Thursday, July 5, 2012

(Napa Co) Grand jury and revived association are agents of positive change

Diane Dame Shepp - The American Canyon Eagle (opinion)

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” To bring this to a local level I would add, “Be involved in your community.”

The Napa County Chapter – California Grand Jurors’ Association facilitates the change by involvement in our community through planning, outreach, networking and education that represents a grassroots effort to uphold our unique California grand jury system. As an historical institution, the grand jury has been referred to as the “watchdog” of the community. Grand juries in 58 counties across California serve an important role and uncover wrongful and/or illegal behavior by public officials and agencies. The association and its local chapters advocate and support the California grand jury system.

This past year tested the strength of the watchdog by the introduction of Assembly Bill 622, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), that proposed significant reductions to the investigative powers of grand juries. Fortunately and because of the hard work of the grand jury association and our own local chapter-member Bill Trautman, some of the most cutting and restrictive features of AB622 were diluted.

The Napa County chapter of the grand jury association was established in 2001 as a nonprofit corporation. The mission of the Napa County chapter is to promote grand jury awareness, education and outreach and to support the activities and programs of the association. The Napa County chapter provides support to the Napa County Superior Court in its annual effort to recruit and impanel capable citizens as grand jurors; works toward the preservation and enhancement of the grand jury system by studying issues or legislation that specifically pertains to the grand jury; and provides the general public with information and educational materials on the Napa County and California grand jury system to increase public awareness of the valuable role the grand jury plays in our democratic system of government.

The grand jury does have an impact. More than a handful of Napa County grand jury reports have produced positive changes over the past several years: The county recently decided to hire a Napa County Fire Chief responsible for the nine volunteer fire departments and to liaison with Cal Fire at a significant cost savings; Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency disbanded the Napa County Commission for Arts and Culture earlier this year and the Napa County Board of Supervisors created a new Arts and Culture Committee under their auspices; the Soda Canyon Volunteer Fire Department got a new Type 4 fire engine; “Transient Occupancy Tax - How much is being Lost?” got local municipalities to look closer at developing a system to track this important revenue stream; “Pension - Retirement Benefits for County of Napa” called to light a primary issue of all local government entities, to name a few. All the above mentioned reports and responses may be found online at the Napa Superior Court website, .

We don’t really know much about the Napa chapter between 2001 and 2008. During the summer of 2008, Dan Mufson began a search for past members. Nancy Courtney, the treasurer, was one of a handful of former chapter members he found. He determined to re-establish the chapter with fellow alumni grand jury members. The rest is history, as the saying goes. Dan served two years as the chapter president and was instrumental in building a relationship with the California Grand Jury Association. We are indebted to Dan for fostering the chapter through its rebirth.

I am pleased to report that during my tenure as president the trend toward expansion and growth continued in an upward direction. Membership is stable; finances are in the black; committees are active. The organization continues to grow, in local activities and programs, regional involvement and participation at the state level.

And then there was the conference that almost didn’t happen. The 30th annual statewide California Grand Jury Association conference, that is. Despite coming in as the second choice to Marin, less lead time to plan, arcane ABC rules, dying computer hard drives, medical emergencies, fire and nighttime power outages the Napa County chapter hosted the best annual statewide conference ever last November.

There were 111 registrants from 26 counties (there had never been more than 80 registrants before); 30 speakers, 6 panels, more than $6,500 in donated items and $2,800 in sponsorships/underwriting (thanks to the generosity of the Gasser Foundation, the Destination Council and others); 20 crazy volunteers who would not be deterred and hundreds of hours of work.

Excellence is a word I do not use lightly, however with this group it not only applies … we wrote the book. In fact, we have been asked to create a “how- to” book on the planning and coordination of a successful conference. And we’ve been asked to host the 2012 annual conference, “Expanding Beyond,” Nov. 15-16, at Embassy Suites.

For more information visit association websites at and

A favorite quote seems appropriate when describing the local chapter:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They have no respect for the status quo. You can disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? (Or imagine hosting a statewide conference when they said it couldn’t be done?) While some see them as the crazy ones, I see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Diane Dame´Shepp is president of the Napa County Chapter of the California Grand Jury Association, 2011-12.

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