Thursday, September 27, 2012

San Joaquin County grand jury praises Woodbridge Sanitary District for improvements

Jury: The sanitary district has made major progress in addressing several complaints
Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012 12:00 am
By Ross Farrow/News-Sentinel Staff Writer

The San Joaquin County grand jury has commended Woodbridge Sanitary District officials for the significant progress they've made in correcting issues brought to the grand jury more than a year ago.

"The 2011-12 grand jury is satisfied with the action the district has made in adopting the recommendations made by the 2010-11 grand jury," according to a recent report from jurors. "The grand jury commends the accelerated progress the district has taken."

The 2010-11 grand jury investigated the sanitary district due to complaints that included payroll fraud and fiscal mismanagement, falsifying State Water Resources Control Board records, harassment of employees, nepotism and favoritism, lack of training for employees and procedures, and lack of board policies and procedures to the detriment of the district.

The following year's grand jury followed up to see if the sanitary district followed through on the complaints. The jury determined that the district is making significant progress.

"It was very good because the initial investigation was initiated by an unhappy person," said attorney Mia Brown, who represents the district. "The grand jury didn't find a smoking gun. It certainly was not what the initial complaint made it out to be."

Among the 2011-12 grand jury's findings:

*Inventory is now being taken by a designated board member twice per year.
*Incidents of missing tools have dropped to a minimum. District employees and board members had been accused of taking district-owned tools home for their personal use.
*Records of reported sewage spills are satisfactory. The Woodbridge board adopted a system to report any spills to the State Water Resources Control Board. Any spills will be reported by General Manager Luis Ching at the next monthly district board meeting, and an annual review will be made by a designated board member.
*Pay scales are now in place. The grand jury accused the district of previously hiring employees' relatives at a higher salary than other employees.
*The district training manual has been completed, including weekly meetings conducted by the general manager.
*An official complaint form is available at the agency office, though most complaints are received via email.
*Needed capital improvements have been identified with the help of the district engineer. Improvements will be presented to the board of directors for review as part of the annual district budget.

Items identified by the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration will be addressed first. Brown said the items addressed included "small-ticket items" such as upgrading hand railings around sewer tanks to ensure greater employee safety, and a new blower installed in one of the lift stations.

The Woodbridge Sanitary District is charged with maintaining the sewage and wastewater system located on Benedict Drive in Woodbridge. The district has annual revenues of approximately $376,000 and a staff of five to 10 part-time employees.

The district was formed on May 11, 1949. It covers 531 acres, including 292 acres for housing, 43 acres of public land, 7 acres of commercial property and 189 acres of permanent open space (golf course, cemetery).

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodi

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

(Plumas County) School board respectfully disagrees with grand jury report

Laura Beaton
Staff Writer

The 2012 grand jury findings regarding student safety blasted Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) and Plumas County Office of Education (PCOE) boards of education for their failure to conduct and consider safety-related issues.

In a collective response to the report, the board (five residents from the county’s five districts are elected and serve four-year terms on both boards) “respectfully disagreed” with the two primary areas of concern of the Plumas County grand jury report: student safety and hiring practices in regards to the superintendent position.

“A safe, nurturing environment is necessary for learning,” Board Policy (BP) 100(a) clearly states, according to the response.

It further states: “The board routinely takes actions to safeguard our students and has implemented a wide spectrum of policies governing student safety, and the safety of our students was a primary concern in the recent decisions on school closure and consolidation.”

The governing board’s response said the grand jury findings were inaccurate and based on Education Code applicable to the acquisition or purchase of schools or school sites.

The board had been charged with consideration of the closure and consolidation of the Pioneer and Quincy elementary school campuses.

The school board’s response continued: “The board considered all aspects of student safety including traffic, noise, hazardous materials and commercial operations in proximity to both Pioneer and Quincy elementary schools.”

In addition to these safety considerations, the boards said the quality reports issued by the 7-11 committees (which the grand jury praised) were of immeasurable help in making a decision.

Those reports singled out Quincy El as being the site more conducive to student safety.

The board defended its decision to not conduct further safety studies (another finding of the grand jury), which would have incurred considerable expense that, it said, the district can ill afford.

Finally, in regard to student safety, the board refuted the grand jury’s conclusion, “that student safety went unaddressed in the PUSD response to the 2010-2011 report, and that the board response was not timely submitted.”

The school board said school safety was addressed in reports submitted Aug. 25 and Sept. 14, 2011, well within the specified time frame.

The grand jury’s other major concern was regarding hiring practices.

The board begins its response to these findings: “Although it is not entirely clear from the language used in the 2012 grand jury report, the grand jury appears to be raising concerns about the hiring of the former superintendent (Glenn Harris).”

The school board’s response noted that only one current member was involved in that hiring process.

The board disagreed with finding F6: “to the extent that it implies that no pre-employment background check was performed.”

“The board’s understanding is that the hiring firm, CBSA, did conduct all necessary checks, and the fact that the grand jury found no evidence of that doesn’t mean the background checks weren’t conducted.”

Confidentiality guidelines prohibit such information from being disclosed to the public the governing board’s response said.

Those same confidentiality guidelines prohibited the school board from responding to finding F7, regarding evidence of background checks the response said.

The board respectfully disagreed with findings F8 and F9, which found the board had “no policy in place requiring the vetting of information and holding of permanent records by the PUSD/PCOE” and “no existing policies for hiring a superintendent.”

PUSD/PCOE’s response cites BP 2120, which specifically addresses the selection of a new superintendent and mandates verification of qualifications through reference checks.

It also cites BP 4112.5 and 4312.5, which govern criminal background checks and BP 3580 and 4112.6, which govern retention of the documents referenced in those findings.

In response to the grand jury’s commentary regarding lack of cooperation from district personnel and board members and the necessity of sending out formal subpoenas to compel those individuals to appear before the jury, the school board said it is unfair and unprofessional to imply any wrongdoing.

The response says the necessity for formal subpoenas was for said individuals to be excused from work without penalty or loss of pay and that is the proper procedure and should not be regarded as a lack of cooperation.

Regarding additional matters, the board “was surprised to read the amount of specific detail revealed in the grand jury report regarding comments given by specific people called to testify before the grand jury.”

“Penal Code §929 specifically prohibits the grand jury’s release of information that may lead to the identity of any person providing information to the grand jury.”

The governing board “respectfully asks the grand jury to exercise caution and prudence in any future investigations with respect to the release of information that may lead to identification of individuals who appeared before the grand jury.”

The response concludes with thanks to the grand jury and an assurance that “PUSD and PCOE will strive to use this critique as a tool for continuing to improve services we provide and to further enhance a safe and healthy atmosphere for our students and staff.”

To read the full response in, go to and look under public information updates.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cutting through (Sonoma) county fog

Last Modified: Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 8:54 a.m.

Did Sonoma County supervisors break the law in the way they boosted retirement benefits for themselves and other employees 10 years ago?

The county grand jury posed that question earlier this year, and the county issued its formal response last week. As I read through it, I was reminded of former President Bill Clinton's famous parsing of words: "It depends on what your definition of 'is' is."

If you've forgotten, this was Clinton's rationalization to the grand jury about why he wasn't lying when he said "there's nothing going on between us" in reference to one Monica Lewinsky.

His definition of "is," as he explained, was that there was not something going on at that moment. The implication is — or was — that if the question had used a "was" instead of an "is" he might have answered more truthfully. But then everyone knows — certainly anyone who has had a child who has sought to debate the meaning of "clean" as in "your room" — that the discussion would then proceed to a parsing of the word "was," rather than "is."

The fact is that when one is determined to obfuscate, there's no limit to what that individual will do to fog up the windows.

In that regard, the county did a thorough fog job with its report explaining how county officials "substantially complied" with the law back in 2002 when they ratcheted up retirement benefits.

It's largely because of those increases that the county now finds itself in such hot water financially and faces having to devote a much larger piece of its revenue pie to paying for retirement benefits, making the portion of the pie devoted to fixing potholes and meeting other needs that much smaller.

"A public notice is required to be published two weeks prior to a Board of Supervisors meeting at which a pension increase is to be discussed," the civil grand jury noted. "This notice could not be found in The Press Democrat archives."

That's because it doesn't exist.

But it's worse than that. The California Employees Retirement Law of 1937 clearly states that before benefits can be increased, the Board of Supervisors "shall secure the services" of an actuary, that the actuary "shall provide a statement of the actuarial impact upon future annual costs" and that "the future annual costs as determined by the actuary shall be made public at a public meeting."

None of that happened — not in any way that meets the letter or the spirit of the law. The county sort of acknowledges as much in its response to the grand jury. But it's hard to find it in the lengthy — nearly 40 pages in all — analysis and word-parsing.

County staff first writhes over the word "secure," arguing that the law is "silent" on what it means to " 'secure' the services of an actuary." (That's because the county didn't do it. It relied on a series of less-than-thorough letters from an actuary to the Sonoma County Employees' Retirement Association, which is a separate entity.)

The staff dodges and fades over whether the law is ultimately "mandatory" or just "directory," meaning that the outcome is still irrevocable even though the county mishandled it. (The county ultimately argues that it did nothing wrong but adopted a number of changes to procedures to make sure it doesn't do it again.)

But the worst waffling was saved for what the law means by the county "shall make that information public at a public meeting."

That seems pretty clear to me. But not to the county counsel's office or its consultants. Ultimately they decided that because the issue of enhanced benefits was discussed — in apparently broad terms — during supervisor discussions about collective bargaining agreements, pension obligation bonds and other subjects, and given that the actuarial letters were discussed in apparent detail at two separate SCERA governing board meetings (which were held in a public works conference room with relatively few, if any, members of the public in attendance) that this means the county "substantially" complied with the law.

Really? To me that sounds as if the county substantially blew it.

The general weaseliness of the county's response can be summed up on page seven of the letter from an outside law firm — Steptoe & Johnson LLP of Los Angeles — essentially confirming all of the county's arguments. "The public must be informed of the cost of pension increases on a timely basis," the report acknowledges. "In this case, the public could have obtained this information if it chose to ask."

There you have it. It's the public's fault! It didn't ask.

The fact is the public is still knocking and asking questions — through public comments before the Board of Supervisors, through grand jury inquiries and through questions posed by this newspaper. And it's still getting foggy answers.

One person who is leading the asking is Ken Churchill, a Santa Rosa winemaker who became fed up with all of the shenanigans about pensions and is now a director of a growing citizens group called New Sonoma that's pressing for answers and changes. It was Churchill who first raised questions to the grand jury about how these pensions were approved. In the end, he found the county's answers wholly unsatisfying.

"I think the supervisors just want this to go away," he said.

He hoped the supervisors would seek an analysis from an independent, third-party group or some well-respected individual — someone who does not have a pension coming from the county. But that didn't happen. But here's the more significant question he wants the grand jury and the county to explore. Ten years ago, the presumption — as stated in numerous public documents — was that the cost of the enhanced benefits would be borne entirely by the employees themselves. What happened?

He estimates the enhanced benefits have cost the county an extra $323 million just in the past eight years. Of that, the employees have paid about $80 million. Given that, "how can you continue to have the county pay for it?" Churchill asks. "It's a misuse of funds."

We'll delve into that issue more in a future column. The only thing I can promise at this point is more fog.

(Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

(Napa Co) County rejects grand jury recommendation on police panel

Napa Valley Register -

Napa County’s response to a grand jury report on the 2010 police-shooting death of Alta Heights resident Richard Poccia will reject the notion that a civilian review board is needed to review such incidents.

The grand jury had recommended such a board be created, although the county said it’s unneeded — the civilian grand jury can investigate such incidents.

The county Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to transmit that response and others to the grand jury. It didn’t make any changes to version staff and other county officials drew up.

Help the 2012-2013 Mariposa County Grand Jury

George Catlin, Foreperson, 2012/13 Civil Grand Jury -

As you may or may not know, the Civil Grand Jury exists essentially to help the county and other designated local agencies in effectively providing all the tax funded services they seek to deliver. The basic idea is that every year eleven citizens will review local agencies and look into any complaints that are filed always with the single goal in mind of helping things run more effectively. It is as if the court appoints a group of fair-minded consultants each year whose job it is to help local agencies solve problems and run better.

This year’s panel is particularly interested in assisting offices and agencies that want their help. Our assumption is that every agency is running well and, equally true, every agency might benefit from fresh eyes and ears reviewing their operations. Judging from past jury’s performance, it seems clear that when open-minded, clear-thinking people look into an office or agency, they can usually spot, or simply hear from those working there, good next steps that should be considered. Past juries have often recommended simple internal changes to help operations run more smoothly. Occasionally they have also recommended more county support for much needed, underfunded services. So if you are involved in a county-funded agency that might benefit from such a review, we’d like to hear from your agency and see if we can help.

A second role of the Grand Jury is to investigate any formal complaints that are filed regarding practices that may be misguided, illegal or simply not in the best interest of the county. While we don’t want to encourage an avalanche of whining about things people simply don’t like, we do want it to be known that if you see things happening within our jurisdiction that simply are not right, we are here to hear and, if appropriate, pursue your concern. Complete confidentiality is essential to the workings of the Grand Jury so, when necessary, every effort is made to protect the identity of the person filing the complaint. Again, our goal is not to find fault or penalize anyone, but simply to see if we can assist in promoting better services throughout the county.

To contact the Civil Grand Jury please send us a note at P.O. Box 789, Mariposa, CA 95338 or email us at

Report: Sonoma County appears to have not fully met law in hiking pensions

Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 3:14 p.m.

Sonoma County officials appear to have not fully met a public notice requirement when they approved enhanced pensions for county employees a decade ago, an inquiry by county attorneys has found.

The finding, contained in a report going before the county Board of Supervisors today, sides with an allegation advanced in July by the county grand jury.

But the apparent procedural flaw isn't enough to invalidate the pensions received by 1,000 county retirees and the benefits promised to thousands of current workers, the attorneys said.

Those benefits are vested rights with strong legal protections, regardless of any procedural errors in their adoption, they said.

The conclusion takes on the key question of the grand jury, which asked in its report whether the 2002 pension increases were legal. The question arose from a complaint filed by a pension system critic who has alleged that the past Board of Supervisors did not follow various legal requirements when it authorized the more generous benefits.

The critic, Santa Rosa winemaker Ken Churchill, contends the alleged missteps could be grounds for rolling back the higher pension formulas.

He called the report from the County Counsel's Office "incomplete" and suggested other attorneys could find justification to reverse the pension decisions on procedural grounds.

"We asked for an independent investigation," Churchill said. "That wasn't done."

The investigation by the County Counsel's Office included a supporting document from Steptoe and Johnson, a Washington legal firm with expertise in public pension issues.

The review by county and private attorneys found most of the grand jury's claims were in error, based on laws added in recent years and not in place at the time the pensions were changed.

But the report did find some merit to one claim.

According to the report, no records exist to show that the Board of Supervisors gave the public a chance to review and comment on the financial effect of the enhanced benefits at a meeting at least two weeks before their adoption, as required by law.

The attorneys said while the county may have fallen short of "full compliance," it still achieved "substantial compliance" because of other related public meetings held during the period.

Those included six Board of Supervisors meetings from mid-2002 to mid-2003 that dealt with labor contracts and preliminary votes on enhanced pensions and four other meetings before county supervisors and the county retirement board dealing with related pension matters.

Churchill has suggested the procedural flaws were deliberate. Under little public scrutiny at the time, county officials and consultants vastly underestimated the cost of the enhanced benefits for taxpayers, he said. Since 2000, those costs are up 400 percent, records show.

"Why was the public kept in the dark? I think they did not want to set off any alarms," Churchill said.

County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said he found no evidence in interviews or records that county staff, elected officials or others involved tried to hide financial information connected to the pension changes.

"Was it as transparent as it should have been? No," said Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the current Board of Supervisors.

The board, now with only one member, Valerie Brown, who was serving in 2002 when the first pension votes occurred, is set to recommend tighter public notice checks as part of its grand jury response.

Zane and other county leaders, nevertheless, were unified in defending the legality of the enhanced pensions. Trying to roll them back would be a costly lost cause, officials said, so the county will continue to pursue changes through legislation and collective bargaining.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.

Monday, September 17, 2012

San Bernardino County Grand Jury workspace to get overhaul

Joe Nelson, Staff Writer, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin -

The days of the San Bernardino County Grand Jury working in cramped quarters soon may come to an end.

In response to the 2011-2012 Grand Jury report released on June 30, the county said it will assess space needs and security at the Grand Jury suite at San Bernardino Superior Court in the next 12 months, then work with the Grand Jury to meet necessary security, operational and space needs.

The Grand Jury found its workspace is insufficient to accommodate its 19 members, assistant and legal advisor and should therefore be expanded. Furthermore, the Grand Jury determined the tight space cannot properly accommodate emergency personnel in the event of a crisis, and that the hallway was too narrow for a gurney to be maneuvered.

In addition, the door to the Grand Jury suite remains locked during business hours, forcing the Grand Jury assistant to have to walk to the door and open it every time someone rings the buzzer, even though children and disgruntled people often wind up at the door pressing the buzzer button.

A security camera outside the door, the Grand Jury determined, would allow the assistant to monitor who is outside without having to get up to answer the door if it is unnecessary.

Lastly, the Grand Jury recommended its work quarters be relocated to a county-owned facility and a court room be designated for Grand Jury hearings.

The cost of the county assessment and any resulting improvements has yet to be determined.

Edward "Ted" Burgnon, foreman of the 2011-2012 Grand Jury, declined to comment Thursday because he said he had not yet seen the county's response.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

(Imperial Co)

By ALEJANDRO DAVILA, Staff Writer, Imperial Valley Press -

A commitment to comply with the Brown Act was expressed in the Seeley County Water District’s response to a recent county civil grand jury report that alleged noncompliance with the aforementioned act as well as the California Public Records Act.

The written response was filed Monday and comes some three months after the civil grand jury’s report was presented to the water district.

Before noting financial records are kept “in good order,” the civil grand jury report alleged the district ignored or rejected legitimate public documentation requests made by the grand jury and that “some of the directors and staff exhibit an indignant attitude toward members of the public who seek to review and scrutinize” the water district.”

In its response, the water district said “there may have been a miscommunication” in what was an oral request for three documents.

But an updated written request and telephone discussion regarding the date upon which records would be available did result in the documentation being available, according to the water district’s response.

As far as Brown Act violations, the response addresses all of the examples provided, including the one alleging that the district’s meeting deliberations keep members of the public from understanding the deliberations.

“Motions are made with cryptic references to the board of directors’ fact sheet, which are not provided by the public,” the grand jury report reads.

The water district responded by acknowledging that material distributed to the board as part of the agenda is public documentation.

Furthermore, the “SCWD intends to make written backup to the agenda available,” the response reads, before answering to the allegation that the district violates the Brown Act by conducting closed sessions for matters that should be deliberated in an open session.

Again, the water district responds by saying it is “committed” to comply with the Brown Act and that only those matters provided by law will be discussed in closed session.

But water district ratepayer and activist Juan Zarate said he’s still hoping the district becomes more transparent.

Zarate adds that even after the response the district hasn’t been forthcoming.

“It’s like they are spoon-feeding information,” said Zarate, who notes that he and Seeley Community Church pastor Patrick Harris are now trying to get documentation from the state that pertains to pension fund, salaries and expenditures.

Seeley County Water District Board members couldn’t be reached for comment.

Friday, September 14, 2012

(Orange Co) Grand jury report yields A and D ratings for city

Officials act quickly to address the low rating, making improvements to the quality of public information about employee compensation costs.

By Barbara Diamond, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot -

Steps taken by Laguna Beach officials to improve the quality of public information on employee compensation have been approved by the Orange County Grand Jury.

The grand jury issues reports and recommendations on civil matters throughout the year to Orange County's public agencies. In a report issued June 14, the jury gave Laguna Beach an A the accessibility of employee compensation costs, but gave it a D for what was described as poorly defined information about the city's share of the cost of employee pension benefits, employee contribution rates, overtime costs and total employee compensation on the city website.

City officials notified the Presiding Judge of the Orange County Superior Court, as required by law, of actions taken to improve the content and clarity of the payroll and pension information available to the public on city's website, including putting all the information on a single table report format, as recommended.

"The grand jury has acknowledged that we have complied with three of the four recommendations and we will be complying with the fourth in the future," said City Manager John Pietig.

Overtime and on-call pay will be added to the city's compensation cost report to coincide with the release of compensation information to the state controller, scheduled for Sept. 30.

City staff also responded to a June 15 report and recommendations related to emergency services provided by the Fire Department.

The report stated that fire departments have become primarily responsible for responding to

medical emergencies since the onset of 911 calls, which are funneled into one place. The jury recommended hiring consultants to help evaluate how the city responds, with a deadline of July 31, 2013.

City staff partially disagreed with the finding and will not implement the recommendation.

"We do not feel that this would be a wise expenditure of resources at this time," Pietig said.

The Fire Department has been responding to medical calls long before 2001, according to the city's response. Service levels are evaluated periodically by city staff that may or may not be assisted by consultants.

City staff also declined to implement a recommendation to create a unified Emergency Response Department, separating fire and medical response and privatizing the medical response.

The city responded that staff had previously explored contracting out fire and emergency services and found it provided no substantial savings, based on the city's use of three-member paramedic teams, which require fewer personnel than other agencies' four-member paramedic units, and maximizes the city's emergency service delivery system dollars.

"We feel we have one of the more efficient models in the county, but if somebody comes up with a better one, we would consider it," Pietig said.

(Santa Clara Co) Cupertino responds to grand jury report on pensions

By Matt Wilson, -

Cupertino city officials are chiming in with other local cities on a Santa Clara County civil grand jury report regarding the continually contentious issue of public-sector pensions and other employee benefits.

The report was released in June, and all Santa Clara County cities are required to agree or disagree with each finding and recommendation in the report. The city council gave interim city manager Amy Chan the go-ahead to sign off on a point-by-point response Sept. 4.

The grand jury's findings and recommendations focus on long-term health of pension plans and other post-employment benefit obligations given out by local governments. Report recommendations include extending the employee retirement age, adopting two-tier retirement plans, increasing employer contributions and adequately funding post-employment obligations.

The usually budget-conscious city of Cupertino agreed with most of the jury's findings. The grand jury report argued that public sector employees are eligible for retirement at least 10 years earlier than is common for private sector employees and that cities should adopt pension plans to extend current retirement plan ages.

The city not only concurred, but stated that it is in negotiations to provide a "2 percent at age 60" plan for all new employees with an effective date of Jan. 1, according to the response.

Grand jurors suggested that all cities' new tier plans should "close the unfunded liability

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

(Marin Co) County rejects grand jury proposal for independent Marin Civic Center watchdog

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

Could an independent analytic eye freed from the politics of the moment have prevented the county of Marin's $30 million computer debacle, bobbling of the Grady Ranch film studio project or its mounting unfunded pension liability?

The county's civil grand jury thought so and proposed an independent watchdog office to oversee the work of Marin supervisors, but the plan landed with a thud in the Civic Center trash can Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors, embracing Civic Center's work as a model for good governance, cited the county's fiscal health, lauded top staff performance and pledged allegiance to a "transparent" government already advised by numerous committees and commissions, including the civil grand jury. Supervisor Judy Arnold was absent.

The county board, endorsing a report by the county administration that called an independent watchdog a needless "layer of government," did ask top aides to redouble efforts to seek advice from experts in the community about government affairs.

"We're very good at hiring consultants to help us," Supervisor Kate Sears observed. "There may also be an opportunity to reach out in our community" for help on key issues.

Supervisor Susan Adams, noting that "ultimately the voters are our oversight committee," said that staff might be able to use existing advisory panels "more effectively" and added the county does "everything we can at this point to make sure we are inclusive."

Supervisor Katie Rice said staffers take fiscal responsibility "very, very seriously," and board president Steve Kinsey added that "our bond rating, our reserves, are in a place where we can feel confident." Kinsey, noting that even top corporations have "difficulty" on occasion, said "checks and balances are built in" at the Civic Center already.

"We agree with the grand jury's goals," said County Administrator Matthew Hymel. "But we don't agree with their specific solution, which would be to add another layer of government."

Although taxpayer groups were absent, and no one from the grand jury spoke, several residents rose to support the jury proposal.

"We could benefit from an oversight committee of some kind," said Jody Morales of Lucas Valley, head of the Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans. She called for "a grand jury-type group" of volunteers "serving overlapping terms so there is continuity."

Hymel's report pointed out that the jury itself provides independent oversight, and noted that Marin's comparable counties do not have such independent watchdog agencies.

Last fiscal year's jury, in a stinging report, declared that more independent analysis of Civic Center on behalf of the public is critical. The citizens' panel said its probe indicates the county "lacks careful analysis of alternatives that might make it possible for the county to really do more, with less" and that "currently, it appears that the county is on track to do less, with less."

The jury said an independent watchdog could help avert problems such as a county computer system that has caused continuing problems and spawned litigation; its "enriched" but underfunded pension program; or the abrupt collapse of George Lucas' Grady Ranch film studio development.

The jury urged officials to establish an "office of independent legislative and budget analysis" to lend a helping hand in overseeing good government at Civic Center — and added that if county supervisors refused to do so, citizens should give "serious consideration" to placing the matter on the ballot.

The jury proposal follows the concentration of power in the hands of supervisors who have spearheaded elimination of several elected posts at the Civic Center to cut costs.

"How could our government procedures so provoke a socially-conscious and environmentally friendly local citizen that he felt that, after more than a decade of effort, he had no alternative but to abandon a project that would have brought hundreds of jobs and millions in tax revenue to the county?" the jury asked, referring to filmmaker Lucas.

Independent budget watchdog agencies have worked well at the federal, state and local levels, the panel noted, including San Diego and San Francisco, as well as Santa Clara County, where a private firm monitors and audits county affairs — and was credited with saving several million dollars a year.

(Stanislaus Co) Grand jury advice taken on housing program, Modesto council says

By Ken Carlson, Modesto Bee -

City Council members unanimously approved a response to the grand jury's report on a $33 million housing program funded by the federal government.

The response says the city has implemented most of the grand jury's advice for improving oversight of the program and on how more than $10 million in remaining funds is spent.

"A lot of changes have occurred to tighten down the process," City Manager Greg Nyhoff said. Council members OK'd the six-page response without comment.

Modesto officials asked the civil grand jury to investigate the Neighborhood Stabilization Program last year, after Bee stories exposed numerous problems with the program, including how the nonprofit Stanislaus Community Assistance Project spent more than $8 million in funds.

In its report in June, the grand jury criticized the city's program oversight and said it should have kept closer tabs on the housing units developed by SCAP.

A foreclosed home remodeled with stylish improvements was occupied by the parents of SCAP's former executive director, and seven homes were rented to SCAP employees or family members, despite a contract with the city to provide housing for special-needs tenants.

The grand jury found that SCAP showed egregious favoritism in handling tenant eligibility, but the June report also criticized the councilman who blew the whistle about SCAP. It said Dave Lopez should have taken his concerns to Modesto's former mayor and council members before talking with The Bee.

The response to the grand jury says the city understands the jury's position. Lopez didn't take issue with that part of the response. "My job is to protect the interests of the citizens of Modesto and sometimes that means you take one on the chin," he said after Tuesday's meeting.

A few speakers hectored Councilman Joe Muratore about potential conflicts of interest. Last year, the city required Muratore and a business partner to return a $62,500 real estate commission on the sale of an apartment complex funded by an NSP loan.

Modesto resident Emerson Drake noted that Muratore voted with a council decision last month to have a consultant study the fiscal impact of Modesto possibly annexing Salida. A commercial real estate firm co-owned by Muratore is listing a property for sale near Salida.

City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said she had advised the councilman he could vote because of the general scope of the study. Muratore, who attended Tuesday's meeting through a remote feed, disclosed that he is listing property near Hammett Road and Highway 99. "I am sensitive to that and I will continue to be," he said.

In another action, the council authorized Nyhoff to enter into negotiations on the potential sale of the water system in Waterford to the city in eastern Stanislaus County. The council placed a $10,000 limit on the cost of appraising the value of the water system. Modesto will pay half of the appraisal cost if the system is sold.

Waterford officials recently approached their Modesto counterparts about buying the six wells and water lines. Modesto has owned and operated most of the water system in Waterford since buying Del Este Water Co. in 1995.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

(Stanislaus Co) Reply to grand jury on Modesto council's agenda

By Ken Carlson, Modesto Bee -

Modesto council members could approve a response today to the civil grand jury report on the city's management of more than $33 million in federal stimulus funds.

In a report issued to the city in June, the Stanislaus County grand jury concluded that the city's oversight of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program was lacking. The report said the city failed to monitor whether there were qualified buyers or tenants for housing, allowed excessive spending on renovations in blighted areas and failed to monitor the nonprofit Stanislaus Community Assistance Project, which showed "egregious" favoritism in placing family members and staff in homes improved with taxpayer funds.

The federal program provided funds for buying and renovating foreclosed homes and converting them for resale or rental housing.

The grand jury also criticized a councilman for not briefing top officials before taking his concerns about SCAP to The Bee. And it suggested that another councilman, who was singled out for a conflict of interest, was deceitful in not fully disclosing his business relationships.

In its proposed response, the city partly agrees with four of the critical findings. But it disagrees that the former mayor, council members and the city manager showed insufficient interest in how the program was managed.

Limits placed on purchases

In regard to spending six-figure sums on ramshackle units, the city's response says the purpose of the program was not only to stabilize neighborhoods hard hit by the housing market crash, but "also to eliminate the slum and blight that inevitably resulted from this crisis."

Still, the city needs to ensure it gets the best "bang for its buck" and has placed a $165,000 limit on the cost of property purchases and renovations for single homes, the response says.

The city defends the actions taken after becoming aware of SCAP's tenant eligibility issues. It froze funding to the agency while investigating the matter last year and later required ineligible tenants to vacate the housing and forced SCAP to hire a property manager for tenant screening, the response says.

It says the city understands the grand jury's opinion on Councilman Dave Lopez, who brought his concerns to The Bee, and adds that a federal audit report dealt with Councilman Joe Muratore's conflict of interest.

Muratore and a business partner were required last year to return a $62,500 commission on the sale of an apartment complex funded with a program loan. Federal auditors recommended barring him from participation in federal housing programs.

The findings and recommendations of civil grand jury probes are not legally binding. The watchdog panel often requires agencies to respond, however.

The city says it has implemented four of the grand jury's recommendations regarding the NSP: New projects are required to receive City Council approval; it more closely oversees screening of prospective tenants and buyers; funds have been allocated for demolition of severely blighted properties; and a law firm has been hired to make program documents more enforceable.

The city will use its Web site to report which council members have received ethics training recommended by the state.

The City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. today in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Monday, September 10, 2012


The Tustin City Council finally met to discuss a recently Grand Jury report that faulted Tustin councilman Jerry Amante and Laguna Hills councilman Allan Songstad for using their positions of authority to unduly influence officials at Brandman University to be critical of the work of Professor Fred Smoller (more on this in a second). With the approval of the Tustin city attorny, Amante was allowed to vote on his own punishment and — surprise — there is no punishment at all.

After a detailed investigated, the Orange County Grand Jury found that Amante and Songstad used their government positions to unfairly influence the academic freedom of Chapman University. Tustin and Laguna Hills are supposed to respond to the Grand Jury’s findings to explain how they both plan to act on the report. Tustin has effectively told the Grand Jury to stick it.

A quick back up: students of Smoller’s did research for a study of city manager compensation at the request of Barbara Kogerman. Amante and Songstad were found by the Grand Jury of using their government positions to apply pressure on a private academic institution applied pressure on Smoller to the point where the professor resigned as a program director. At the council meeting, Amante was highly critical of the Grand Jury report and made the incredible claim that he’s never even read the Brandman Report. Citing “free speech,” Amante and Songstad met with Chapman University (and Brandman University) head Jim Doti, obstensibly to discuss policy issues and introduce a mutual friend. But they just happened to have a copy of the report with them.

From the OC Register’s story on this: Fred Smoller, director of Brandman’s graduate program in public administration, had sent two students to work with Barbara Kogerman, then a council candidate in Laguna Hills, as she compiled and published a breakdown of city manager compensation. The two interns, and the school’s name, were listed on the cover of the report. Kogerman later changed the cover page, Register reports state.

Amante, Songstad and League of California Cities director Lacy Kelly visited Jim Doti, president of Chapman University, with a copy of Kogerman’s report to talk about the listed authors, Register reports state.

Smoller resigned in October. In his resignation letter, he stated, “…disgruntled elected leaders had convinced (university) administrators that I could no longer be an effective public face for the program.”

Several Tustin council members said Tuesday that the grand jury report doesn’t include enough evidence or testimony to reach the conclusions that the grand jury listed.

Gavello suggested the council vote to agree with the grand jury findings, censure Amante at a future hearing and remove him from all paid committees. She questioned why a copy of Kogerman’s city manager compensation report was taken to the university during the meeting.

“You went to discuss this item or you would not bring the report with you,” Gavello said.

Amante defended the meeting, saying that the grand jury findings were incorrect.

“I was one of the four people who was in the room and has had their meeting not only misinterpreted, but skewed for political reasons,” Amante said. “This is full of innuendo and inference and appearance rather than any evidence or fact.”

Amante said he was at the school to introduce his friends.

“It had nothing to do with the city of Tustin and nothing to do with our residents,” he said.

Amante later said he has not read Kogerman’s report.

City Council member Deborah Gavello moved to have Amante censured and stripped of his committee appointments. A susbtitute motion to send a letter to basically tell the Grand Jury all Amante did was express his free speech rigths was voted on and passed 3-2 with Amante, joining Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez in the “elected officials who vote on their own “non-punishment” club. Our Town Tustin blogger Jeff Gallagher has a very detailed post on this here.

The action by Amante and the Tustin Council’s Republican majority enraged political activist and good government advocate Shirley Grindle, who called on both men to resign when the initial Grand Jury report was released. The LiberalOC spoke with Grindle about the case and the vote Thursday afternoon.

“For Jerry Amante to vote on this issue, that is all about him, is the height of arrogance,” said Grindle, a political watchdog and activist for good government, based in Orange. ”Which is it Jerry? Did you go to Chapman to complain about Smoller’s work or did you go to Chapman with the report to exercise your free speech? And if so, why bring a copy of the report. If he (Amante) claims he hadn’t read the report, why take it to Chapman in the first place. These guys got caught and they’re covering their you-know-whats, and they got their stories mixed up. The Grand Jury did a great job and the truth came out in their report.:

When told Amante was termed out and would be leaving Tustin soon, Grindle’s reaction was priceless. ”Good riddance to Jerry Amante,” she said. ”And people like him should not be in office. People like him who don’t use better judgment have no place in positions of power in Orange County or in any level of government anywhere. I know that the Grand Jury did a thorough job of interviewing everyone about this issue and they issued an excellent detailed report.”

Grindle feels a number of people owe Professor Smoller an apology.

“Fred Smoller was unfairly targeted over this issue when all he did was allow several of his students to gather data for a third party,” said Grindle. ”This issue alone is not the reason Amante and Songstad went after him. Smoller’s views abvout reducing the size of government and making it more efficient stepped on their (Amante’s and Songstad’s) toes and they don’t like something that has logical reason stepping on their views of power. Smoller advocated that all these special districts in the county should be reduced or dissolved. It will never happen because officials in power in these districts don’t want to give up that power.”

Grindle says a lot of people owe Smoller an apology. ”Doti should have shown Amante and Songstad the door. Doti ought to call Smoller and apologize personally.”

Sunday, September 9, 2012

(Imperial Co) Seeley Water District to file grand jury response

By ALEJANDRO DAVILA, Staff Writer, Imperial Valley Press -

Noncompliance of public records requests, as well as various Brown Act violations within the Seeley County Water District, are some of the allegations presented in a recent Imperial County Civil Grand Jury report.

The water district is expected to officially respond to the report during its board meeting Monday.

This report, presented to the water district in mid-June, is the result of an investigation that was ongoing since at least October 2011.

A civil grand jury routinely investigates agencies like prisons, jails and special districts, as well as other city and county departments, said County Counsel Mike Rood. Rood said these organizations also receive citizens’ complaints they may decide to investigate. “The civil grand jury is considered a watchdog in the state of California,” said Rood, who noted findings are taken seriously.

The water district “continually fails to comply with minimum California safe drinking water standards for the amount of carcinogens and chlorine when tested,” reads the report before listing examples of noncompliance of the California Public Records Act and the Brown Act, which regulate public scrutiny.

“Some of the directors and staff exhibit an indignant attitude toward members of the public who seek to review and scrutinize” the water district, reads the report. In its earlier pages, the report describes a public request placed by the civil grand jury that was never fulfilled.

“The civil grand jury waited approximately 35 days for the requested documents. These documents were never received by the CGJ,” the report reads, and later describes potential Brown Act violations.

The water district “did not appear to comply with requirements of the California Brown Act by conducting closed sessions for matters that should be deliberated in an open session of a public meeting,” the report explains. It also notes that choosing a private contractor “does not appear to be a valid use of a closed session under the Brown Act.”

The report notes that all budgets, income and expenditures are not published or made available during public meetings and that these documents “can only be accessed, according to the board president, with a request at the SCWD office.”

Moreover, the minutes of the water district were found “deficient in vital information that would allow a person to understand what was being discussed and voted up,” according to the report.

But allegations about alteration of the minutes aren’t new for the water district. Just late last month some residents came before the board and stated minutes had been tampered with. As a result, water rates were increased unlawfully, the residents said.

Neither the water district’s attorney nor Donald Turner, president of the board, could be reached for comments. Board member Bill Brown said, “I plan to clarify the minutes in question.”

However, he pointed out that he can only make a motion to amend the minutes.

Brown also explained that no water rate increase resulted from the changed minutes, because “the motion was to ensure that we were charging everyone in the public fairly (and) in accordance with the rate structure that is already approved.”

This rate structure, which Brown said is established policy, will be discussed on Monday.

When asked about the report’s findings prior to the posting of the agenda on Friday, Brown said he had only reviewed a portion of the report and would read more over the weekend, once he has the informational packet.

He pointed out that there were positives and negatives in the report, adding, “We are pursuing (actions) to resolve some of the issues.”

Financial records of the water district were kept in good order, according to the report, and supporting documents are available for access.

Out of five findings, the latter was the only one that didn’t describe a California Public Records Act or a Brown Act non-compliance issue.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

(San Bernardino Co) Victorville officially responds to grand jury

City recognizes some concerns, denies others

by Brooke Edwards Staggs, City Editor, Victorville Daily Press -

While Victorville acknowledges many of the concerns raised in the San Bernardino County Grand Jury’s June 29 report, the city argues in its official response that many of those concerns have been addressed — and that fact should’ve been recognized by the citizen group.

“Although the city does not agree with some aspects of the final report and believes it unfairly ignores a significant amount of work that has been completed in the last three years, the city greatly appreciates the 2011-12 grand jury’s commitment to producing a report so that the city can address any outstanding issues properly and continue to move forward in a positive way,” staff states in a 94-page response included in Tuesday night’s City Council agenda.

One major point of contention is Victorville’s disagreement with the grand jury that it may be in violation of state law due to its extensive interfund loans. Though no payments have been made on those loans in several years, staff argues there’s no intention for them to become permanent transfers as the law prohibits.

The city also doesn’t believe it violated agreements with the Local Agency Formation Commission when it absorbed its sanitary district a few years ago — along with $15 million in reserve funds saved from residents’ property taxes.

Victorville said it was the legal successor agency to that district, and that LAFCO hasn’t raised an inquiry into the transfer. While the grand jury recommended Victorville immediately come up with a plan to return that $15 million from the general fund to a sanitation district fund, the city response states that’s not going to happen because it’s “not warranted and not reasonable.”

“Furthermore,” the response states, “the city is confident that the customers of the former sanitary district, all Victorville residents, would prefer that their paid property taxes be used to fund vital public safety priorities, such as police and fire, rather than have the money sit in an account...”

Victorville acknowledges that $13 million went unaccounted for in relation to development of four hangars at SCLA, and that the project was undertaken without proper controls in place. The city places the blame on the independent contractor it hired, stating, “because of a lack of documentation by the contractor, there is no way to calculate how much of the unaccounted funds were or were not actually expended on the project.”

Staff defends the use of SCLA bond funds to help build the La Mesa/Nisqualli interchange and buy land for a library that never got built. While the grand jury states those expenditures could be violation of an agreement with neighboring cities and the county, Victorville argues those projects could have been covered by funds from the city’s portion of a regional redevelopment agency.

Staff agreed with concerns cited over Victorville’s financial condition, though the city points out that reserves were knowingly depleted rather than making cuts to public safety staff. Also, the city’s response points out that operational deficits for Southern California Logistics Airport, the golf course fund and the utility fund have all been greatly reduced over the last three years, with SCLA and the utility even turning a profit before debt payments are factored in.

As for the grand jury’s assessment that the tens of millions of dollars Victorville has lost on failed energy ventures is largely the response of poor planning and oversight, Inland Energy, the city’s partner in many of those ventures, included a response attributing the failure to the “collapse of the economy.”

In a letter to the grand jury before the report was published June 29, City Manager Doug Robertson points out a number of the disagreements mentioned above. He also took issue with the fact that the report placed blame on “city management” without clarifying that most of the decisions questioned in the report took place under former city manager Jon Roberts.

“I have spent the last three years of my life attempting to prevent the financial disaster which this report rightfully warns is at risk and cleaning up problems I inherited as a result of actions and decisions of Jon Roberts,” Robertson states in his letter.

Victorville does plan to take the grand jury’s advice to revisit its interfund loan policy and draft policies to control costs for capital projects at future meetings, the response states. Staff also agreed to revisit loan documents and budget statements to incorporate some of the grand jury’s suggestions.

Many of the other recommendations have already been implemented, staff argues, including a plan to repay loans from the city’s water district if a lawsuit settlement comes through.

The city’s response will be discussed during the meeting that starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in City Hall at 14343 Civic Drive. A full copy of the response, along with live streaming video of that meeting, is available at

For details on other items of interest on the agenda, see Tuesday’s Daily Press.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

(Santa Barbara Co) Response to Grand Jury approved

By Carol Benham/Contributing Writer, -

Lompoc City Council members approved a response to the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury report, “A Failure of Oversight: Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation,” on Tuesday evening that omits any acknowledgment that a lack of oversight existed over the failed nonprofit and its defaulted loans and blighted properties.

Though the 14-page response was eventually approved, with revisions, by a vote of 5-0, the 90-minute discussion demonstrated that council members are not unanimous in their desire to determine accountability for failed oversight or how to improve oversight of agencies in the future.

Council members rejected the first prepared response at a meeting Aug. 21, criticizing the tone of the response for implying there was no failure of oversight.

But Councilwoman Cecilia Martner objected Tuesday night to the two sentences added by staff to improve the tone of the response. Referring to the “very unfortunate situation regarding LHCDC,” the response read: “The City Council regrets inactions by Lompoc City Councils that have diminished the public trust.”

“ I find that sentence misleading,’ Martner said. “Why do we say it is only the City Council that is causing public mistrust. We have a problem here. The problem is that the staff, some members of the staff, did not do that part of their job which was to report noncompliance issues. The Grand Jury report has over 60 citations. I did not receive them from the city staff, I received them from the Grand Jury.”

Martner also pointedly reminded the council that the Grand Jury report documented the county’s failure to oversee compliance with contracts and loan regulations.

Yes, the Lompoc City Council is at fault — previous, present, and even future, maybe. I don’t want to absolve staff or the county,” Martner said.

Along with Martner, Councilman Dirk Starbuck repeatedly tried to simplify and strengthen the city’s response.

“I think it would behoove us to look through each of these points. I want to make sure we’re on the right path because this response is going to go to the Grand Jury in two days,” Starbuck said. “I feel we should invest the time right now and look at these responses because this is what our policy is probably going to be based on.”

Starbuck originally asked the council to delete or condense new language explaining a policy for financial audits and suggested instead that the council inform grand jurors that a policy had been requested by council months earlier and would be forwarded to the Grand Jury once it was approved.

His suggestion received no support, but midway through the discussion, Councilwoman Ashley Costa suggested language be included to explain that the response was a prospective policy, not an actual policy, and that an approved policy would be forthcoming. For the remainder of the discussion, council members repeatedly alternated between referring to the contents of the response as a policy and as mere recommendations for a future policy.

“This is not the proper way to draft a policy,” Martner said. “We’re convoluting the process.”

Though council members eventually agreed they were not writing a policy from the dais, they continued to add details to what should be in a policy, including ways nonprofit agencies could pass on administrative costs for conducting annual financial audits.

Starbuck, observing the ongoing confusion, said, “There’s 12 Grand Jurors and there’s five of us. If we’re confused, think how confused they’re going to be.”

The approved response never mentions that council members voted Oct. 4, 2011, to request a policy be developed by staff to improve compliance with city contracts and loan requirements, and establish specific steps the city will take to enforce compliance. The policy has not yet been developed or presented to council.

Martner also objected to staff’s inclusion, as part of a proposed policy, that City Council members will decide what action to take when agencies fail to respond to two written notices about audits being due, which would occur 10 months after the end of the audit period.

“That is not a policy,” Martner said. “One of the reasons why I requested a policy was to remove the politics out of the process. It’s been rumored thousands of times that LHCDC had the support of the elected officials and the elected officials looked the other way and kept giving them more allowances and more time. I wanted a policy that would prevent that from happening. I would prefer to have an impartial policy that establishes what the consequences are and that they’re acted upon regardless of who is sitting up here.”

Starbuck expressed frustration with the piecemeal approach to determining policies and notices to council. “This does not alleviate the central report that we need to be available. We have audits, and RDA, and CDBG. Sometimes the right hand doesn’t talk to the left hand. We have to compile all of these loans and all of these covenants into one place.”

Resident Pam Wall, who questioned the Council two weeks ago on the Grand Jury’s documentation of multiple years of LHCDC overcharging tenants, again asked if either the city or the county was currently monitoring compliance of properties under bank receivership.

Mayor Linn, who had promised to return with answers to Wall’s questions two weeks ago, said the city receives monthly reports, but he could not share them. Linn indicated he was still trying to find an answer to Wall’s questions on overcharging, adding “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Neither am I,” Wall quipped.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

(Orange Co) Tustin stands by Councilman Amante in grand jury dispute


The City Council will send a letter to the Orange County grand jury disagreeing with its conclusion that Councilman Jerry Amante attempted to influence academic freedom at a university.

The grand jury report stated that Amante and Laguna Hills Councilman Allan Songstad attempted to influence officials in 2010 at Chapman's Brandman University in Irvine, where a program director has said he was pressured to step down.

The report recommended that Amante and Songstad complete ethical training and "refrain from attempting to exercise influence over public and private educational institutions."

The Tustin council, including Amante, voted 3-2 Tuesday night to disagree with the report, saying the city will not implement any of the recommendations. Councilwomen Beckie Gomez and Deborah Gavello dissented. Gavello asked that Amante recuse himself but city attorney David Kendig said that the only rule precluding Amante from voting on the matter had been changed in the past few months.

Mayor John Nielsen said he saw it as an issue of freedom of speech.

"To be frank, whether or not we like what was said, free speech is protected," Nielsen said. "In my view this is kind of political correctness run amok."
Gomez said she agreed with Nielsen's free speech comment, but was concerned that the grand jury had heard "differing versions" of what happened at the 2010 meeting.

"I cannot support that letter the way that it is written," Gomez said.

Fred Smoller, director of Brandman's graduate program in public administration, had sent two students to work with Barbara Kogerman, then a council candidate in Laguna Hills, as she compiled and published a breakdown of city manager compensation. The two interns, and the school's name, were listed on the cover of the report. Kogerman later changed the cover page, Register reports state.

Amante, Songstad and League of California Cities director Lacy Kelly visited Jim Doti, president of Chapman University, with a copy of Kogerman's report to talk about the listed authors, Register reports state.

Smoller resigned in October. In his resignation letter, he stated, "...disgruntled elected leaders had convinced (university) administrators that I could no longer be an effective public face for the program."

Several Tustin council members said Tuesday that the grand jury report doesn't include enough evidence or testimony to reach the conclusions that the grand jury listed.

Gavello suggested the council vote to agree with the grand jury findings, censure Amante at a future hearing and remove him from all paid committees. She questioned why a copy of Kogerman's city manager compensation report was taken to the university during the meeting.

"You went to discuss this item or you would not bring the report with you," Gavello said.

Amante defended the meeting, saying that the grand jury findings were incorrect.

"I was one of the four people who was in the room and has had their meeting not only misinterpreted, but skewed for political reasons," Amante said. "This is full of innuendo and inference and appearance rather than any evidence or fact."

Amante said he was at the school to introduce his friends.

"It had nothing to do with the city of Tustin and nothing to do with our residents," he said.

Amante later said he has not read the grand jury report

"I don't think any of us likes the thought of dirty politics going on and I would certainly hope that wouldn't happen here," Gomez said.

In July, the Laguna Hills City Council voted to have Mayor Melody Carruth and Mayor Pro Tem Joel Lautenschleger work with the city attorney to formulate a response to the grand jury report. The council is tentatively scheduled to take up the issue again at its Sept. 25 meeting, City Clerk Peggy Johns said.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

(Santa Barbara Co) Council to revisit its proposed response to Grand Jury report

By Carol Benham/Contributing Writer, -

The City Council will try again Tuesday to approve a response to the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations stemming from the failure of Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation.

A second LHCDC item —the long-awaited comprehensive report prepared by a consultant on all funds given to LHCDC —has been postponed until Sept. 18.

On Aug. 21, councilmembers rejected a proposed response to the Grand Jury, criticizing both the tone of the staff’s language and the rejection of all recommendations made by the Grand Jury in its report, “A Failure of Oversight: Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation,” released in June.

The response to the Grand Jury’s report is due Thursday.

The revised response includes a policy suggested by council members during their previous discussion that nonprofits that receive more than $50,000 a year in city funds must submit an independent financial audit at their own expense. The policy would also apply to nonprofits that receive less than $50,000 a year from city funds, but have an annual budget in excess of $100,000.

Last October, Councilwoman Cecilia Martner asked staff to prepare a policy establishing procedures to monitor city contracts, loan requirements and compliance with federal and state regulations governing the use of public funds. Martner also asked that the policy include clear steps the city would take to enforce compliance. The policy was originally due in December 2011, but has yet to be presented to council.

In the new response to the Grand Jury, staff included requirements that that the council wanted incorporated into the policy. The response lists possible repercussions for agencies that fail to comply with audit requirements, including the repayment of grants or loans previously awarded by the city, and the forfeiture of grant or loan amounts already approved but not disbursed.

The Grand Jury report documented years of notifications from the county and the city, primarily by the city’s Redevelopment Agency, that LHCDC was not complying with financial audits, loan terms and affordability standards for its low-income housing properties.

The revised response to Grand Jurors acknowledges that oversight of LHCDC was inadequate, and places the blame on past City Councils.

“The City Council regrets inactions by Lompoc City Councils that have diminished the public trust. In light of that and as a result of the recent very unfortunate situation regarding LHCDC, the Council is taking steps to improve its procedures to protect those expenditures and ensure that accountability,” the draft response states.

The comprehensive report on the history of all loans granted to LHCDC scheduled that will presented Sept. 18 has now been delayed three times. The previous delay was at the request of the city, because Councilwoman Ashley Costa would not be in attendance when it was scheduled to be presented Aug. 21.

The consultant hired to produce the comprehensive report, Urban Futures, Inc., requested a delay in May, explaining more time was needed due to the complexity and number of LHCDC’s loan arrangements with the city and refinancing of properties that required the subordination of the city’s existing loans to new lenders.

If the comprehensive report is presented on Sept. 18, it will be two weeks shy of one year since the report was initially requested by Costa, on Oct. 4, 2011.

The initial report prepared by city staff was presented in December, but failed to include significant information the council had requested, including information on LHCDC’s loan defaults and its compliance record with housing covenants and reporting requirements.

The initial report also omitted outstanding loans on two foreclosed vacant lots the nonprofit had failed to develop, and did not disclose that the city was ordered to repay the U.S. Treasury $140,000 for one of the two loans.

Tuesday’s agenda also includes a recommendation by the Planning Commission that the zoning ordinance for the Old Town Commercial District be amended to allow professional office uses in ground floor buildings.

The Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, 100 Civic Center Plaza.