Thursday, June 28, 2012

(Stanislaus Co) Modesto federal housing report is in, but grand jury report lags

By Ken Carlson - The Modesto Bee

Last week, the city of Modesto received a civil grand jury report about its management of a federal housing program, which included millions of dollars allocated to one controversial nonprofit agency.

By now, city officials have had plenty of time to digest the findings, but the public and press won't get to see the report until next week.

Benny Del Re, foreman of Stanislaus County's civil grand jury, said Wednesday that the reports on its investigations for the 2011-12 fiscal year will be released to the public Monday.

That's two days after the group officially will dissolve and well after the results of grand jury investigations were given to the city government and the county.

"You will receive them on Monday; there's no rhyme or reason," Del Re said. "The end of the fiscal year is Saturday. Anything that falls on Saturday kicks to the following Monday."

A civil grand jury is selected every year to investigate complaints about city and county agencies and the conduct of their officials and employees. The members serve from July 1 to June 30 and the panel is required by law to publish a final report by June 30.

People who follow local government expect to see grand jury reports the last week of June. But that won't happen this time, according to Del Re.

He said the panel voted to approve six reports Wednesday, and those reports were being distributed to the agencies that were the focus of those investigations.

He said the group voted to release all of the reports to the public at the same time, instead of releasing individual reports earlier, as many grand juries have done.

Cover letters included with a report sent June 13 to the county and Friday to the city say the reports were provided to the agencies "two working days prior to its release to the public."

Two city officials confirmed the grand jury delivered the report to City Hall last week. They said the cover letter cites a state Penal Code section that prohibits disclosure before release by the grand jury to the public.

The county report, which follows up on a 2010-11 grand jury review, criticizes five special districts for failing to comply with audit requirements. Despite the warning not to divulge its contents, the county put the report on its government Web site.

Sources say the city report deals with the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which funneled $36 million to the city of Modesto to rehabilitate foreclosed homes, apartments and other property for resale or rental.

The city partnered with multiple for-profit and nonprofit developers, including the Stanislaus Community Assistance Project, which received more than $8 million. A monthslong series of Bee stories last year revealed that SCAP spent lavishly to buy and remodel single-family homes and apartments, then placed staff members or their relatives in some of the dwellings.

Carmen Morad, president of the Stanislaus chapter of the California Grand Jurors' Association, said Wednesday she didn't know when grand juries are legally required to release reports to the public, but said she would research the code.

Last year's grand jury started releasing individual reports on investigations in May. Other grand juries have come out with a series of reports starting in mid-June or waited until June 30. The panels in 2009 and 2005 released results July 1.

Denis France, the foreman of the 2010-11 panel, said the state Grand Jurors' Association advised them to release individual reports after they were completed and delivered to the respective agencies.

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