Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Riverside County responds to grand jury criticism

Written by City News Service -

Riverside County officials have addressed several problems in Department of Mental Health operations that were cited in a recent grand jury investigation, while other issues did not warrant action, according to a report accepted without comment Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

In June, the 19-member grand jury released its findings that staffing shortages, poor supervision and fears of workplace retaliation were damaging the effectiveness of the DMH within the county's five adult detention facilities and five juvenile facilities.

The grand jury said half of the funded clinical positions had not been filled in jails, with a growing “backlog” of patient referrals in all detention facilities.

According to the report, morale was suffering because annual performance evaluations had not been completed on up to 60 percent of workers.

The investigation also found the DMH administration was stretched thin, with three supervisors overseeing more than 100 staffers working in the juvenile detention system.

“The grand jury learned that some detention mental health workers are fearful of communicating with supervisors and managers about urgent work-related issues for fear of retaliation,” the report stated. “Testimony also revealed that a number of juvenile DMH clinicians have had on-site visits by their supervisors as few as three times a year.”

The grand jury issued the following recommendations:

• Ensure facilities are adequately staffed with mental health professionals.

• Implement a suggestion program to encourage freer communication that can improve operations.

• Conduct annual employee performance reviews.

• Consolidate administration to improve services within the juvenile detention system.

• Coordinate with the sheriff's department on improving the patient referral service in jails.

In its response to the report, the Executive Office challenged several of the grand jury's findings. County officials wrote that DMH staffing levels were at 91 percent and per diem clinical therapists were being utilized to fill any gaps, allowing the agency to “provide quality mental health services and to respond to requests for services in a timely fashion.”

The Executive Office said workers were regularly advised of their rights and the county's anti-harassment policy, making fears of retaliation unfounded.

The county acknowledged that annual performance reviews were not always conducted on schedule, blaming changes in supervisory staff and vowing to improve.

According to the Executive Office, the county has rectified administrative shortcomings cited by the grand jury by consolidating the management of mental health services in juvenile facilities.

County officials, however, rejected the grand jury's allegations that mental health referrals were not being addressed, saying all inmate psychiatric cases are tracked and the “wait time for services has been significantly reduced.”

The Executive Office said the grand jury's recommendation to develop a program to improve upstream communication at the DMH will be implemented in the future.

Placer supes rebuff grand jury juvenile-hall grievance-report request

By Gus Thomson, Auburn Journal Staff Writer -

The Placer County Board of Supervisors has rebuffed grand jury efforts to obtain information on serious incidents and grievances at the county’s North Auburn juvenile detention facility.

The grand jury recommended in its July report that the county’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission turn over a summary of incidents and grievances dealing with the facility that it has access to.

That came after initial demands for full-blown reports were turned down at the staff level based on state law regarding the viewing of confidential records.

The grand jury inspected the Richardson Drive facility and found it “clean, organized and well-maintained,” with the exception of graffiti on the floors of cells, which it stated was “quite extensive.”

But an attempt to probe deeper into complaints by juveniles who had been incarcerated at the facility was turned down.

“The grand jury is unable to secure the serious incident and grievance reports since they relate to minors,” the grand jury stated in its findings. “This inhibited our investigation and leaves open the question of grievances minor inmates may have.”

In its response, supervisors stated that they disagree with the request for full reports because access to juvenile records requires a court order or a change in statutes that would authorize release of the reports.

The grand jury’s recommendation to seek to amend the state Welfare and Institution Code section on juvenile records to allow information to be passed to the grand jury “requires further analysis,” the supervisors’ response states.

The response states that it will consult with the county Department of Health and Human Services, the District Attorney’s Office, the Probation Department and the Juvenile Justice Commission to see if it can be included in the county’s legislative lobbying platform for the coming year.

Grand jury foreperson John Wilhelm said Tuesday that the graffiti didn’t appear to be gang-related.

Marshall Hopper, chief probation officer, reported to supervisors that graffiti abatement efforts had been reduced in recent years because of costs. But Hopper added that the floors of the facility have been repainted since the inspection and that daily room-inspection procedures now include staff notation of new graffiti.

Wilhelm said that it appears that grand jury access to information will now come down to having the law changed. That could involve an effort by the California Grand Juries Association, he said.

A local grand jury could subpoena the information through the District Attorney’s Office but Wilhelm said that would be a time-consuming approach for the volunteer grand jury, whose members typically serve a one-year term.

Nevertheless, grand jury access to the complaint records would be an important piece in the puzzle as jurors make their yearly inspection and report on conditions at juvenile detention facilities, Wilhelm said.

“We’re mandated to do an inspection and, in doing so, felt it was an important part of an investigation,” Wilhelm said.

Monday, August 27, 2012

(Orange Co) GG to reply to OC Grand Jury report

by The Garden Grove Journal staff -

Response by the City of Garden Grove to an Orange County Grand Jury report that included some criticism will be on the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting of the City Council.

Earlier this year, the grand jury, an appointed panel of Orange County residents, took on the topic of “The Dissolution of Redevelopment: Where Have We Been? What Lies Ahead?”

The report, which examined redevelopment agencies and projects acoss the county, had some praise and some criticism of Garden Grove’s redevelopment activities.

The city’s efforts to redevelop large portions of Harbor Boulevard into a hotel-entertainment district rebranded as “International West” were lauded as a successful project which cleaned up a “seedy” part of town, created 2,000 new jobs and brought 11 major hotels (and the tax revenue they generate) to the Big Strawberry.

But the report also referred to a proposed condominium development on Grove Street west of the city’s historic Main Street as a “not-so-successful” project and characterized the city’s efforts there as “overreaching.” It called for mediation in the ensuing dispute between the city and developer, and the Garden Grove Downtown Business Association.

The response prepared by City Manager Matt Fertal and Mayor Bill Dalton rebuts those findings, rejecting the Grand Jury’s claim that “the city failed to adequately address citizen concerns” about the issue.

As it turned out, a lawsuit by the GGDBA (although eventually unsuccessful) delayed the project so long that it became economically unfeasible. When redevelopment ended, the state decided that the project was not an “enforceable obligation” and won’t proceed.

The council will meet at 6:30 p.m. in its chambers in the Community Meeting Center, 11300 Stanford Ave.

Friday, August 24, 2012

San Francisco Pension ‘Under No Obligation’ to Follow Court Directives

(August 24, 2012) – A San Francisco jury can tell the city’s employee pension system to change its "volatile and risky investment policies," but according an expert in the state judicial system, the fund does not have to listen.

Or, more specifically, San Francisco Employees' Retirement System (SFERS) board members have to listen and respond to the superior court report, but are under no obligation to follow its advice.

“The grand jury has no authority to enforce its recommendations,” Jerry Lewi, a long-time officer and former president of the California Grand Jurors’ Association, told aiCIO. “Their conclusions are strictly that: recommendations. But the power of persuasion is very significant, and a large portion of jury recommendations are accepted.”

A 19-member civil grand jury investigated SFERS in reaction to weak returns and losses over the last five years, and its concluding report rails against the fund’s investment policies and decision not to undertake a formal "'failure analysis subsequent to the funding loss suffered in 2008-2009." The jury, which Lewi said is “made up of people from all walks of life,” issued a list of six recommendations for the SFERS' investment team, including a lower rate of expected return, greater transparency and openness, more thorough risk analysis and “less volatile and risky investment policies that would attain sufficient returns” for members.

Lewi acknowledged that jurors are “not expected to be experts” in the subject they are investigating. “I would find it hard to think that a grand jury could make specific investment recommendations. If a report said, ‘You should be investing in stocks instead of bonds,’ it would not be appropriate, in my judgment.”

While the jury’s advice is not legally binding, it does engage closely with questions of risk analysis and asset allocation. Lewi said the pension board is legally bound to answer each piece of advice by agreeing, proving its already been integrated, requesting more time to study the recommendation (to a maximum of three months), or refusing and defending why.

SFERS is in the process of reviewing the report and preparing its responses, according to a statement.

In California, a civil grand jury can investigate any municipal or county pension fund as often as it would like. Nevada is the only state with a similar, albeit less powerful, system.

Contact the writer of this story:Leanna Orr
Assistant Editor
Follow on Twitter at @ai_CIO

Thursday, August 23, 2012

(Santa Barbara Co) Council rejects staff Grand Jury response

By Carol Benham/Contributing Writer, -

Lompoc staff members’ advice to reject recent Grand Jury recommendations regarding the collapse of the Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation was soundly rejected Tuesday night by the City Council.

Council members criticized the tone as well as the substance of staff’s rejection of the four recommendations by the Santa Barbara County Civil County Grand Jury to improve regulations for financial audits and oversight of compliance with city contracts.

“I’m a little disappointed. The responses are ‘The recommendations will not be implemented because,’” Councilman Bob Lingl said, announcing his opposition to the response. “I would have liked to have had this report say ‘This is what would be reasonable and this is what we can do.’ Maybe some people can deny there was a lack of oversight, but in my opinion, there was a lack of oversight. None of us want to see anything even close to LHCDC happen again.”

The Grand Jury’s report, “A Failure of Oversight,” documented years of notifications by the county and the city, primarily through its Redevelopment Agency, that LHCDC was not complying with financial audits or affordability standards for its many low-income housing properties.

Grand jurors recommended that the city conduct a financial audit of all organizations that receive more than $50,000 and that funding be withheld to agencies that fail to meet requirements of city contracts, including the submission of financial audits.

The council discussion, lasting almost two hours, displayed members’ frustration with the staff’s

failure to acknowledge that oversight needed to be improved. The prepared staff response did not report that a policy on contract compliance had been requested by the council several months ago and has yet to be developed by staff.

“We’re missing the boat here,” said Councilwoman Cecilia Martner, who requested the new contract compliance policy last October. “The grand jury did provide information that there was a lack of oversight. The city’s answer is ‘Well, not really.’

“I really don’t want to see us respond that way. I really want to see us say that we’re going to take the following steps to make sure that lack of oversight doesn’t repeat itself,” Martner said

Martner and Lingl, both elected in November 2008, served on the previous council that voted in 2010 to deny extensions to LHCDC on delinquent loans and to foreclose on a delinquent $375,000 loan for a vacant lot LHCDC had failed to develop for several years. At the time, LHCDC had failed to file financial audits for more than three years.

Martner also commented on the Grand Jury’s finding that the county, as the lead agency in a consortium to administer federal affordable-housing funds, failed to enforce compliance with LHCDC’s low-income properties, including property standards and maintenance.

“These properties are in Lompoc. They are blighted in our city. They are our residents,” Martner said. “I am done being nice with the county. … We don’t have ownership and we’re relying on the county to maintain and make sure that these properties are being maintained properly. But experience shows the county has not done their job, and our city has not been very forceful with the county asking them to do their job.”

Mayor John Linn attempted repeatedly to steer the discussion away from LHCDC’s noncompliance by questioning staff about differences in regulations established by state and federal funding sources, suggesting it wasn’t clear what requirements LHCDC needed to follow.

However, city attorney Joe Pannone corrected Linn’s interpretation, noting that differing regulations are “irrelevant to the fact that the person that gets the loan is obligated to meet all of the conditions. All of the conditions that are set up may be different, but the one that is the most restrictive is obviously going to meet the other ones, so the most restrictive one is the one that has to be met.”

Council members directed staff to return with a revised response Sept. 4, two days before the statutory deadline for responding to the Grand Jury’s report. The council recommended that the city report to the Grand Jury that it will institute a policy to require agencies that receive more than $50,000 in city funds, or have an annual budget of more than $100,000, to submit an independent financial audit at their own expense.

Lompoc resident Pam Wall reminded the council that some tenants of LHCDC’s properties are being ignored by both city and county officials responsible for oversight. She said she visited tenants at two former LHCDC properties and documented the substandard living conditions of the blighted properties. Some tenants are being forced to move by foreclosures, she said, and can’t get their security deposits returned.

Wall cited documentation in the Grand Jury’s report that LHCDC was told repeatedly over a four-year period that all tenant rents at one property, Casa Con Tres on North L Street, were too high.

“The answer was to raise their rents, not once, but twice. I have canceled copies of their checks,” she said. “They’re entitled to a refund and right now. They’re still paying that same rent. I think it’s criminal that these people are left in a void like this. Does anybody care about the people, the faces behind this problem?” she asked. “Because I do, I care.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

(San Luis Obispo Co) Co. says ‘not now’ to grand jury’s medical pot suggestions

BY: Aaron Crutchfield, Atascadero News -

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will tell the county’s grand jury that its recommendations for the county to make new local regulations regarding medical marijuana dispensaries aren’t warranted or reasonable at this time.

The civil grand jury said in a report in June that the county isn’t properly regulating mobile dispensaries and has basically stopped progress on brick-and-mortar clinics by denying the only three applicants in the past five years, in Nipomo, Templeton and Oceano.

But in the proposed response to the grand jury, which is expected to be approved at the board’s Tuesday, Aug. 21 meeting, the board said now’s not really a good time to make new rules.

“This is an inopportune time to develop local regulations given the fact that the California Supreme Court is expected to issue rulings in the next few years related to how jurisdictions regulate medical marijuana,” supervisors said in the proposed response. “Further, the county board of supervisors is of the opinion that the most appropriate approach to this matter of public policy is a state statute. A single set of statutes and related regulations would provide for consistent and effective protection.”

Also in the response, the supervisors said that, indeed, there hadn’t been any brick-and-mortar dispensaries approved, but that was because they didn’t meet the requirements set forth in the county’s land-use ordinance.

The county also agreed that there is no way to really know how many mobile dispensaries are operating here without a license, but that county staff has seen ads in local newspapers for mobile delivery services that claim to deliver here, so it is assumed that there are collectives in operation here.

But the supervisors intend to wait for the state to make its decisions before making new laws.

“It is expected that the rulings to be issued as a result of this review will clarify much of the legal confusion that has existed around medical marijuana-related laws,” supervisors said in the proposed response.

They also noted that mobile dispensaries can travel from county to county, this making it better for state statues to regulate them for consistent and effective public protection.

Supervisors did agree with the grand jury that the county should require mobile dispensaries to possess a business license and seller’s permit, and supervisors have implemented that recommendation.

The response to the grand jury is on the consent agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. If approved, the response would be sent to the courthouse by Aug. 27.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

(Yuba Co) Police, county respond strongly to Yuba grand jury

By Ben van der Meer, -

Both Yuba County and the Marysville Police Department pushed back strongly in responses filed this month to two county grand-jury reports, in both cases questioning some of the language used or calling the conclusions false.

Police Chief Wally Fullerton, whose department came under criticism in a report on preparedness for disaster situations, stated in the response that grand jury members apparently overlooked a flood mitigation plan the city worked on with other agencies.

"The writer(s) of the Grand Jury report were provided a copy of the flood plan on compact disc; however, they have not included it in their review and do not list this plan in their report of items reviewed," Fullerton's response states. "One can only guess why this report was not reviewed by the writer(s)."

Fullerton's response also details disagreements with portions of the report stating emergency response plans aren't coordinated with other agencies and the department has not taken advantage of opportunities to create one.

"It is the intention of the City to continue with its process of preparing for emergencies and we are making great strides in this area," states the response, which is required by law.

In the county's response to a report suggesting two county ordinances are in conflict with each other, Yuba County Administrator Robert Bendorf said the county takes offense to report language suggesting people may be "lawbreakers" because of the conflicting codes.

As well, Bendorf states, suggesting there is such a conflict doesn't mean anyone was actively violating one ordinance or another.

"A staff review has shown no permits were issued that are specifically exempted by the county's building codes," Bendorf states.

The grand jury report suggested the county was charging fees for some improvements under one ordinance, while another forbade such fees for permits. Bendorf and county Community Services & Development Director Kevin Mallen said in responses that the county's fee schedule is separate from permits being issued.

In another grand jury report response, Marysville City Manager Steve Casey agreed with findings that questioned how the city displays the American flag.

Though the issues cited in the report have been corrected, Casey's response stated, he couldn't guarantee they would not arise again because they had stemmed from a previously unknown electrical failure.

(Santa Barbara Co) Council to address Grand Jury findings

By John Sakata / Staff writer, -

The Lompoc City Council is scheduled tonight to provide a response to the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations concerning the failed Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corp.

In the draft of its response letter, written to Santa Barbara Judge Brian Hill, the city rejects four of the Grand Jury’s recommendations, including one to implement annual audits of all organizations that receive city funds in excess of $50,000.

The draft letter that the council will review tonight states that “several levels of review” are already in place, and that the request is “not warranted, nor is it reasonable,” but it also states that some other policy could be implemented to provide more financial oversight.

According to the letter, the city could establish a policy “based on risk assessments, of selected entities ... that receive funds from the City. ... That review may be financial in nature, but could also be compliance in nature.”

After a discussion on the Grand Jury report, the council is scheduled to decide whether to grant a 60-day extension for the lead developer, Environmental Education Group, to develop a business plan to build a long-discussed recreational and educational space center.

In early July, the council agreed to allocate close to $6,000 to consultant Keyser Marston Associates of San Francisco to outline what would be required from the Environmental Education Group.

The project has received a majority of council support, despite claims from a council minority that EEG does not have the experience or expertise to build a project of the proposed scale.

In a letter to Mayor John Linn, who requested the item be placed on the agenda, EEG founder Alan Tratner stated that there have been delays in receiving paperwork and instructions on how to create the business plan. He states that his staff met with the consultants July 28 concerning what information and what format should be used in the business plan.

Tratner also said that EEG has been working with the consultant group that created the original 59-page business plan for the California Space Authority, which dissolved in June 2011 after it failed to receive $5 million in federal funds for the space center.

While EEG awaited instruction on the business plan, Tratner states, a new committee called the California Space Enterprise Center (CSEC) Citizen Advisory Committee was formed. The committee will “obtain vital inputs from many sectors (for) the master conceptual plan.”

Outreach has been made to the aerospace industry, NASA and other government agencies, the letter states.

A memorandum of understanding has also been signed with Hancock College.

Hancock has agreed to co-sponsor an International Space Investment Summit planned for January 2013 in Lompoc, which would be contingent on EEG obtaining a land grant.

The letter also states that contact has also been made to the Commander’s Executive Director at Vandenberg Air Force Base about involvement and support.

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Orange Co) City Council Not Impressed by Grand Jury

By Martin Henderson, Rancho Santa Margarita Patch -

Mayor Tony Beall seemed to savor the moment, delivered to no more than three members of the public in attendance at last week's City Council meeting for Rancho Santa Margarita.

"With respect to the grand jury, their intentions I think are good—I'll give them an A for their good intentions," Beall, an attorney by trade, said with some mocking authority. "But when it comes to their implementation, I really think they can do better. I give them a D."

The comment was made in response to an Orange County Grand Jury report, delivered by director of administrative services Paul Boyer, in which the grand jury graded the City for compensation cost transparency.

The grand jury gave the city an A grade for accessibility. And, for content and clarity of the disclosure of compensation for staff executives, the City also received an A grade; however, it received a D grade for the compensation and benefits of "lower level" employees.

Yet Boyer revealed that the information on the city's website that was given a D grade was modeled after the page that was given an A, which left him exasperated much like the council members who heard his explanation.

Additionally, he said, the report was released and cities graded but without their being told what criteria was used for grading. "Until we saw the report, we had no idea what we were graded on or that there was additional information we were being graded on," Boyer said.

All three council members in attendance—Beall, Carol Gamble and Jerry Holloway—had sharp comments about the grand jury's effort. Holloway, who announced he will not seek reelection to a council seat, said he one day hoped to be on the grand jury; Gamble said she hoped he would be on it, too.

"I take offense when the grand jury comes out and assigns an arbitrary grade to our city and others based on criteria that’s never been given to our city," Beall said. "That’s poor form."

"I don't want to get a D, which implies we failed a test that we were never provided," Gamble said. "This entire machination is a giant waste of public money. They just need to tell us what it is and get everyone on the same page, and if you then don’t get on the same page you get a D or an F or a G or whatever letter they want to assign to it. … I’m completely lost. We’ll do whatever you want. We wouldn’t mind finding out what it is before you give us a grade."

Council members asked city manager Jennifer Cervantez to fashion a letter to the grand jury that would have them notify cities of the criteria prior and allow some time for compliance before releasing such grades.

The City has until Sept. 12 to respond to the grand jury, but is not legally bound to come into compliance. The City will comply, however.

Holloway asked Boyer if there was any information that would be witheld from a resident who sought compensation information from the city. There isn't, apart from that which is confidential by law, such as an entire copy of an individual's W-2 tax form.

"The city would not dislcose that information and tie it into a name," Boyer said.

"But if someone came in five years ago and asked what Holloway makes, you'd give it to them," Holloway said.

"Absolutely," Boyer answered.

The dean of students at Santa Margarita Catholic High, Holloway said he thought he would get considerable protest if students walked into class and they were given a grade for something they've not yet done.

"Give me an assignment first," he said. "It's like those (cities) that didn't do it correctly didn't do it intentionally. (The Grand Jury) might have been trying to justify their existence. It's a great idea but oddly structured. There isn't any information the public couldn't get from us."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

(Napa Co) American Canyon council considers rejecting grand jury recommendation

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen/Times-Herald staff writer -

The City Council on Tuesday will consider rejecting a Napa County Grand Jury recommendation to form a countywide citizens review board in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting.

Council members are scheduled to consider authorizing Mayor Leon Garcia to submit a response to the 2011-2012 Napa Grand Jury concerning a Nov. 28, 2010 officer-involved shooting in Napa.

A Napa police officer fatally shot an individual in Napa's Alta Heights neighborhood, resulting in some residents having "concerns" about the Napa Police Department's conduct. The Napa County District Attorney's Office found the shooting was justified.

The 2011-2012 Napa County Grand Jury investigated, and issued eight recommendations. One was that within a year all county jurisdictions establish a single civilian review board to examine all investigation documents of this incident and all future officer-involved shootings.

American Canyon City Manager Dana Shigley, after consulting Napa County Sheriff John Robertson, recommends the city join other county jurisdictions in responding that the "creation of such a panel is duplicative and unnecessary."

The council also is scheduled to consider continuing to inform the public of upcoming public meetings despite the state's suspending portions of the Brown Act requiring it.

The Legislature suspended reimbursement for mandated costs associated with the Ralph M. Brown Open Meeting Act as part of 2012-2013 State Budget cuts.

But, "the city of American Canyon believes that the public's right to an open government is paramount," and will likely continue complying with all Brown Act provisions, anyway, according to a staff report. This goes for the Fire District, as well.

At Tuesday's 6:30 p.m. City Council meeting at 4831 Broadway St., Suite 201, council members also will consider:

• A presentation of the Napa County Library 2012-2015 Strategic Plan by library services director Danis Kreimeier.

• Donating an unused Deskjet 800 Plotter to Army Reserve Unit No. 304, of which city employee David Miller is a member. The Unit's Family Readiness Group could use the machine to make homecoming banners and posters for returning soldiers.

• Approving an $85,000 agreement with Questa Engineering Corporation for services for the Kimberly Park Bay Trail Project.

• Entering into a three year funding agreement with Community Action Napa Valley for homelessness prevention services through Hope Center, Napa County's primary outreach tool to the chronically homeless population.

• A General Plan Amendment to incorporate the Napa County Transportation & Planning Agency Countywide Bicycle Master Plan for the city of American Canyon.

• Appointing new Blue Ribbon Committee on Water Resources members.

(LA) Grand jury report shows Pomona's budget reserves well below prudent levels

Monica Rodriquez, Staff Writer, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin -

Pomona hammered out a balanced budget for this fiscal year, but it wasn't able to add to its reserve fund - which it's trying to build to a much more robust level.
The Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury earlier this summer released a report in which it looked at the fiscal health, governance and management practices of 23 of the county's 25 charter cities - including Pomona.

The grand jury said cities, like others across the nation, are struggling in the economic downturn and have dipped into fund balances, the reserves cities keep for a rainy day, the report said.

Pomona has $1.9 million in reserves, barely one-seventh of what city policy says it should have.

The city has a long-term plan that calls for adding to its reserve fund each year but not this one.

"We have a balance budget but we were not able to put anything in reserves this year," said Paula Chamberlain, the city's finance director.

Pomona's policy on fund balances went into effect June 2011 and calls for gradually growing the city's reserves to a level where it consists of 17 percent of the general fund's operating expenditures over eight years.

The 17 percent level is considered the minimum level needed to address situations such as reductions or interruptions of a city's revenue stream, a natural disaster and financial hardships associated with an economic downturn, according to the policy.

However, had the city not suspended the policy this year and added to its reserves the city would have had to make more service cuts than it did have to make, Chamberlain said.

In order to add to the city's reserve fund "we have to wait `til we have more revenue," she said.

Funding came and went

At one point this year, administrators thought they would be able to bolster reserves to $4.4 million.

The fund would have increased with the help of the repayment of a loan the city made to its now-defunct redevelopment agency years ago, Chamberlain said.

Initially city administrators thought the loan would not be repaid as a result of the dismantling of redevelopment agencies earlier this year.

However, additional legislation involving the agencies made it possible for the loan to be repaid, she said. Before that can happen, a series of steps, including an audit of the former redevelopment agency must be completed and a series of approvals at the local and state level granted, Chamberlain said.

When that money will arrive is not known, and the city is not counting on it this year.

The grand jury's analysis used financial data for the 2009-2010 fiscal year and was sparked by members' concerns following reports of alleged corruption in the cities of Bell and Vernon, the report said.

Data for the analysis was collected through a questionnaire and financial documents cities provided.

Chamberlain said the city came out in good shape overall but had no opportunity to speak with someone about steps being taken to build up reserves, Chamberlain said.

"They didn't come out and sit with us or come and see that we're addressing the situation," she said.

Although the city's has been going through some challenges in recent years, bankruptcy is not in the picture, Chamberlain said.

"Bankruptcy has not been the point of conversation in Pomona," she said.

City leaders have taken steps to make sure "the city stays fiscally viable," Chamberlain said. "The council is taking the fiscal challenge seriously."

Once more robust

Councilwoman Cristina Carrizosa said there was a time when the city had a larger fund balance.

For a period in the 1990s, the city had at least $12 million in reserves, she said.

"At the time, I felt satisfied," Carrizosa said.

Looking back, what happened was that reserves were used over the years to balance the city's budget, she said.

As part of her work on the council's budget subcommittee, Carrizosa proposed establishing the policy to rebuild reserves.

"That is a strong concern to me and to other council members," she said.

Councilwoman Paula Lantz has also had concerns about the city's reserves and in the past brought them up to fellow council members "but they basically fell on deaf ears," she said.

Nobody wants to cut programs but if the city's expenditures are not in-line with income, costs have to be reduced, Lantz said.

"I think we are doing everything we can to keep with in our income," she said.

During recent years the city has laid off personnel, outsourced some services and worked with employee labor groups to secure concessions such as furloughs, Chamberlain said.

More recently, funding for the library was drastically reduced.

The departure of more than a dozen library employees due to the cut in funding will probably bring the number of employees who have left the city this year to close to 50, she said.

That's the result of the closure of the city's redevelopment agency, outsourcing of park maintenance services along with the end of a federal grant and a decrease in federal Community Development Block Grant funds. The last two resulted in the elimination of some positions, Lantz said.

Council members recently approved an amendment to the city's fire services contract with the Los Angeles County Fire Department calling for the closure of a fire station and the reconfiguration of personnel and equipment at the remaining seven stations.

Had the amendment not gone forward the city would not have been able to pay for those services down the road, she said.

"If we didn't (go forward with the amendment) we would be broke because we don't have enough money," Lantz said.

At the same time the chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department is taking steps to complete an analysis to determine if it is possible for the city to become part of Los Angeles County's fire district and change the way the city pays for fire services.

The analysis could take five or six months but could help the city significantly, Lantz said.

In order to increase reserves, additional revenue must come in and Lantz' worries about future uncertainties such as decisions made by the state legislature that could result in cities losing additional revenue.

She is also concerned about properties being reassessed at lower levels without every asking for them to be reassessed and that would mean fewer property tax dollars for the city.

Lantz is hopeful real estate sales could be improving.

"I do hear rumblings of people having more success in selling properties," she said.

That's positive not only because it means property transfer tax revenue coming to the city but also because properties have began to sell for higher price values, she said.

November tax measures

Carrizosa said she hopes voters approve two general taxes in November.

The transient occupancy tax and the property transfer tax are two measures that will need a simple majority of voters who vote in the fall to be approved.

The transient occupancy tax is paid by hotel guests and is currently set at a 10 percent rate. If approved it will increase to 12 percent at all 20 of the hotels in the city.

Increasing the transient occupancy tax could generate about $288,000 a year for the city, according to a city staff report.

The property transfer tax rate is currently $1.10 per $500 of property value at the time of sale, according to a city staff report.

If voters approve the rate would increase to $2.20 per $500 of property value. It is a tax generally paid by sellers unless a buyer and seller negotiate who pays it.

The median price of a house in Pomona is $209,000, which means a seller currently pays a city property transfer tax of $460.

With the higher rate, the seller of a $209,000 house would pay $920 in transfer taxes.

The increase could generate about $1 million annually.

Carrizosa, like Lantz, also hope the public will support a library parcel tax that could raise about $1.5 million for library services.

To pass the measure would need a two-thirds majority of those who vote in November and would cost a single family parcel owner $38 a year.

Put together the measures will offer "a little bit of help," Carrizosa said.

In addition to the measures the city continues to attract retail stores - including Target.

"We are still working on Target," she said referring to efforts to bring a commercial center anchored by the store to southern Pomona.

If that project goes through "it will give us a little bit of breathing room," Carrizosa said.

At this point, like everybody else, city leaders are looking for a change in the economy but that could still take time - a year or more, she said.

Once the economy does improve the city will have to move with caution.

"We have to live within our means," Carrizosa said. "When things begin to improve lets not go crazy and begin to hire left and right."

Local government finances

Local government finance expert Michael Coleman said the economic crisis is much more severe and longer than cities thought it would be.

The loss of redevelopment, the downturn the cost of employee pensions, have all affected cities.

"All these things continue the fiscal crisis," he said, adding the "for many cities it's still going to be years before they see a turn around."

Many cities rely on sales tax and even more so on property tax. Some cities are starting to see improvements in those areas but it's going to take longer for cities in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire to feel an improvement, Coleman said.

The two regions have been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn.

All cities have problems, Coleman said, but pursuing bankruptcy is something that cities think long and hard before doing.

"Nobody wants to do it," Coleman said. "In the long run it's expensive. It's a stigma on the communities."

Whether more cities will file for bankruptcy depends on the individual cities' circumstance.

Although bankruptcy is not something most cities want to pursue Moody's Investor Service announced Friday it will begin a wide-ranging review of municipal finances in California.

The credit rating agency said is taking this step prompted by what is sees as growing threat of increased city bankruptcies and bond defaults.

Moody's issued a report that said the growing fiscal distress in many cities in the state is putting bondholders at risk.

Some municipalities were considering bankruptcy as a way to address budget deficits and avoid obligations to bondholders, an approach that affect the investment community.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

(Calaveras Co) Tryon rebukes grand jury

by James DeHaven - -

June’s civil grand jury report ignited scorn this week from veteran Calaveras County Supervisor Tom Tryon, catching fire to smoldering resentment over what the seven-term board member read as a personal attack.

Board release of a long-awaited grand jury response provided the spark Tuesday as Tryon offered a heated, point-by-point appraisal of jury findings he said were “targeted at Tom Tryon.”

The official board response takes a somewhat lighter tone. Board members disagreed outright with four of six juror findings, referring to one as “not warranted,” but still found room to address criticism of supervisors’ ethics and broader Brown Act training.

The longtime District 1 supervisor took considerable umbrage at findings suggesting longstanding board appointments and committee assignments had resulted in “stagnation, cronyism and the appearance of corruption.”

“We don’t put people, or we shouldn’t put people on these committees in the interest of fair and even distribution,” Tryon said. “We put people on these committees where they can have the most benefit. … If the grand jury wants fairness, why don’t we just (appoint) on some random lottery basis? That would be absurd.”

Tryon reserved further contempt for what he saw as political undertones in the June report.

He said questions posed by the grand jury regarding board stagnation and potential conflicts-of-interest relied only on “delusional attacks” directed at him by one-time board candidate, and outspoken Tryon critic, Joe Kelly.

“I’m assuming (jurors) are operating on complaints Joe Kelly filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission,” Tryon said. “These complaints are why Joe Kelly was a candidate for supervisor. Joe Kelly could have just as easily been in the runoff. Joe Kelly is actively supporting candidates in Board of Supervisors races. And yet the grand jury comes out with a report like this, which is almost an ad-hominem attack on myself during a campaign?”

“My response would be that the grand jury needs some ethics training,” he concluded.

Tryon, who earlier referred to Assessor Leslie Davis as “totally uncooperative,” also took on jury accusations surrounding board members’ work conduct and behavior during board meetings.

“I find this equally offensive,” he said, making reference to the tenor of board meetings. “What they’re basically saying here is they want some control on political speech, that we should have political speech codes.”

Stunned by allegations regarding workplace bullying, Tryon gave an unpolished take on jurors’ fifth finding. “There’s not one example (of hostile work conditions); it’s just a bunch of accusations,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t think it’s really warranted. Board members can create a hostile environment, but I can tell you, we’ve worked in some pretty hostile environments created by department heads, and you can’t get away from them.”

Tryon was joined on some of those points by Supervisors Gary Tofanelli and Steve Wilensky, who called out jurors’ inclusion of “vague” claims about the benefits of term limits.

“The idea of term limits being the effective basis of government has been completely disproven by the state Legislature,” Wilensky said. “What we have is a lobbying class that becomes the organizational memory, maybe appoints a staff that goes from office to office over time … but one that has taken decisions, and legislation, right out of the hands of voters. It’s been an unmitigated disaster in the state of California.”

Board Chairman Tofanelli was also aghast at jurors urging term-limits.

A former grand jury foreman himself, Tofanelli explained that he didn’t see term limits as within jurors purview and suggested jurors “did not do due diligence” on parts of the report.

Supervisor Darren Spellman weighed-in with some measured counterpoints, offering that board member committee assignments might benefit from more frequent rotation.

“I think they did a good job of making the point that some of the (appointment process) needs to be changed a little bit,” Spellman said. “I want to say, publicly, that there is one instance that has to be changed, and that is the (Calaveras Council of Governments).”

“The COG calls for two supervisors, two city members and three public members,” he continued. “Since I’ve been watching it, you have two city members and a supervisor, Tom Tryon, from (Angels Camp) and usually one of the at-large members are from Angels. … Four of the seven live in and have their interests in Angels. Whoever is supervisor of Angels Camp should never be allowed on COG. And that has nothing to do with Tom Tryon.”

Friday, August 17, 2012

(San Francisco) Civil grand jury: Risky investments can cause pension peril

by Neal Riley - -

The city needs to rethink the way it invests its $15 billion pension fund or risk costing taxpayers even more, according to a new report from the San Francisco civil grand jury.

According to a statement by the jury, the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System’s use of a high-risk investment policy for the past 28 years “creates the possibility of even greater future losses, losses which the City will have to pay for, but which the City can ill-afford to pay.”

The pension fund, which draws upon employee contributions, city dollars, and returns on investments, dropped from $17.4 billion in 2007 to a low of $11.1 billion in 2009. The city contributed about $433 million from its $6.6 billion budget last year to ensure retirement benefits for its 26,000 workers, and the jury said the city’s tab is expected to increase even further in the future.

“San Francisco can’t really afford to put in so much money to make up for the shortfalls that are happening,” said Mario Choi, the jury foreman.

The report criticized the system for planning to earn 7.5 percent returns on its investments in the next 20 years, despite only averaging 4.2 percent returns over the past five years.

Choi said studies have shown that a more conservative approach to investments can lead to bigger returns over time, and urged the system to study alternative approaches.

“It’s like that saying,” he said. “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it in the future.”

(San Luis Obispo) Local medical marijuana laws can't be changed now, supervisors say

Supervisors, officials reject grand jury’s suggestion to reform local ordinances, saying their hands are tied until state gives direction

By Bob Cuddy - -

Rebuffing grand jury calls for reform of local medical marijuana laws, the county says it is handcuffed until the state sorts out contradictions between state and federal law regarding cannabis.

“This is an inopportune time” to amend the county ordinance, supervisors wrote in a report they will open to public discussion at their meeting Tuesday.

The civil grand jury said in a June report that the county is not properly regulating mobile marijuana distributors and has effectively halted brick-and-mortar clinics by shooting down the only three applicants over the past five years, in Nipomo, Templeton and Oceano.

The report was titled “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Medical Marijuana in San Luis Obispo County.”

The grand jury recommended the county create a committee that includes law enforcement, medical professionals and community representatives to “provide authorized patients with safe access to contaminant-free medical marijuana.”

Grand jurors suggested changes in the approach to both brick-and-mortar and mobile dispensaries, and the county response in both cases was largely the same: This is a state issue.

“In the absence of a statewide effort, the potential exists for different and potentially conflicting regulations in various jurisdictions,” the report from the county administrative office says.

The county report alluded to “legal confusion” surrounding medical marijuana laws and noted that the California Supreme Court is reviewing “at least four cases. These rulings may not be issued for at least another year.”

The same reasoning buttressed the county Health Department’s response to the grand jury, which had recommended that the department set standards for edible medical marijuana.

Should the Board of Supervisors adopt the county administration’s recommendations, the response will go to the presiding judge of the Superior Court.

The grand jury had criticized the county for “subjective and inconsistent” regulation. It said the well-being of patients who receive the medication through mobile dispensaries is at risk because nobody can guarantee the safety of the delivered product.

Grand jury recommendations are not binding.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

(Calaveras Co) Tempers flare over grand jury report

Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat -

A Calaveras County supervisor who felt singled out by a highly critical grand jury report traded barbs Tuesday with the man who filed a complaint accusing him of having conflicts of interest.

Supervisor Tom Tryon, a 27-year member of the board, reiterated his disdain for a report that called for term limits and increased ethics training to combat “failure to recuse, cronyism … and undue influence.”

Tryon is seeking an eighth term in a November runoff against former Angels Camp Mayor Debbie Ponte.

Supervisors approved their official response to the report Tuesday, largely disagreeing with the half-dozen findings.

Tryon insisted the grand jury relied much too heavily on a complaint filed by Joe Kelly, an unabashed critic of Tryon who also made an unsuccessful run for Gary Tofanelli’s supervisorial seat in the June primary.

Tryon noted the same complaint had been found without merit by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

“I don’t think I should have to stand aside (on votes) because Joe Kelly is delusional about Tom Tryon’s conflicts of interest,” Tryon said.

Kelly did not hesitate to respond when the item opened up to public comment.

“Doctor Tryon, I would like to see your medical license to say I’m delusional … you’re a liar, a thief and despicable,” he said. “I do believe that you don’t show the integrity of an elected official that should be standing there.”

Cliff Edson, the candidate who finished ahead of Kelly and faces Tryon in a November runoff, in a markedly calmer tone, came to his former opponent’s defense and said the exchange “shows the dysfunction” of the board.

“I think if someone wants to send off a complaint, that’s their right,” Edson said. “I don’t think anything deserves what we just went through.”

Al Segalla, of Copperopolis, a regular attendee of board meetings, also criticized the apparent lack of civility.

“I don’t usually get somebody to come to my point of view by attacking them,” Segalla noted.

Janet Clark, of Double Springs, a veteran of earlier grand juries, said Tryon made some valid points about being called out without explicitly being named.

“Anybody who watches these meetings … knew exactly what they were talking about,” Clark said. “You don’t have to hint … it left me dissatisfied.”

Supervisors Gary Tofanelli and Steve Wilensky were critical of a political tone to the election-year report each deemed inappropriate.

Wilensky also found the report too vague.

“More specificity would have allowed us to respond more specifically,” he said.

Wilensky is retiring at the end of his second term later this year but said the notion of a benefit to term limits is “completely disproved by state government.”

Tofanelli, a one-time grand jury foreman, said the grand jury “did not do due diligence” in that it did not interview each supervisor as part of its investigation, and added “I would not have signed this report” as a foreman.

He said the grand jury overstepped its bounds.

“Term limits are not something I see as under the purview of a grand jury … I’m aghast at why they even went down that avenue,” Tofanelli said.

First-term Supervisor Darren Spellman offered the board’s only considerable praise for the report.

“I guess I’m a minority in the board opinion in that I thought there were some things that were very succinct and to the point,” Spellman said.

He thought a finding that committee assignments need greater rotation is particularly apt when it comes to the Calaveras Council of Governments.

Spellman said he believes no supervisor who represents Angels Camp, as Tryon does, ought to sit on the transportation panel as it already includes two city council members.

“This has nothing to do with (Tryon) but this has propensity to give (Angels Camp) undue influence on CCOG,” Spellman said.

“I appreciate the service these people (on the grand jury) have rendered on behalf of the citizens of this county … there are certainly some things in here that need to be addressed,” he said.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

(Contra Costa Co) Moraga Challenges Grand Jury Report Town is free of CalPERS debt

By Sophie Braccini - -

The Contra Costa County Grand Jury recently released a report titled, "City Retirement Plans, An Unsustainable Benefit?" with recommendations for local municipalities. This report did not go over well with the Town Council and staff, who were concerned that the Grand Jury made mistakes regarding Moraga's finances and disappointed that it did not take the opportunity to highlight the lean compensation plans that allow Moraga to be CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System) debt-free to date, a rare achievement.

Town staff prepared a response to the report that was presented to the Town Council by Administrative Services Director Stephanie Hom. "Staff believes that the Grand Jury made a couple of inaccurate and misleading statements," said Hom in her usual measured tone.

In September 2011 the Town of Moraga, like other communities in the county, completed a City Pension Survey sent by the Grand Jury.

"The Grand Jury went with a pre-conceived idea," said a very upset Chief of Police Bob Priebe. "They missed a golden opportunity to use the Town of Moraga to show how to do things right, and they need to be corrected."

In its response to the Grand Jury report, staff explains how Moraga compensates its employees, including police, and compares the Town with other local municipalities. Moraga has consistently reduced employee benefits and pensions and used developer fees to pay CalPERS all of its unfunded pension liabilities in 2007.

"Unfunded pension liabilities nationwide amount to $2 trillion," said Vice Mayor Howard Harpham. "I'm so pleased that Moraga has no unfunded pension allocation."

The Town's response is available on its web site-interested readers can find it under the Town News tab at

(Plumas Co) Grand Jury commends city staff, raps council

Debra Moore - Staff Writer, Plumas County News -

The 2012-13 Plumas County Grand Jury report is out, and the city of Portola received mixed reviews.

The Grand Jury applauded the city staff and wrote, “They are to be commended for a job well done even under adverse circumstances,” but the City Council didn’t fare as well.

In its report, the Grand Jury rebuked members of the council for not studying their agenda packets, for not discussing items fully during their meetings, for being ill informed on city finances, for conducting meetings lacking decorum and for being rude to the public.

Grand Jury members attended city meetings and conducted exhaustive interviews, before writing up findings and recommendations. With regard to the City Council’s knowledge of the budget, the Grand Jury wrote:

“Members of the City Council did not know the simplest things about the city’s financial condition. When asked how much money the city had in its bank accounts, none of the five council members knew the answer. One member even stated that ‘it was none of my business to know.’”

Longtime observers of the City Council might guess as to which councilmember would make that comment, but the Grand Jury will not release that information. Civil grand juries are precluded from naming individuals that are interviewed.

When the Grand Jury report was released, other entities studied — such as Plumas County and the local school district — responded to the report and their remarks were published. The city had not responded.

Steve Gross, the city’s attorney, advised the council and city manager that the state requires a response.

During their Aug. 8 meeting, council members recalled that the city manager had written a response in the past.

“A couple of findings and recommendations, the staff can respond to,” Tigan said, but added that council members needed to respond to those findings that pertained to them. Tigan, with the help of staff, could write the response, but she said she needed input from the council.

The council members didn’t say much about the report during last week’s meeting. Phil Oels asked about “Roberts Rules of Order” and Mayor Juliana Mark joked about the definition of a “weak mayor,” which is Portola’s form of government.

The council members are expected to comment on the report at their Sept. 12 meeting and then approve a written response two weeks later.

Gross said that the city has 90 days to respond from the date of the report’s publication.

In an interview last week, City Manager Tigan said she was very pleased with the report, especially as it pertained to city personnel.

The report included the following observation: “All staff members get along well in an atmosphere of harmony and goodwill.”

“I totally agree; we have a great staff,” she said. “Everybody gets along and we all work together well.”

The polite behavior extends to the public.

The Grand Jury wrote: “The city staff employs an open-door policy and a cordial demeanor to all who come to visit City Hall. Even under trying circumstances and when faced with adversarial people, the city staff have always responded in a polite and professional manner.”

In addition to the behavior of council and staff, the Grand Jury looked at the city’s water system, its relationship with Woodbridge and Proposition 218 compliance.

The report contained the following in its executive summary: “The Grand Jury found that the City of Portola was indeed in compliance with Proposition 218, and an increase in water rates was warranted. The Grand Jury found no evidence of malfeasance or misfeasance by the City Council or by city staff.”

The Grand Jury report described the planned Woodbridge development as a “godsend for the local community,” and recommended that the city “cooperate fully with the Woodbridge development project to insure its completion.”

The Grand Jury studied the history of Portola’s water system in depth and recommended that “the city fulfills its contractual obligation in obtaining; operating and maintaining the water treatment plant and insure Lake Davis as a primary source of potable water.”

“They went through the history very well,” Tigan said. “They did a lot of research.” The Grand Jury report included a water timeline from Feb. 14, 1955, through February 2011.

Those who would like to hear the City Council and staff discuss the Grand Jury report should plan to attend the Sept. 12 meeting.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Marin Voice: Grand jury needs public's help

By Rich Treadgold and Michael Chernock - Guest op-ed column - Marin Independent Journal -

MARIN'S CIVIL GRAND JURY will soon begin its search for viable topics for its investigation.

The new grand jury for 2012-13 was seated on the first day of July. Its members have been training for over a month, learning the legal, ethical and investigative skill sets necessary to complete their duties.

If you stay aware of county issues, you no doubt have watched the flurry of grand jury reports that were released in May and June on a wide variety of topics and issues.

There are too many factors involved and it is way too early to determine whether the most recent jury's eight reports were "successful."

One significant factor defining "success," however, is whether or not the investigations registered on the public radar.

From the amount of community focus and comments generated, one would have to conclude that the latest grand jury reports were quite successful in creating community awareness. Only by watching the responses by public officials (posted on the grand jury's website) will you be able to further clarify how well the reports caught the essence of current county issues and to what extent the reports were able to make a definable difference.

But this process has no end. Grand juries are a continuous story. Like the little boy who plugged the hole in the dike with his finger, the mission of grand juries requires that same continued commitment and vigilance.

The departing civil grand jury may have set the bar high, but the new jury is ready to raise it even higher.

All grand juries, past and present, have taken an oath of vigilance. But all jurors know that they can only be successful when grand juries and the community work together.

Even though rated among the county's premier apolitical civil watchdogs, grand juries are nothing without the support and input from the citizens of Marin.

As with all new juries, the newly seated jury is relying on the general public to submit issues of concern that are worthy of a grand jury investigation. With the jury's fiscal year just starting, now is an excellent time to submit those concerns.

You may already know that civil grand juries have permission/authority to look into any organization in Marin that uses county resources or is funded by public monies. Viable subjects for investigation can include but are not limited to education, health, human services, city and county governments, sanitation, public safety, environment, transportation, and finance. It is true that there are a great many other sources for investigative topics, but the grand juries have learned over the years that the most valuable and current sources of critical issues are the citizens of Marin. By submitting a formal complaint, any county resident may request an investigation.

If you believe you have a viable concern, please download and send an authorized grand jury complaint form ( — click on "forms"). Upon receipt of a complaint, this year's foreperson will return a confirming letter to the complainant.

Because state laws governing grand juries require that all investigations be conducted in absolute secrecy, submitting parties will receive no further correspondence regarding actions taken.

Every complaint is reviewed by the entire jury and assigned to an appropriate sub-committee for additional investigation.

Complaints are then evaluated and prioritized.

Complaint investigations may culminate in a report to the public. Occasionally, just launching an investigation causes the alleged improprieties to be remedied.

The civil grand jury is a model for what could be called "Democracy in Action" — concerned, average citizens working together for the common good.

Rich Treadgold is the foreperson of the 2012-13 Marin County Civil Grand Jury. Michael Chernock, is a former foreperson and is president of the Marin Chapter of the Civil Grand Jurors' Association.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Contra Costa Pensions: a blast from the past

by BGR -

See coverage from a decade ago as Contra Costa Supervisors tried to justify the ruinous 3@50 pensions they instituted. (Tuesday, Oct 1, 2002), Pg A3 of the CC Times: . . . . Supervisors have studied the retirement system’s balances in depth, and the grand jury probably won’t add much to the board’s understanding, DeSaulnier said. “I seriously doubt there is any thing new here,” he said. “The grand jury has members who are very conservative and don’t have a full understanding about how county finances work.”

Supervisor John Gioia said a juror had contacted him about holding off on a vote. Though he intends to listen with an open mind to today’s grand jury presentation, Gioia also said he doubts the group’s qualifications to investigate the retirement system thoroughly. “They are essentially appointed through a random lottery drawing,” Gioia said . . .

Ken Hambrick recalls…

I was on the County Grand Jury when 3@50 was granted. We went to the BOS and told them they couldn’t afford it. They thumbed their noses (especially DeSaulnier and Gioia) at us and said we were just old fogies who didn’t understand county finances.

Their rationale was that if they didn’t grant it they would lose lots of people to other jurisdictions. Guess what? In the week after the approval some 50 Sheriff’s deputies retired.

On current claims that ConFire members are underpaid, Hambrick says “hogwash.”

With all the competition for the fire jobs, it is nearly impossible for an individual to get a position. To have FFs go elsewhere there has to be an opening so that automatically limits that option.

Most people are not stupid and they recognize a cushy over compensated job when they see one, hence 3401 applicants for Confire jobs.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A New Face for Hospital District?

A new face for hospital district?
The Mark Twain Health Care District’s strategic plan, released last week, focuses on rebuilding the public trust in the health care system in Calaveras County.

Much of the two-page plan addressed concerns raised by a scathing (Calaveras County) grand jury report, which scrutinized the district in June and concluded, “The public has lost confidence in the health care provided in the county.” Read the plan by clicking the .pdf on the left.
“It’s about having people trust that the district, the corporation and Dignity Health are indeed looking out for their best interest, and they do have a voice and way to express their concerns,” said Daymon Doss, interim chief executive officer for the district.

The district receives about $800,000 in taxpayers’ money annually and is responsible for ensuring quality health-care services to the community, communicating with physicians and maintaining the hospital’s image in the community, according to Lin Reed, district board president. It also communicates with a private corporate board, which sets policy for running the Dignity Health Corp.-operated hospital under a lease agreement with the public hospital district.

Starting in early 2011, dissension between hospital administration, the corporate board and doctors led to a mass exodus of physicians over roughly a 12-month period.

This loss of physicians was of particular concern to the district during its two-day strategic planning summit.
“Clearly one of the big issues coming up in this community is the loss of primary care physicians,” Doss said. “When you don’t have primary care physicians, you have difficulty retaining specialty physicians.”

A primary goal is to work with the corporate board and Dignity Health to recruit and retain primary physicians in order to build a solid base of quality care on which the community can rely, the plan states.

One of Doss’ tasks as interim CEO is to examine the lease, which expires in 2019, between the district and the corporation.

“The lease was done many years ago and there are nuances in that lease that people have forgotten and need to be reviewed,” Doss said. “One thing that needs to be reviewed is to really understand what the lease says, what the terms are and discussion about renewal.”

Doss hopes to remind the public the district owns the grounds and buildings on which the hospital sits, and leases them to the corporation which operates the hospital.

“I think there is a high level of interest in working with the corporation and with Dignity to look at a lease renewal,” Doss said. “I have not heard anyone say otherwise.”

That being said, the district outlined a plan to get the public involved in the process and focus on transparency.

“What we’re looking to do is put together a very public process, so everybody in the community knows exactly what we’re doing in regard to having conversations with the corporation and Dignity Health regarding the lease and renewal process.”

Another high priority goal is continuing the fundraising effort to build the new medical clinic in Angels Camp. In conjunction with that effort, the district plans to look at the region as a whole and identify other needs, such as additional clinics or much-needed upgrades to existing facilities.
“What role should Mark Twain Health Care District have in working with Department of Health Services and the hospital?” Doss asked. “When we are doing our granting of some of the tax dollars, I think the health care district receives about $800,000 in tax dollars, we want to make sure that money goes to the right place.”

Under the category of establishing the public identity of the MTHCD, Doss confirmed the district was responding to several suggestions made by the grand jury report.

“Because of the unique nature between the relationship with the district, corporation and Dignity Health, there has been a loss of clarity in the identity of the MTHCD and why it exists,” Doss said. “It’s been here since 1946. I don’t think there is a clear understanding within the community about why it is still around.”

In order to clear up whatever misconceptions the community may have, the district has committed itself to striving toward transparency.

To this end, it will publish an annual report detailing its activities throughout the year, which will be presented to the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors, the strategic plan states. A website will be up and running by the end of this month that will include general facts, contact information and past meeting minutes, agendas and resolutions. A new office dedicated to the district has already opened, and it will soon have its own telephone line.

Doss said the district hoped to attain a, “much higher level of transparency, as clearly identified by the grand jury.”

“People can call us directly and contact us via the website,” Doss said. “Really, we want to help people understand who we are, what we do and what our role is. Accountability is really the issue here. The grand jury report was very clear about the areas of confusion. Our goal is to address that confusion and bring clarity.”

In addition to making changes per the grand jury’s recommendations, the district plans to continue to discuss the promotion of health fairs, community education presentations, medical clinic development, mobile health services, transportation/vouchers for medical access and safety net programs and services.

“I think the big difference, if you look at this planning project for this year versus the previous two years, this is really about how we change the image of the district,” Doss said. “How do we help the people of Calaveras County understand what the district is and what the relationship is between the district and corporation that governs the hospital, how they work together, and where are they going and what plans they have for the future.”

Two vacancies on the district’s five-member board are up in June’s primary election. George Fry of Copperopolis and Dr. Randy Smart have filed to have their names placed on the ballot. Jerry Lucas of Murphys said Monday that he intends to file as well before Friday’s filing deadline.

(Stanislaus Co) MORAD: No mind-set, just facts used by county grand jury

By Carmen Morad - The Modesto Bee, OPINION/COMMUNITY VOICES -

In his July 5 column about Modesto's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, Jeff Jardine stated that the grand jury was wrong in its criticism of Councilman Dave Lopez.

Jardine said "blame the messenger" is alive and well in Modesto, and alleges a certain mind-set exists among the members of the civil grand jury to "hush up" political information.

A grand jury is a group of volunteers who are first screened by the presiding judge of the Superior Court in the county. The names of those who pass the screening are put into a hat and drawn to determine who will serve on the grand jury, along with several alternates who will serve should anyone in the first group have to drop out.

They are sworn in to serve for one year.

They are not employees of the county. Rather they are unpaid volunteers receiving only reimbursement for their mileage and a very small stipend for each meeting to cover expenses. The grand jury is an arm of the Superior Court and not at all a political body.

The grand jury has two basic functions:

• To investigate complaints of misconduct against public officials and render recommendations pursuant to Penal Code section 922 and Government Code section 3060 et seq., and

• To be the public's watchdog by investigating and reporting on the affairs of local government agencies pursuant to Penal Code sections 919, 925, et. seq.

Jury members immediately receive extensive training in all aspects of investigation, research, witness interviewing and report writing. They are also taught to triangulate all evidence (use more than one method to determine the validity of the evidence).

They break into committees, each to investigate a different type of complaint. They receive complaints from myriad places regarding public entities. They also have the ability to open an inquiry themselves if they become aware of a happening that needs investigating. They also are charged with inspecting public entities such as jails.

Once a complaint is received or an inquiry is opened, it is assigned to the appropriate committee. Not all complaints are pursued. Some lack merit. The complainant is notified of the decision not to pursue.

When the allegations have merit, extensive research commences and witnesses are interviewed. The information is received from research, all aspects of the inquiry are researched and all participants in the alleged complaint are investigated. The investigation and witnesses interviews are confidential and do not leave the grand jury room, ever.

Jury members have access to legal advisers such as county counsel, district attorney, Attorney General and the presiding judge as resources, along with the law.

When all research is completed, all witnesses have been interviewed and all evidence has been triangulated, a report is written. The report sets forth the evidence and makes recommendations based on that evidence to the public agency that is the subject of the report.

It is not unusual to have a number of recommendations in a report, as in the case Jardine references. The report is then presented to the entire grand jury, where all members have the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions.

When the report is approved by a supermajority of the grand jury, it is presented to the presiding judge for approval and/or suggestions.

After the report is approved by the presiding judge, it is either released at that time, or held to be included in the final report of the grand jury at the end of the term. A copy is sent to the public agency for an answer at that time.

Jardine alleged a certain mind-set in his column. A mind-set, other than getting to the truth, does not exist in a grand jury. When an inquiry is opened, the grand jury members just follow the evidence.

Carmen Morad is president of the Stanislaus County Chapter of the California Grand Jurors' Association.

(Stanislaus Co) Ambulance board addresses grand jury recommendations -

West Side Community Healthcare District directors refuted key recommendations in a critical Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury report, questioned others and agreed with some.

“There were some issues I agreed with; some I took offense to,” said board President Rick Daniel.

While not yet signing off fully on the required response to the grand jury, board members at the July 24 meeting expressed no interest in further investigating allegations of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment or creating stipends for directors in hopes that compensation would entice more community members to step forward to serve on the ambulance board.

Both were among the recommendations issued by the grand jury.

Daniel said he shared the findings of the sexual harassment investigation with the grand jury, and did his best to answer questions it posed.

He contends – and nobody on the board dissented – that the district has no need to revisit an investigation which was properly conducted.

“That investigation was done. As far as we’re concerned, it was done correctly. When it’s finished it’s finished,” Daniel stated.

“We are not going to re-open the investigation,” board member George Schmidt affirmed.

Directors also expressed no interest in offering a stipend to serve on the board.

The grand jury report suggested that stipends might encourage more candidates to serve, perhaps avoiding the personal conflicts of interest which currently exist. Two directors have family members employed by the district, which operates West Side Community Ambulance.

It wasn’t the first time the board had heard the suggestion, Daniel noted, as a consultant brought in to do a board workshop also suggested that a stipend be established.

But, director Barbara Hutchins noted, that matter had been discussed and decided against.

“I explained to the grand jury that even when money was good the board did not seek out remuneration,” Daniel said. “We have always done this as a service to the community. However they want to take that and make their recommendations, that’s fine. We don’t seek any kind of stipend or enticement to be here.”

Daniel acknowledged the ongoing issue with finding people to serve on the board, which has led to community members with close ties being the only ones who step forward to do so.

“I’d love to have 10 people applying for vacant seats,” he told Mattos Newspapers.

Daniel said the directors who do have relatives on staff step aside as needed to avoid conflicts.

The board did not totally refute the grand jury report.

Board members pointed out that the district is already in the process of implementing sexual harassment awareness training. The grand jury recommended such a program for all supervisory employees, but the district is implementing that training for all staff members, Daniel said.

He also said the district will develop a detailed job description and identify qualifications for the ambulance director position, as the grand jury recommended.

Another recommendation is that the district rescind a policy requiring all employees to sign a document saying they have not been the victim of sexual harassment or are aware of harassment occurring in the workplace.

That policy was proposed but not yet in place, Daniel pointed out, and is similar to one Merced County uses. He said he would further investigate the ramifications of the policy.

Daniel said that the two members of the grand jury who interviewed him seemed appeased by the information that he shared with them.

He also stated that he was able to refute contentions that former Ambulance Director Chuck Coelho was forced out of the position he had held for many years. The complaint filed with the grand jury cited concern over circumstances surrounding the departure of the ambulance director who, the summary stated, had initiated and conducted the preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.

Daniel said he presented the grand jury with newspaper stories which clearly indicated the director was not forced out the position.

“That helped clear up a lot of it right there,” he told the board.

Daniel said that, based on feedback from the board discussion, a response to the grand jury would be drafted and brought back before the group for review at its Aug. 28 meeting.

(Glenn Co) Orland defends efforts in grand jury response

By Rick Longley/Orland Press-Register -

Orland has an acceptable force of police officers and is supporting the department as funds allow, the city's response to the 2011-12 Final Glenn County Grand Jury report states.

City Manager Paul Carr also noted the city is expanding the library, another area the grand jury commented on in its recent report.

The City Council this week approved the response to the grand jury without much discussion.

"Orland did not have many mentions," Carr said about the grand jury report, and noted many of those were positive.

Most of the jury report focused on funding for the Police Department and the Orland Free Library.

The jury recommended increased funding for the Orland and Willows police departments and Glenn County Sheriff's Department, arguing it would yield safer communities.

Orland officials said that recommendation continues to be implemented within budgetary limits.

The city "enjoys fully funded staffing levels of 11 sworn officers, which is a rate of (almost 1.5 officer per 1,000 residents), well within the commonly accepted standards of community law enforcement protection," the response said.

As of July 1, Orland has two vacancies and is actively working to fill them, city officials said.

Carr and Sgt. Raymond Vlach, filling in for police Chief J.C. Tolle, said hiring new officers is a complicated and drawn out process since they must pass extensive background checks, receive on-the-job training and meet a host of other requirements.

"It is an intensive process," Vlach said, adding the department is not going to lower its standards to bring bodies on to the police force.

Carr also wrote the city is working to improve its Police Department as funding allows, and agrees to comply with the law and policies set forth to provide maximum public safety.

The reponse noted the city puts together an annual report of statistical police activity, including arrests, crime types and related matters, and that report is available on the city's website.

The jury also looked into the Orland and Willows libraries, which are run by Director Jody Meza.

Jurors said Orland's library is too small, and the city agrees.

It was relocated from a much smaller facility — the former Carnegie Library — in 1969, city officials said.

The current building was expanded and remodeled by 220 square feet in 1987.

The response noted that the library is 5,760 square feet, which on par with standards of a city this size, but concedes it is still inadequate for the area's population, according to architectural standards and the American Library Association.

The Willows facility is 8,000 square feet.

Orland and the Orland Friends of the Free Library group recently agreed to a cost-sharing partnership to expand the library by 14 percent, or 800 square feet.

Carr's report said Orland's general fund commitment to the library is similar to what it was 10 years ago and has increased slightly in the last two years - standing at $280,450 despite declining general fund revenues, offset by only $61,680 in library fines and the Willows sharing agreement.

Resources to operate the library have diminished significantly since library funding was dramatically reduced by the state and county during the past decade, the city said.

Orland's 2012-13 budget includes $7,500, up $3,000 from last year, which will primarily pay for contract services such as software and cataloging with $550 for periodicals and $1,000 for books. Where the city used to receive $100,000 a year from the county to operate the library, it now receives $60,299.

Orland's library does not have a book purchasing budget, the jury report stated, and relies heavily on donations from the public and Friends of the Library group for library materials.

But the library staff anticipates the future of libraries will more likely be going digital.

The city also noted Orland has well over 200 visitors per day for a library serving a population of under 13,000, so door counts at the library are exceptionally high.

Future increase in circulation and decrease in door counts can be expected due to technological advancements in both libraries and patrons, city officials said, adding Orland Library is increasing its online access to materials with cooperative sharing between facilities in Glenn County and via digital library services.

Council members praised the Friends of the Library for its support in buying books, computers, magazines and other material for the library each year.

There also is an annual golf tournament Orland puts on to raise funds, Councilman Bruce Roundy added.

Other jury comments on the library suggested sharing Library Director Jody Meza between the two cities seemed to be working well and she had a handle on things.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Grand jury raps SF Muni 'switchbacks'

Rachel Gordon, John Coté -

Muni shows "a callous disregard" for its riders when it uses switchbacks, the transit-industry practice of unloading passengers and turning around trains and buses unexpectedly before they reach their final scheduled destination.

That was the opinion of a new report released Thursday by the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, accompanied by a press release with the title, "DUMPED IN THE RAIN AFTER DARK."

To say that officials with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, bristled at the assessment would be an understatement. They said the all-volunteer investigative citizens panel convened by the Superior Court based its conclusions on flawed assumptions "that don't really square with what we believe the reality to be," in the words of Ed Reiskin, San Francisco's director of transportation.

Sharon Gadberry, who chaired the committee that conducted the investigation, said she stands by the report.

The civil grand jury said that Muni relies far too heavily on switchbacks.

"Being compelled to leave an LRV (light-rail vehicle) or bus you boarded with the reasonable expectation it would take you to your regular destination violates the trust between Muni and its riders," the report stated.

The issue is not new, and had been the subject of City Hall hearings.

Muni uses switchbacks if normal runs are thrown off schedule for such problems as accidents, operator shortages, equipment malfunctions and tracks blocked by trucks or autos, said transit chief John Haley.

"We have been very candid, very open, very clear that we recognize that any time you do a switchback it has an inconvenience to the riders," Haley said. But, he added, Muni has reduced the number of unscheduled switchbacks.

In June 2011, for example, there were 440 recorded switchbacks. A year later, there were 126 for the month. Last month, the number dropped to 82.

The civil grand jury report also faulted Muni for not making better use of technology to both manage its fleet to prevent the need for switchbacks and to alert passengers beforehand. Haley said improvements have been put in place over the past year, with more in the works, that the civil grand jury didn't acknowledge.

While the panel called on Muni to eliminate switchbacks except for unavoidable emergencies, Haley said it's just not going to happen.

"Being in San Francisco and not the Land of Oz, and looking at our system, I think realistically we're going to have service disruptions," he said.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

(Riverside Co) BANNING: Health care district responds to grand jury


In its response to a critical grand jury report, the San Gorgonio Memorial Healthcare District says it has already implemented or is in the process of implementing the grand jury’s recommendations.

The 2011-12 Riverside County civil grand jury investigated the district and, in June, issued its findings and recommendations. In its findings, it took the district to task for its handling of Measure A, a $108 million bond the district passed in March, 2006.

The bond money was supposed to help pay for several construction projects, including a six-story patient tower. A helipad and a central plant that houses boilers and chillers were built, infrastructure was upgraded and a new intensive care unit/emergency department is under construction.

San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital response to grand jury report

(Napa Co) County and grand jury mostly in sync on jail operations

by PETER JENSEN - Napa Valley Register

When the grand jury turns its critical eye on local government, a torrent of barbed comments often flows.

Not so this year when the Napa County grand jury examined the county jail and the challenges of accommodating inmates now being diverted from state prisons.

In June, the grand jury praised the jail and Juvenile Hall for being well-run facilities.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors accepted the grand jury’s favorable report and agreed to follow some key recommendations.

• Report annually on how alternatives to incarceration are being implemented so as to not jeopardize public safety. The county agreed to produce an annual public report.

• Conduct public forums to get feedback about the design and location of a proposed new jail. Supervisors agreed.

The state’s realignment initiative, undertaken in 2011, shifts some inmates from state prisons to county jails to reduce prison overcrowding.

To avoid overcrowding from this influx of state inmates, the Napa County jail has placed more emphasis on alternative programs, including pre-trial release and expanded electronic home detention. Some people arrested for driving offenses will no longer go to jail.

In June, the Napa County grand jury issued a report on the initiative’s likely local impacts and praised the county for being well prepared to handle realignment. Local criminal justice agencies were already collaborating on how to implement jail alternative programs prior to the Realignment Act’s passage in 2011.

Napa County has taken a wait-and-see approach before spending money to create more programs. The county wants to assess realignment’s impacts before allocating funds to address them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

(Plumas Co) Grand Jury blasts county supervisors

Dan McDonald - Staff Writer, Plumas County News

“Oblivious” and “dysfunctional.” Those were two of the words the Plumas County Grand Jury used to criticize the county’s Board of Supervisors in its 2011-12 report.

The report, which is included in its entirety in this issue of Feather Publishing newspapers, blamed the supervisors for having a “lack of vision” in tackling the county’s budget problems.

“No real long-term solutions have been implemented,” the report stated. “The real problem is lack of strong leadership at the highest levels in the county.”

The Plumas County Civil Grand Jury is a committee of 16 citizen volunteers. It is an independent body empowered by law to investigate county government or inquire into county matters of civil concern.

The jurors, selected from a jury duty pool, serve one-year terms from July 1 to June 30. The jurors are sworn to secrecy to protect the confidentiality of people they interview.

In addition to blaming the supervisors for the county’s budget problems, the jury also found problems with the school district and the county jail. The jury even blasted the county’s public works department for letting its workers have free firewood.

The Grand Jury also had recommendations for the city of Portola.

Feather Publishing plans to feature in-depth reports on the Grand Jury’s findings in future editions, including comments from county leaders, if possible, and community feedback.

Following are some of the highlights of the Grand Jury’s report:

County audit

The Grand Jury said the Board of Supervisors was pushing the county to the brink of bankruptcy and accused the board of not supervising the county’s department heads.

“The board as a whole seems to be oblivious to what is really going on in the departments under its supervision,” the jurors said.

The Grand Jury recommended that the county install a “strong” leader in the county administrative officer (CAO) position. They said the county needs a CAO “of strong moral charter who can stay above and not be swayed by politics of public office.”

Plumas County does not have a CAO. Former CAO Jack Ingstad was fired by the supervisors last fall after his management style was harshly criticized by county department heads.

The Grand Jury said the county is “paralyzed” without a strong CAO. The jurors criticized the former CAO for allowing county employees to “go around his office and consult directly with the Board of Supervisors or county legal counsel with impunity.”

The jury said that allowing county employees to circumvent the CAO led to “chaos and stress” in the system.

The Grand Jury said the county must make additional cuts in expenses and services to balance its budget. However, the jury’s only cost-saving recommendations were to further reduce employee benefits and adopt a stricter sick leave policy.

“This (sick leave) benefit should be used for being sick, not as an additional perk to an employee’s retirement plan,” the jurors said.

The Grand Jury said the county is facing a $1.5 million deficit this year.

“The county needs to face the facts and take action now!” the jurors stated in their report. “We cannot kick the can down the road any further.”

According to figures in the Grand Jury’s report, the county has cut expenses by nearly $2.8 million since 2008.

The supervisors have cut more than 100 county jobs — more than a quarter of the county’s workforce — since the recession began five years ago. The board has also cut or eliminated funding for many non-essential services, including eliminating the tourism and marketing budget, which used to be more than $250,000.

The supervisors recently voted to add a pair of revenue-generating tax measures to the November ballot.

Board Chairman Robert Meacher said he wanted to comment about the Grand Jury’s accusations, but said he couldn’t legally do so until the board, as a body, addresses the jury’s recommendations in open session.

“I am sworn to secrecy about my testimony to the Grand Jury. I can’t comment about what they talked to us about,” Meacher said. “The Board of Supervisors is hung out to dry, with no legal way to agree or disagree with anything they say … other than an official response put together by county counsel.

“This is the 20th Grand Jury report I’ve seen as a supervisor,” Meacher said. “And I’ll say I’m stunned by this one. I think I can safely say that.”

County jail

The Grand Jury found a number of inadequacies at the jail.

In addition to calling the jail “an old and literally crumbling county facility,” the jury confirmed the jail was out of compliance with a federal consent decree because it was understaffed.

While the Grand Jury said it is fully aware of the county’s financial trouble, it “strongly recommends and expects” the Board of Supervisors to find the money to fix the jail problems.

“Failure to do so puts Plumas County at extreme financial risk,” the jury said.

The Grand Jury acknowledged that county counsel is “attempting to terminate” the consent decree.

The jury also praised the sheriff and county facilities director for addressing problems with the jail after they were reported.

The Grand Jury said those problems included “grossly inadequate perimeter security, wiring hazards, damaged walls and flooring, unsafe furniture and missing emergency medical equipment.”

The Grand Jury reported that the hazardous wiring and damaged walls and flooring had been repaired.

But the jury said inadequate phone systems at the jail “raises great concern for officer, inmate and public safety.”

The Grand Jury said there was no documentation that deficiencies noted in the 2008 fire marshal’s inspection of the jail have been corrected. They added there was no proof that the jail has had a fire inspection since 2008, even though the state safety code requires an inspection at least every two years.

And the jury said the jail’s policy and operations manual was “grossly inadequate and outdated.”

The jury reported that the sheriff was planning to rewrite and update the manual over a two-year period.

The jurors emphasized they wanted county leaders to pay closer attention to the jail’s needs.

“The Grand Jury strongly recommends that the Board of Supervisors make mandatory a requirement that all members of the Board of Supervisors, the county administrator, the county counsel and all department heads affiliated with the jail operations tour/inspect the county jail at least annually,” the report stated.


The Grand Jury said that “considering the poor economic times” the city was in relatively good financial shape.

But the jury cautioned that “Portola’s future depends purely on its management. Foresight and vision will lead to prosperity. Greed and pettiness will lead to bankruptcy and doom. It is as simple as that.”

The jury “strongly recommended” the city maintain the “weak-mayor” form of government. That means the mayor remain a figurehead, with no formal authority outside the City Council.

The Grand Jury praised the city’s staff, saying it was “performing its duties in a coherent and professional manner” despite a shortage of employees. The jury said the city’s eight workers are forced “to wear many different hats.”

The jury also weighed in on the city’s water situation. Jurors recommended that Portola “fulfill its contractual obligation in obtaining, operating and maintaining the water treatment plant and insure Lake Davis as a primary source of potable water.”

When it came to paying for the water, the jury recommended that the city modify its water rates schedule to offer customers three basic plans. They said the plans should be based on monthly usage of 2,000, 6,000 and 10,000 gallons.

The jury also recommended the city “cooperate fully” with the 398-acre Woodbridge planned community proposed for the south side of town.

“Despite the economic downturn which has delayed the project, Woodbridge Corp. remains committed to the project,” the jury said. “In a time when growth is so badly needed in Portola, Woodbridge is a godsend to the local community.”

School district

The Grand Jury said it was “appalled” by the Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) board’s ignorance of student safety.

It also criticized PUSD for its “lack of cooperation” during the jury’s investigation into the hiring process of superintendents.

The jury said subpoenas were required to get some school board and staff members to appear before the Grand Jury.

The jury’s concern for student safety was centered on the consolidation of Pioneer and Quincy elementary schools. The grand jurors said that no study was done regarding the safety hazards of either campus.

According to the jury, the school district felt that an architectural study satisfied the requirement for a safety study. But the Grand Jury said the architectural study didn’t address the proximity of potentially hazardous materials at the Sierra Pacific Industries lumberyard. The SPI mill is within a quarter-mile of the Pioneer school.

On the subject of hiring a superintendent, the jury said there were no existing hiring policies in place. The Grand Jury said there was no evidence that a pre-employment background investigation was completed for the previous superintendent.

“We found no existing policies for hiring a superintendent,” the jury said. “Without a formal hiring policy, the PUSD (and the Plumas County Office of Education) will continue to make decisions based on inaccurate and incomplete information.”

The Grand Jury recommended that the district formulate a policy meeting all the legal requirements for hiring a superintendent “within 90 days of the issuance of this report, and before the hiring of a new superintendent.”

Free firewood

The Grand Jury called for an end to a 30-plus-year-old practice of public works employees getting free firewood.

The jurors said the perk amounted to embezzlement of county property, and referred the matter to the district attorney.

Hazard trees are often cut down by public works and brought to one of the department’s five yards around the county.

According to the Grand Jury report, employees of the public works department were allowed to cut the wood — on the their own time and with their own equipment — for personal use.

However, the free wood was only for public works employees, according to the jurors. When another county employee wanted to take advantage of the free wood “he was told that it was only available to public works maintenance employees and not for anyone else.”

After the employee complained and the Grand Jury found out about it, jurors said the free-wood perk was exposing the county to repeated liability.

“Described by some in the department as simply a ‘perk,’ allowing public works employees to take county property is embezzlement, as described under California Penal Code 504,” the report stated.

In a letter to the Grand Jury, which is included in its report, the district attorney said he “didn’t believe criminal charges were warranted against any individuals.”

However, the practice has reportedly stopped.