Thursday, June 28, 2012

(Calaveras County) Grand jury: County misfires on taxes

By Buzz Eggleston

A retired Caltrans superintendent, a former inspector on nuclear submarines, and a former head of a law school were among the 18 grand jurors who authored this year’s Calaveras County Civil Grand Jury report.

It’s a document scathingly critical of county supervisors, complimentary toward many line workers, and eye-popping when it comes to management misfires.

Friday’s Calaveras Enterprise will report in detail on some of the more critical findings, including how a failure to fill a key clerical position in the county Assessor’s Office cost county schools, county government and special districts about $1 million in lost revenue.

The report also recommends term limits be applied to county supervisors “to prevent stagnation and undue influence (resulting from) lengthy time in office,” urges supervisors to develop mandatory training on the Brown Act – the state’s opening meeting law – and that they recuse themselves when it’s appropriate, end cronyism and stop trying to influence other board members “in their voting decisions outside public meetings.”

The grand jury members themselves witnessed “examples of and heard testimony regarding unprofessional behavior by some supervisors during BOS and other agency meetings,” the report said. “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 report also refers to current and former county employees who complained of hostile conditions created by current and former supervisors.

The jury found apparent mismanagement in the Human Resources and Public Works departments, saying that of 80 randomly selected personnel files only 17.8 percent contained current performance appraisals, and that in the Public Works Department poor customer service had generated a complaint about failure to return phone calls, impolite and unhelpful customer service, and a failure to respond to written complaints. The jury concluded the complaint had merit and recommended mandatory training in customer service.

A complete print copy of the grand jury’s report will be in Friday’s edition of the Calaveras Enterprise and is posted online here...Grand Jury Report.

Dan McPherson of Arnold served as foreperson of this year’s grand jury. The 63-year-old grandfather of three retired from Caltrans three years ago after working for the state for nearly 40 years. During that time he was the highway supervisor in Angels Camp for seven years and later the superintendent in charge of equipment management in Stockton, Caltrans’ district headquarters.

He was a holdover from the prior year’s grand jury and had previously served for two years on the county grand jury in the mid 1990s. Most of the members of the 2011-2012 grand jury were retired, he said.

He described serving on the grand jury as “very interesting.”

“You certainly get a lot of insight into the county and how it’s run. I think a lot of people are surprised what good employees we have in the county,” he said. “The people who work for the county seem to be pretty good at what they do. Of course, if you work for the county you’re dealing with the Board of Supervisors and other elected officials, you’ve got to deal with them.”

He also said it can be a lot of work.

“It can be time consuming if you want it to be,” McPherson said. “Usually it takes just a day or two a month. One of our investigations, we were there probably two or three days a week for a month interviewing people, so it can be time consuming.”

A couple of years before he retired, McPherson eased into his second career. He runs his own business buying and then selling merchandise auctioned at storage lockers and in other auctions, a la the television show “Storage Wars.”

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