Friday, July 27, 2012

(San Mateo Co) Grand jury: Electronic monitoring of pretrial inmates can save San Mateo County money and relieve packed jail

By Bonnie Eslinger - Palo Alto Daily News Staff Writer

San Mateo County could reduce the number of inmates at its packed Redwood City jail and save money by electronically monitoring those awaiting trial, according to a grand jury report released Thursday.

Although the county plans to build a new $160 million jail in Redwood City that could eventually accommodate up to 768 beds, it won't open for years from now and conditions at the existing Maguire Correctional Facility, meanwhile, are dangerously overcrowded, San Mateo Civil Grand Jury Foreman Bruce MacMillan told The Daily News.

The state-designated capacity for Maguire is 688 inmates, according to the report, but in 2011 the average daily population there was 856. And the vast majority -- an average of 649 -- were pretrial detainees.

MacMillan stressed that the grand jury isn't calling for the release of high-risk criminals.

"But if there are individuals charged with non-violent, non-aggressive crimes, they might be suitable for this (electronic monitoring)," he said. "If we have over 600 persons in the county jail that are awaiting trial, there must be some of them eligible for electronic release."

It would cost the county $7 to $10 a day to electronically monitor someone, compared to $169 a day to lock that person up, according to the grand jury.

Santa Clara, Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties all have electronic monitoring programs for pretrial detainees, the report says, but San Mateo County uses it only for some inmates who have been convicted and sentenced.

The sheriff's office told the grand jury it does not want to electronically monitor pretrial inmates because they could endanger the public, Assistant Sheriff Trisha Sanchez said.

In a written response to the grand jury report, Sheriff Greg Munks said studies of the pretrial population show that "only a handful of inmates would even qualify for such a program." Munks was unavailable for comment.

Asked how many actual pretrial inmates would qualify, Sanchez referred to an April 21, 2012 jail count that indicated 572 of 950 inmates were awaiting trial. Of those, 230 were eligible for bail and the sheriff's office would only consider 19 as qualified candidates for electronic monitoring, Sanchez said.

When tallying supervision, equipment and administrative costs, electronic monitoring runs about $163 per person a day, she added.

Three county supervisors interviewed about the grand jury's findings said they're open to exploring the use of electronic monitoring for some pretrial inmates.
"Maybe for some lower-level ones," board President Adrienne Tissier said. "But I don't think we should do it willy-nilly."

Supervisor Dave Pine said there could be other advantages besides cost in electronically monitoring people. "Research shows that minor offenders can be turned into more serious future offenders when they spend time in jail where they're exposed to more serous offenders," he said.

Board Vice President Don Horsley, the county's former sheriff, noted that people charged with serious crimes are released on bail with no monitoring. "What's better? Somebody who posts bail and they're out, or having them on electronic monitoring?"
The grand jury recommends that the sheriff's office do an "objective" study on the feasibility of an electronic monitoring program and issue a report.

Emily Harris, an organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget, which seeks to reduce prison and jail spending, said Munks should investigate any solution that might reduce the need for a new jail. She noted that money from a proposed half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot would be used to reduce a budget deficit that's partially the result of costs for a new jail.

"I am not surprised that Sheriff Munks would be ignoring proven cost-effective strategies for reducing the jail population, especially those that are used in other counties," she said. "He's so committed to building this jail."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

(San Bernardino Co) Exclusive: California city could face SEC lawsuit

By Ronald Grover and Tim Reid - REUTERS

In a case that illustrates the mounting risks facing cash-strapped California cities and their lenders, the desert city of Victorville is bracing for possible litigation amid allegations that it improperly shifted funds among different city-controlled entities.

The Victorville city council was told by its attorney last week that it faced "significant exposure to litigation" relating to a little-publicized Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into its financial practices, the city attorney acknowledged in a statement to Reuters.

City attorney Andre de Bortnowsky denied that Victorville had violated any laws, and said "it almost appears as if the SEC is on a fishing expedition."

The exact focus of the SEC investigation is not known. The SEC declined to comment.

In late June, a civil grand jury report alleged that Victorville may have violated state laws by transferring property taxes dedicated to its sanitation department to its general fund budget. Civil grand juries are investigative bodies that are not empowered to bring charges.

Harvey M. Rose Associates, a San Francisco-based public sector management consulting firm, said in its report to the civil grand jury that Victorville had mismanaged projects, made poor decisions on contracts and loaned $38 million to its municipal utility and its local airport. The report said repayment of those loans was "highly questionable."

The report said the utility is insolvent, with $32 million in assets and $108 million in liabilities.

Bortnowsky, in an email to Reuters, said the city "takes issue with respect to many of the statements contained in the Grand Jury report, especially those pertaining to purported violations of state and local laws and resolutions."

He said a full response to the grand jury allegations would be "forthcoming shortly."

Victorville, with a population of about 115,000, had a total of $407 million in bond debt as of June 30, 2011.

The city's auditors said in February that there "was substantial doubt about the city's ability to continue as going concern" due to "recurring losses" in its general fund and lack of liquidity in funds for its utility and the airport.

The city council in late June adopted a $47 million budget for its general fund that included a $74,992 surplus.

Three California cities have filed or said they would file for bankruptcy since June 28, when Stockton filed for Chapter 9 protection to restructure more than $700 million in debt.

On July 2, the city of Mammoth Lakes filed to shield itself from a $43 million court judgment. The San Bernardino city council voted on July 18 to seek bankruptcy protection.

In both Stockton and San Bernardino, poor financial controls and shuffling of money among different city entities appear to have contributed to their respective financial crises.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Grand jury tells San Mateo County to get a grip on soaring pension costs

By Bonnie Eslinger - Palo Alto Daily News Staff Writer

San Mateo County's rising employee pension costs should be controlled by cutting jobs and making workers pay more toward their retirement, a grand jury concluded in a report released Monday.

"There should be the political will to address the issue, otherwise we're not going to get anywhere with this thing," San Mateo Civil Grand Jury Foreman Bruce MacMillan told The Daily News.

In the 2005-2006 fiscal year, the county paid $78 million in pension costs for current and former employees. Its contribution almost doubled to $146 million by 2011-2012.

The "explosive growth" is largely due to a market downturn in 2008 and 2009 that lowered the value of the county's retirement assets and, subsequently, investment returns. As a result, the county has made up the difference to ensure employee retirement benefits continue as before, according to the report.

The county's pension contribution likely will increase by an additional $13 million in 2013-2014, according to the grand jury, because the assumed rate of return on its investments was lowered by the San Mateo County Employees' Retirement Association in May from 7.75 percent to 7.5 percent.

The county's generosity with taxpayer funds also has driven up retirement costs, according to the report. For example, while workers are supposed to pay part of their retirement costs, the county picks up a higher than required share of some employee groups such as management, attorneys and employees with more than 10 years of service. As a result, the county picked up 78 percent of some employees' pension costs in 2010-11 instead of 75 percent.

Some of those perks were offered up when the county was flusher with cash, MacMillan said, and county officials often argue that such deals are needed to attract the best workers.

"You could argue that maybe we need to get into the middle of the pack instead of being in the lead with the benefits," MacMillan said.

Although county officials also told the grand jury that employees have not received base salary increases in the last three years, the grand jury notes that "step increases" continue to be given for years served, changes in job classifications or other considerations, and pensions are based on salaries.

In 2007, the average annual salary for a county employee -- excluding public safety and probation workers -- was $72,648; in 2011, that had increased to $79,188.
The county also contributes to Social Security for all employees except public safety workers, which some other counties don't do, the report notes.

The grand jury concludes by recommending that the county "significantly" decrease the number of employees through outsourcing, reducing services and attrition; eliminating the higher employer percentage contribution toward pensions; negotiating reduced pension entitlements for future employees; and studying the possibility of withdrawing from Social Security.

"I think the reason fundamentally why there hasn't been hard decisions made is they are hard decisions," MacMillan said. "What we recommend is not any sterling insight into this, but something that's straightforward and obvious."

MacMillan said the grand jury does not suggest trying to solve the problem by looking for new revenues, such as the half-cent sales tax increase that the board of supervisors today will consider putting on the November ballot.

"I think that's an over-simplified solution to current problems ... trying to raise the revenue line instead of trying to cut the cost line," MacMillan said.

The county is required to reply to the grand jury report within 90 days. Board president Adrienne Tissier did not return a call for comment Monday.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

(Tehama Co) Grand jury gives Tehama jail mixed review

By Julie R. Johnson/Corning Observer

"A clean, well-maintained facility," is how the 2011-12 Tehama County grand jury described the Tehama County Jail in its annual report.

However, it also noted in its findings that "inmates do not have clothing appropriate for winter months," and the "female inmates are not provided equal work opportunities in the jail."

Members of the grand jury made two visits to the jail, the first on Sept. 15 for a tour, inspection of incident reports and grievance statistics, interviews with jail administration, and to study the Inmate Orientation Manual and Corrections Standards Authority report.

During the second visit, on Nov. 22, grand jury members interviewed staff and inmates.

"Living conditions are appropriate and administration is continuously seeking ways to reduce costs, yet provide quality service to the jail population," the grand jury report states,

One of the areas of interest was the impact the state's prison realignment program (AB 109) is having on the jail.

In a report to the grand jury from the jail division, it states the operations at the jail were radically impacted by the implementation of AB 109.

The jail has a bed capacity of 226, with a "rated capacity" of 181, due to the need at times of segregating inmates for safety purposes.

According to the report, since October, as a result of keeping many of the prisoners in the county jail who would normally have gone to state prison, the population in the jail has steadily risen, and at the time the report was written on May 23, the total inmate population count was 218 prisoners.

"Out of those 218 prisoners there are 83 inmates serving terms that would have previously been served in state prison," the report said.

The increased cost of and difficulty in delivering services to the inmate population, including medical services, food services, mental health services and court transport services, has been one of the most severe impacts to the jail as a result of AB 109, according to the report.

Noted in the grand jury's report was jail medications cost approximately $140,000 annually with about $70,000 of that going toward psychiatric medications.

The grand jury offered six recommendations, including developing a plan to reduce medication costs, facilitate the use of a licensed psychiatrist in treating the mentally ill, provide equal work opportunities for male and female inmates and provide the appropriate clothing in winter.

The grand jury Sheriff's Department for responses to these recommendations, as well as the continuing impact of AB 109.

Mendocino County prepares to respond to grand jury

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is set to finalize its responses Tuesday to grand jury reports on the county's mental health system, law enforcement, retirement system and Teeter Plan, among other things.

After the grand jury's annual report comes out every year, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors has 90 days to respond. Interim County Counsel Terry Gross prepared responses to six reports for the board to review and finalize.

A report on the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency's Mental Health Branch says the branch balanced its budget this year after years of deficit spending.

"They did this largely by eliminating programs, cutting personnel, limiting client services to those that are mandated for the seriously mentally ill and redirecting other clients to contracted and non-contracted service agencies," the report states, going on to conclude that the county's mental health system "fails to meet the needs of its citizens."

In one of its 26 findings, the grand jury states that the current and past employees, physicians, board members, case managers, directors and others interviewed said they believed management direction reflected "that if a program is not self-supporting, then it should be eliminated."

The Board of Supervisors' response disagrees.

"Several non-mandated programs have been restructured or discontinued in response to budgetary constraints, but mandated programs, which are not always self-supporting, are not eliminated for budgetary or for any other reasons," the Board of Supervisors' response says.

The board based its disagreement with four of the grand jury's findings on a response -- included only by reference -- from HHSA Director Stacey Cryer, including a finding that a renegotiated contract with a vendor that transports mental health clients to out-of-county mental health facilities resulted in a "long waiting period," and a "minimum of four hours" for clients on the coast.

The grand jury also found that county Mental Health recently moved in with the county's Public Health immunization clinic and Alcohol and Other Drugs Program on Dora Street, and that the move meant there was only one check-in windows and a small waiting room for "mental health clients, clients coming in for drug testing and children arriving for immunization, (making) confidentiality ... difficult to maintain."

The board's response says construction delays caused a "temporary lack of appropriate check-in window and waiting room space," and says the problem has been fixed.

Responding to a finding that Mental Health administrators issue "top-down directives" without getting enough input from employees, stakeholders and board members, the Board of Supervisors said that while "some individuals" have a "persistent perception" of a top-down approach, "there are numerous examples of efforts to more fully involve staff and the community."

The grand jury also finds that the state's annual MediCal audits have a four-year lag time and find mistakes in the billing process that accrue penalties during the lag time, and that those penalties have been "a huge financial drain" to the county's mental health system.

"Due to staffing shortages at the state level, these audits are conducted six years after the fact," the board's response says. "Mistakes do not accrue penalties -- it is the audit exceptions themselves (money the county must pay back that the state determines the county wrongly billed for MediCal reimbursement) that have been a financial drain."

The board also says the county has already completed four of the grand jury's recommendations, including training Mental Health administrators in mental health issues, making "consistent goals" and communicating transparently with clients, staff and the public.

The other recommendations the county says it has already done are setting up and monitoring "clear interactive roles and responsibilities between medical records and staff;" hiring "additional qualified personnel;" and having separate check-in windows and waiting areas "for the diverse client population."

The county response says three of the grand jury's recommendations will be done down the road, including upgrading or replacing the computer system to save personnel time and cost; being able to generate financial reports with specifically requested information that are "clear, concise and easily readable by the community;" and providing local housing for clients who are returning from out-of-county mental health placements.

The board's response says more research is needed for a grand jury recommendation that "Human Resources use language that is more specific in employment advertisements for qualified (mental health) personnel, particularly licensed clinicians, listing the experience and education requirements for job openings," in addition to civil service requirements.

The board says it will not implement the grand jury's recommendations that the county use general funds to buoy client services, and restore psychiatric services for jail inmates and youth to last year's levels, before the jail psychiatrist resigned, saying those recommendations aren't reasonable.

The county says psychiatric services weren't cut in juvenile hall, and restoring previous levels of service in the jail would be the sheriff's decision, not Mental Health's.

The grand jury also recommends that "Mendocino County health clinics that are already serving large numbers of (mental health) clients respond to the HHSA (request for proposals) to privatize county (mental health) services when issued."

The board responds, saying that recommendation can't be implemented "because it is not warranted or reasonable in that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors has no authority to direct actions of the health clinics."

Other grand jury reports for which the Board of Supervisors will discuss and finalize its responses include a report on the Teeter Plan, an evaluation of the Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association, and update on county emergency services, an assessment of law enforcement and a report on rubberized asphalt concrete.

(San Francisco) S.F. civil grand jury slams restaurant health care surcharges

by Barbara Grady - SF Public Press

San Francisco’s civil grand jury on Thursday chastised many of the city’s restaurants for profiting from surcharges they add to customers’ bills under the name of paying for health care and recommended that the city ban the practice.

In its report the grand jury recommended that restaurants no longer be allowed to add health care surcharges or allow them to offer health reimbursement accounts as a way to comply with a city law requiring businesses to help workers with health care expenses. The San Francisco Public Press reported on this problem last November as part of a team report on the city’s universal care program, Healthy San Francisco.

In a summary of its investigation into compliance with the Health Care Security Ordinance, the civil grand jury said most of the restaurants adding surcharges made money off those charges. The ordinance requires most San Francisco businesses and nonprofit employers to spend some money on health coverage for employees.

“The Jury found that a growing segment of restaurant establishments are profiting from the practice of adding a surcharge to the bill of every customer,” the report said. “These same employers are legally able to reclaim funds intended for employee health care thus increasing their profits even more. This blatant capture of funds is at the expense of their employees, and their customers who believe they are paying surcharges for healthcare.”

The civil grand jury directly looked at a small number of restaurants. Of 18 restaurants adding surcharges to customers’ bills, 16 profited, said the chairman of the committee that looked into the issue. He said their average profit on the surcharges was 46 percent. The two that didn’t profit offered standard health insurance instead of health reimbursement accounts, said the committee chair, Mark Busse.

“On HRAs, the jury concluded that the system is broken when less than 10% of the HRA funds make it to the employees,” Busse said.

“The jury calls for the end of this gratuitous practice of allowing business owners to add surcharges to recover the cost of employer mandates,” the group stated in releasing its report. “Additionally, the jury recommends the elimination of employer Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) in favor of the city option since the city cannot effectively police the rampant abuse of HRAs.”

The Health Care Security Ordinance took effect in 2008 and requires that every business with 20 or more employees and every nonprofit employer with 50 or more employees contribute to financing health care for those who work at least eight hours a week. The ordinance allows them to choose from three methods to comply. One is to offer standard health insurance. A second is to enroll their employees in Healthy San Francisco, the city’s health plan for the uninsured. A third is to offer health reimbursement accounts that employees can draw from to pay for medical expenses. A number of employers with mostly part-time staff, such as restaurants and retail shops, chose this option.

If employees don’t get sick or don’t draw from health reimbursement accounts, the law has allowed employers to recoup unspent funds in those accounts.

The city’s Labor Standards Enforcement Office started getting complaints about the reimbursement accounts and last year. It studied employer compliance with the ordinance over the last three years and found that four-fifths of those using health reimbursement accounts were recouping funds.

Supervisor David Campos proposed an amendment to the Health Care Security Ordinance last year to disallow businesses to recoup unspent money. The measure passed, but Mayor Ed Lee vetoed it. Early this year, supervisors passed a compromise amendment that requires businesses using the reimbursement accounts to keep money in those accounts for two years before recouping unspent health funds.

The mayor and various city agencies will be required to respond to the civil grand jury report in coming months.

On Thursday, Donna Levitt, manager of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, said, “The civil grand jury tackled a complex issue and raised some serious concerns.” Levitt said her office planned to issue a report next week analyzing data submitted by employers about their 2011 compliance with the Health Care Security Ordinance.

“Mayor Lee will review the Civil Grand Jury report that is sitting on his desk when he returns from the US Conference of Mayors Leadership meeting in Philadelphia,” said Francis Tsang, a spokesman for Lee. “The mayor has already taken steps through legislation to change some aspects of the Health Care Security Ordinance and will continue to examine strengthening workers access to health services.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

(Los Angeles Co) Compton is latest California charter city to face bankruptcy

by Matthew DeBord - Southern California Public Radio

Compton could become the fourth city in California to head for bankruptcy, according to Reuters. The Los Angeles County municipality, just south of L.A., would join Stockton, Mammoth Lakes, and San Bernardino in confronting Chapter 9 protection.

Compton's situation is extremely worrisome compared to much larger San Bernardino and Stockton, but it's not exactly surprising. Compton's current budget deficit, at $43 million, is substantially bigger than Stockton's $26 million but about the same as San Bernardino's $45 million. But Compton's population is only 93,000. San Bernardino's is over 200,000 and Stockton's is over 300,000.

And if you follow Reuters' reporting, $37 million of Compton's budget shortfall has materialized just since July 10, as financial officials and the city council have worked through severe revenue losses.

Like Stockton and San Bernardino, Compton is a charter city, one of over 80 in California and one of 25 in Los Angeles County (Los Angeles itself is a charter city, as is San Francisco). Basically, charter cities are set up to call their own shots, through a charter that they write themselves, rather than establishing their operations based on what's known as California's "general law." The idea is that cities have a better understanding of how to run themselves than the state does.

But some of these charters are very long in the tooth. San Bernardino's, for example, was established 105 years ago.

The County of Los Angeles Grand Jury released a report on June 30 that included what you'd have to call a red flag about L.A. County charter cities and their collective fiscal crisis. I've grabbed a chart from the report, above. As you can see, only two charter cities in the region, Burbank and Temple City, operated (barely) in the black in 2010 (Los Angeles and Long Beach were excluded from the report, due to their size).

Compton was number three on the list, with a gap of 35 percent between expenditures and revenues. Vernon and Lancaster are a lot worse, with 82- and 51-percent gaps respectively. Pasadena and Glendale, neither of which look outwardly likes a basket case, were each running around 16 percent in the red for 2010.

Compton was number one, however, in decline for general fund balance: a whopping minus-465 percent, after starting with a balance that was already $2.5 million in arrears. (Interestingly, Vernon, with its enormous 82-percent revenue gap, added $9.5 million to its general-fund balance in 2010.)

The big picture shows that the bankruptcy train in California is running right through these charter cities, a development that's consistent with what economist John Husing told me last week, in a discussion about San Bernardino's fiscal nightmare. He explained that if a city is old, maintains its own police and fire departments, and saw substantial growth in its housing market in the past decade, it's a good candidate for fiscal problems. That's because property tax revenues tanked just as public safety costs, especially pensions, escalated.

For Compton, you could add to that substantial unemployment — 19 percent — and abundant foreclosures, with anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of homes in foreclosure across the city's various neighborhoods.

Compton did move in the early 2000s to replace its police department and pay the L.A. County Sheriff for policing, the type of move that Husing said can lead to savings — unless, as in Compton's case, you wind up owing the Sheriff $5.7-million in 2009 and can't pay. And start talking about bringing back your old police department, as Compton began to do in 2010, according to the L.A. Times.

Every bankrupt and potentially bankrupt city in California is bankrupt in its own way. The dire finances of charter cities just provides us with an early warning system. The Grand Jury, in its report, made 22 separate recommendations for L.A. County's charter cities and required responses, but it didn't specifically address pension obligations, something that, as I reported last week, former San Bernardino city council member Tobin Brinker highlighted as one of that city's major problems.

Nor did the Grand Jury specifically recommend that charter cities look closely at police and firefighter wages and benefits, although it did include an appendix that shows numerous high-ranking police and fire officials in L.A. Country charter cities making more than $200,000 per year in 2010. In Compton, only the City Manager made more than that in 2010 — $246,021.

But the city manager's job in Compton hasn't been a bastion of security: there have been five different people in the city in five years, with the previous two lasting all of a year and half combined.

Compton's treasurer, Doug Sanders, says he only has $3 million on hand and $5 million in payments coming due. The city also says it can't make payroll come September 1, an echo of what's facing San Bernardino, which has only about $9 million on hand to cover its costs. This sets the table for the Compton city council declaring a "fiscal emergency" and going directly to Chapter 9, rather than submitting the the state-mandated 60-day mediation period before seeking bankruptcy protection.

That process failed to enable Stockton and Mammoth Lakes to avoid Chapter 9.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Lake County Grand Jury seated in Wednesday ceremony

by Elizabeth Larson - Lake County News

The newest Lake County Grand Jury was sworn in during a Wednesday morning ceremony in Lake County Superior Court.

Presiding Judge David Herrick oversaw the brief ceremony – which he called both an obligation and a privilege for the presiding judge – as several other county leaders looked on.

“It's always an honor for me to do this,” said Herrick.

The group will spend the next year investigating citizen complaints, conducting required oversight, meeting with local officials and drafting a final report.

Herrick praised the outgoing grand jury for doing an exemplary job in performing its duties. The 2011-12 grand jury’s report was released earlier this month.

Herrick thanked the grand jurors for their work, noting that sometimes there is friction between them and local officials as a result of their tasks.

“Sometimes the grand jury comes under criticism,” he said, adding that largely that criticism is unwarranted.

“It’s time consuming and it's difficult and we really appreciate people stepping up and performing this obligation,” Herrick said.

He then called forward the six grand jurors who are carrying over for a second year as part of the new jury, and had them seated in the courtroom’s jury box.

Those continuing for a second year are Luther Sweigert of Clearlake, who Herrick appointed the foreperson for the coming year; Kelseyville residents David Eichten, Margaret Maloney, Karen Miller and Beverly Patane; and Janice Pankratz of Lakeport.

“I’m doubly grateful to these folks for having volunteered to serve another year as grand jurors,” Herrick said.

A grand jury consists of 19 members; this year, the county had 24 qualified candidates, Herrick explained.

He directed the clerk to draw 13 names at random to form the rest of the working grand jury “as of today,” guaranteeing that the five not immediately seated would almost certainly end up serving in the coming year due to commitments and conflicts that he anticipated would cause some grand jurors to have to leave the body.

Herrick said it almost always happens that issues arise requiring the substitution of jurors, noting, “Last year it was the same day I swore the grand jury in.”

The 13 new jurors the clerk selected at random are Linda Conway and Dave Johnson, both of Clearlake; Kelseyville residents Godfrey Dyne and Alan Mattern; Warren Fox of Cobb; John Hart of Loch Lomond; Sorhna Jordan and Thomas Swihart, both of Hidden Valley Lake; Lakeport residents Nanette Marschall, Linda Schreiber, James Summers and Dana Thibeau; and Clifford Morgan of Clearlake Oaks.

Herrick then had them all stand for the swearing in, after which they were reseated in the box.

The judge introduced the newly sworn grand jurors to several county officials, including Judge Andrew Blum; County Counsel Anita Grant, who will be their advising attorney; District Attorney Don Anderson, who also will advise them at times in a limited capacity; Board of Supervisors Chair Rob Brown; and interim County Administrative Officer Matt Perry.

After the brief introductions, the officials and other members of the public were excused and the courtroom was closed so Judge Herrick could give the new grand jury its formal charge of duty.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Santa Rosa man claims deputy exposed secret gay affair

Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 5:14 p.m.

A Santa Rosa man contends his civil rights were violated when a tape of a sexually explicit jailhouse phone call between the man and his secret male lover was played for his girlfriend.

Richard A. Montgomery, 44, asked for assistance this month from the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after the matter was investigated by the Sonoma County grand jury.

The grand jury found a Sonoma County sheriff’s detective may have broken the law when he played the recorded conversation for Montgomery’s girlfriend during an investigation into a 2011 theft case.

Montgomery, who has a long criminal record, eventually pleaded no contest to five counts of felony elder theft and burglary related to a home repair business. He is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Montgomery contends the detective shared the recording with his girlfriend, a potential witness in the theft case, to gain her trust and show her she was being manipulated.

His lover, a 71-year-old Santa Rosa man who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jon, said Montgomery had been keeping his sexual orientation secret until the deputy exposed him to “get his girlfriend pissed off.”

“I think he (the detective) overstepped his bounds,” said Jon, who requested anonymity because he has not publicly disclosed his sexual orientation.

Until that time, Montgomery had introduced Jon to friends as his foster father, Jon said. Their relationship was exposed, he said, when the deputy played the conversation for Montgomery’s girlfriend and told her they were having an affair.

The grand jury picked up the case after receiving complaints from the two men.

It urged the Sheriff’s Office to develop policies on sharing recorded conversations with third parties. The panel also called on prosecutors to review the case for possible criminal wrongdoing.

Montgomery followed up with a July 4 letter to District Attorney Jill Ravitch, asking her to “take a fair and unbiased look” into the conduct of the deputy in his case and others.

Montgomery expressed frustration with the Sheriff’s Office, which investigated his claim and found no wrongdoing.

“The District Attorney’s Office should question and fully investigate this man’s previous criminal investigations in other cases he may have pursued for the sole purpose of a conviction or personal vindictiveness,” Montgomery said in a letter from Avenal State Prison.

Ravitch said her office was looking into the matter and would issue a report in 60 to 90 days. She would not discuss details.

Sheriff’s officials said their response would be out in the next few weeks.

Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas said the department consulted county attorneys, who opined that the deputy’s actions were legal.

In general, he said, inmates have no expectation of privacy while in jail. Phone conversations are routinely recorded and can be used as evidence at trial.

However, the grand jury found the sharing of communications with third parties, especially potential witnesses, is not legal.

Further, the panel found prosecutors warned the deputy not to share the conversation with the girlfriend because it could give the appearance of witness tampering.

The prosecutor, who was not named in the grand jury report, said she advised the deputy, who was also unnamed, to seek counsel in the matter but he did not, the report said.

Also, the Sheriff’s Office provided conflicting information to the grand jury about the legality of disclosing third-party conversations, according to the report.

After neither deputies nor prosecutors could cite relevant statutes, the panel consulted a private defense attorney who said it was a violation of “both the letter and the spirit of the law.”

The attorney said conversations can only be disclosed to third parties to prevent new crimes from happening or to maintain jail security. Contents cannot be shared to prejudice witnesses or coerce cooperation, the lawyer found.

SAN BERNARDINO: Grand jury says close community center

BY CASSIE MACDUFF - The Press Enterprise

The Verdemont Community Center in northern San Bernardino should be closed until it complies with building and fire codes, the San Bernardino County grand jury recommended in a recently released report.

The community center, made of six modular units, was built without initial building permits or subsequent construction inspections required by city and state codes, the grand jury found.

Serious structural problems were noted after the center opened last summer:
The modular structure isn’t properly attached to steel piers supporting the floor, the grand jury said.

A gas commercial grill was installed without a vent and fire-protection system required by the California Fire Code, the report said.

Three of six air-conditioning/heating units weren’t working, and the air ducts didn’t conduct air properly.

I called Councilman Chas Kelley, who was instrumental in securing $500,000 to build the community center in his ward, to get his reaction to the report.

He hadn’t read it, but he assured me city officials are addressing the problems.
“If it weren’t safe, they would close it as they closed the Rudy Hernandez Center,” Kelley said. That center was closed last fall when the roof was deemed unsafe.

Kelley referred me to the city parks and community development departments. Officials there didn’t return calls on Tuesday, July 3.

The interim city manager, interim public works director and mayor also could not be reached for comment before the July 4th holiday.

I first learned of the slipshod condition of the Verdemont Community Center in January, when some of the volunteers who helped run it voiced their concerns.

I reviewed public records at City Hall and discovered the center had opened without the required certificate of occupancy, a violation of the city’s own rules.

A memo from a building inspection supervisor in December noted 37 “deficiencies” and said there could be more that were covered up.

City officials said the problems were not life-threatening, so the center was allowed to remain open.

My column apparently prompted the grand jury investigation in May.

A city building inspector had discovered the center under construction without required permits and issued a stop-work order, the grand jury reported.

After a permit was issued, required inspections of the substructure, wiring and other elements weren’t done before flooring, dry wall and ceiling tiles were installed.

City officials at the time blamed the project manager but acknowledged the city was going to have to foot the bill for the repairs.

The repairs still had not been done when the grand jury visited on May 3.

Councilman Fred Shorett said he hadn’t read the report but predicted, “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the issues that are going to come out of that center.”

The episode is an embarrassment to the city. How can it demand that builders comply with codes and regulations, when the city itself fails to comply with them?

Too many police dispatch centers in San Mateo County, grand jury says

By Bonnie Eslinger - Palo Alto Daily News Staff Writer

Thirteen police dispatch centers serve communities throughout San Mateo County and that's just too many, according to a civil grand jury report released Tuesday that encourages cities to share staff for cost savings and efficiencies.

"There does not appear to be any substantial reasons why there shouldn't be or can't be consolidations," said grand jury foreman Bruce MacMillan.

Dispatchers in consolidated operations handle 911 calls at a cost that averages $11.59 less than those in centers serving only one city, according to the report. And because consolidated operations tend to be better staffed, they generally handle more emergencies and can take advantage of standardized training.

The report notes that when a PG&E gas line in San Bruno exploded and caused a fatal fire on Sept. 9, 2010, only one dispatcher was on duty at the city's police department to handle the large volume of 911 calls. Even after a person from the police department's records desk was assigned to assist, the two "were overwhelmed by the number of calls," according to the report. It took about 26 minutes before personnel from San Mateo County's dispatch center and others arrived and set up an emergency communications center at the scene.

Although all 22 of the county's cities once provided their own police dispatch service, that number has been reduced through consolidations to 13: Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, Colma, Daly City, Foster City, Hillsborough,Menlo Park, San Bruno, San Mateo County, South San Francisco, Redwood City and San Mateo.

The eight that contract out for police dispatch service include Brisbane with San Mateo, Pacifica with South San Francisco, and the rest -- East Palo Alto, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside -- with the county.

When Pacifica contracted with South San Francisco in 2011, the cities cut their emergency service costs by $300,000 a year, according to the report. And while Brisbane told the civil grand jury it didn't save any money by contracting with San Mateo to handle its calls, it did receive expanded services for the money, including a modernized records management system.

As budgets have shrunk, city managers have been more open to the idea of sharing police dispatch services, but some told the grand jury there's some resistance from city council members reluctant to give up local control over the emergency service.

"Some cities may not send officers to a broken car window, while other cities that have a little less activity may choose to send an officer to that kind of event," MacMillan said. "One of the push-backs is, 'We need our own people because they understand what our policies are and can act accordingly.' "

Dispatchers, on the other hand, don't have a problem implementing separate protocols for different cities, he said. And cities with shared dispatch centers report no drop-off in service quality.

MacMillan said he hopes the report encourages city leaders to reconsider consolidating because "there could be some real money to be saved."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

(Inyo Co) Grand Jury releases report of findings

BY MIKE GERVAIS - The Inyo Register

According to the Inyo County Grand Jury Report for 2011-12, local corrections facilities are running smoothly and a consolidated office space for county departments is a good idea.

In the report, released Thursday, the Grand Jury discusses operations at the three local corrections facilities, provides suggestions on how the District Attorney’s Office can improve operations and transparency and how Southern Inyo Hospital should handle its taxpayer funding, and provides a recommendation on the contentious Inyo County consolidated office building proposal. (Separate stories on the jury’s investigations regarding Southern Inyo Hospital and the District Attorney’s Office will appear in The Inyo Register next week.)

Each year the Grand Jury is required to tour Inyo County’s detention facilities. This year, the Grand Jury had nothing but glowing reviews for the Sheriff’s Department’s operation of Inyo County Jail.

“The sheriff and staff are to be commended for the overall appearance and upkeep of the facility, even in this time of budget constraints,” the report states. “The sheriff and staff are to be commended for their comprehensive and thorough approach to disseminating and enforcing rules and regulations … for highly efficient and sufficient staff providing for all inmates needs, including but not limited to food service hygiene and exercise, medical, educational and psychological.”

The Grand Jury also commended the Sheriff’s Department for the installation and use of a new surveillance system in the jail, but recommended a new system for monitoring inmates being held for detox be implemented, as there is currently “wide timing variations” in monitoring between shifts.

At the Inyo County Juvenile Detention Facility, the Grand Jury said there is room for improvement.

The report states Juvenile Hall is in desperate need of a new surveillance system, which should be “a number one priority when funding becomes available.”
The Grand Jury also said a recommendation from last year’s report – to provide new fencing and enclosing a salle-port in the west parking lot – has not been implemented.

“Funding for the new fence for the west parking lot needs to be found, creative solutions could be used,” the report states. “The use of county staff and donations of material and labor might be useful as shown by the construction and the use of the new greenhouse.”

The report also expresses concern about a lack of employees at Juvenile Hall.

“Staffing can still be an issue at times,” the report states. “The use of part-time employees can only be used so long. Facility operators should be commended for their dedication and resourceful use of manpower.”

In Bishop, the Grand Jury toured the Bishop Police Department, finding, as in pervious years, that the department is operating in a smaller-than-adequate facility, but takes care of operations in the best way possible.

One criticism Grand Jury members reported is that the PD has not implemented a previous Grand Jury’s suggestion to install bulletproof glass between the PD’s reception area and the dispatcher’s office.

The report does point out that arrangements have been made for acquiring the bulletproof glass.

The report also states that the department’s holding cells, which are used to hold inmates for no more than six hours at a time, are adequate and in fair shape, other than areas where occupants have chipped paint off the wall.

The jury recommended the department sand down the areas where the paint had been removed and repaint the cell.

As with the Juvenile Detention Facility, the Grand Jury expressed concerns about staffing at the PD.

“Although the Police Department is budgeted for 14 officers, the department currently only has 12 officers,” the report states. “Officers currently work 12-hour shifts and absences due to sickness and vacations are covered by overtime pay. Due to current budget constraints, it is doubtful that the additional two officers will be hired in the near future.”

Bishop Police Chief Chris Carter is currently encouraging interested residents to enroll in a reserve peace officer training course that will be held next month at Cerro Coso Community College.

Reserve officers can work part-time to help full-time officers handle some duties, freeing up time for patrols.

Carter is also asking residents for their input on a suggestion to move the Bishop Christmas parade off of Main Street to cut back on overtime hours officers accumulate to close roads for the event.

In its recommendation, the Grand Jury suggested that the city establish a capital improvement budget to ultimately relocate the PD to a larger facility.

After touring the Owens Valley Conservation Corps inmate fire camp in Round Valley, the Grand Jury said the facility is operating smoothly, but officials should begin a public awareness campaign in an effort to stop friends and family members of prisoners from smuggling contraband to inmates.

During its tour of the facility, the Grand Jury learned from staff members that there is an ongoing problem with people hiding packages for inmates to pick up while they work within the community. Inmates have been found in possession of pre-paid cell phones, tobacco and alcohol, none of which are permitted in the facility.

In its report, the Grand Jury said the camp should “try to make the public aware of contraband packages, such as signs and articles in the local papers. List all do’s and don’ts when contraband packages are found.”

Aside from touring Inyo County’s correctional facilities, the Grand Jury interviewed County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio to seek information on his proposal to build a consolidated office building in the Bishop area.

The proposal has been contentious, with many residents and Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes vocalizing strong opposition to the idea.

While Cervantes has been opposed to any effort to look into the proposal, the other four supervisors have decided to continue with a non-binding agreement that will result in a design and site plan for the building with little to no cost to the county.

If the Board of Supervisors is unhappy with the plan that is developed, it will have the opportunity to back out of discussions about the building without any repercussions.

“The county is in dire need of consolidated office space, as witnessed by members of the Grand Jury during a tour of existing offices in Bishop,” the Grand Jury Report states. “Existing offices are cramped and overcrowded with staff ‘making do’ with limited parking, no handicap access, no privacy for patients/health care providers, no storage, continuity and lack of communications between departments.”

The Grand Jury also said that some offices lack fire and alarm systems, have limited rooms for private interviews between clients and staff, or no interview rooms or privacy at all.

“The Grand Jury voted unanimously to support the consolidation proposal,” the report states. “The county needs to co-locate, to share like resources, have flexibility, continuity and communication between departments.”

Every agency that was subject to review in the Grand Jury report is required by law to respond to the report within 90 days of its release.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Solano County grand jury: Get rid of petty cash


The Solano County grand jury believes the county can return $10,000 of rarely used "petty cash funds" to the treasury.

In a review of the county's petty cash funds, the grand jury noted that the money serves the same purpose as the purchase/credit cards now used by the county departments and offices.

In theory, petty cash "enables departments to make small purchases in a cost-effective manner." However, the implementation of a purchase/credit card program in 1999 rendered county petty cash funds obsolete.

The grand jury noted that petty cash funds in excess of $3,000 must be approved by the Solano County Board of Supervisors, yet it couldn't find a resolution that authorized Health and Social Services' $3,900 fund to exceed the threshold.

Its survey also showed some discrepancies in four departments. It recommends that the Auditor-Controller's Office identify and correct the errors or discrepancies, that the county administrator bring the Health and Social Services into compliance with policy and that the auditor-controller require self-assessment for cash controls be completed by all departments and offices with petty cash.

The full report is available online at

(Humboldt Co) Supervisors to appoint new planning commissioner; respond to grand jury report on planning commission

Megan Hansen/The Times-Standard

A number of residents have thrown their hat into the ring to be the next county planning commissioner, and it's possible the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will choose one Tuesday.

During its July 3 meeting, the supervisors voted to consider making an appointment to the commission on Tuesday and directed county staff to collect applications from interested citizens. According to a county staff report, the clerk of the board has 11 applications.

Applicants include Virginia Graziani, Frank Bacik, Melvin Kreb, Ben Shepherd, Annette De Modena, Harry Davenport, Darrel Petersen, Stephen Madrone, Kurt Kramer, Pam Service and Glenn Ziemer. The clerk also had applications on file from Johanna Rodoni, Timothy Hooven and Richard Hansis.

Whoever is appointed to the position will be responsible for overseeing planning and zoning matters within the county.

Continuing with the planning commission theme, the supervisors will discuss approving the county's response to a grand jury report focused on the commission.

The grand jury report recommends more training be provided to commissioners and more support staff be allocated to the commission for validating findings upon which planning decisions are based. The report recommends the commission be given more time to evaluate materials from planning staff, planning commission meetings be held more frequently and that a limit of two consecutive four-year terms on the commission be established.

Regarding the supervisors, the grand jury report recommends the board instruct the commission to gather presentation time estimates from speakers appearing before the commission and schedule those speaker time slots accordingly. It's also suggested the commissioners be present when appealed items go before the board and be available to support their decisions.

A drafted response from the county administrative office recommends against three of the seven suggestions: the additional support staff, a time allocation for speakers and term limits.

As part of a consent agenda item, the board will consider giving county Senior Planner Michael Richardson a temporary pay increase. Richardson would be filling the position of supervising planner, which was vacated when Martha Spencer was promoted May 8 to interim building and planning director.

Richardson's pay increase would potentially start July 22 and end Dec. 22, or until a new planning and building director is hired. If approved, a county staff report states the pay increase would be $6,130 for the period of July 22 to Dec. 22.

During the afternoon session, the supervisors will hold two public hearings on building and planning issues.

The first hearing will address the Samoa Town Master Plan and a proposal to adopt map revisions to the town plan as part of a local coastal plan amendment that was submitted to the California Coastal Commission in December. A county staff report states the commission wants the maps modified before approving the amendment.

The second hearing will address a zone reclassification and subdivision issue on about 1,520 acres of land in Honeydew that is subject to both the Williamson Act and a land conservation contract.

During its closed session, the board will conduct a public employee performance evaluation for the county administrative officer and county counsel. The board will also discuss updating contracts for the positions.

For the complete Board of Supervisors meeting agenda and supporting documents, go online to

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Solano County grand jury: Cemeteries not in compliance

The Reporter Staff

The four cemetery special districts within Solano County were found to be noncompliant with California codes by the Solano County grand jury.

In a report made public this week, the grand jury reported that the reason it investigated the special districts was due to the districts lacking a review since 2003, concerns raised in a citizen complaint received by the 2010-11 grand jury and that cemetery district long-term operational and financial stability is important to the community.

The four cemetery special districts are the Rio Vista-Montezuma District, Silveyville District, Suisun-Fairfield-Rockville District and Vacaville-Elmira District.

The grand jury visited all nine cemeteries in the four districts.

The Solano County Board of Supervisors appoints a board of trustees to act as the governing body for each cemetery district.

The grand jury identified several issues that need to be addressed by the districts which include trustee terms, sign placement and record keeping.

In the report, the grand jury noted that none of the trustee terms began in compliance with state code and that reappointments and vacancies were not filled promptly and in compliance with Health and Safety Code and Government Code.

Additionally, the grand jury reported that the Rio Vista-Montezuma Cemetery District's revolving fund was not maintained at $11,800 as required, nor did it have written policies and procedures. Meanwhile, the Rio Vista-Montezuma and Silveyville districts didn't adequately backup records.

Meanwhile, Suisun-Fairfield-Rockville Cemetery District has had more than nine years to determine the adequacy and completeness of documents provided to them in a 2003 legal settlement and the review had not been finalized at the time of the grand jury investigation, according to the report.

Furthermore, the grand jury believes that endowment-property signage was not posted as required by Health and Safety Code at Rio Vista-Montezuma, Silveyville and Vacaville-Elmira districts.

The grand jury toured the Suisun-Fairfield Rockville District and reported that the signs "appeared to be commercial advertisements."

The districts are required by Health and Safety Code to post signage "in a conspicuous place at or near the entrance of the cemetery and at its administration building and readily accessible to the public" indicating that the facility is an endowment care interment property.

The grand jury has 12 recommendations for the cemetery districts to fix these issues. To see the full report, visit

Friday, July 13, 2012

(Orange Co) City officials abused power, grand jury says

by Teri Sforza, Orange County Register staff writer

The Orange County grand jury has accused two city councilmen of “misfeasance” in a report issued Thursday, saying they misused their positions to interfere with academic freedom at Brandman University in the wake of a critical report on city manager compensation.

The two city councilmen say the grand jury got it all wrong, and came to bogus and illogical conclusions.

The Brandman professor who says he was pressured to step down as a result of the brouhaha apparently feels vindicated.

And the woman who kicked off the whole enchilada is calling for at least one councilman’s resignation.

Confused yet? Backstory here will prove vital.


Rewind to 2010, before the Bell scandal broke: Barbara “Stir the Pot” Kogerman was running for city council in Laguna Hills, and felt that her long-time city council was paying its long-time city manager way too much money. To see if that was true, she began an enormous project: Nailing down the total compensation for O.C.’s 34 city managers.

It was a maddening task, and two interns from Brandman, a division of Chapman University, eventually came on to help. Those students were assigned to Kogerman’s project by Fred Smoller, who was then the director of Brandman’s graduate program in public administration. Kogerman’s report landed like a stink bomb in official circles: She concluded that Laguna Hills City Manager Bruce Channing had the highest total comp in O.C., at $460,809 – and she laid out her numbers for every other city manager in O.C. as well.

Suffice to say city execs were enraged. The grand jury got minutes from a meeting of city-types saying that Laguna Hills officials were “extremely upset” that Brandman could be so irresponsible, “and that the Orange County Register would put a Watchdog column on the front page…. A response is necessary in significant fashion, as the article indicates, first of a series. “‘


Now, the original version of Kogerman’s report credited those two Brandman students with authorship, and used the university’s name on the cover. That, her critics said, gave a blatantly political tract an air of authority it did not deserve. Smoller, the professor, was vilified for sending students smack into the belly of the beast and letting them be used; Smoller countered that if public administration students don’t understand the whipsaw of small town politics, they are dead, and he defended the data they produced as an important bit of public service.

Pressure intensified. According to our own sniffing around last year — as well as the grand jury’s report — Laguna Hills City Councilman Allan Songstad Jr. and Tustin City Councilman Jerry Amante paid a visit to Chapman University President Jim Doti, a marked-up copy of Kogerman’s report in hand, to sound off. With them was Lacy Kelly, head of the O.C. branch of the League of California Cities, a nonprofit whose funding comes from dues paid by local cities with public funds.

Doti told us that they complained about the authorship issue, and Doti, too, was aghast. The president suggested that Smoller set the record straight; Smoller publicly declared that “this was not a Brandman University report, and it was unethical of the campaign to try to pass it off as if it were. Also, I was wrong for not immediately publicly criticizing the Kogerman campaign for doing so. This was a political tract, not a scholarly study.” Kogerman apologized, explaining that she gave the students bylines because they worked their tails off for three months, and issued an amended cover page and introduction to the report to reflect her authorship. She had always made clear that the writing and analysis were hers, she said.

As the Bell scandal exploded, Kogerman and the interns were whisked by limousine to appear on national news shows and received awards and accolades for their work.


Now, Kogerman wasn’t mad at Smoller for the public smack; she felt for him. “I know Dr. Smoller is under serious threat of losing his job at Brandman University,” she wrote last year. “Dr. Smoller was forced to appease his seniors to keep his professional assignment.”

Nearly a year passed. Smoller didn’t just sic public administration students on public administrator pay — he committed other bits of public administration blasphemy, such as opining about efficiency and the logic of merging some of O.C.’s 34 cities. Kelly, of the cities association, called this thinking “out of the mainstream.”

And in October, Smoller resigned as director of Bradman’s graduate program in public administration. “I resigned because it was clear to me that a breakaway group from the (non-profit corporation) and other disgruntled elected leaders had convinced (university) administrators that I could no longer be an effective public face for the program,” said Smoller’s resignation letter.
Outraged, Kogerman filed a complaint with the grand jury, asking it to investigate the harassment of Smoller. And that is why we are gathered here today.


The grand jury called in Kelly, Amante and Songstad, among others, and focused on that meeting at Chapman with Doti. Were the officials threatening to blackball graduates of the university by not hiring them? Songstad indicated “it was obvious to all concerned that it was not the best thing for them to do, i.e. to be criticizing city managers when they are the ones that do the hiring. And that the university president and the professor were bright individuals who could see the relationship and that it wouldn’t be smart to slam city managers. He acknowledged that there wasn’t any threat but it was just sort of self evident,” the grand jury says.
It is apparent that Songstad, of Laguna Hills, “was influencing certain actions of the professor in that some of the exact language that was to be used in the professor’s letter was the same as that which was communicated by the councilman,” the grand jury wrote. “It is equally apparent that the professor felt compromised and was attempting to defend the actions of himself and the students in raising public interest in the political process. The issue of crediting the students with the authorship of the report on the cover page, notwithstanding the rather elaborate explanation in the attending foreword, was magnified beyond its significance, apparently for political reasons.

“The history of the communications is evidence of the existence of the pressure being brought to bear upon the university and the professor.

“If, by express statement or by implication, it was stated or implied to the university officials that their students may or may not have altered employment expectations based upon the outcome of those concerns as represented by the elected city officials and the representations which were made regarding the compensation report, then an ethical breach was certainly taking place. And if not, there still remains a significant cloud of impropriety and circumspection over the entire affair.
“The Orange County Grand Jury is concerned that these efforts were an attempt to interfere with the academic freedom and the curriculum of an educational institution, and that these elected officials misused their position as directors of a publically funded, non-profit political organization, and their political offices, to attempt to influence the operation of an independent university, its governing officials, and its faculty and students. Equally important, their conduct inadvertently or otherwise, may have brought negative influences to bear on the continuing career of an education professional.

In addition, it appears that the university, its governing officials, faculty, and students were being influenced by the public officials for the purpose of manipulating circumstances related to a local election. If, for example, the report in question could be discredited, it would reflect badly upon the candidate who generated the report (Kogerman) and who was using its results as the cornerstone of her campaign efforts.

“There are many reasons why the curriculum and operations of educational institutions are considered sacrosanct, and many reasons why ethical considerations by public officials must be followed. This is certainly one.”


There were, officially, four findings:

City officials apparently misused their membership in a non-profit corporation established on behalf of public entities to promote their own political agenda by using their status with that organization in an effort to influence the officials at a local university.

City officials arranged a meeting with the office of a university president indicating they were to introduce the executive director of the non-profit entity, when their intentions were to influence the university to investigate and discredit the report where students were assigned as interns to a political campaign by the Masters in Public Administration department.

The influence wielded by city officials appears to have been an attempt to cause the officials of a local university, to exert influence on a member of their faculty.
City officials may not have been forthcoming with the Orange County Grand Jury in their testimony about the primary purpose in meeting with university officials and the facts and circumstances related thereto.

Laguna Hills and Tustin should review the conduct of Songstad and Amante “and determine what action should be taken so as to prevent future acts of misfeasance,” and get them “continuing ethical training;” and the cities “should refrain from attempting to exercise influence over public and private educational institutions,” the grand jury said.


Smoller, for his part, would only say this: “I am gratified that a neutral third party has investigated and reviewed this matter.”

Kogerman, by email, said that the report “demonstrates a level of unfettered arrogance that is all too often associated with career politicians” and “reveals an alarming, politically-motivated, organized attempt by individuals in positions of influence to misuse taxpayer assets in their efforts to manipulate the outcome of a political campaign. Whether uncovered or not, such activities have a chilling effect on challenging the status quo.”

If Songstad acted illegally or unethically, he should resign, she said.
Songstad and Amante are shaking their heads over the grand jury’s conclusions.
“I think they are completely way off base,” Songstad said. “I was not involved in trying to influence any personnel decision at the university — nor could I. My concern was with the association of Kogerman’s campaign piece with Brandman. That was the concern. The grand jury just got it all wrong.”

The point of the meeting was to make sure Doti understood that his university was being cited as the source of the report. “We weren’t acting on behalf of anybody but ourselves,” he said. “I have a right to go talk to anybody I want to, if I think that someone is acting unethically and attributing a report to someone who didn’t write it. I have a right. It’s disappointing the grand jury would think this was worthy of their time.”

Smoller resigned many, many months after the meeting with Doti, and Songstad doesn’t see how the two can even be connected. And no, Songstad has no plans to resign — and Kogerman has a lot of nerve to suggest he should, when she is the one who acted unethically by putting Brandman’s name on her report, he said.

Amante agrees. “I don’t know how the grand jury got it wrong, but they’ve gotten it wrong,” he said. “The findings don’t make any sense given what really occurred.”
Amante said he went to the Doti meeting to introduce Kelly from the League of Cities to him — and to tell him about an educational program for elected officials that the League was putting together that could be an internship opportunity for Chapman/Brandman students.

The idea that a couple of councilmen from Tustin and Laguna Hills could threaten to lock Chapman/Brandman students out of public sector jobs in every Orange County city is ludicrous, they said.”A single council person, alone, has zero power,” Amante said. “No council person can exert power without colleagues in agreement at public meeting with discussion. And the irony is that neither of the cities had anything to do with the meeting with Doti.”

The cities have 90 days to respond formally to the grand jury. We’ll keep you posted.

(Orange Co) Divided Laguna Hills City Council Takes Aim at Grand Jury Report


A deeply divided Laguna Hills City Council Tuesday began its process of responding to a recent Orange County grand jury report that took issue with how city officials responded to a 2010 Chapman University study on the salaries of city managers.

In a 3-0 vote, council members agreed to appoint a committee that would respond to the grand jury within 90 days.

Laguna Hills City Councilwoman Barbara Kogerman and Councilman L. Allan Songstad abstained from the vote because the grand jury report specifically addressed actions by both elected leaders.

In early 2010, Kogerman commissioned the controversial city manager salary study while she was running for a City Council seat that she ultimately won. The study was done by Chapman professor Fred Smoller.

According to the grand jury report, Kogerman sought out Smoller (who serves on the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board) to help analyze salaries granted to city managers across Orange County.

Smoller assigned several of his students to Kogerman as interns to be attached to her campaign and work on a city manager compensation report. The results, which showed Laguna Hills City Manager Bruce Channing to be one of the highest paid in the county, were controversial.

Kogerman and the students were celebrated for their findings and for confronting the machinery in most cities that keeps top salaries secret.

And in the midst of the scandal over the city of Bell controversy, several elected officials, such as state Senator Lou Correa, began considering legislation to address the issue. Other entities, such as the state attorney general and the state controller, also began considering the issue.

Grand jury members also assessed how members of the California League of Cities and the newly-formed Association of California Cities, Orange County government and city council members in Tustin and Laguna Hills reacted to the report.

The jury took direct aim at elected officials in Laguna Hills and Tustin in their report, issuing four separate findings criticizing those elected officials for pressing Chapman University President James Doti over the work of the students.

This week, Laguna Hills council members considered the grand jury report during a tense session.

“How anything I said or did with Dr. Doti could have affected Dr. Smoller a year later, I have no idea,” Songstad said at a City Council meeting Tuesday.

Songstad took aim at the grand jury, saying it had produced a report full of inaccuracies and innuendo.

“It makes me sick,” Songstad said. “I don’t like being part of the [grand jury] recommendations.”

Songstad further urged City Council members to avoid responding to the grand jury, but City Attorney Gregory Simonian told members they were required to respond.

Kogerman attempted to offer her views on the grand jury report near the end of the meeting during council comments but missed the opportunity offered by Mayor Melody Carruth, who quickly gaveled the meeting adjourned.

“We will listen for those comments [at the next council meeting] in six weeks,” Carruth told Kogerman.

In the meantime, Carruth and Councilman Joel Lautenschleger will begin formulating the city’s response.

(Riverside Co) BANNING: Response to grand jury report pending



Grand jury report response pending

At the district’s board of directors meeting Tuesday, July 10, hospital CEO Mark Turner said he expects to have a written response to a recent grand jury report by the board’s next meeting, which is Tuesday, Aug. 7.

He said at that point, the board could vote on whether to approve the response, and if it does, he will forward the document to the grand jury.

The San Gorgonio Memorial Health Care District received a report in mid-June from the Riverside County civil grand jury that was critical of the district in some areas, including its handling of Measure A.

Revenues from the $108 million bond measure have gone toward several construction projects at the hospital, including a new intensive care unit and emergency department, but did not go far enough to cover the patient tower voters expected.

Turner said the grand jury’s findings “are all items we were aware of before their investigation” and that the district was already working on.

One recommendation from the grand jury was that the hospital CEO should be removed as a voting member of the board, as this gives the appearance of a conflict of interest. Turner said the board took action on this matter before the grand jury report was issued.

He also said the district is working on making its accounting practices more transparent, another suggestion from the grand jury.

Policy in works for Measure D panel

Pass-area voters recently gave the district permission to extend an existing parcel tax that helps pay for round-the-clock emergency medical care services at the hospital. This mail-in ballot measure was Measure D.

Hospital CEO Mark Turner and his assistant have drafted a policy and regulations for the Measure D oversight committee, which the board of directors reviewed Tuesday. Turner expects to have a final draft for the board to vote on at its Aug. 7 meeting.

Turner took board member Lynn Bogh Baldi’s suggestion to include a statement in the policy that the district will maintain a separate account for receiving Measure D parcel tax revenues, which the district promised to do when it floated the measure. Turner said the district has already set up the account.

(San Diego Co) Hall: County grand jury dishes out, takes criticism

by Matthew T. Hall -

Life ain’t so grand for the San Diego County grand jury.

You pocket a pitiful $4.17 an hour, plus mileage. You dig into the dirty laundry of government officials who don’t often take a shine to sunlight. You read and rank up to 120 complaints that roll in over the course of a yearlong tour of duty, then write 16 or so reports that are meant to improve the community but are often overlooked by the community. You’re dismissed as gadflies. And finally, you contend with criticism from unrepentant targets, most of whom have bigger paychecks and profiles to protect.

Don’t misjudge the jury, though. Watchdogs, including county grand juries, are instrumental to good government, especially at this time of ever-shrinking journalism staffs and devalued dollars.

You could argue that eyeballs and money management have never been so important.

Yet consider the criticism that built to a crescendo at a June 13 San Diego City Council committee meeting following the delivery of a harsh grand jury report on city streets, which most drivers deem deplorable.

Councilman Todd Gloria: “I was grateful to hear the grand jury took up the issue. I was just extremely disappointed that they did such a poor job in evaluating it.”

Council President Tony Young: “This grand jury not only misses the point but misses the entire boat when it comes to dealing with some of the issues around the region.”

Councilwoman Marti Emerald: “The grand jury is losing its credibility ... it’s also losing its relevance.”

Sure, San Diego officials are dumping more money into road repairs these days, but in the playful words of a much better writer, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

At a council meeting just this week, Emerald reiterated a call to reform the role and relevance of the grand jury. She criticized the panel for relying on inaccurate information and even playing politics.

Now to quote someone whose viewpoint matters more than Shakespeare’s or mine: “The grand jury has been around since 1850. It’s mandated by the California constitution, so anybody who wants to change the mandate will have to go through the constitution to do it properly.”

That’s Paul Christian talking. He’s the current foreman of the county grand jury. Thursday was his fourth official day on the job. This week, he earned $100 (plus mileage reimbursement from Carlsbad) because our county grand jury’s $25 daily rate hasn’t changed since 1974.

At that time, Christian was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin at Platteville.

He was dreaming about becoming an FBI agent, but instead spent 31 years in the Marine Corps, including stints as commanding officer at the Miramar and Camp Pendleton air stations. Now 58, he was laid off from his construction company job three years ago — “Class of 2009,” he joked — and had become a “house mouse” until seeing a newspaper ad seeking grand jury applicants in December.

Christian applied to give something back.

“We’re all in it to do good community service,” he said. “Our job is not to go out there and purposely hammer any city or county or agency. Our constitutional duty is to look into things and, quite frankly, that’s what we’re going to do.”

If any criticism should be lobbed at the grand jury, it’s that the 19-member panel, picked at random from a pool of applicants recommended by a judge, is almost exclusively white and retired. Christian said he wants more people, especially minorities, to apply next year, but history shows that’s unlikely. All but three of the current jurors are retirees, and all but two are white. The others are black.

Christian’s predecessor, Jim Lewis, also wants to see more people apply. A former Salt Lake City cop who moved to Vista 25 years ago while working for United Parcel Service, he called his juror work “one of the most interesting, fascinating things” he’s done in 68 years. He said potential criticism from subjects of the jury’s reports shouldn’t faze anyone.

“All a grand jury tries to do is make things better,” he said.

I like the sound of that, and I dare government officials to disagree.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

(Alameda Co) Grand jury sharply critical of Berkeley rent board

by Carolyn Jones - Sand Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley's rent board overcharges landlords, overpays its director and lacks sufficient oversight and accountability, according to a report by the Alameda County civil grand jury.

The report, issued June 25, is particularly critical of the salary the board pays Executive Director Jay Kelekian. He earns $183,000 annually to oversee 21 employees and a budget of $4 million.

By comparison, Berkeley's public works director earns $2,000 less annually and has a staff of 296 and a $58 million budget.

"The staff runs the rent board, instead of the other way around. It's like the fox guarding the henhouse," said Albert Sukoff, who's on the board of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, a longtime critic of the rent board. "We weren't surprised by the report, but we think it didn't go far enough."

The grand jury spent nine months looking at Berkeley's nine-member rent board, which is charged with regulating residential rents in Berkeley, protecting tenants from evictions, resolving disputes between tenants and landlords and otherwise enforcing the city's rent control ordinance.

Berkeley is among 12 cities in the state with rent control, and for many years had among the strongest, most pro-tenant rent ordinances in the country. But the law lost its teeth when the state banned vacancy control in 1995, allowing landlords to raise rents to market levels when a tenant leaves.

Among other criticisms, the grand jury said Berkeley's rent board charges landlords far too much to register units. Last year, the fee was $194 per unit. San Francisco, for example, charges $25 and Los Angeles charges $19.

Berkeley's rent board - a publicly elected agency that's independent from the city - uses the money to pay its staff, creating a "self-sustaining bureaucracy that operates without effective oversight or accountability," according to the grand-jury report.

Lisa Stephens, rent board chair, said Berkeley might charge landlords more than other cities but it offers more services. The board handles 10,000 queries annually from tenants and landlords, has six subcommittees that meet regularly and has been especially busy during the foreclosure crisis, she said.

In addition, Kelekian's salary is comparable to those of rent-board directors in other cities, she said. Santa Monica, similar in size to Berkeley, pays its rent-board director $189,624, almost $7,000 more than Kelekian earns, for overseeing a similar staff and budget, according to the city of Santa Monica.

Kelekian could not be reached for comment.

"I was profoundly disappointed in this report," Stephens said. "The report has these vague innuendos of impropriety, but the fact is, we've done nothing wrong. I think we do a really good job."

The report suggests that the board reduce landlords' fees, work with the city's human resource department to control salaries and staffing, and conduct annual performance reviews of the director.

(Santa Barbara Co) Criminal probe of LHCDC urged

A failed nonprofit housing provider that was the focus last month of a civil grand jury report, should now be investigated for possible criminal wrongdoing, according to two Lompoc community leaders.

Longtime community activist Joyce Howerton and Lompoc City Councilwoman Cecilia Martner have asked the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office to impanel a criminal grand jury to investigate management of the Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corp. (LHCDC).

The organization, which at one time owned and managed 42 properties and parcels in the Lompoc Valley, now is in the process of dissolving and divesting itself of its holdings. LHCDC is accused of mismanaging millions of county and city dollars which resulted in the temporary closure of two homeless shelters and the failure of multi-family complexes it managed.

The District Attorney’s Office is monitoring the LHCDC situation and awaiting completion of a county forensic audit, which could be used as evidence in criminal court, Jerry N. Lulejian, chief deputy district attorney, North County, said Tuesday.

by Bo Poertner/Associate Editor -

In a strongly-worded letter dated July 9, Howerton and Martner asked District Attorney Joyce Dudley to take the necessary steps to thoroughly investigate LHCDC.

“To have an organization whose main purpose is to serve the homeless and the very poor go for years with no investigation of missing records for HUD, State, City and County funds is unconscionable,” the women’s request stated in part.

“With millions of dollars unaccounted for, shelters closed, low income/no income people being displaced, banks coming in and taking possession of property, we believe this goes beyond simple mismanagement and deserves a criminal investigation.”

In a written response, Lulejian stated, “We have been monitoring this situation for some time now and are glad to see that the County has begun a thorough forensic audit of LHCDC’s spending of government funds. You and the media are asking the right question when you and they ask where the government money went. The answer to this question is of critical importance to deciding whether any criminal acts might have taken place.

“The reason we have not officially begun a criminal investigation is that a forensic audit is necessary to demonstrate exactly how government money was spent. Clearly, we will need to know how government money was spent in order to determine if any mismanagement of government funds was criminal in nature or the product of non-criminal negligence.”

Lulejian said Tuesday that if the county had not begun a forensic audit, the District Attorney’s Office would have to do one to determine whether criminal prosecution was warranted. It is a critical preliminary step, he said.

County Auditor-Controller Bob Geis said Tuesday that he has restarted a forensic audit but has been delayed while he audited the dissolution of Redevelopment agencies throughout the county. He said the forensic audit might take a year to complete.

Howerton said a criminal investigation is needed because accountability for the failure to provide adequate low-cost housing and other services for the community’s poor, despite the use of millions of dollars of the public’s money, is missing.

“We think someone needs to be held accountable for this,” said the former Lompoc mayor. “What we hear is that no one knows what happened because they can’t find the files. That’s just not good enough. It makes the city of Lompoc and the county look like a bunch of fools.”

Lulejian said that even if LHCDC’s financial records have been destroyed, a successful investigation could be conducted and prosecution could proceed if warranted.

“They can’t make it go away and they can’t cover it up and make it disappear,” he said. “It’s impossible.”

An 18-page civil Grand Jury report in June, which focused primarily on the government’s role, criticized the city of Lompoc and Santa Barbara County for a “failure of oversight” of LHCDC, which was operated under the direction of Executive Director Sue Ehrlich.

In their letter to Dudley, Howerton and Martner said, “The County Civil Grand Jury looked at part of the issue and found that as early as 2003 LHCDC was in trouble, though failed to examine the LHCDC’s records or to report the amounts given to it by various government sources and for what those funds were used.

“It is time to stop talking and take action. Lompoc has the highest unemployment rate in the county, with many people living just above poverty level.”

Martner, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment, but she was acting as a private citizen rather than a city official in requesting the criminal investigation, Howerton said.

“I think since the civil Grand Jury took a look at it and did a piece of it, it’s very realistic (to believe) that there will be a criminal grand jury,” Howerton said Tuesday. “This needs to be put to rest.”

In their letter, Howerton and Martner said the need for a criminal investigation is urgent because of widespread community speculation about LHCDC and the lack of government oversight.

“There is quite a bit of speculation in the community that elected officials directed county and city staff to ‘give them what they want,’ and given that over the years millions in taxpayers’ money was given to this organization, most coming from the County and City governments ... we believe whether there is truth to this must be investigated.

“Santa Barbara County Auditor Bob Geis found out a year ago that LHCDC had failed to provide annual financial reports to the county since 2007. Ultimately he got three years of checkbooks after he threatened to cut off funding. He found the nonprofit had no accounting system and virtually no records of its activities. Shortly after, county counsel found that 4th District Supervisor (Joni) Gray’s law firm had been receiving legal fees from the corporation while she was voting on LHCDC issues before the county board of supervisors. Further, Gray’s executive assistant was the president of the board of LHCDC.”

The Lompoc Record reported Friday that Supervisor Gray’s assistant, Susan Warnstrom, announced her retirement last month without comment or explanation. Gray, who is involved in a close re-election race against Orcutt farmer Peter Adam, also declined to comment about Warnstrom’s retirement.

Howerton and Martner concluded: “We believe the community deserves some answers and taxpayers deserve to be reimbursed by or have the satisfaction of punishment of those responsible for the misuses of public funds.”

Their request for a criminal investigation gained immediate public support in the form of an online petition at urging Dudley to investigate LHCDC. By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the petition contained well over 300 names.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

San Mateo County sheriff responds to grand jury report on emergency operations

By Aaron Kinney
Posted: 07/10/2012 05:37:58 PM PDT

Although the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office agrees with some recommendations in a recent grand jury report that was critical of the Office of Emergency Services, it will not find a new home for the county Emergency Operations Center within six months.

In April, the county grand jury found that the Office of Emergency Services, overseen by Sheriff Greg Munks, did not meet deadlines to follow through on improvements identified in a state-mandated self-evaluation in the wake of the deadly 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno. The county Board of Supervisors approved the sheriff's response Tuesday.

The grand jury report faulted the Office of Emergency Services for failing to complete seven improvements included in the self-assessment having to do with training and readiness. It also criticized the site of the county's Emergency Operations Center, which is located in the Jury Assembly Room of the Hall of Justice in Redwood City.

The Office of Emergency Services is not obligated to pursue the grand jury's recommendations but has done so in several cases, including the purchase of status white boards for the Emergency Operations Center and training for certain employees. It will not pursue other recommendations, including setting up a new home for the Emergency Operations Center within 180 days.

"While I agree with the need for a new EOC, the 180 day timeline to establish a new fully equipped EOC is not feasible," Munks wrote in the response. "The county manager and I are seeking alternate sites."

The county is considering a former office building at One Circle Star Way in San Carlos as a possible site for the center.

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Grand jury says San Mateo County has failed to prepare for levee and dam failures

By Bonnie Eslinger

Posted: 07/09/2012 09:34:40 PM PDT
Five years after a grand jury warned that San Mateo County hasn't adequately planned for dam and levee failures, nothing much has changed, according to a report released Monday by this year's civil grand jury.

Levee failure still isn't specifically addressed in a countywide emergency plan, individual city emergency preparedness plans are inconsistent and two haven't even been done, the 2011-12 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury found.

Such neglect is "unacceptable," the grand jury states in a news release. "Meeting these recommendations should not take another five years."

The 2006-2007 civil grand jury recommended that the county's Office of Emergency Services work with cities to develop emergency action plans by March 31, 2008. The plans should include a list of three or more officials or emergency responders to contact in the event of an emergency, a plan of actions that would be taken in the event of a dam or levee failure, and copies of recent inspection reports.

Those individual municipal plans were to have been incorporated into the countywide Emergency Operations Plan by July 31, 2008.

Plans were subsequently prepared by East Palo Alto, Foster City, San Mateo and Redwood City, although the county Office of Emergency Services didn't do enough to standardize the efforts. As a result, they are "inconsistent plans that vary in detail," the current civil grand jury found.

South San Francisco told the grand jury it did not have to do an emergency plan because the city does not have any levees. Yet, a levee is listed on a 2012 Federal Emergency Management Agency map.

"South San Francisco has not reconciled this discrepancy with FEMA," the grand jury report states.

San Carlos reported it didn't draft a plan because it was never provided with the 2006-2007 civil grand jury's recommendations. San Mateo County Superior Court has no records to prove those recommendations went to the city, the current grand jury concedes.

Brian Moura, assistant city manager of San Carlos, said now that the city knows the grand jury wants an emergency plan it shouldn't be a problem to create one.

He added that the city has worked with the county and Redwood City to raise levees near the San Carlos Airport by several feet. "So, even though this particular plan may not exist, we've been working on the levees and maintaining them," Moura said.

Since 2007, Foster City, Redwood City, San Mateo and the county have also worked to make levees comply with federal standards.

"While these actions reduced the risk of catastrophic failure, they did not address the procedures for emergency response in the event one should occur," the civil grand jury report states.

The 2006-2007 grand jury also had tasked the county's Emergency Services Council, comprised of representatives from the county and its 20 cities and towns, with approving funding to support the work of the Office of Emergency Services.

Emergency plans related to the county's dams was done by the Office of Emergency Services with funding secured in fiscal year 2007-2008, according to the report. But in 2008, the office's application for state funding that would have continued the emergency planning was denied. And no backup came from the Emergency Services Council, according to the grand jury.

"The risk of levee failure has not been a priority," the report states.

San Mateo County sheriff's Capt. Mark Wyss, who oversees the Office of Emergency Services, said that the grand jury report would be discussed by the county's Emergency Services Council at its Sept. 20 meeting with a renewed push for needed funding.

"When we denied the extra funding (from the state) to fold the levees in, the matter didn't rise to the priority level so it just fell apart and the request didn't go to the cities and the OES didn't follow up on it," Wyss acknowledged.

Email Bonnie Eslinger at; follow her at