Wednesday, October 31, 2012

(Plumas Co) Supervisors respond to grand jury report

by Debra Moore, Staff Writer - Plumas County News

Supervisors say they are not ‘oblivious’

“The Board as a whole seems oblivious to what is really going on in the departments under its supervision,” the grand jury wrote in its annual report.

“Since this is a statement of opinion, rather than fact, the Plumas County Board of Supervisors disagrees with this ‘finding,’” the board wrote in its official response, released Oct. 16.

The supervisors had 90 days to respond to the grand jury report, which was received by the clerk to the board July 26.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire crafted the response with input from the supervisors. The board reviewed a draft document and Supervisor Lori Simpson suggested that more specific details be added. Those remarks were incorporated in to the final document.

In its response, the board at times agreed and at times disagreed with the grand jury’s various findings and recommendations.

Many of the items focused on county saving and spending, as well as retiree and health benefit funding. For the most part, the two entities agreed on the county’s financial status, though not always on the details.

But when it came to the grand jury’s assessment of the board, disagreement reigned.

Board responds to critique

In addition to the “oblivious” observation, the grand jury asserted: “One of the trends among the Board of Supervisors was the attitude that ‘someone should do something, but I am only one member.’”

The board responded: “The members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors disagree with this finding and the implication that it applies to the entire Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors acts by way of a majority vote of its members; an individual member cannot act by himself or herself alone.”

As for the finding that the board was “oblivious to what is really going on in the departments,” after disagreeing with that assertion, the response went on to say that the grand jury contradicts itself by “accusing the Board of Supervisors of not supervising department heads, and then saying the department heads should not to speak to members of the Board of Supervisors, but ‘only a STRONG CAO.’”

The supervisors reminded the grand jury that they attend management council meetings, meet individually with department heads, and that open communication is encouraged.

The report also called the supervisors to task for not having a policy that addresses evaluations, supervision or discipline of department heads, and asserted that the supervisors do not perform timely evaluations of their job performance.

Again, the supervisors disagreed with the grand jury’s findings, and directed the grand jury to the county’s personnel rules. “As with other employees, this rule or policy was interpreted to require an annual evaluation of appointed department heads. However, in practice not every appointed department head is evaluated every year, since not every appointed department head is entitled to a step, merit, or longevity increase every year.”

CAO position

The grand jury recommended that “The Board of Supervisors install a STRONG leader in the CAO position; a leader of strong moral charter (sic) who can stay above and not be swayed by the politics of public office.”

The board does not intend to fill the position this fiscal year, but will discuss the possibility during the 2013-14 budget process. “If the position is to be filled, the Board of Supervisors will seek a candidate with the attributes described in the recommendation,” the supervisors responded.

The response went on to say that the supervisors and department heads are addressing the duties normally handled by the CAO.

“Some public have stated that they prefer that the Board of Supervisors do the job of a CAO and save money which is currently happening this fiscal year,” the supervisors wrote.

Sick leave policy

The grand jury recommended that the county adopt a new sick leave policy for its employees and implement a “cap” to the amount that an employee can accrue. “This benefit should be used for being sick, not as an additional perk to an employee’s retirement plan,” the grand jury wrote.

The supervisors said that the recommendation had been partially implemented and that a cap of 500 hours had been negotiated with some employees.

“Extension of such a policy to other employees will be subject to future negotiations with other employee groups,” the supervisors wrote.

The grand jury also recommended that the “County needs to set up a separate Extended Sick Leave policy for its employees.”

“This recommendation will not be implemented because it lacks sufficient detail,” the supervisors wrote and added that it seemed to be inconsistent with the grand jury’s prior recommendation.

The grand jury challenged the board to “take steps to work together as a cohesive and functional unit.”

The supervisors said that they generally agree with the recommendation, but noted that the supervisors represent different geographic areas and also have diverse points of view.

“As a result, there are occasional differences of opinion among the board members as to the best interests of Plumas County and its residents,” the supervisors wrote. “Such differences are resolved by a majority vote of the board.”


As for several recommendations regarding the jail, the supervisors noted repeatedly that the sheriff is charged with “the sole and exclusive authority to keep the county jail and the prisoners in it.”

The supervisors added that they would “of course, seriously consider the Sheriff’s requests and recommendations with regard to communications in the jail in the light of overall County resources and needs.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

(Monterey Co) Grand jury criticism stirs up Marina

By LARRY PARSONS, Staff Writer, The Herald -

Council split on accurary (sic) of report

Criticism from the Monterey County civil grand jury about the Marina City Council dropped an October surprise into the City Council races a week before the election.

The six-page interim report released Friday by the grand jury — a 19-member body that spends a year reviewing local government operations — knocked the City Council on two fronts.

First, the grand jury said at least one unidentified member of the council — political rivals pointed the finger at Mayor Bruce Delgado — has taken on administrative tasks properly left to the city staff, sowing public confusion and interfering with business negotiations.

"As an opposition, we have raised concerns of that (kind) on several occasions, particularly with the mayor being involved in things," said Steve Emerson, a financial consultant challenging Delgado's bid for a third term in next Tuesday's election.

Delgado said tight finances have made it necessary for council members to take a more hands-on approach on a variety of city issues, from writing council reports to meeting with constituents. But Delgado said he has never negotiated or made promises on behalf of the city.

"You can't pretend to represent the city and commit the city," Delgado said. "But you can be an ambassador."

On another issue, a 4-year-old ad hoc city committee dealing with a former Army equestrian center received in 1993 by the city from the federal park service, the grand jury questioned the length of time the committee has been operating. The equestrian center is leased to the non-profit Marina Equestrian Association.

Also, the grand jury said there were two committee violations of the state open meetings law — the Brown Act — involving public availability of minutes of committee meetings and part of a report presented to the panel.

And the grand jury said the city has never completed a plan to make the equestrian center a public park — a requirement of receiving the land from the federal park service — and "the valuable asset could be at risk."

Councilman Jim Ford, who is running for re-election, and Councilwoman Nancy Amadeo, who often are at odds with Delgado and Councilmen David Brown and Frank O'Connell, on Monday expressed satisfaction with the grand jury on both points.

"I think it is very accurate," Amadeo said. She said Delgado considers it his job "to be involved in everything." She said it was surprising that people had such a hard time trying to get records from the ad hoc committee.

"That report is pretty accurate," said Ford, who said he had repeatedly raised concerns about council members getting involved "with things they shouldn't be."

O'Connell, who also is running for re-election, said he was disappointed the grand jury released the report so close to the election. The council, as a group, won't be able to begin addressing the report until after the election, he said.

"My concern is it will be used as a political football," he said.

O'Connell said he wasn't aware of any Brown Act violations regarding the ad hoc committee. And he said the city made little progress toward enhancing public use of the equestrian center under previous councils.

"We have to make certain we address (the federal park service) concerns, and we will," he said.

Brown said he didn't have the backup information reviewed by the grand jury to judge the report's accuracy. He said he had no idea "what they are talking about" in regards to council members interfering with staff matters.

"I don't know if it is true or false," Brown said. "I rarely deal with individual staff members, other than the city manager."

Brown said an ad hoc committee on mobile home rents also operated for several years before the city passed a rent-control law in 2011. He said he doesn't know of any strict rule that limits the duration of such panels.

He agreed with the grand jury about the importance of the public-park requirement for the equestrian center, saying the city needs to "do something to be in compliance."

As to the impact of the grand jury report on Tuesday's election, council members had varied thoughts.

"It could affect it either way," Brown said.

Amadeo said: "I don't know how much people are paying attention. If they are paying attention, yes it could."

Along with the mayoral match between Delgado and Emerson, five candidates — Ford, O'Connell, city Commissioner Darlena Ridler, attorney Gail Morton and peace officer Larry Starkey — are vying for two council seats.

Enacting an ethical code of conduct for all Marina city officials is one of the grand jury recommendations.

Emerson said, "It's a sad reflection of where we are."

Delgado said the timing of the report didn't bother him. "I think most people will see crime is down, development is doing pretty well ... revenues are up and the deficit is down," he said.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Monterey County grand jury finds voting procedures 'more than adequate'

By JIM JOHNSON, Herald Staff Writer -

Adequate oversight found at Elections Department

A civil grand jury has found that current voter registration, voter identity and vote tabulation procedures are "more than adequate" to safeguard against voter fraud and ensure the county elections department's integrity.

In one of two interim reports issued Friday, the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury argued that allegations of "rampant" voter fraud are not accurate and outlined the multiple layers of oversight in place to make sure voters are who they say they are. The 12-page report, titled "Election Integrity Upheld by Monterey County Elections Department," also includes a number of other findings and recommendations such as improved voter outreach, more user-friendly voting systems and a larger elections department office.

The civil grand jury also released a second report Friday titled "Interference by Marina City Council With City Staff Work/Marina Public Park At Risk," addressing issues surrounding the city's handling of the Marina Equestrian Center site.

Both county officials and Marina city officials have 90 days to deliver formal responses to the reports.

County Registrar of Voters Linda Tulett said she had read the report but declined comment on specific aspects of it, pointing out that a formal response will be prepared. But Tulett said she appreciated the grand jury's diligence in visiting the department and interviewing staff as part of the investigation.

In the first report, the grand jury indicated that it had decided to investigate the county elections department's procedures following reports that a deceased person had received a mailed ballot, and another person had received two ballots after changing her name when she was married. It also noted that about three dozen states, including California, had considered or proposed voter ID laws amid allegations of widespread voter fraud. The 2007 county civil grand jury had suggested the county had a lax voter registration procedure and an inadequate eligibility check.

However, the grand jury report indicated that local incidents such as the ones reported to, but not confirmed by, the grand jury likely involved a failure by the voter or their family to properly update their personal information, if they were accurate. In any event, the grand jury found allegations that people could easily obtain a ballot and cast a vote were "factually inaccurate."

And the report said the county elections department is much more professionally run now than it was five years ago.

The grand jury noted a number of safeguards in place to ensure voter integrity, beginning with the state requiring first-time voters to provide identification, such as a driver's license, state ID, or the last four digits of their Social Security number, in order to register to vote. The county and state then check the information provided by voters to corroborate their identity, then also use a variety of methods to determine if voters remain eligible, including checking death records to make sure they're still alive.

At the same time, the grand jury pointed out that nearly 7 percent of all voters fail to update their personal information, triggering the recommendation for additional voter education.

And, the report found that nearly 14 percent of all ballots cast in a recent election had been damaged and unreadable, and county officials should consider a simpler voting system. In fact, the report noted that the county had spent about $4 million in federal funds on electronic voting machines several years ago, and recommended working with the California Secretary of State to resolve the issues with the machines and put them into service as part of the effort to simplify the voting process.

The report also acknowledged that the city of Carmel, which is the only local city using a private contractor to conduct its elections, spent less than the county would have charged, but suggested including a full accounting of city staff costs in the overall expense.

Finally, the grand jury found that the county elections department needs a new facility at least 25,000 square feet larger, which could save the department more than $20,000 in leased storage space and staff time per year.

In its second report, the grand jury found that at least one elected Marina city official had inappropriately attempted to influence city staff in the administration of the Marina Equestrian Center site, and an ad hoc committee set up to oversee the site had violated the state's open meetings laws. In addition, the report found that the city had not used the site as a park, as required, since it was turned over by the federal government nearly two decades ago, and federal entities had indicated the city could be at risk of losing the property as a result.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Inyo answers jury’s justice-system advice

October 23, 2012
Mike Gervais/Register Staff

Law enforcement officials in Inyo County are working to implement recommendations made by local watchdogs this summer in their annual report.

The 2011-12 Grand Jury took a close look at operations at the Inyo County Jail and Juvenile Detention Center and the District Attorney’s office during its term, offering guidance and recommended changes to help the departments better serve the public.

In a response to the Grand Jury last week, high level officials said they are already implementing some of the citizen watchdog group’s suggestions. In some cases, officials said Grand Jury recommendations will not be implemented because the department head did not agree with the Grand Jury’s finding, or because it is not physically or financially feasible.

After meeting with D.A. Art Maillet and his staff, the Grand Jury recommended that the D.A.’s office begin issuing regular press releases to local media outlets to end what Mallet called “a flow of misinformation and misstatements through the press.”

The Grand Jury also recommended that the county establish an ongoing workshop for all county executives on ways keep and improve media and public relations.

In the county response to the recommendations, local leaders said the Grand Jury’s recommendation needs further analysis. “The Board of Supervisors would expect the District Attorney, an elected official of the county, to establish what he deems would be an appropriate relationship with the media and it is not within the jurisdiction of this board to dictate the confines of that relationship,” the response states. “The Board of Supervisors believes that the county has a good working relationship with the local news media outlets, but also recognizes that there may be opportunities to improve these relationships as well as the county’s communication with citizens.”

The Grand Jury also recommended that the D.A. work with trial judges to arrange plea agreements before trial dates are set to avoid last-minute jury cancellations. “There should be no last-minute ‘sweeteners’ offered at or on the date of the trial,” the Grand Jury said.

The county said that recommendation will not be implemented because “it is not reasonable. The Board of Supervisors does not believe that it has a role in this recommendation. The management of the courts and trials falls to the judges and the attorneys that participate in the judicial system.”

The Grand Jury also recommended that a retired judge from outside the county head a panel directed to study the current court system and recommend improvements.

Again, county leaders said that recommendation needed further analysis. “The Board agrees that such an effort could result in recommendations that would help alleviate those areas of the criminal justice system … that cause unnecessary and costly delays in both time and money for the courts, the county and the residents of the county.

However, as previously stated, the Board of Supervisors has no ability to require the courts or elected county officials to implement or not implement recommendations.

In its report to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department regarding Inyo County Jail, the Grand Jury said the sheriff and his deputies are to be commended for the overall appearance and upkeep of the facility, their “comprehensive and thorough approach to disseminating and enforcing rules and regulations” and for “highly efficient and sufficient staff providing for all inmate needs.”

The only recommendation the Grand Jury made was to have consistent monitoring of inmates in detox, as jurors found a “wide timing variations” in detox monitoring between night and day shifts.

The county said in its response that the recommendation has been implemented. At the Juvenile Detention Facility, the Grand Jury said staff should be commended for their dedication and resourceful use of manpower, but that an aging video surveillance system is an issue, and should be rectified as soon as funding is available.

The county said that recommendation has been implemented. “The fiscal year of 2012-13 Board-approved County Budget identifies and discusses this project as a project that could be funded later this year… the department head indicates h will be able to secure funding to pay for at least two-thirds or more of the estimated cost of replacing the system.”

The final recommendation the Grand Jury made is that the county identify funding for a new fence for the west parking lot.

The county said that recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted. “The chief probation officer has reported that juvenile halls throughout the state do not have secure employee parking areas,” the response states.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Citywise: No major relief for beleaguered Oakland crime lab

By Matthew Artz and Chris De Benedetti
Bay Area News Group
Updated: 10/19/2012 08:23:36 PM PDT

Alameda County law enforcement officials disagree with a grand jury recommendation to develop a consolidated crime lab, effectively leaving Oakland to continue making due with its understaffed and outdated lab.

The grand jury issued a scathing report of Oakland's lab in June, finding that at one point last year there were nearly 1,000 outstanding sexual assault and homicide cases where key evidence still hadn't been tested.

To help resolve the backlog, the grand jury recommended that the county develop a consolidated crime lab bringing together the resources of Oakland and the county, which also operates a lab.

However, last month county law enforcement leaders rejected the recommendation, noting that the county lacked the money and political will to develop a consolidated crime lab.

"Without political support for consolidation and political leadership supporting the establishment of consistent and reliable funding, any endeavor to implement regional consolidation of crime lab services will remain an unfulfilled vision," wrote Albany police Chief Mike McQuiston.

McQuiston heads the Alameda County Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs Association, which the grand jury required to respond to its recommendation. The grand jury a decade ago had also urged county law enforcement officials to consider a consolidated crime lab. It has no power to force agencies to carry out its recommendations.

Meanwhile, Oakland has secured a $408,000 federal grant that will pay for two full-time employees to help reduce the backlog of more than 2,000 cases.

To fully staff the crime lab, Oakland would need to hire 13 workers at a cost of $1.3 million, according to a police report.

In June, a few days after the grand jury released its findings, the council narrowly rejected funding an additional crime lab worker and instead approved budget amendments that included more than $1 million for city workers by canceling a scheduled work furlough day.

Former Yolo County probation chief accused of 'ethical conflict of interest'

Posted: 10/19/2012 12:34:20 AM PDT

A grand jury report released Thursday has county leaders calling for an audit of the Yolo County Probation Department's payroll and contracting procedures.

The report, titled "A Troubling Contract, Questionable Ethics," details an unusual relationship between former county Probation Chief Marjorie Rist and the CEO of a company Rist hired to train her officers.

That company, Utah-based, teaches probation officers techniques for assessing the risk of repeat offenders, among other services. It is headed up by Sean Hosman, a consultant described as an "innovator" in the field of risk assessment -- but who turned out to be a repeat offender himself when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse.

Records show that Rist proposed the county enter into a $350,000 contract with on May 11, 2010. On that day, the county Board of Supervisors approved the contract to "enable the probation department to implement and enhance the use of evidence-based, validated risk/needs assessment instruments for its client population."

The contract was not controversial at the time it was awarded., which had contracts with more than half of the counties in California, was one of the only firms providing those services, according to a county news release.

But the Yolo County Grand Jury report states that Rist's relationship with Hosman "made it difficult for the manager to be impartial in the administration of the ( contract and created, at a minimum, an ethical conflict of interest."

That was deemed particularly true since Rist "was the sole receiver of invoices and had sole approval of payment," the report states.

In the summer of 2011, Rist and Hosman were "in near daily contact," the report states, with Rist "trying to get (Hosman) into a rehabilitation facility." The consultant has been arrested multiple times for cocaine possession, driving under the influence and other offenses, according to the grand jury and police reports.

A few weeks earlier, in April 2011, the two were driving in Sacramento when Hosman was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence, according to the report.

Rist, "who was also under the influence of alcohol and unable to drive, was directed by law enforcement to sleep in the car," the report states.

The next day she picked up Hosman from jail and drove him to the airport, the report says.

Meanwhile, Hosman's performance before Yolo County Probation Department officers was questionable.

He "often arrived late, lacked focus, and appeared jittery and edgy," according to the report.

On one occasion, Hosman "arrived very late to one session and was bruised, beat up, and smelled of alcohol." On another, he "became verbally abusive to Yolo staff," the report states.

At no time did Rist disclose anything about Hosman's drug and alcohol use to Yolo County officials, the report states.

Attempts to contact both Rist and Hosman were not successful.

It was around the time that investigations began into Hosman and his relationship with Rist that the probation chief stepped down.

In late June of this year she announced her resignation "to pursue consulting opportunities as a subject matter expert in the criminal justice arena and to continue with her education," a county news release states. Her resignation became effective July 27, ending a three-year tenure as probation chief.

Marlon Yarber, who Rist hired to be assistant probation chief, was named interim chief until a permanent replacement could be found.

Yarber said he welcomes audits to guarantee that proper practices are followed when it comes to payroll and procurement.

Rist "was brilliant in many ways. Very much high-energy, really focused on trying to move the department forward," he said. "In hindsight, the challenge then is ensuring you're dotting your i's and crossing your t's and bringing everybody along on a pace they can handle as well."

Yarber also said the methods taught by were useful.

"His training essentially entailed the use of the automated tools that we used to risk-assess all of our clients," he said.

This included assessing antisocial behaviors and other factors in order to draw good conclusions about offenders in custody.

An entry on LinkedIn says that, based in Utah, has between 11 and 50 employees and "is one of the nation's leading providers of software and other services to help state and county probation agencies more effectively and efficiently manage their day-to-day activities."

Yarber said he didn't know why Hosman personally conducted training sessions in Yolo County, as opposed to one of his employees, but that "I know he did much of the training himself."

He said the last of the probation department's contracts with is winding down at the end of this year. By then the Board of Supervisors is expected to hire a permanent probation chief.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Yolo probation office faces audit after grand jury probe

By Darrell Smith, The Sacramento Bee -

Yolo County officials will examine the county probation office's books after a damning grand jury report Thursday accusing its former chief of hiding a personal relationship with the CEO of the company that provided software to her office.

"The first step is the audit and to investigate the allegations. Then, we'll have more information," said Yolo County Chief Administrator Patrick Blacklock.

Blacklock said he expects the audit of the office's payroll and procurements to conclude by year's end.

"I'm troubled, that's why I've asked the auditor to assist," Blacklock said.

The grand jury's report alleges that the probation chief – Marjorie Rist – administered $325,000 in no-bid contracts with Utah-based Allvest Information Services Inc. but had an undisclosed conflict of interest.

Rist, who was with the probation department since 2004, announced her resignation in late June. Officials at the time said she left the county "to pursue consulting and educational opportunities."

The grand jury alleges she had a "close and personal relationship" with Allvest's CEO for two years that she did not disclose to Yolo County officials until April 2012, two months before she resigned.

Rist was not available for comment. Calls to a residence listed to Marjorie Rist in Oroville were not returned.

The Allvest executive was not named in the report.

Allvest provides computer risk-assessment tools to the county's probation offices that are used to gauge the reoffending risks of probation clients.

The grand jury report alleges Rist received and approved all Allvest invoices; instructed Allvest staffers on how to complete payment invoices, including how much to charge the county, despite her relationship; and authorized incentive pay packages for probation employee trainers instructed by Allvest without county approval.

In addition, Rist's reported failure to disclose the Allvest executive's alleged substance abuse and arrests on suspicion of driving under the influence in Sacramento in April 2011 and on drug and vehicle allegations in Las Vegas in December 2011 detailed in the grand jury report also troubled the grand jury and county officials.

The report also alleges Rist used travel benefits earned as a county employee to travel from Sacramento to Utah to help the Allvest executive seek treatment and monitor his progress.

"Common sense professional ethics would dictate that any known or suspected use of a controlled substance by a consultant who is receiving large sums of money from the county and interacting with (probation) staff, should be reported to one's superior," the report read.

But, Yolo County, the jurors added, has no such reporting requirement.

"There is nothing in place to require management employees to report suspicious or harmful activity by persons providing services to Yolo County," the jurors' report read.

In fact, the county has no universal written code of conduct or ethical behavior for its employees. An overarching ethics document is still in the draft stages.

"This was a contract for the training of peace officers," Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said Thursday. "Their role is to enforce the law. That's what elevates the significance of these allegations.

"I'm very concerned about the findings," he said. "I'm very interested in seeing that Yolo County's public integrity is restored."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

(Inyo Co) Supes respond to Grand Jury Report

BY MIKE GERVAIS, The Inyo Register -

Inyo County officials and the 2011-12 Grand Jury agree that the county should build a new consolidated office in the Bishop area. However, county officials say that conditions aren’t as bad as the Grand Jury claimed in a report earlier this year.

In its 2011-12 report, the Grand Jury recommended in July that local officials continue to work with a local contractor to build a consolidated office, citing poor working conditions, high utility and lease costs and a lack of handicapped accessibility.

While agreeing that current office space is inadequate, the county’s response to the Grand Jury says local offices are safe for employees and the public.

County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio has said that conditions in county offices in Bishop are not ideal, and the county has a unique opportunity to study the feasibility of building a new office facility at very little expense to the county, as a local contractor has agreed to fund the early stages of the project without requiring a commitment from the county.

To become better acquainted with the proposal, members of the Grand Jury met with county leaders and department heads in the spring to tour county offices in Bishop and look into conditions at the different buildings.

“The county is in dire need of consolidated office space, as witnessed by members of the Grand Jury during a tour of existing offices in Bishop,” the Grand Jury says in its report. “Existing offices are cramped and overcrowded with staff ‘making do’ with limited parking, no handicap access, no privacy for patients/health care providers, no storage, continuity and lack of communications between departments. There are no fire systems and/or alarms, lack of safety, some offices have limited rooms for private interviews between clients and staff, or there are no interview rooms for privacy at all.”

In its response to the Grand Jury, the county said it partially disagreed with that finding. “The board agrees with the Grand Jury’s finding that county office space in Bishop needs to be improved to provide for more efficient and cost effective service delivery to county residents and businesses,” the response states. “However, the board emphasizes that county policies require and ensure that disabled people receive the same services as those who are not, even though some of our buildings may be less than perfect particularly with regard to current ADA standards. Similarly, county policies are enforced to ensure worker and public safety within the physical constraints of the office space available.”

The Grand Jury said it found that the County Services Building, the only county-owned facility, “is very old and hard to maintain, and the utilities are very high. The Health Department sees some of their cases out in the parking lot because of non-compliance with ADA requirements. There is limited access to the Veteran’s Service Office, and it is not handicapped accessible.”

Again, the county said it partially disagrees with the finding.

“The board agrees with the Grand Jury’s finding that the County Services Building in Bishop has high utility and maintenance costs and needs to be improved to provide for more efficient and cost-effective service delivery to county residents and businesses,” the response states. “However, the board again emphasizes that county policies require and ensure that disabled people receive the same services as those who are not, even though some of our buildings may be less than perfect, particularly with regard to current ADA standards.”

The Grand Jury also said that all existing county offices have safety concerns, limited space and lack private interview space. “The crime scene technician does most of the work out in the parking area, and there is no storage for files anywhere,” the Grand Jury said.

Again, the county said it “partially disagrees” with the finding. The response states the Board of Supervisors agrees with the finding that county office space in Bishop needs to be improved to provide more efficient and cost-effective services.

“However,” the response states, “the board emphasizes that county policies require and ensure that to ensure worker and public safety within the physical constraints of the office space available. During its tour of the Sheriff’s Bishop Sub-Station, the board heard that the Crime Scene Technician has, at times in the past, worked outdoors, but did not hear that this was routine or happens most of the time.”
The final Grand Jury finding is that the county is spending too much money to heat and cool its Bishop buildings.

“Utilities are high,” the Grand Jury Report states. “The county spends a lot of money on maintenance and upkeep. In one of the buildings, the county is responsible for everything, including property taxes. They have spent thousands on tenant improvements. Money is wasted on leased space, the tenant improvements and high utility costs.”

The county said it wholly agreed with that finding.

In conclusion, the Grand Jury said the county “needs to co-locate, to share liked resources, have flexibility, continuity and communication between departments.”
The response said the Grand Jury’s recommendation has been implemented.

“Towards this end, the county is presently in an exclusive negotiating agreement to evaluate the development of a consolidated office building,” the response states.
The Board of Supervisors has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Joseph Enterprises, which will assess the county’s needs and come up with a draft site plan for a new office space.

A term sheet that was developed with the exclusive negotiating agreement proposes that the county enter into a 20-year lease for a new 42,000 square foot building. The county would pay $600,000 a year in rent and be able to purchase the building for $1.
Additionally, the county would pay $2 million as an initial lease payment, and then three payments of $250,0000 (one payment every five years).

The county would also exchange property it owns in the Bishop area for the building site, which would add to the overall amount of private property available for private development in the Bishop area.

Monday, October 15, 2012

(Los Angeles Co) Grand jury investigating massive tax breaks for Chevron in El Segundo

By Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times -

Chevron owes El Segundo as much as $9.5 million in back utility taxes, according to a preliminary audit that was ignored by city officials. A former city manager was fired after raising questions about the agreement.

A Los Angeles County civil grand jury is investigating an 18-year-old agreement that allowed Chevron to avoid paying El Segundo millions of dollars in back taxes on its refinery, raising questions about Chevron's influence over the town it helped build.

Doug Willmore, El Segundo's former city manager who was fired after raising questions about Chevron's taxes, said he spoke to grand jury members Sept. 19 for about 21/2 hours. Grand jurors told him they expected to issue a report.

"Clearly they had a background of the issues, a detailed background," he said.

The grand jury investigation follows a Los Angeles Times article in March that detailed how El Segundo officials ignored a preliminary audit showing Chevron owed as much as $9.5 million in back utility taxes and ordered auditors to stop work on the audit.

A lawyer for the auditors wrote a letter to the city saying the firm "has never encountered resistance from its client cities regarding the collection of such substantial and much needed tax revenues."

Leland Dolley, then-city attorney, told The Times the agreement was a bad one and that the city had a good case if it sued. He said he talked to the grand jury last week for about an hour, but declined to go into details.

Mayor Carl Jacobson, who signed the 1994 agreement during a previous term as mayor, said the grand jury had not contacted him, but he wasn't worried.

"I have nothing to hide," he said.

City officials ultimately reached an agreement with the oil company that resulted in no payment of Chevron's back taxes and capped its natural gas taxes at $150,000 annually plus inflation, a fraction of what the audit said it owed.

"At best, it's one of those sweetheart deals for Chevron to do whatever they want," Willmore said earlier this year. "At worst, it's much worse than that."

City Manager Greg Carpenter, who replaced Willmore, said three grand jury members, wearing identification tags around their necks, attended two recent council meetings but did not talk to city officials.

Carpenter said he had spoken to the grand jury foreman and that the panel had asked for information about the city's finances, but added that he didn't know what was being investigated.

Grand jury advisor Jonathan McCaverty, a senior deputy county counsel, said he could not comment on what the panel was investigating.

The civil grand jury consists of 23 Los Angeles County Superior Court appointees who serve a one-year term. It serves as a watchdog of local government and cannot issue criminal charges but does present its findings to the county Board of Supervisors at the end of its term in June.

Chevron officials did not return phone calls.

The taxes Chevron pays the city on its 951-acre refinery have become a controversial issue in El Segundo. City officials found that while the city received $5 million a year from Chevron, nearby Torrance received $9.8 million from the Exxon Mobil refinery, Carson got $10.2 million from the BP refinery and Richmond, in Northern California, got $15.4 million from its Chevron refinery.

The city has been negotiating with the oil company over its taxes for about nine months.

The City Council fired Willmore after just 10 months on the job in the midst of the Chevron tax controversy. Willmore has sued saying he was fired because he tried to get the oil company to pay higher taxes. Council members have not explained why he was terminated.


By Miriam Raftery, East County Magazine -

The San Diego Grand Jury has launched an investigation into possible misuse of bond funds by the Grossmont Union High School District’s board majority, muliple sources have confirmed to East County Magazine.

“We’re in a Grand Jury investigation about Alpine,” GUHSD board trustee Priscilla Schreiber told ECM. Schreiber said she learned of the probe “by accident” while in the District’s office. Schreiber has been a vocal critic of the Board majority (Trustees Gary Woods, Jim Kelly, and Robert Shields) for blocking construction of a high school for Alpine while allowing diversion of school bond funds for costly new projects not mandated in two bond measures, Prop H and Prop U. Both measures were approved by voters and specifically called for a new high school in Alpine.

The District purchased land for the project, but later refused to build the school. Instead, the Board majority has allocated millions for projects not listed in the bonds, such as new swimming pools and performing arts centers for multiple campuses.

Schreiber, who is on the bond subcommittee, said staff expanded multi-purpose facilities on all campuses approved in the bond measure into plans for more elaborate performing art centers. “Our bond was only supposed to be used to improve facilities with 16,000 square foot multi-purpose facilities. But our staff inflated that into these performing art centers with 35,000 square feet." This would have inflated costs by $40 million, said Schreiber. “I stopped the process, but Helix got through," she says, adding that the Board never approved the expenditure. "Now, Grossmont wants one.”

She voiced outrage over the actions. “It’s just immoral that the board majority will do what they did to Alpine. The Boundary Committee Chairman said it would be prudent to build the Alpine High School and recapture 250 to 380 students from charter schools, and regain the ADA (average daily attendance) money.”

Schreiber also faults fellow Board members for lack of transparency. “"They do things in the dark...In July 2011, the board president brought a resolution to kill the 12th high school. We amended it with a 3-2 vote to continue the building plans for Alpine to the Department of State Architecture (DSA). The Superintendent and the Board President pulled those from DSA without board authority. I found out by accident. This is the public's business and they are doing it in the dark.”

Others level equally harsh criticism.

“The Grand Jury investigation into the use of bond money by the GUHSD does not surprise me,” Doug Deane, past co-chair of the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce Education Committee and chair of the GUHSD Boundary Committee. “I believe that the GUHSD Board has been at the very least irresponsible, and at worst negligent, in their use of Prop. U bond money.”

Deane, who said he has not been contacted by the Grand Jury, added, “To have evicted residents, using their powers of Eminent Domain, from the Lazy A Ranch, and then halt the [Alpine High School[ project due to petty political differences among the GUHSD Board members, is irresponsible behavior. Many of the evicted residents had lived on that site for decades, and they’ve now been uprooted from their lifelong homes for apparently no reason.”

He noted that there is a theory among Alpine residents that” some conservative members of the GUHSD Board shut down work on the Alpine High School because the residents objected to naming the school `Ronald Reagan High School.’ I give credence to this theory, and if it’s true, it is despicable behavior on the part of the GUHSD Trustees.” The GUHSD disbanded its naming committee after Alpine residents, including Viejas tribal leaders, objected to sending their children to a school named after Reagan, who slashed funds for Indian healthcare, denigrated Native Americans and in Hollywood, starred in movies in which he killed Indians.

Deane predicted that trustees would deny that they killed the high school project out of spite. “They will trot out the enrollment trigger, and current enrollment statistics, showing that they had legal cause to stop construction. What they don’t say is that studies which they conducted as part of the 2011 Boundary Study, which I chaired, show that the new high school would more than likely have paid for itself, in terms of students recaptured into the District from local charter and private schools.”

The Board ignored Deane’s recommendations and opted for a boundary redistricting plan that assumes no new high school will be built in Alpine, quashing hopes of parents and students.

Deane further blasted the District for using Alpine High School construction funds to build “swimming pools and sports fields” for existing high schools “while the safety and educational needs of Alpine, Harbison Canyon and Blossom Valley students go unmet.” Numerous Alpine students have been killed in vehicle accidents community up to 30 miles to schools on roads that can be icy during winter months.

Fed-up Alpine residents are now making plans to bolt from the District altogether. They are seeking to have the Alpine Unified School District, currently serving K-8, expand to serve high school students as well in order to finally get a high school built in the community.

“Alpine has no recourse but to investigate unification of its existing school district, and it’s aggressively doing so,” said Deane. “The GUHSD conservative board members have demonstrated themselves to be wholly lacking in concern for the educational needs of the East County, and appear to be driven by the advancement of their own political, social and personal agendas.”

Shields defended his views on opposing funds to build Alpine’s High School back in February 2011.

“I have very serious concerns about operational costs,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience vote to increase our fixed costs,” he said, adding that a future vote on construction bidding will likely face stiff opposition from him. “As long as teachers face layoffs and class sizes are bigger, I could not support money to build a new high school.”

In April 2011, Kelly made this statement to the San Diego Union-Tribune to justify his flip-flopping on the Alpine High School. “When the board said repeatedly we will build this school, I assure you it was in good faith, but the situation has changed,” Kelly said, citing the state budget crisis and declining enrollment as his chief reasons for invoking a trigger clause and refusing to support construction.

Bill Weaver served on the Bond Oversight Committee. “Prop H in 2000 set aside $73 million for the new high school,” he noted. “There was a long range master plan in 2003; this was the single largest budget item in Prop H.” But in 2007 Alpine residents were told that the District didn’t have enough money and a new bond would be needed. Voters passed Prop U and all projects from Prop H were to be priorities.

But after buying land for the Alpine High School, the district “claimed it doesn’t have funds to operate the Alpine high school and has refused to build it,” said Weaver. He faults the district for squandering those funds on sports fields, pools and other items that while worthy “should not be at the expense of the 12th high school.”

Weaver, a parent frustrated by the Board majority’s actions, is now running for a seat on the GUHSD Board and hopes to replace Woods, who is up for reelection in November.

The Board majority has been embroiled in other controversies recently. It violated District policy by initially approving new District boundaries without first notifying parents of middle schools that feed into the GUHSD or allowing them to voice their views.

“It became a nightmare; parents were protesting,” Schreiber said of the boundary brouhaha…This prompted a special board meeting; I read the board policy and asked the board to rescind and do it right, but they wouldn't."

Documents obtained by ECM suggest that the Board may also be in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. The District has consulted multiple legal authorities to render opinions on whether or not it is in violation; if so the District would be mandated to redraw trustees’ districts to increase representation of minorities.

Curiously, an e-mail sent by Superintendent Ralf Swenson to an outside attorney hired by the district to prepare a report on whether the District was in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act indicated that Swenson had destroyed the report unread, determining that it was not needed.

On July 11, 2011, Swenson sent an e-mail to Peter Fagen and others at the law firm of Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost regarding a document titled Risk Assessment under the CA Voting Rights Act 07-11-11.

The Superintendent’s e-mail stated, “Our Board has decided to make their own decision regarding legal counsel in support of their consideration of the CVRA issue. Given that decision, I am returning your email (and the attached PDF document) to your office without having read your Risk Assessment. I did open the document when I received your email earlier today, printed it and set it aside to read later. Upon consultation with Scott Patterson I have decided to shred the document without reading it and to delete the email in which it was transmitted. Your efforts in responding to our initial inquiry are much appreciated. “

ECM obtained the e-mail under a Public Records Act request. The Risk Assessment report referenced was not attached.

Why was a report paid for with taxpayer dollars was destroyed and its contents kept secret from the public?

At a meeting of the GUHSD trustees back on February 11, 2011, Supervisor Dianne Jacob chastised the Board for its efforts to renege on promises made to Alpine. To delay a new campus for Alpine “would break faith with the community of Alpine and with me,” she said emphatically. “No less than the public trust is at stake here—and the public doesn’t need any more reason to distrust government.”

She added that authorizing construction would be fiscally responsible due to the cost of construction costs being lower during a recession than later on. “I’m here to gently remind you that a promise is a promise,” she concluded.

A spokesman for Jacob noted that due to secrecy of Grand Jury proceedings, her office can neither confirm nor deny if she has been in contact with the Grand Jury.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Butte Grand Jury seeks ideas on what to investigate

Staff Reports
Posted: 10/08/2012 07:18:35 AM PDT

An email request by the Butte County Grand Jury is seeking proposals on what agencies deserve to be investigated.

"The Grand Jury is an excellent vehicle for obtaining citizen views about how government bodies positively serve the public and where they might make improvements," said jury Foreperson Paul Moore of Chico in the email.

All communications to the jury must be made in writing.

To submit a confidential complaint, go to and select "grand jury" from the quick links on the left-hand side of the home page, says the jury's email.

Then select the complaint form, print it, fill out the form, sign and mail it and any documentation to: Butte County Grand Jury, P.O. Box 110, Oroville, CA 95965.

A key role of the 19-member jury, which was impaneled June 29 by Superior Court judges, is to serve for a year as a watchdog of local public agencies and to identify steps to improve their performance.

The jury alone reviews complaints and decides which agencies it will investigate, issuing reports as it deems appropriate. Not all complaints will be investigated, according to Moore.

State law requires the jury investigate and report on at least one county department, officer or function; that it "inquire into" the condition and management of "all public prisons" within the county; and that it review the county audit.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

(Tuolumne Co) High country fire districts team up

Written by Alexander MacLean, The Union Democrat -

Two local departments have been teaming up in recent months as part of a unique and informal partnership that has drawn praise from constituents and even the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury.

Chief officers for both the Mi-Wuk/Sugar Pine Fire Protection District and Twain Harte Fire and Rescue Department came to a handshake agreement last February to combine forces when responding to calls, while at the same time allowing each to maintain administrative and financial autonomy.

“We’re maintaining our individuality in reference to our district,” said Mi-Wuk/Sugar Pine Fire Chief Randy Miller. “However, we’re combining operationally to better serve the community.”

What this means is that residents in both districts can expect more than double the manpower to show up at each call for service.

Now, each district keeps three firefighters on duty at all times, which includes one paid captain and two interns who are paid stipends that can range from $600 to $1,200 each month. Both engine companies respond to all calls in the two districts as part of the agreement.

“The fact that fire doubles in size every minute makes time of the essence,” said Miller. “Being able to throw sufficient manpower on a fire can make the outcome more beneficial.”

The effort toward “operational integration” between the two independent districts is unprecedented in the county, Miller noted.

One of the toughest challenges local districts have faced over the years has been the recruitment, training and retainment of skilled volunteer firefighters, Miller said, so the new pact was formed to help address the issue.

A 2010 study of the county’s fire and first responder system found that the number of active volunteer firefighters had dropped from more than 200 decades ago to 74. The study found that the decrease led to less support at paid fire stations, diminished response at volunteer fire stations and the closure of several volunteer stations.

Twain Harte Fire and Rescue Chief Todd McNeal was hired by the Twain Harte Community Services District last October to fill the vacant position left open since 2007, and quickly identified the department’s staffing issues.

He later convinced the district’s board of directors to expend an additional $20,000 each year for an internship program with firefighters from Columbia College. It’s now a coordinated program with the Mi-Wuk/Sugar Pine station.

“The number of active volunteers has dropped over the years and relying on that system will put you behind the curve,” McNeal said.

But the cooperation between the two departments goes beyond just emergency response.

Prior to McNeal’s hiring, the Twain Harte district received a federal grant worth $225,000 for the purchase of a new fire engine. McNeal decided to lease an older six-seater, four-wheel drive engine that would have otherwise collected dust to the Mi-Wuk/Sugar Pine district, which was in need of a engine for winter operations.

“For no impact to their budget whatsoever, they get an engine and it’s just a phone call away when I need it,” McNeal said.

The leased engine is now emblazoned with the emblems of both departments and a quote that reads: “Community protection through cooperating agencies.”

The Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury in its 2011-2012 report provided an update on recommendations for improving the county’s fire services made the previous year.

The jury suggested in 2011 to consolidate the nine full-time staffed departments and roughly 10 volunteer fire stations in the county, but that recommendation was met with resistance.

In the latest report, the grand jury said it wouldn’t further discuss consolidation but found “areas where progress is being made,” citing the partnership efforts at the Mi-Wuk/Sugar Pine and Twain Harte fire departments.

“They schedule together and share assets which include management,” the report stated. “The departments involved believe this collaboration results not only in financial savings but a more effective and efficient response to major incidents when both departments are summoned.”

McNeal acknowledged the potential service improvements a countywide system could provide, but resolving the issues among the independent districts to pave the way for consolidation would likely take long time.

“There’s no question that if we went to a countywide service then the services provided would be greater, but we didn’t want to wait,” he said. “We wanted to perfect change right now.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

(Glenn Co) County officials disagree with grand jury findings

By Rick Longley/Willows Journal -

Conflict of interest claims by the Glenn County grand jury were refuted by the county counsel and the Human Resources director in the Board of Supervisors' official response.

County Counsel Huston Carlyle stated in a letter to Superior Court Judge Donald Byrd he disagreed with a conflict of interest finding by the grand jury regarding his roles as county counsel and interim personnel director.

"First, let me state that I was not interviewed," Carlyle wrote. "I find this to be somewhat troubling since the grand jury concluded, incorrectly, that a conflict of interest exists simply because one person is doing two jobs. ... I would hope in the future that if the Grand Jury intends to take someone to task, the targeted person is afforded the courtesy and due process of at least being interviewed."

Carlye said at most the grand jury should have concluded their was potential for a conflct in which he might have to recuse himself from representing the county, and possibly leading to the hiring of outside counsel at additional cost to the county.

"There is no conflict simply by holding the two offices,'' he wrote.

Carlyle aso noted Glenn County has saved about $175,000 by not having a separate personnel director.

He added, it is up to the Board of Supervisors to determine budget and policy.

Carlyle said it is not practical or necessary to try and describe in writing all of the situations that might lead to his recusal.

However, he said he uses guidelines provided by the State Bar of California to assist in this area, and they are used regularly.

Glenn County Human Resource Agency Director Scott Gruendl also wrote a response to Judge Peter Twede concerning an investigation of a conflict of interest within his department.

"There has been some misinterpretation of this report by the media and the public that the finding that a conflict of interest occurred was viewed negatively," Gruendl wrote.

He added, "It is my perspective that the Grand Jury agreed with the Human Resource Agency that a conflict occurred and that policy concerning the matter was followed."

What the grand jury specifically found was there was no follow-up with staff on how the policies were followed.

The jury's investigation stemmed from the hiring of two employees by the agency last year in which familial and friendships to executives were present.

Gruendl said one case involved the daughter of a Community Action Agency Division department head who was hired for the section where the parent worked.

However, the parent was not involved in the young woman's hiring or supervision, he said, even though he or she would normally supervise that position if the child was were not employed there.

He reiterated the HRA followed its conflict of interest code in this case, but there were rumors that some employees were concerned.

Nonetheless, the agency never received a formal complaint, and jury members never made it clear during their interview that a specific case was being investigated, he said.

Questions were general and no juror requested employee specific information or documentation, Gruendl said.

Where familial relationships occur, the lower level employee is supervised by a nonrelated employee if he or she is not separated by unit or division, Gruendl said.

"Under no circumstances would a related employee hire or promote, discipline, or evaluate when a familial relationship exists."

He also maintained that he continues to apply agency policy to instances where a conflict of interest exists, and that the policy be modified to include methods by which staff can be informed of such policies as well as methods by which an employee can submit a complaint concerning such a matter.

Gruendl asked for county employees to use all lower level complaint procedures and to have used the employee bargaining grievance process before taking a matter to the grand jury.

(Orange Co) Laguna Hills says no to grand jury report, requests


The City Council this week voted to respond to a grand jury report that accuses Councilman L. Allan Songstad of "misfeasance of office" by "disagreeing wholly" with the findings and not implementing any of the report's recommendations.

The report was issued in early July following the grand jury's investigation of a complaint filed late last year by Councilwoman Barbara Kogerman. The complaint requested the grand jury investigate whether "leaders of a taxpayer-funded organization had attempted to quash information and debate on issues of public concern and ... had inappropriately attempted to interfere in a local city council election," according to the report.

Kogerman's complaint stemmed in part from a July 2010 meeting between Songstad, Tustin Councilman Jerry Amante, Lacy Kelly, former executive director of the Orange County division of the nonprofit League of California Cities, and Jim Doti, the president of Chapman University. Songstad and Amante were on the nonprofit league's O.C. division board of directors.

During the meeting with Doti, the four discussed a May 2010 report commissioned by Kogerman – then a candidate for Laguna Hills City Council – critical of Orange County city managers' compensation. Kogerman – who ran into many roadblocks trying to get information for the report – sought help from Fred Smoller, director of Brandman University's graduate public administration program, who assigned two graduate students to the project. Brandman is part of the Chapman system.

The published report's cover page said it was by the two Brandman students with a foreword by Kogerman, though she was the author and they did research and data compilation. That gave the report an air of authority that was inaccurate, said critics, including members of the local League of Cities division. Kogerman later amended the cover page.

In the meeting with Doti, Songstad and Amante voiced concerns about the report's data and interpretations, and about the authorship issue. Doti, in an August 2010 interview with the Register, said he emailed Smoller to discuss the issue, asking him to consider "sending an official letter stating it wasn't written by the Brandman students." Doti said the three "did not demand Fred Smoller's head."

Smoller sent a letter to the editor to the Register saying it was not a Chapman report, a statement repeated in his blog. Fourteen months later, in October 2011, Smoller resigned as head of the public administration program, saying "a breakaway group from the (non-profit corporation) and other disgruntled elected leaders had convinced (university) administrators that I could no longer be an effective public face for the program," according to the grand jury report.

In November 2011, Kogerman, now a councilwoman, filed her complaint. After reviewing documents and interviewing Songstad, Amante and Kelly, the grand jury issued its July 2012 report finding, in part, Songstad and Amante apparently misused their membership in the League of Cities to influence Doti and Smoller; arranged the meeting with Doti under the auspices of introducing Lacy "when their intentions were to influence the university to investigate and discredit the report where students were assigned as interns to a political campaign;" and "may not have been forthcoming with the Orange County Grand Jury in their testimony about the primary purpose in meeting with university officials and the facts and circumstances related thereto."

The grand jury recommended Laguna Hills and Tustin review the conduct of Songstad and Amante, determine needed action to prevent such conduct, and get them "continuing ethical training;" and the cities "should refrain from attempting to exercise influence over public and private educational institutions."

At the time, Kogerman hailed the grand jury's findings while Songstad and Amante said it was off base.

"I have a right to go talk to anybody I want to if I think that someone is acting unethically and attributing a report to someone who didn't write it," Songstad said.
On Sept. 4, the Tustin City Council voted 3-2 to disagree with the report and not implement its recommendations. Laguna Hills officials in a 3-1 vote with Songstad abstaining and Kogerman dissenting voted Tuesday to take the same action.

Laguna Hills' response to the grand jury states the report should have been directed to a different governmental agency (the League of Cities) because it "focuses on matters that are not related to the 'operations' of the (city) and ... are also not under the 'control' of the (city)."

Kogerman questioned her colleagues on the decision, saying the city is responsible for the actions of its representatives regardless of the organization on whose behalf those actions were taken. She asked the council to help her get the grand jury testimony unsealed.

"If the grand jury got it wrong, would you agree that the testimony should be unsealed?" she said. "And then we can see what the sworn testimony actually was that led 19 grand jurors and the county counsel and a Superior Court justice to approve this report."

The council did not take action on her request.

Staff writer Teri Sforza contributed to this report.

(Stanislaus Co) Councilwoman seeks more training for grand jury

by Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator -

Councilwoman Annette Smith formally requested more training for civil grand jury members in a letter sent last month to Stanislaus County Superior Court’s presiding judge, the county’s district attorney and the county counsel’s office.

In the letter, Smith requested more training and oversight for the grand jury in the areas of report writing, interviews and the scope of responsibility and authority.

Smith, who was accused of wrongdoing by the body in June 2011 and again in a review of the matter in June 2012, wrote, “The role of the Grand Jury is to serve as a civil watchdog and ensure that government operations are open and honest.”

She said this week that she is still upset by the original report.

“The injustice of it is what irks me,” she said. “Any elected official that upsets the wrong person is subject to an imperfect process.”

“The grand jurors participate in two days of training and then practice law without a license,” she said.

“There has to be more than two days’ training, and they need guided supervision,” she said.

Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said the District Attorney’s office had received a copy of the letter but that the department would be taking no action on the matter.

Calls to Stanislaus County Court Administrator Michael Tozzi and Stanislaus County Counsel Jack Doering’s office were not returned Tuesday, Sept. 25. In past weeks, Doering and Shipley both said they had not received the letter.

In the letter, a copy of which was sent to the Irrigator, Smith also questioned the grand jury’s criticism of Sheriff Adam Christianson for wearing his uniform to election events and its use of the word “fiduciary” in a description of her connections with property owner and developer John Ramos.

She called the present system of training and guidance dangerous and unacceptable.

The original grand jury report called for Smith’s ouster, by either citizen recall or her resignation, stating that she should have recused herself from a vote regarding Ramos’ legal fees because she allegedly had a “fiduciary relationship” with him. It also stated that Ramos had written off expenses for Smith.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the term fiduciary to mean, “relating to or involving a confidence or trust.” Smith, however, wrote that Barron’s Law Dictionary stated the word to mean a person who had a legal duty to act on behalf of another person.

Smith rented a storage unit from Ramos and purportedly received refunds for overpayment of rent.

The report also criticized Smith for allegedly using abusive language in a confrontation with a resident and pressuring city staff members to fire former Community Development Director Rod Simpson.

Additionally, grand jurors recommended that former Mayor Becky Campo pay back money she received as mayor because she allegedly lived outside city limits.

They also advised the city to file a complaint with the California State Bar to chastise former City Attorney George Logan for alleged improprieties, such as failing to be in the room when the council voted to reimburse Ramos for $27,000 in legal fees in connection with a possible lawsuit regarding the 2011 move of the Del Puerto Health Clinic to the Keystone Business Park. The grand jury recommended that Ramos return that money to the city.

The report also admonished Councilman Dominic Farinha for awarding attorney’s fees to Ramos and allegedly trying to dismiss a city employee, meeting privately with Campo and Smith to discuss city matters and pressuring a city building official to expedite an inspection on his property.

The city’s formal response in September 2011 denied all of those major findings.

Smith filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the county late that month alleging defamation and civil rights violations against her.

Farinha submitted an individual response to Presiding Judge Ricardo Cordova through San Francisco-based law office Murphy, Pearson, Bradley and Feeney, denying the grand jury’s allegations against him.