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 (www.co.marin.ca.us/grandjury — 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.

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