Saturday, June 30, 2012

(Calaveras Co) Grand Jury rips board

Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

The annual Calaveras County Grand Jury report released Thursday is highly critical of county government — starting at the top with the Board of Supervisors — and finds flaws in the Assessor’s Office taxation policies and procedures that led to an estimated $1,278,000 in revenue shortfalls last year.

The report found that Assessor Leslie Davis’ office improperly waived or failed to apply tax penalties of 10 percent on those who did not file an annual property statement in 2010 and 2011, costing the county about $500,000 each year.

In addition, staffing budget reductions imposed by the Board of Supervisors in 2011 led Davis not to support the unsecured property tax roll — meaning businesses, boats and planes — and thus county schools lost about $600,000 and the county about $178,000 in uncollected revenue.

“The financial gain to the county could have more than paid to staff the position,” concluded the report from an appointed panel of 18 citizens tasked to investigate citizen complaints and review the operations of city and county government agencies and special districts.

The Grand Jury recommends that supervisors fund “all revenue generating functions” in the Assessor’s Office.

The panel had more to say on the conduct of the board.

“The Grand Jury witnessed examples of and heard testimony regarding unprofessional behavior by some Supervisors during BOS and other agency meetings,” stated the report authored by foreman Dan McPherson. “This includes shouting at other board members and the public, refusing to abide by the agenda structure in order to suppress public comments, and making sarcastic, inappropriate remarks.”

The Grand Jury interviewed witnesses who said supervisors repeatedly violated the Brown Act open meetings law, “including failure to recuse, cronyism and attempts to influence other Board members in their voting decisions outside public meetings.”

County employees have left their jobs because of “intimidation” and “being frequently pressured” by supervisors, the report stated, adding that supervisors receive minimal bi-annual ethics training, scarcely rotate their committee assignments and are not term-limited, causing “stagnation and undue influence by lengthy time in office.”

Though three of the five supervisors are in either their first or second four-year term, Supervisor Tom Tryon, who represents Angels Camp, Copperopolis and Vallecito, has sat on the board since 1984 and is seeking an eighth term this fall. Tryon is the second-longest tenured county supervisor in California, behind Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, first elected four years earlier.

Like Tryon, Antonovich is seeking re-election this year, but unlike him, he will be termed out in 2016.

Supervisor Merita Callaway, who represents the rest of the Highway 4 corridor from Douglas Flat east through Murphys and Arnold to the county line, has been in office since winning a 1993 recall of first-termer Michael McRay and was re-elected to her fifth full term in 2010.

The Grand Jury also found in an audit of 80 randomly selected personnel files at the county Human Resources Department, just 14 contained up-to-date performance evaluations and it called on the board to make annual reviews mandatory.

The panel also asked the board to reconsider its removal of an 80-bed dormitory from the jail project now under construction in light of Assembly Bill 109 impacts.

Other findings included:

• A bid process for construction of the Jenny Lind Veterans Memorial District Community Hall was “flawed … due to a lack of understanding of the process by the (district) board.”

• Written service requests to the county Public Works Department elicit an inconsistent response and “it has been several years since Public Works has conducted customer service training.”

• A report on the public’s “lost confidence” in the county’s health care system as managed by Mark Twain St. Joseph’s Hospital, first released as an interim report in April. The Mark Twain Health Care District board submitted a response to those findings earlier this month.

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