Wednesday, August 15, 2012

(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.

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