Sunday, June 3, 2012

(SANTA CLARA) Internal Affairs: Follow-up? Response? What's a grand jury to do?

By the Mercury News

The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury just can't get no respect.

Last week, the Rodney Dangerfield of law enforcement issued a follow-up to its 2011 investigation into the one-school Luther Burbank School District in San Jose.

This year's 21-page, I-really-mean-it-this-time report chides the district's board for lacking originality, background and thought in its response to the 2011 report. Agencies probed by the grand jury must issue a formal response, one of the few levers the jury has to compel action. The 2011 jury had slammed former interim Superintendent Richard Rodriguez for being overly influential as a consultant to the district. In its response, Luther Burbank last year mostly parroted a letter Rodriguez had sent months earlier blasting the jury.

So this year's report slams the district for -- guess what? -- allowing Rodriguez to be overly influential in directing the school district's grand jury response.

Previous grand juries, in 2009 and 2008, criticized the district for allegedly violating election laws, conflict of interest, creating an atmosphere of intimidation and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants.

Current Superintendent Jan Kaay, in response to our inquiries, said only that "the Luther Burbank staff and board of trustees appreciates the efforts of the grand jury, and are working harder than ever to provide a fine education for our students."

The civil grand jury, a team of citizen investigators, has no other enforcement powers. Would it help if the jury crossed its arms and stamped its collective feet? IA doesn't know.

Douse those early Berryessa fire reports

Initial reports from San Jose firefighters at a four-alarm blaze that burned two Berryessa-area homes Wednesday said budget cuts that "brown out" fire stations by idling a couple of engine companies had an adverse effect on dousing the flames.

"Engine 29 works in this jurisdiction and they would have been the second engine on this fire," fire Capt. Mary Gutierrez, the department's public information officer, told KCBS radio. "We got a unit from another jurisdiction. It would have been nice to have that additional engine here to put water on the second home."

This is sensitive stuff. City leaders have battled firefighters for years over pay and benefits whose rising costs they say have forced department layoffs and station brownouts. The firefighters union has argued city leaders spend scarce public dollars on things less important than public safety. Both sides are battling furiously for public sympathies as voters Tuesday decide the city's pension reform Measure B.

By the end of the day, Chief William McDonald fired off a note to the mayor and City Council stating that a similar account of the fire in our paper "contained errors," which they were seeking to correct.

The closest two engines, McDonald emailed the council, were Engine Company 23 and Engine Company 19, both of which "were available, were in service at the time of the initial dispatch, and responded to the incident."

"We did not have any issues establishing a water supply," McDonald continued. "A four-alarm fire is a major incident, of course, and based on our teams' professional determinations at the scene, we called for the additional support that came from other stations as well as from mutual aid."

Gutierrez didn't dispute the chief's account and insisted department brass weren't pressuring her to tidy up her account and take heat off the administration.

"No, they aren't putting the screws on me," Gutierrez said. "That's not the issue at all. I take responsibility for that 100 percent. It was miscommunication on my part, my misinterpretation. That was my bad, and I wanted to make sure we got that corrected."

For some city leaders, gay marriage issue is personal

Whatever the wisdom of San Jose formally taking a position on the divisive debate over same-sex marriage, as gay activists urged last week, for some city leaders joining in support it's an issue very close to home. Former Vice Mayor Judy Chirco said she is the mother of two sons: one a straight married father and soldier on his way to join the fight in Afghanistan, the other a gay man.

"This is a passion but also personal," Chirco told reporters outside City Hall where she joined gay activists pressing for Mayor Chuck Reed to publicly support gay marriage. She said she was "offended in my heart and in my soul" that one of her sons is denied marriage rights and responsibilities available to the other.

Councilwoman Nancy Pyle said two men in her extended family also are gay and recalled urging their parents to accept them as they are.

"Nobody should be afraid to say who they are," she told reporters.

Swamped police chief won't return to water board

One San Jose official who won't be running for re-election on Tuesday is San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore -- to the Zone 7 Water Agency board in Alameda County.

Most folks may not realize it, but the veteran cop and licensed attorney is also an avid follower of state and local water issues.
So much so that in 2008, Moore, who lives in Pleasanton, ran for a seat on the water agency board there, finishing fourth among eight candidates vying for three seats. A year later, however, the board appointed him to fill an unexpired term that ends June 30.

Of course, Moore hadn't yet become police chief of the nation's 10th largest city, so he could afford to indulge his passion in water law -- at least enough to make it to the meetings, for which members are paid a $160 monthly stipend.

But since his promotion 16 months ago, El Jefe realized he couldn't pursue another term on the board; his job is too demanding.

"You stole him from us,'' said Zone 7 General Manager Jill Duerig, who calls Moore a "great" board member who "does his homework.'' She credited Moore, who serves on the board's finance committee, with sharing his knowledge of government budgets, helping the agency become "more economic and streamlined'' and keeping water rates for the agency's 200,000 rate payers as low as possible during his tenure.

Moore's seat will be filled by Angela Ramirez Holmes, the only person who filed to run for the position in March.

No comments: