Monday, July 2, 2012

Shasta County grand jury looks at Mountain Gate, special districts; bemoans fire coverage

Special districts investigated in annual report

By Jim Schultz

Posted June 28, 2012 at 11:33 p.m.

The Mountain Gate Community Services District once again felt the bite of the Shasta County grand jury.

But so did a number of other special districts and agencies for having little or no knowledge about government open meeting and ethics laws.

For the third time in three years, however, the grand jury singled out the Mountain Gate Community Services District and took it to task in its annual report.

In a three-page section devoted to Mountain Gate, the grand jury said it initiated an investigation into the district after it received a complaint alleging a district vehicle was seen at an out-of-area gas station towing a personal watercraft.

That claim turned out to be true, the jury said, adding that dated photographs proved it.

The district's administrator who talked with the offending employee verified the use of the district's vehicle did occur and that it was the result of "poor judgment" by the employee, the report said.

But, the grand jury report noted, the district, established in 1956, did not have an employee policy covering such an occurrence.

Although the district implemented a policy in December, the jury said the district continues to drag its feet on developing an employee manual. That dereliction places the district at risk of lawsuits, the jury warned.

"Most notably missing are policies to cover nondiscrimination, unlawful harassment and conflict of interest," it said. "The absence of these provisions exposes the district to liability."

In addition, a policy and procedures manual the district supplied to the grand jury in March was basically a compilation of resolutions about water operations, fire protection services and human resources that are being rewritten as time permits.

"We were told that this process will take years to complete," the jury report said.

The grand jury's report also said that jurors who attended district meetings continued to observe "unprofessional behavior" during the meetings and that some board members "consistently" demonstrate a lack of knowledge of information contained in agenda packets.

It did not identify those board members.

But the services district was not the only one to feel the heat of the jury's annual report.

Jurors bemoaned a lack of training among some district board members in the state's open meeting and ethics laws.

"Many of the district boards investigated had little or no knowledge of the Brown Act or ethics laws," the grand jury report said. "Some had no training or certification. Many had no idea as to where this training could be obtained."

Among those who had no training in the state's open meetings law were the Millville, McArthur and Tucker Oaks fire protection districts, as well as the Anderson and Halcumb cemetery districts.

Meanwhile, the grand jury also decried the state of volunteer fire districts in Shasta County, saying the volunteer fire force is aging and declining in numbers.

"The volunteer force is at approximately 49 percent of the authorized capacity," the grand jury report said. "As a result, four existing stations are currently in danger of closing if they cannot recruit more personnel."

Those in danger of closing are the Old Station, Big Bend, Lakehead and French Gulch stations, it said.

According to the grand jury report, Shasta County spends a lower percentage of its annual budget on fire protection than neighboring Tehama and Butte counties and county leaders should revisit that funding.

Failure to provide adequate funding could have disastrous and deadly results, the jury warned.

It's estimated that operational costs for a fire station are about $900,000 per year for one station.

Among other measures, jurors recommended that the county initiate a program of full and partial scholarships at Shasta College to train new volunteer firefighters, and that the county and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection develop an "action plan" to prevent or deal with the closure of volunteer stations.

But the grand jury report also took out time to praise a number of agencies and program.

For instance, it praised:

Shasta Area safety Communications Agency: "Shasta County is fortunate to have the expertise, professionalism, dedication and training of the SHASCOM dispatchers to meet the emergency needs of our community."

Airport expansion: "The expansion will add 10,000 square feet, increasing the terminal to 30,000 square feet. The inadequate accommodations in the current terminal do not allow for service by an airline that has larger seating capacity airplanes."

Red light cameras: "The Red Light Enforcement Program is an effective method of enforcing vehicle code violations that may cause an accident. The grand jury recommends the city of Redding continue with the Red Light Camera Enforcement Program."

RPD's Fire Arms Training Simulator: "The ongoing training of law enforcement officers in a "shoot or don't shoot" situation is an effective tool. The Redding Police Department is to be commended for requiring this ongoing training for law enforcement officers."

Redding Recycling: "The transfer station is on course to achieve future state mandated recycling requirements. The grand jury reminds the citizens of Redding that recycling is cost effective and beneficial to the environment."

Juvenile Hall: "Majority of the health and safety issues (identified in first visit) have been addressed and corrected. The juvenile hall staff continue to study and implement evidence based practices."

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