations committed to providing affordable housing to San Franciscans.
How well do you think BART has handled the recent string of protests? If SFPD were faced with a similar situation, which parts of what BART leadership and the BART police depart has done would you use as a model for what you would do and which parts would you avoid?
BART correctly acted to ensure the safety of riders, but I would not have shut down cell phone service. I thought that was irresponsible. The recent BART protest involved the state’s largest mass transit network; creating chaos throughout the Bay Area. Cutting off communication only compounded the chaos and impeded the riders’ right to communicate with loved ones. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where cutting off cell service would be warranted by the SFPD.
Leader says lawsuit a means for overhauling the system
By Patty Guerra
Patterson City Councilwoman Annette Smith has sued Stanislaus County over a harsh civil grand jury report issued earlier this year. The highly unusual move is aimed, she said, at an overhaul of the local grand jury system.
"It was the most demeaning experience of my life," she said of her testimony in November before the grand jury. She said grand jurors made it clear they were targeting her. "They were insulting, they were biased, they were predetermined."
She filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Sacramento.
Annette Smith has sued Stanislaus County over a harsh civil grand jury report issued earlier this year. The highly unusual move is aimed, she said, at an overhaul of the local grand jury system.
Patterson grand jury complaint
In the report issued in June, grand jurors recommended that Smith should lose her seat for failing to disclose a financial relationship with a developer and voting to give him $27,000 without justification, among other alleged offenses. The report also said then-Mayor Becky Campo moved out of town during her term and Campo, Smith and Councilman Dominic Farinha illegally ousted then-City Manager Cleve Morris.
The city responded last week with a blistering letter to Presiding Judge Ricardo Córdova.
In the response, written by interim City Attorney Thomas Hallinan, the city flatly rejected most of the grand jury's findings. The call for Smith to resign or face a potential recall election, the response says, "is the most outrageous and inappropriate recommendation our city attorney has seen in 17 years of reviewing grand jury reports. To engage in political advocacy is completely and utterly contrary to the charge of the grand jury."
Córdova said he could not comment on pending litigation. Stanislaus County Superior Court Executive Officer Mike Tozzi said the lawsuit is a first in his 27 years with the courts.
"It's very unusual," agreed Mi-chael Vitiello, a law professor at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law. Grand jurors themselves are offered partial immunity from litigation.
"There are lots of criticisms of civil grand juries," he said. "But these are a bunch of citizens trying to do good. … It should not be too easy to sue them."
Question of oversight
Smith's lawsuit, he said, "sounds like a heavy-handed approach."
Vitiello said the county can respond to the claim, and then a federal judge will decide if the case has merit.
"As a local matter, you have a real risk there," he said. "What you don't want to have happen is for the grand jury to be intimidated."
Smith said the grand jury needs more oversight to make sure members are abiding by the rules.
"Nobody was watching this group," she said. "Not the county counsel, that I could see. Certainly not the presiding judge."
But that's not Córdova's role, Tozzi said. He doesn't get involved until the grand jury issues its report. He reads it and can comment on it or suggest changes if he finds omissions.
"They might make an accusation about something, and there's nothing substantiated," Tozzi said. "The presiding judge might say, 'You didn't have any findings. You might want to soften your wording.'
"But he is not a part of the investigation. And that's important, since the grand jury is considered an independent body, and the county is among the entities it could investigate."
Stanislaus County Counsel John Doering said Wednesday he hadn't seen a copy of the lawsuit. Once the county is served, he said his office will determine how to proceed.
Although he doesn't recall any local lawsuits over a grand jury report, "It's not too terribly surprising. There was a lot of animosity about that report."
Denis France, foreman of the grand jury for the past two years, also said he hadn't seen the claim.
Smith is seeking "injunctive relief prohibiting any further abuses of authority," as well as publication of testimony transcripts and a revised report. She also is suing for unspecified damages.
"Legally, I'm entitled to respond," she said. "Most people write them a letter and say, 'Oh, you're wrong.' I'm unique. This is my response. This is broken, and I would like to see it fixed."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343.
Read more: http://www.modbee.com/2011/09/28/1881950/councilwoman-takes-aim-at-grand.html?story_link=email_msg#ixzz1axdrSfFB
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Posted: 10/13/2011 07:48:31 AM PDT
Paradise Recreation and Park District is again the subject of a Grand Jury investigation, one its manager welcomes.
"It's not abnormal at all," PRPD Manager Mike Trinca said. "They basically look at public entities, that's their job They're trying to make government work better and that's great."
Trinca was the first agency to hand over the requested information - in this case 1,000 pages of documents in a big box, he said. This year's investigation focuses on personnel matters. The jury requested current board of directors' information, a list of current employees and hire dates, four years of board meeting minutes, a copy of the mission statement and master plan. The current investigation is more specifically targeted than last year's, which was a broader investigation into many districts' ethics training, when PRPD was found to be in compliance with the law.
This year Trinca expects no surprises, but does expect some questions and comments.
"You know, the big thing is, if it's something you force yourself to do, it sits on the shelf," he said. "Most of our stuff (consists of) active documents - we use them, so that's what keeps (them) alive. I feel really good about what we've got."
The district's master plan is a year old; its personnel manual is four years old and has been updated since.
"Everything is up to date, it's as current as we've ever been," Trinca said.
He said he's interested to see what perspective the Grand Jury can bring to the district with a fresh set of eyes. The district meets with the jury next week for the first time. Trinca informed the board about the investigation at the regular board meeting, which started at 6 p.m. for the first time since the meeting time was moved up from 7 p.m. last month. The board meeting was brief, at 55 minutes, an unofficial record, Trinca joked.
Director Steve Rodowick replaces the late Steve Williams as board secretary, while Lara Gularte, the Magalia resident elected last month, was appointed to the Magalia and Crain parks committees as well as the recreation and park committee. Rodowick was also appointed as representative at the Paradise Irrigation District's lake committee.
Also, work is continuing on the retaining wall facing Skyway at the Terry Ashe Recreation Center north of Elliott Road. Weather permitting, the project should be completed by January.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Posted: 10/10/2011 02:29:45 AM PDT
An employment evaluation of Community Development Services Director Kirk Girard will take place Tuesday during the closed session portion of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting after being continued from a previous meeting in September.
As head of the county's planning services department, Girard has overseen several controversial issues -- including the recent multifamily rezoning process -- that have sparked lawsuits. Some county residents spoke negatively of Girard before September's portion of his evaluation with the supervisors.
County responses to the 2010-2011 grand jury report will be discussed during the open part of Tuesday's meeting. The supervisors will be evaluating responses to six reports received by the county in July. The county has previously responded to two of the nine reports, eight of which require a response.
In addition, the supervisors are expected to approve closing the Humboldt County Library for five days as a way to achieve some budget savings. The library would be closed Nov. 26 and Dec. 20-23. According to a staff report, the library receives much of its revenue from property taxes, which have remained stagnant during the past year and are projected to remain flat during this fiscal year. The library's website and all other online services would be shut down during the closures.
The board will make proclamations honoring Oct. 10, 2011, as the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in California and a proclamation that October is United Way month. Supervisors will also make a proclamation honoring the Great California Shake Out earthquake drill program that will be held Oct. 20 at 10:20 a.m.
For the complete meeting agenda and supporting documents, visit online at www.co.humboldt.ca.us/board/agenda/questys/.
Published: 08 October 2011 04:14 PM
Scot Spencer, the man entrusted with developing most of San Bernardino International Airport, still owed about $673,820 in back rent as of Wednesday to the public agency overseeing the airport, according to information from the airport’s finance department.
He had recently paid $106,887 he owed in filming and fuel fees for the year.
Spencer and his companies are at the center of an FBI-led investigation looking for evidence of conspiracy, bribery, fraud and money laundering, among other wrongdoing, according to copies of federal search warrants.
In 2007, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority awarded Spencer two lease agreements to develop a passenger terminal for commercial airlines and a fixed-base operation for private pilots. The passenger terminal is mostly finished and no commercial airline has agreed to provide scheduled service. The fixed-base operation, a Million Air franchise, opened last year.
Mike Burrows, the authority’s assistant director, did not return a call seeking comment. The airport’s longtime executive director, Donald L. Rogers, resigned on Sept. 28. Spencer did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Besides rent, Spencer’s companies still owe $537,359 in county property taxes related to the airport. His SBD Aircraft Services company owed the state board of equalization $102,170.78 in taxes as of July, according to records from the county assessor office. The same company owed employment taxes worth $17,071.28 to the state as of August.
At least eight search warrants have been served on locations related to the federal investigation into the airport including Spencer’s offices, his home, a location in Boca Raton, Florida, as well as the offices of the airport authority and its parent agency the Inland Valley Development Agency.
When Norton Air Force Base closed in 1994 causing about 10,000 jobs to disappear from the region, the public agency aimed to replace those lost jobs by redeveloping the base with private enterprises and a commercial airport. Elected officials from San Bernardino County, the city of San Bernardino, Colton, Highland and Loma Linda sit on the boards of the two agencies.
Spencer has been paid more than $2 million in taxpayer funds in developer and construction fees since then, based on a percentage of each construction contract. In four years, the cost to construct both, plus a three-story U.S. Customs facility, grew from $45 million to more than $142.5 million as the scope of the project grew. He has also been reimbursed more than $4 million for equipment he’s purchased and services he provided the airport.
In the mid-1990s, Spencer was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud related to the third and final collapse of Braniff Airlines. The Department of Transportation later banned him from the aviation industry for operating an unlicensed charter airline out of San Bernardino airport. Airport staff, primarily Rogers, had defended awarding two no-bid contracts to Spencer because the transportation ban didn’t apply to airport operations, just airline operations.
In addition to developing the airport, Spencer is the landlord of one of the largest hangars at the base and operates the Million Air franchise which earns revenue from selling fuel to pilots that land at the airport. Another of his companies has a contract with the public agency to manage the airport.
Spencer has racked up hefty debts at the airport, before.
Days after The Press-Enterprise noted in late June that Spencer owed three months worth of rent, he delivered checks worth $329,060.09 for the space he rents for his Million Air franchise, the land where his fueling station sits and most of Hangar 763 at the airport.
As part of his lease agreements with the airport authority, Spencer leases the airport’s main passenger terminal at no cost until construction is entirely finished and the building is transferred back to the airport authority’s ownership.
Until that time though, if a Hollywood location scout thinks the airport is the ideal backdrop for a car commercial, for example, the revenue goes to Spencer except for a 20 percent cut for the authority. This year, his company earned $81,000 in filming fees after seven production studios rented the airport space for shoots. He owed the airport authority its cut of $16,200 but didn’t pay until Sept. 6., after The Press-Enterprise requested information on how much Spencer had paid the public agency in filming and fueling fees.
Actor Kiefer Sutherland was there in late June filming a pilot called “Touch” for 20th Century Fox.
Sutherland took to Twitter to tell followers: “Filming out at San Bernardino International Airport … I didn’t even know San Bernardino HAD an airport.”
There’s no record of Spencer paying any filming fees in 2010 despite there being 11 productions – all commercials or still photography for companies such as Lexus , Kia, Mitsubishi and Hot Wheels – that were held at the airport for a total of 31 days, according to the Inland Empire Film Commission.
On Sept. 6, Spencer also paid the airport $90,687, the amount of fees he owed in full for fuel he sold between January and June.
Scot Spencer, the developer of San Bernardino International Airport, has several agreements with the airport authority. As of Wednesday, he owed a total of $673,820 in rent.
Million Air building: about $278,016
Missed payments: Feb., March, July, Aug., Sept. and Oct. (based on monthly payments of $46,345.12)
Hangar 763: $262,746
Missed payments: March, July, August, September and October
A bay inside Hangar 763 that was sublet to Boeing: $74,828
Missed payments: April thru October
Fuel farm formerly known as Don Blue’s Aviation: $58,230
Missed payments: about five months
By Ben van der Meer/Appeal-Democrat
A grand jury response by the Sutter County administrator's office and Board of Supervisors heavily criticizes county Auditor-Controller Robert Stark for poor communication practices and a lack of accountability, while a response filed by Stark largely agreed with the jury's findings.
"For the Auditor-Controller to state that their office was essentially 'too busy' to correct a $2.1 million error is simply inexcusable," County Administrator Stephanie Larsen writes in her response, which will be part of the board's agenda on Tuesday.
The grand jury investigation stemmed from a complaint against Stark's office over sales-tax revenues put into the wrong account and then not corrected for nearly two years.
When Stark's office discovered the mistake, according to Larsen, he didn't tell supervisors or her office for weeks, then was evasive and noncommittal on how the error would be fixed. Larsen noted the problem significantly affected the county's budgeting.
The grand jury's report found the error was unintentional, but the amount of time for county officials to be informed of the mistake was excessive.
Among the jury's findings were that Stark's policies for control over the general revenue budget unit were found unnecessary by Larsen's office because her office monitors and manages the unit.
In the board's response, it states it respectfully disagrees with the finding because Stark never adopted polices and procedures for deposits to the general revenue fund.
While Larsen's office goes beyond what is required to account for such deposits, the supervisors' response states, they wouldn't be necessary if Stark's office had such policies in place.
Stark's office's response, which is also included in the board's agenda, pointed out the jury also felt the county administrator's office had superseded individual departments' policies.
The response didn't dispute the lag in informing Larsen or the board of the error.
"However, this was a complex issue which needed to be researched and there were other extenuating business and personal circumstances at the time which caused the delay," the response stated.
As well, the response noted the board had 30 days to prepare a response to Stark's office's response.
CONTACT reporter Ben van der Meer at 749-4786.
Read more: http://www.appeal-democrat.com/articles/office-110524-response-stark.html#ixzz1aP0u8Fsb
Story Updated: Oct 8, 2011 at 6:24 PM PDT
Santa Barbara County - The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury has issued a report endorsing the use of audio/video camera equipment in patrol vehicles of local police agencies.
Currently, only Santa Barbara and Guadalupe Police Departments do not have the equipment in their patrol vehicles.
The grand jury cited positive results among agencies that are using the technology. The purpose of the system is to provide an unbiased record that can be used with the officer's arrest or incident report.
The grand jury feels the Santa Barbara and Guadalupe Police Departments should install the equipment in their patrol vehicles. The report also says that the equipment costs could decrease the cost of litigation.
To view the report visit www.sbcgj.org.
Source: SBC Grand Jury
The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury has issued a report endorsing the use of audio/video camera equipment in the patrol vehicles of local law enforcement agencies. Currently only Santa Barbara and Guadalupe police departments do not have the technology installed in their patrol vehicles.
In its report, the Grand Jury cites positive results among those agencies that have adopted this technology. "In all cases, agencies that work in law enforcement and have installed audio/ video equipment say they are supportive of the use of this technology," said Ted Sten, Grand Jury Foreman. The purpose of the system is to provide an unbiased record that can be used to supplement a law enforcement officer's arrest or incident report.
The Grand Jury concluded the police departments of the cities of Santa Barbara and Guadalupe should obtain and install audio/video equipment in their patrol vehicles. The report also suggests that the costs for the equipment could be offset through the decreased cost of litigation.
The entire report can be found on the Grand Jury's website at www.sbcgj.org.
The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury is a basic part of the government within the judicial branch. The Grand Jury acts independently, but it is under the general control of the Superior Court Presiding Judge to assure that it acts in accordance with the Penal Code of the State of California.
Friday, October 7, 2011
By Isabelle T. Walker
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors responded to the 2011 Grand Jury report “Homeless Mentally Ill Recidivism: This Recycling is Not Good for the County” on Tuesday and advocates are bound to be underwhelmed. The five supervisors approved a response letter in which they decline to enact 90 percent of the Grand Jury,s recommendations for fixing the problem of mentally ill homeless people cycling in and out of the County Jail with no improvement in either their health or circumstances.
The Board didn't walk away from problem however. Dennis Bozanich, assistant to County Executive Officer (CEO) Chandra Waller, has been tasked with preparing a comparison of the costs of maintaining the status quo with the costs of providing the homeless mentally ill indigent with enough services to keep them off the arrest, re-arrest merry-go-round. To read more, see homelessinsb.org.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Read more: http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/sdcounty/article_226e5c21-cc29-584c-94ff-3d628f66b00b.html#ixzz1a2FF1pdN
The county of San Diego paid employees more than $100 million during the past few years for special benefits such as car and uniform allowances ---- and most of these add-ons can count toward their retirement pay.
It's a practice that goes on across California and is increasingly controversial as taxpayers face gargantuan bills in underfunded public employee retirement costs.
In San Diego County, more than half the "premium pay" from 2007 through 2010 was for performance bonuses, according to an analysis by the local nonprofit journalism center, Investigative Newsource. Although the bonus program was suspended in 2009, its effects could long be felt when recipients begin collecting their pensions.
The county pays more than 80 categories of special pay. After the bonus program, which cost about $30 million a year, bilingual pay was the most expensive, costing $3.3 million a year.
Forty-four employees, including the county supervisors and top administrators, are eligible to receive car allowances ranging from $7,200 and $12,000 a year. They cost the county about $360,000 annually from 2007 through 2010.
For an employee with 20 years of service making $143,021 a year (a supervisor's salary in 2010), an additional $12,000 a year auto allowance would bump their pension payout by about 8.5 percent. If they draw it for 20 years, the extra pay would yield an additional $144,000.
Using premium pay, bonuses, unused sick and vacation time payouts and other devices to increase pensions is so common among public employees that some government watchdog groups, a civilian grand jury and most recently the California Legislature, have sought to ban or at least curb the practice with little success so far.
Advocates consider supplemental pay to be income that is rightfully counted toward pensionable pay; critics see it as another way to gouge taxpayers.
"The abusive practices engaged in by a few individuals have put retirement benefits at risk for the vast majority of honest, hardworking public servants," said Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, and a member of the Senate Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee. The committee recently championed anti-spiking legislation that failed Sept. 9 after Gov. Jerry Brown indicated he would not sign pension-related legislation unless it was part of comprehensive reform.
Many costs hidden
It's virtually impossible to estimate how much pension add-ons cost taxpayers. There are dozens of separate public retirements systems in California and many variables to factor, such as how many people retire in a year, how many years of services they've had, what their pensionable earnings are, how much special pay will enhance their pensions.
County officials said they have never studied the impact of special pay on long-term pension costs because it's a relatively small amount in relation to the county's payroll, which is just under $1 billion.
Potentially large payments for overtime and accrued sick and vacation time do not count toward retirement.
Special pay items that boost salaries range from "helicopter duty" and "weekend shifts" to "prisoner transportation" and "sewing room supervisor." There's a pay bump for being bilingual or having certifications or advanced degrees. Risky duties, such as handling hazardous materials, increase pay.
During 2007 and 2008, performance bonuses constituted the largest portion of special pay.
Officials defend bonuses
Officials said the bonus program was a win-win for the county and employees. The county avoided some across-the-board permanent pay increases, while employees received up to 4 percent in bonus pay if they helped their departments come in 6 percent under budget. Still, the program was shelved in 2009 because of budget constraints, the officials said.
Outside of the bonus program, the county paid an average of $13.4 million a year in special pay from 2007 to 2010.
More than 70 of the 80-plus categories of special pay are included in pension calculations. Newsource found that payouts ranged from an average of $2,675 in 2007 to $1,193 in 2010. More than 100 people in 2007 and 2008 made more than $10,000 in special pay, five people earned more than $25,000 and one person earned more than $50,000.
For most county employees, retirement calculations are based on years and type of service and rate of pay in the highest 26 consecutive pay checks, which are issued every two weeks. For others, it's based on an average of their highest three consecutive years of compensation.
Special pay can make a difference.
For an employee with 25 years of service and a high base salary of $65,000 at retirement, for example, $2,500 in special pay would boost the annual pension pay by about 4 percent, or $1,872 per year. That's $37,440 over 20 years.
Assembly Bill 340 ---- the legislation supported by Vargas ---- would have prevented county workers from spiking pensions with unused vacation and sick leave, bonuses and other special pay items at the end of their careers in the 20 California counties that run their own pension plans. A separate bill, Senate Bill 27, which still is pending in the Assembly, would impose similar rules on the state's public employees and teacher pension funds, including many local employees who are covered by the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
Both pieces of legislation were proposed after public outrage was sparked by news reports in Contra Costa County about two fire chiefs whose pensions were inflated with premium pay. The Contra Costa Times report also showed that more than two-thirds of employees departing a sanitation district in the past five years spiked their pensions by 25 to 41 percent.
News organizations around the state have reported similar stories since the courts recently ordered counties to release pension information. The San Diego County Employees Retirement Association had fought to keep pension information secret, but in light of seven separate Superior Court decisions since 2009 and rulings by three different appeals courts, the association recently released data on the most highly compensated pensioners.
Some raising base pay
Reacting to public perception, some counties are moving away from add-ons and adjusting base salaries upward to avoid the spiking controversy. That can be a complicated process that requires contract negotiations with unions.
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said county officials are obligated to put special pay into pension calculations because of a 1997 California Supreme Court ruling known as the Ventura decision. The court concluded a number of special payments had been improperly excluded from pension calculations, resulting in retroactive increases for the plaintiffs, Ventura County sheriff's deputies.
"I question many of the premiums and they should be reevaluated," she said. "The problem is, many were negotiated with our labor unions before my time on the board and it's extremely difficult to unring the bell."
Jacob noted that the county needs to offer some types of special pay to attract workers.
"I know how hard it is for the county to recruit quality people willing to put on a Haz-Mat suit, or work as jailhouse nurses or work a graveyard shift in a tough area. I know how hard it is to find crackerjack executives who are creative and committed to public service. We can't compete with the corporate world for that caliber of talent" without premiums, she said.
Willing to work nights
Jacob made a distinction between special pay and the much-derided practice called pension spiking.
"Spiking happens when a public employee is given a significant increase in compensation immediately before retirement in a deliberate attempt to increase their pension," she said. "Paying a premium to a jailhouse nurse willing to work the night shift is not 'spiking.'"
Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said she has no problem with special pay.
"Higher pay for special skill sets, such as helicopter pilots, is part of doing business. Premiums are negotiated with labor. For the most part, they were likely negotiated in lieu of other benefits."
Lani Lutar, president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, said eliminating special pay in the city of San Diego, which has a $2.1 billion pension deficit, is one of the cornerstones of a ballot initiative to end guaranteed pensions for most new city hires and give them 401(k)s instead. The ad-ons should be eliminated at the county as well, she contended.
"We don't think any specialty pay should be part of a pension calculation," Lutar said. "This has a significant long-term impact on taxpayers. If you look at the salaries that are paid out, they already allow for extremely generous pensions."
When special isn't
Lutar cited this example in the city: Emergency medical technicians get special pay for obtaining a certification that is required for them to do their job. That special pay then counts toward their pension.
"The type of pension spiking maneuvers we have seen is really on a scale of obnoxious to insane," she said. "The labor unions have been very clever over the years at identifying benefits that are going to be hidden from public view because the liability won't be experienced for years if not decades."
Eraina Ortega, a legislative representative with the California State Association of Counties, a group that lobbies for county government interests, said her organization has advocated for the overturning of the Ventura decision because the association favors placing the decision-making power with counties.
Still, there are steps a county can take to minimize the financial impact of premium pay within the confines of the Ventura decision.
For instance, while the county is required to include certain types of pay in a pension calculation, officials said they could negotiate with employees on how much they might be paid for, say, a uniform allowance.
Don Turko, the county's human resources director, said the county continues to analyze what special pay should be on the table during the next set of contract talks with employee unions. "To the extent we can minimize costs subject to Ventura we'll pursue those," he said.
Ortega of CSAC said transparency is essential in the discussion of pension benefits.
"As long as the public can see what benefits are being provided," she said, "the public has a right to look into it and say, 'Is this the appropriate compensation for our public officials?'"
Investigative Newsource is a nonprofit specializing in data-driven reporting. It is based at San Diego State University's School of Journalism & Media Studies. For more on this topic, tune in to KPBS radio Midday Edition at noon today. For a full list of county employees, their salaries and special pay, go to www.inewsource.org.
Read more: http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/sdcounty/article_226e5c21-cc29-584c-94ff-3d628f66b00b.html#ixzz1a2F4tKyw