Monday, December 23, 2013

California Grand Jurors’ Association loses leader


As the foreperson of the 2007-2008 Napa County Grand Jury, Bill liked to say it was the best grand jury ever (“TBGJE”) — a title still proudly remembered by those 19 Napa citizens who served on it. The jury’s final report described investigations into 13 topics, such as farmworker housing and municipal and county fire departments, and received the admiration and respect of many in the county.

A Napa Valley Register headline at the time stated, “Grand jury report takes no prisoners.” In fact, one of these reports won the 2007 CGJA’s Excellence in Reporting Award, while the Napa Valley Register won the CGJA’s 2007 Excellence in Reporting Award for its coverage of the 2007-2008 Napa County Grand Jury. Bill served for a second term as the foreperson of the 2008-2009 Napa County Grand Jury.

Believing in the CGJA mission, Bill joined the Napa County Chapter of the CGJA and became active at the state level. He put his knowledge to work as a trainer of new jurors. His battle with lung cancer notwithstanding, he visited five counties to train jurors this past summer.

He was the editor of the “Grand Jury Law Compendium” and a member of the Legal and Legislative Resources Committee. Bill was an accomplished attorney who used his acumen and leadership skills to build the statewide organization. He also led the battle against AB 622 in 2012, which would have eviscerated the grand jury system.

Bill received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and a law degree (LLB) from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall). He practiced law for 42 years and provided his expertise to many legal and civic organizations over a most distinguished career.

In Napa, Bill was president of the Silverado Property Owners’ Association; former member of the Napa County General Plan Update Steering Committee; chair of the Silverado Community Services District Advisory Committee; and a member of the Napa County Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee.

He also served as past president of the Oakland Museum Association, the Boalt Hall Alumni Association, and the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco.

We are so lucky to have known this impressive man and to have joined with him to make Napa and California a better community.

The CGJA has established a special fund to honor Bill’s service to our community. In lieu of flowers, a contribution can be made to the CGJA, a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation, at Please, mention that your contribution is to go to the William Trautman Memorial Fund.

The Napa Chapter and CGJA are planning to host an event in May 2014 to honor Bill. More information will follow shortly.

The Napa Chapter of CGJA is dedicated to promoting grand jury awareness, education and outreach. For information, contact President Diane Damé Shepp at (

Shepp is president of the Napa County Chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association

(Madera County) Grand Jury: Chowchilla Cemetery District violated Brown Act

mgaytan@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 18, 2013

An investigation by the Madera County Grand Jury has determined members of the Chowchilla Cemetery District’s board of trustees purchased items without board approval and violated the Brown Act.

The findings by the grand jury are included in its 2013-14 report, which was released recently.

The report listed eight items determined to be out of compliance after several interviews by grand jury members, along with visits and attendance of board meetings. The items included purchases by certain trustees on behalf of the cemetery without first obtaining approval from the entire board. Those purchases were subsequently reimbursed by the cemetery.

The grand jury also learned about the purchase of a golf cart by a trustee member in July 2011, with approval from the board coming 10 days later.

The board failed to follow the trustee-approved procedures and policies in the employee handbook and failed to follow the Brown Act, according to the grand jury report. Brown Act violations included: trustees held special board meetings with improper or no notice to the public and held discussions and took action on items in closed session when it should have been done in an open session, the report said.

The Chowchilla Cemetery District trustees held a special meeting Dec. 9 to start addressing a number of concerns listed in the report. Cemetery trustees met at the Madera County Board of Supervisor’s District 2 office to receive training on agenda preparation, supporting of backup materials and a presentation on the Brown Act.

Trustees Duff Bryant, Ron Lawson, John Kirwin, Betty Askew and Andrea Giordenella all attended, along with Erin Coast, the board’s secretary.

“I felt that we needed the board to comply with the law,” said David Rogers, Madera County Supervisor District 2.

Rogers appointed three of the five members to the board. Rogers said he felt a need to bring the board in compliance with state requirements. “The purpose of today’s training is to be where we need to be legally, not to point fingers,” Rogers said at the meeting. “The cemetery district is run with taxpayers’ dollars and it needs to be run right.”

At the meeting, Tanna Boyd, Madera County chief clerk to the Board of Supervisors, gave training on agenda preparation and supporting documents to better help trustee members make decisions on agenda items. “Your agenda covers basic sections,” Boyd said at the meeting, “but we recommend you put a little more information.”

Boyd said the board should be more descriptive in their action items and should identify what that topic is.

“The public comment portion was not missing (from the agenda) but the identifying government code that requests public comment to be on agenda was missing,” Boyd said.

Referring to the budget, Rogers suggested when spending district money, discussions should be made during an open session. “You have to do everything in the eyes of the public,” Rogers said. He also said the board “should have supporting documents to justify the expenditure.”

Boyd recommended having a purchasing limit, so the board can make purchases up to a certain amount without full approval by the board. She also recommended that the secretary record minutes during the meetings, which keeps a record of actions, motions and creates a summary of each meeting.

Cemetery trustee Giordanella said she thought the training was helpful. “I though it was a nice presentation,” she said.

However, Giordanella said she doesn’t believe her fellow board members took the presentation seriously. “I believe David Rogers is doing everything in his power to work with this board. They (the board) are unworkable, very defiant; they don’t want to go by the law. They are stealing from the citizens of Chowchilla and are stealing from the dead.”

Other members of the cemetery board, however, took issue with Giordanella’s claims. Cemetery trustee Lawson said Giordanella “is a liar” who is “severely mistaken.” Lawson said issues that the board is facing stems from problems with a “disgruntled” former employee.

“The Grand Jury was pretty sloppy and the information they put in (the report) is misleading,” Lawson said. “The presentation was good ... I did get some information from it.”

Kirwin said “according to what they were saying, we’ve been doing the things we are supposed to, there may have been one or two things (wrong), but I think we followed the law as close as we could.”

Kirwin called Giordanella’s claim a “pretty bad accusation.”

“She better have something to back it up. I can assure you there’s no stealing going on, or else I would not be a part of that,” Kirwin said.

In addition to the Brown Act violations and the purchases, the Grand Jury also determined that:
• Curbs, gutters, sidewalks and asphalt are in need of repair for the safety of the public
• Cemetery district is not in compliance with Cal/OSHA requirements
• Employee job descriptions are outdated and do not reflect current employee duties
• Tools and equipment are in need of upgrading and/or replacement
The civil grand jury investigates complaints regarding government agencies and issues reports on its findings. Recommendations are not binding, but government agencies must respond in writing.

To view the full list of the report, visit the County of Madera website at

Read more here:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

William E. Trautman 1941-2013

Bill Trautman, our beloved and revered California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA) president (2012-13), unexpectedly passed away on December 9, 2013.

We mourn the death of our friend and leader.  At the same time, we celebrate and honor him and his life, most of which over the past six years he devoted to promoting and serving the unique grand jury system in California.

As foreperson of the 2007-2008 Napa County Grand Jury, Bill liked to say it was the best grand jury ever.  The jury’s final reports described investigations into 13 topics, such as Farm Worker Housing and Municipal and County Fire Departments.  The reports received admiration and respect from many in the county.  One of the reports won the 2007 CGJA’s Excellence in Reporting Award, and the Napa Valley Register won the CGJA’s 2007 Excellence in Reporting Award for its coverage of the 2007-2008 Napa County Grand Jury.  Bill then served a second term as foreperson of the 2008-2009 Napa County Grand Jury. 
This experience hooked Bill into the mission of the grand jury statewide.  He joined the Napa County CGJA Chapter and became active at the state level.  He put his knowledge to work as a trainer of new jurors.  He was the editor of the Grand Jury Law Compendium and chair of the Legal and Legislative Resources Committee.  He became a CGJA director in 2011 and was elected as CGJA president in 2012.

Bill was an accomplished attorney who used his acumen and leadership skills to build the statewide organization, CGJA.  He also led the battle against AB 622 in 2012, which would have eviscerated the grand jury system. 

Bill received a BA degree in Economics from the University of California (Berkeley) and an LLB degree from the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law (Boalt Hall).  He practiced law for 42 years handling major litigation as a partner in three law firms.  Upon retiring, he became a mediator and arbitrator and lectured on various legal subjects and trial practice for California Continuing Education at the Bar and various other organizations.  Bill was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, past officer of the San Francisco Barristers’ Club, and a member of the board of directors of The Bar Association of San Francisco.  He was past president of the Oakland Museum Association, the Boalt Hall Alumni Association, and the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco.  In Napa, Bill was president of the Silverado Property Owners’ Association; former member of the Napa County General Plan Update Steering Committee; chair of the Silverado Community Services District Advisory Committee; and a member of the Napa County Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee. 

The family will host a Celebration of Life for Bill January 9, 2014 at 1:00PM at the Claremont Country Club, 5295 Broadway Terrace, Oakland, CA 94618;  Phone:(510) 655-2431

The CGJA has established a special fund to honor Bill’s leadership and service to the grand jury system.  CGJA will use the funds collected to promote and support this unique system.  Contributions may be made to the CGJA, a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation by clicking on the Donate button.  In the Personal Message space in the final screen, please state that that your contribution is to go to the William Trautman Memorial Fund.  Checks may be sent to: William Trautman Memorial Fund, 5645 Dartford Way, San Diego CA 92120

Alameda County rejects grand jury report criticizing real estate deal

Posted:   12/17/2013 05:00:27 PM PST | Updated:   a day ago

OAKLAND -- Alameda County officials are rejecting the accusations of a civil grand jury that found "complete lack of transparency" and "systemic failures" in the negotiations to build and buy a pricey new social services office.

A private developer built a new headquarters for the Alameda County Social Services Agency on a street corner in Oakland's fast-changing Uptown District, then sold the building to the county for $50.8 million two years ago.

The no-bid transactions raised red flags and might not have been in the public's best interest, an Alameda County grand jury declared this summer. County supervisors disagreed with the stinging conclusions in a formal response Tuesday.

Also upset by the grand jury report is developer Alan Dones, who said Tuesday his San Pablo Avenue project was cost-effective and a great success.

"Were it not for all of these sad, unfortunate attacks, I think this building would be one of the outstanding stories of our community," said Dones, managing partner at Oakland-based Strategic Urban Development Alliance. "It's a building that has so much quality and value."

Dones, who is African-American, also speculated that the complaints that sparked the grand jury investigation had racial undertones. When the development broke ground in 2004, it was celebrated as the largest black-led construction project in Oakland's history.

But it began attracting public scrutiny when a high-ranking county real estate official, C. Candace Fitzgerald, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit in 2006 claiming the county was wasting taxpayer money on a bad deal. That lawsuit was dismissed, but Dones said the project's legacy has been saddled with "vicious, defamatory attacks. Discrimination by defamation. It's very effective."

Asked to investigate, a 19-member civil grand jury last year began poring through thousands of county documents and interviewing officials who had been involved in the negotiations. The jury's conclusion was that the county ignored best industry practices, allowed the negotiations to be "wrestled away from ... real estate experts and into more political hands," and bought the building "without appropriate public discussion."

After securing a deal, with no competitive bidding, to build the 100,000-square-foot social welfare office, developers in 2004 tore down the abandoned Hotel Royal and the old Oakland Post newspaper building at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and 20th Street. They also paved the way for an adjacent condominium complex that would share parking spaces with the new county office.

That later led to internal wrangling within the county over whether bond proceeds were being used to subsidize the residential development, which later went into foreclosure.

The county signed a 30-year lease to use the San Pablo Avenue building and agreed to pay all utilities, taxes and maintenance. The county years later realized it was exempt from property taxes because it was a social services building, but had trouble working with the owner to get reimbursed, according to the grand jury.

That and other concerns led the county to begin negotiating to buy the property, which it did in 2011 for $50.7 million -- a pre-market-crash price for a building appraised at $24.1 million. The county also raised the grand jury's eyebrows by leaving the original owner with control over the storefront retail space, rooftop solar panels and many of the garage spaces.

The grand jury reported it was "concerned that the county may have purchased 2000 San Pablo Avenue, in part, to ensure that the developer would not fail financially."

Since county real estate transactions are usually handled by the Alameda County General Services Agency, the grand jury questioned why the San Pablo Avenue purchase was instead overseen by Assistant County Administrator Donna Linton. County officials responded Tuesday that it is normal for the county administrator's office to intervene in complex negotiations that involve county finances. The Board of Supervisors also asserted in the letter it approved Tuesday that the negotiations followed best practices and that the public was properly notified, though it conceded that supervisors could be given more information about the pros and cons of a purchase before they vote on it.

Dones said many of the grand jury's concerns might have been cleared up had they bothered to give him a call. "I didn't even know an investigation was going on until this report came out," Dones said. "I was shocked by it. How can you conduct a legitimate, sound investigation when one of the key subjects of the investigation is not even contacted to give their side of the story?"

Matt O'Brien covers Alameda County. Contact him at 510-208-6429.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The lesson of Bell: A watchful citizenry is still crucial

The Bell corruption scandal

Former Bell Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, and her attorney Harland Braun sit in court in Los Angeles. Spaccia was convicted of corruption Monday in a case that drove the city of Bell to the brink of bankruptcy. (Associated Press / December 9, 2013)

By The Times editorial board
December 11, 2013

The conviction this week of former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia for plundering the small working-class city of Bell to enrich herself — along with former City Manager Robert Rizzo's plea to 69 similar charges in October — closes one of the final chapters in the long-running graft-and-corruption scandal. The two masterminds now face sentences of up to 12 years in prison.

Spaccia was found guilty of 11 felony counts Monday, including misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and concealing public documents. During the 4 1/2-week trial, prosecutors and witnesses detailed how she and Rizzo managed to siphon more and more money from public coffers.

Spaccia, for example, was paid for a full 18 months when she wasn't working; she didn't use a single sick day or vacation day. Rizzo and Spaccia also awarded themselves 33 hours of vacation time every two weeks. They buried their total compensation in various reports and documents, making it extremely difficult for anyone to figure out how much they were earning. By the end of his time in Bell, Rizzo earned $1.18 million a year in salary, vacation and sick leave payouts. Spaccia earned $564,000 annually.

It's satisfying to see Rizzo and Spaccia pay for their greed and their disregard for the common good. But justice isn't enough. Bell fell prey to these thieves because government stopped answering to the public, and because an apathetic public failed to question the government. As Rizzo and Spaccia go off to prison, it's important to ask: Have we learned the lessons of Bell? And have we made the changes necessary to prevent another such scandal?

There was a flurry of legislation passed after The Times exposed the corruption in Bell. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on more than a dozen changes to state law. Among other things, they created an agency within the state auditor's office to scrutinize cities, counties or special districts at high risk of waste, fraud or abuse; enacted restrictions on automatic raises for managers; required CalPERS, the state retirement system, to monitor for excessive salary increases; and required employees to repay paid leave or settlements if convicted of a crime related to his or her job.

State Controller John Chiang ordered cities, counties and special districts to regularly report payroll data, and his office created a government compensation database that has gotten near 7 million hits since 2010. And the city of Bell has begun airing council meetings live on its website, as well as posting financial data, vendor contracts and other public documents online.,0,3004401.story#ixzz2nDCIzuQK

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Jim Mayer and Neil McCormick: Boosting access to data

From the Orange County Register, December 3, 2013


Californians receive many of their core local services from special districts – including drinking water, sanitation, fire protection and parks and recreation. These districts abide by countless state mandates which consist of the Brown and Public Records Acts, as well as ethics laws, financial audits and reports.

But where can Californians go to easily access meaningful data on these and other local agencies? Individual districts and the State Controller have made commendable efforts to increase public awareness of district finances. However, much of this data exists in complex public budget documents or thick reports aggregating information from throughout the state.
Working in partnership, California Forward and the California Special Districts Association have launched a new tool for accessing key financial data on the state's nearly 2,000 special districts. Driven by data submitted by the districts to the State Controller, this expansion of California Forward's Local Government Transparency Portal, which debuted earlier this year, includes three years of critical data points on district revenues, expenditures, reserves and obligations.

This data is supplemented by information on the services provided by each special district and the nature of district budgeting and fiscal responsibility. Additionally, the portal is linked to California Special Districts Association's GIS project, “Putting Special Districts on the Map,” which allows users to map the locations of the districts throughout the state.

Why is this important?

Public financial information – revenue and expenditures – reflect priorities and values. Spending authority is a powerful tool to advance critical public goals in health, education, public safety and economic development. From the public's perspective, the value of these services is determined by linking the cost of each service to its benefit. The special district portal is a shortcut to finding key information, and is a gateway to learning more about important service providers. Moreover, the project highlights the best transparency practices being developed in diverse communities across the state.

One challenge is the various features of the local services that special districts provide, and how they are funded. For this reason, the new portal includes glossaries and background information, connecting the data to the context, helping citizens understand the activities of each district. In addition, individual special districts can submit supplementary details on their specific strengths, constraints and objectives. We hope to expand this project to include even more information.

Our efforts build upon the pro-active steps of other organizations. In 2013, the Special District Leadership Foundation launched the District Transparency Certificate of Excellence, a program that empowers and motivates special districts to implement more transparent practices. The program redefines transparency as a value necessary to an organization's overall performance and recognizes agencies that make positive changes.

Local agencies are seeing increased responsibilities for delivering essential local services and Californians will naturally want more information on how those services are delivered. The next step is up to you.

Jim Mayer is president and CEO of California Forward. Neil McCormick is executive director of California Special Districts Association.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Council expected to admonish mayor, send issue to (San Joaquin county) grand jury

November 23, 2013 9:00 AM
STOCKTON – The City Council is expected to publicly admonish Mayor Anthony Silva for prematurely releasing the name of a city manager candidate.

The council also wants to send an account of his actions to the county’s civil grand jury, saying his derailed the hiring process and embarrassed Stockton, a city report said Friday.

On direction from the council in closed session Tuesday, City Attorney John Luebberke drew up the two-pronged punishment, accusing him of a Brown Act violation. The City Council will vote on the action Dec. 3.

The unusual measure stems from Silva's behavior Nov. 5 when the mayor released to the media the name of Coachella City Manager David Garcia before confidential contract negotiations had concluded. The leak created confusion and Garcia backed out, Luebberke’s report says.

Earlier this week, Silva publicly threatened to take legal action against Luebberke if he tried to keep him from exercising his right as mayor to lead the city manager search.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Former Marin grand jurors continue to watchdog local affairs

Posted:   11/21/2013 05:11:55 PM PST

A new organization of gumshoes has convened to keep an eye on affairs of state in Marin County.

Thirteen members of last year's civil grand jury have formed what they're calling the Implementation Review Group, a panel of ex-jurors that wants to make sure public agencies and others are accountable for taking grand jury recommendations seriously.

Rich Treadgold of San Rafael, foreman of last year's jury, said the new group intends to "strengthen the system" by monitoring responses to grand jury recommendations, then advising the current grand jury on those failing to follow through. This will allow current jurors to focus their full attention on new investigations, he noted.

"We're not a shadow grand jury," he said. "We're just a group of citizens who happen to be ex-grand jurors and know the system."

The ex-jurors noted "there was a natural tendency" among some agencies that were the subject of jury inquiries "not to follow up" on recommendations even though a statement of compliance, explanation of non compliance or further analysis is required by law.

"We want to make sure all the responses to jury reports meet the statutory requirements," he said.
Paul Premo of Mill Valley, another member of the group, said that in addition to advising the current grand jury on the adequacy of responses, the review group may issue report cards.

"We're thinking of giving grades as to the sufficiency of the responses," Premo said.

Several members, for example, are working on a report detailing how agencies have responded to last year's jury call for reform of retiree health benefit programs.

Although members said there is nothing secret or clandestine about the review group, it's twice monthly meetings are not open to the public, although they may be at some point. "We're creating this entity as we go," Treadgold said. "We're just starting."

The panel has adopted a formal charter that, among other things, calls for publicizing "the positive impact" of grand jury reports on the community.

Ex-juror Peter Kiers of Greenbrae told the review group in a report last week that the impact of last year's jury proposal for reform of what critics call the supervisors' "slush fund" has been positive.

While more work is needed to get the controversial community grant program in shape, "I was favorably impressed with their collective efforts thus far to improve the program," he said. "I'm encouraged by the steps taken thus far."

At the same time, Kiers advised, the supervisors need to make sure that only "genuine one-time projects" with clear-cut objectives get grants, "fewer but more substantial awards" are offered, public agencies are regarded as ineligible and more transparency is employed.
Contact Nels Johnson via email at Follow him at

Monday, November 18, 2013

(Napa County) Grand jury makes submitting a complaint easier

November 14, 2013 10:04 am • Register staff
The Napa County grand jury, which serves as a watchdog of local government, has created a new complaint form for anyone requesting a grand jury investigation.

The new form, which is available in English and Spanish, is designed to help residents understand the grand jury complaint process and provide guidance for filling it out.

To obtain a form, visit Complaints can be mailed in or emailed to

All complaints will remain confidential as required by law, the grand jury said in a news release.

The grand jury investigates and reports on the operations of local government, including special districts.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fresno County grand jury: Coroner should be a medical doctor, not combined with Sheriff’s Office


By Carmen George
The Fresno Bee; November 15, 2013 Updated 18 hours ago 

 Recent talk about eliminating the Fresno County coroner/public administrator position by combining it with the Sheriff's Office got a strong push-back this week from the county grand jury, which says the coroner should be a medical doctor.

Thursday's grand jury report comes a little more than a week after the Board of Supervisors voted to explore combining coroner duties with the sheriff's office. Supervisors also talked about splitting up the duties -- giving coroner responsibilities to the sheriff, and public administrator duties to the district attorney.

The county's coroner/public administrator has made clear his opposition to the proposal.
"There's a huge difference in training between someone who carries a gun and someone who carries a scalpel," said Dr. David Hadden, who's served in the position for more than 30 years. "I don't hear anyone say, 'Dr. Hadden should be the sheriff.' It's ridiculous."

So when advocates say the sheriff should be the coroner, Hadden said, that should seem equally ridiculous.

The future of the position will be decided at the Dec. 3 supervisors meeting, said board chairman Henry Perea, who voted against exploring the merger.

Perea said the board-driven proposal was "spontaneous" and without study, and Hadden and Sheriff Margaret Mims were not even alerted about the subject beforehand.

"If this was a front-burner issue for the county, they should have been told about it a year ago," he said.

Although the grand jury rejected handing the coroner's job to the sheriff's office, the panel did recommend some changes:

Following the end of the term of the coroner elected in 2014, it should no longer be an elected position. A medical examiner should be appointed to serve as coroner, who would report to the supervisors.
Until the medical examiner model is implemented, public administrator duties should remain with the coroner's office.
To run for the position of coroner, a candidate should be a doctor.

Perea is asking county staff to gather data about coroner costs, but said he believes it will cost the county more if the responsibilities are handed off to the sheriff.

"The sheriff is not going to do it for free," Perea said. "We have a hard enough time keeping people in jail; now we are going to make (Mims) be a coroner? It can also create a horrible perception of a conflict of interest that can be bad. I think our community deserves better."

Chief forensic pathologist Dr. Venu Gopal, who's worked for Hadden for more than 20 years, said he agrees with the grand jury findings.

"The majority of the (coroner) cases are medically related, so someone with medical knowledge is better suited than a non-medical person," Gopal said.
From the beginning of the year through Sept. 30, more than 2,600 cases were referred to the county coroner's office. On average, the office does up to 800 autopsies and external evaluations a year, he said.

Most of the country uses a medical evaluator system, Gopal said, along with almost all major cities.
As home to one of California's largest cities, Fresno County should also adopt the same model, he said.

Hadden said public administrator duties -- dealing with estates and property when no one is around to manage them, such as after an elderly person dies -- is also a natural fit for his office, because those affected often have already been in contact with the coroner.

Hadden said it's important a coroner be able to "speak the same language" as doctors doing work within the office, because the coroner makes the ultimate decision about what goes on a death certificate.

He said he heard of a case where a lay coroner said someone was poisoned, although the pathologist, who studied the body, disagreed.

"That put a father with four kids in jeopardy of being charged with homicide, so it has intense personal consequences for the accused, and they deserve absolutely the best this county can give,"

Hadden said. "The reason a lot of smaller counties have sheriff-coroner systems is because they can't afford anything else ... It's an old-fashioned model going back years, way back to the 19th century.
"Just because it's prevalent doesn't mean it's correct. We have moved on."

Read more here:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Parts of (San Bernardino) Grand Jury report could play into in $4M Fire Department cuts

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
POSTED: 11/12/13, 6:01 PM PST | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO
SAN BERNARDINO >> Fire Chief George Avery said Tuesday he doesn’t yet have any details of a plan due Nov. 25 that must cut $4 million a year from the Fire Department’s budget, but he is “considering elements” from a report the city manager gave him that calls for completely reconsidering how fire and emergency service is delivered.

The 2010-11 Santa Clara County Grand Jury looked at the nine fire agencies in that northern California county and found that only 4 percent of the calls for service were to fires, with 70 percent being for medical service and the rest situations including rescues and hazardous materials.

“Fire departments should rethink their response protocols — which are based on an historically fire-oriented model that does not match today’s overwhelmingly medical-based demand for emergency services,” the report says. “Given that approximately 70% of calls to fire departments are reporting medical emergencies rather than fire, and that only one of every three crew members (33%) is trained to respond to medical situations and conditions, there appears to be a mismatch between service needed and service provided.”

A paramedic typically makes significantly less than a firefighter or firefighter/paramedic, while a fire engine costs five times what an ambulance does, causing unnecessary wear and tear on expensive vehicles, according to the report.

The report also suggests consolidating services from neighboring departments and reorganizing staffing so that seasons or times of day that are known to have a lower number of calls have fewer firefighters.

“In their responses to Grand Jury questions regarding firefighter staffing and salary levels, some interviewees described firefighting as ‘the best part-time job in America,’ conceding these well-rewarded firefighters wear ‘golden handcuffs,’” the report says. “Others acknowledged that firefighters are paid for ‘23 hours of sitting around for one hour of work’ because that is how ‘insurance’ works.”

Firefighters unions in Santa Clara County criticized the report, saying firefighters can respond more quickly, and no major suggestions from the report were implemented.

Scott Moss, president of the San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters, did not return a phone call.

City Manager Allen Parker, though, said the city’s financial situation requires serious changes.

“The report talks about how they (Santa Clara agencies) need to come into the 21st century, and they outlined a whole bunch of ideas that could work,” Parker said. “George has been very amenable to this, so I asked him to take a look.”

The reason for the quick turnaround is so a plan can be used in mediation with creditors, which begins Nov. 25, Parker said.

Avery said the plan was still being worked out.

“(My response to the report is) only that I am considering elements of those models as we attempt to design our own,” Avery said.

Avery said Monday that the critique of firefighters’ working overtime when there aren’t emergencies — and the suggestion that this would be mitigated by increased hiring — is often based on the mistaken assumption that firefighters are paid overtime for every hour they work over 40 hours.

In fact, he said, they aren’t paid time-and-a-half unless they work more than 56 hours in a week and are scheduled for 240 hours a month of work.

“Fifty percent of the time they come to work above and beyond their normal work schedule, they’re getting straight time,” Avery said.

Councilman Fred Shorett said he hadn’t seen the grand jury report but was open to any new ideas.

“My position is, $2 million is great, but we need to compare that to the $8 million or $12 million we could get,” Shorett said.

That’s the estimate Shorett said he’s gotten from Cal Fire, which he hasn’t backed up with specifics.

“It could change, that’s true — but prove me wrong,” he said. “The way to prove me wrong is to ask for an estimate.”

For a fourth time, Shorett said, he will ask the council on Monday to request proposals from outside agencies to provide fire services for the city. City firefighters are encouraged to make their own proposal to see if it could be more efficient, he said.

Councilman John Valdivia said the community couldn’t afford any cuts to public safety.

“I think we can’t pit our residents against our public safety division, and Mr. Parker would know that if he had the public workshops he promised,” Valdivia said. “Allen, you need to get your directive here from City Council, not from what the mayor’s telling you or what some shiny pencil finance guy is telling you.”

Asked if he might support a $4 million budget reduction if it doesn’t lower service, as Parker said could be the case, Valdivia said he might support one proposal.

“I would support cutting a fire station in Fred Shorett’s ward,” Valdivia said. “No, seriously — you’re so in favor of cutting services, you be the guinea pig and see how your residents react.”

Friday, November 1, 2013

Recent (San Luis Obispo County) grand jury honored for reporting

Kaytlyn LeslieThe_Tribune
By Kaytlyn Leslie — 

The California Grand Jury Association has given its 2013 Robert Geiss Excellence in Reporting Award to the 2010-11 San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury, for its report on the South County Sanitation District. The Geiss award recognizes grand jury reports that have “created positive changes in their communities by increasing awareness of the California grand jury system.”
The jury was recognized because of its work reporting on then-South County Sanitation District Director John Wallace’s alleged conflict of interest and the failure of the oversight board at the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District to spot the conflict.

After the report was made public in 2011, it led to significant changes in the board and Wallace’s eventual resignation.

Six members of the jury were present to receive the award Monday at the association’s annual meeting.

The full grand jury report can be found at

Read more here:


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Superintendent Caples finds fault in Siskiyou County Grand Jury report

By David Smith, Siskiyou Daily -

Superintendent Bryan Caples submitted his responses to the 2012-2013 Siskiyou County Grand Jury report Friday, revealing an overall sense of frustration with the findings and recommendations provided in the report.

According to the report, the grand jury elected to perform a watchdog investigation of the SVUSD in an effort to review the results of the 2007 consolidation of Scott Valley’s various school districts.

The report provides a general overview of the SVUSD’s history and current operations, as well as a number of findings and recommendations.

“During the Civil Grand Jury Watchdog Investigation of the Scott Valley Unified School District, it became clear that there were a number of problems and issues that need to be addressed,” the report reads.

The findings and recommendations cover district policies and procedures, school board members, truancy rates and student tracking, issues with parents, student drug and alcohol use and crisis management practices.

“I first read the report and I was confused,” Caples said in an interview Friday, “because there were things in there we were already doing, or things we have no control over.”

The report suggests that the school board would benefit from the addition of an individual with teaching or administrative experience, saying that the board “lacks someone who understands the more complex issues regarding school administration and educational programs who can review the budget and other accountability documents and understands what is going on behind the scenes.”

Noting that the SVUSD has no legal authority to require teaching experience on the board, Caples said, “I felt that this finding was offensive to the people on the board because they do a dynamite job.

“They love the kids and our community and they are qualified to be on the board.”

The report also states that the jurors heard complaints that some parents enable inappropriate behaviors and that drug and alcohol abuse is rampant in the valley schools.

“According to some community experts, 90 percent of the high school students are drinking and smoking marijuana. Often students attend classes under the influence,” the report states.

Caples disputes the veracity of the report in its finding, stating that annual anonymous self-reporting surveys do not come close to 90 percent of the student population using drugs and alcohol.

“That was really frustrating to our community members, and I feel it was offensive that it was printed as factual,” Caples said.

In other findings, the report recommends that the school district continue conducting business as it has, but Caples said he feels that the inclusion of those findings in the report suggests there are problems that the district is not fixing.

“I’m just more frustrated than anything,” Caples said. “I think that the report hurt a lot of feelings in the community.

“Maybe more investigation would have helped clarify some of these issues,” he concluded.

Caples submitted his responses to the report on Friday.

Monday, October 21, 2013

WaterPlus Sues DeepWater Desal, Water Management District, Asks (Monterey County) Grand Jury to Investigate

Posted: Friday, October 18, 2013 5:37 pm

Remember those two other desalination projects?

California American Water's moving forward with test wells, but DeepWater Desal and the People's Project Moss Landing Water Project are also still both in the running with desal proposals of their own.

DeepWater Desal, based in Moss Landing, won up to $1 million toward environmental review from the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, back in March. Those funds came even though the district is backing the mayors' water authority in supporting Cal Am, as a contingency plan. Even though the water management district described its contribution to DeepWater as a back-up plan if Cal Am fails, public water advocacy group WaterPlus doesn't see it that way.

The group filed suit Friday in Monterey County Superior Court against DeepWater Desal and the water district, arguing the cost-sharing amounts to favoritism and violates the California Environmental Quality Act.

The agreement, "coupled with financial support, public statements, and other actions by [MPWMD] public officials, constitutes approval of a private project," the lawsuit states.

The group is asking a judge to toss the cost-sharing agreement. DeepWater Desal CEO Brent Contantz and water management district officials were not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

WaterPlus President Ron Wietman also submitted a request to the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury to investigate the collapse of Cal Am's prior project, the Regional Water Project.

He asks the Grand Jury to look at not just the DeepWater deal, but also the county's capitulation to Cal Am in agreeing to not enforce its ordinance requiring public ownership of desal plants, as well as issues around Steve Collins, the former Monterey County Water Resources Agency official facing conflict of interest charges that tanked the old project.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

(LA) City officials justify lawyer salaries

By David Mark Simpson, Santa Monica Daily Press -

Santa Monica has more high-paid staff attorneys than any municipality in Los Angeles County, according to a recent report.

In 2011, the city was paying 17 legal department employees more than $200,000 per year, compared to Los Angeles’ 11 — the second most in the county.

That’s according to the 2012-13 Civil Grand Jury Final Report. City Manager Rod Gould said the report was flawed for a number of reasons, but did acknowledge that Santa Monica pays well — a decision he stands by.

Several senior attorneys have retired since City Hall submitted salary information to the county.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, City Hall paid 14 legal department employees more than $200,000. Another nine employees made more than $100,000. City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie was paid $300,120, according to documents provided by city officials.

“We are a full service city that undertakes a uniquely broad range of activities,” Moutrie said in an e-mail. “They include operation of a bus line, an airport, water wells, and various public facilities and venues. And, the city provides an exceptionally broad range of services to residents, including services from this office that protect the rights of tenants and consumers.

“Likewise, the [City] Council has chosen to adopt a number of rather complicated and/or unusual local laws that protect residents and their quality of life,” she added. “This office enforces many of them, but it could not do so without experienced prosecutors and civil enforcement attorneys.”

When Gould came to Santa Monica, he thought: “Why are we running a medium-sized law firm on the third floor at City Hall?”

The attorneys act as prosecutors, offer consumer protection, fight for tenants and have a criminal division, he said.

“You can do it through your own staff or you can hire outside attorneys at an hourly rate,” he said. “The hourly rate includes their salaries, their partners’ salaries, the overhead rent in their office buildings, their insurance, their taxes, and everything else that goes into running a law firm.”

He called the attorneys “a bargain” in comparison to the private sector. He said that each city is run differently, pointing to the in-house trash collection provided by Santa Monica.

“Doing it slightly differently doesn’t make it wrong,” he said.

Mayor Pam O’Connor said the salaried lawyers allow City Hall to act aggressively on behalf of taxpayers.

“In general, we are seen as an affluent city so people go after us frequently,” she said. “In addition, we are a progressive city so sometimes people challenge our policies. We need good lawyers to back our progressive ideals.”

She, too, pointed out that salaries are less expensive than contract work in the long run.

Gould said that City Hall has never performed a study to see if it is more efficient to use in-house or private lawyers. He said that when City Hall occasionally needs specialty legal council it learns that the costs are “astounding.”

“Just on that spot-checking that we do periodically I get the sense that we are doing it right,” he said.

Gould pointed to, among other cases, legal victories against major industrial polluters that saved City Hall hundreds of millions of dollars.

Monday, October 7, 2013

(Orange) CalOptima Board Approves Bonuses and Raises for Execs

By TRACY WOOD, Kitsap Sun -

The CalOptima board of directors last week voted to award a one-time $26,775 performance-based bonus to CEO Michael Schrader, who, after nearly two-dozen resignations of key staff, has been trying to rebuild the $1.5 billion county health plan for low-income, elderly and disabled residents.

The CalOptima board also awarded a permanent 4 percent “merit” salary boost to the health plan’s general counsel, Gary Crockett, raising his annual base pay to $214,240, despite questions by the county grand jury and controversy this year over board members not recusing themselves when they may have had a conflict of interest.

Board members apparently weren’t instructed on state conflict of interest laws or advised when they should recuse themselves from voting, duties that in other agencies are performed by the lawyers.

The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating conflict of interest issues involving all 10 of the CalOptima board of directors as well as four of the five county supervisors. A special FBI task force also is investigating public corruption in Orange County and, according to individuals who said they have been interviewed, agents asked questions about, among others, Supervisor Janet Nguyen, the Board of Supervisors’ representative on the CalOptima board.

Nguyen, with support from two other supervisors, scrapped the previous CalOptima board of directors in favor of a new one dominated by representatives of the medical industry and the county. In the past she strongly opposed the type of performance-based one-time payment that Schrader received, but she didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting. Her office declined a request to interview her.

In addition to the two salary issues, CalOptima board Chairman Mark Refowitz, who also heads the county Health Care Agency, gave board members a heads up Thursday about a pending federal audit of the Medicare portion of CalOptima’s operations. Known locally as OneCare, the program provides Medicare and Medi-Cal benefits for about 15,600 low-income, elderly residents.

The number enrolled in the program is a small portion of the nearly 469,000 total CalOptima “membership,” but health plans that perform exceptionally well, compared to other plans, and earn four or five stars, receive higher federal payments, an incentive for lower-performing plans to do better. In addition, there is a prestige factor, with highly rated plans able to stand out nationally.

The financial incentives are designed to force health plans to provide high quality care and not waste tax money.

In the past, CalOptima has been one of the highest performing health plans in the state.

But Refowitz predicted CalOptima may not get high ratings this year. He indicated lower marks would be due to a higher level of scrutiny, not an actual drop-off in performance.

“We shouldn’t be shocked if they (auditors) come in here and really start kicking the tires,” Refowitz warned. He said board member Dr. Samara Cardenas, a pediatrician, will represent the CalOptima board in talks with the auditors.

The audit was supposed to start Monday but has been delayed by Congress’ federal worker shutdown.

Refowitz also said CalOptima finally may be filling the only seat on its 11-member board reserved specifically for a participant in the health plan. Five seats are held by the medical industry, three by county employees, including Nguyen, and two by individuals who have no connection or background in health care.

The seat for a plan participant was specifically created in January 2012, when Nguyen’s changes in the board went into effect, but never has been filled.

Even when it is, more than 60 percent of the health plan “members” will have been blocked from applying because they are under 18 years old and their parents aren’t allowed to seek a position on the board.

“Please note that parents of minor children receiving services through CalOptima do not qualify per County Ordinance,” says the recruiting announcement on the county’s web site.

Executive pay incentives became an issue during the summer of 2011 when the former CalOptima board said then-CEO Richard Chambers had met performance criteria spelled out in his contract and was legally entitled to a performance-based bonus that, along with a car allowance, raised his annual pay to $515,743, according to the Orange County Register. Based on similar contract criteria, nine other executives under Chambers received performance payments ranging from $20,700 to $67,000.

CalOptima board members said the financial incentives were necessary because private industry and other health organizations paid its executives far more.

At the time, Nguyen strongly criticized the payments. But last year, after the departure of so many key executives to private industry and jobs with other government organizations, the new board she had created approved a series of “retention bonuses” intended solely to keep even more executives from leaving.

Under that plan, executives received a bonus if they just agreed to stay through a certain date. Voice of OC, under the California Public Records Act, has requested a list of all retention bonuses that were paid out under the plan.

Schrader’s performance-based bonus of 8.5 percent means a onetime addition of $26,775 to his $315,000 annual salary.

In spite of calling Crockett’s permanent four percent salary bump a “merit increase,” CalOptima officials said the phrase is a generic description for general pay raises and the amount was in line with overall increases given to most of the staff.

Crockett has been at the core of a number of controversial CalOptima issues since 2011.

According to the 2012-2013 Grand Jury report “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle,” in early 2011, “a CalOptima lawyer made more than 100 allegations against CalOptima’s senior executives prompting the CalOptima Board of Directors to commission an outside legal firm to conduct an investigation.”

Ultimately, there were three reports presented to the board based on accusations made by Crockett. The reports, known as the Theodora Reports because they were done or commissioned through Nguyen campaign donor, Costa Mesa lawyer Todd Theodora, never have been made public. But copies reportedly have been obtained by federal and state investigators.

In its report, the grand jury said the Theodora reports determined “none of the CalOptima lawyer’s allegations were founded and that he retracted over 50 allegations prior to any executive interviews.”

Crockett declined last week to discuss his allegations and the Theodora reports. “It’s subject to attorney-client privilege,” he said. “That’s all I can say about it.”

When asked about the four percent raise for Crockett, Refowitz said “Gary does a remarkable job managing our litigation” and outside law firms.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Water company: Kern grand jury libeled us

BY LOIS HENRY, The Bakerfield Californian -

The Kern County grand jury was accused on Monday of libeling a local water district.

Oildale Mutual Water Co. took the first step toward a libel lawsuit by filing a claim against the county. It accuses the grand jury of making numerous false statements about Oildale Mutual, its general manager and its directors.

Among other defamatory statements, the claim asserts, the grand jury wrote that Oildale Mutual had lost $1.5 million each of the past three years, that it had deteriorating infrastructure and that some of its directors have not paid "hook-up" fees for homes built in Oildale.

A claim is the first step to suing a government agency.

Terry Wolfe, the grand jury foreman, declined to comment.

The Oildale Mutual report, which was released June 17 and is still on the grand jury's website, was written by last year's grand jury. Wolfe and five other jurors from last year remain on this year's panel.

Wolfe declined to say which jurors were on the ad hoc committee that wrote the June 17 report.

Deputy County Counsel Devin Brown, who reviewed the report before publication, said he couldn't comment on what advice he gave the jury as that's protected under its attorney-client relationship with the grand jury. He did acknowledge that comments made in grand jury reports are not privileged, or protected from liability.

The civil grand jury routinely issues reports that are assessments of the work done by government agencies. It this case, the grand jury report detailed a decades-long feud between Oildale Mutual and the North of the River Municipal Water District (NOR).

Its conclusion was that both entities should be audited and that they should be consolidated into a new Community Services District.

But why the grand jury delved into this situation at all was baffling to both Oildale Mutual, a private company, and NOR, a public special district.

In particular, Oildale Mutual was incensed by the report's statement that "It was reported to the grand jury some OMWC directors do not pay 'hook-up' fees for homes built in Oildale."

In its Aug. 15 response, Oildale Mutual wrote: "It was bad enough that the grand jury wrongly accused the staff and directors of OMWC of mismanagement based on anonymous and unattributed 'reports'; now it goes so far as to accuse them of what amounts to criminal misconduct (e.g., theft, fraud, embezzlement, or the like). The finding is totally, absolutely and completely false.

"OMWC believes that the accusation is tantamount to libel or slander."

The grand jury has no jurisdiction over a private company and only limited jurisdiction to review NOR's operational procedures.

Both water entities have made that clear in their responses to the grand jury report. Only NOR's response has been put on the grand jury's website.

While NOR's response allows that the grand jury may have authority to look at the district's operations, it says the jury "exceeded its statutory authorization" when the jury discussed a proposed consolidation of some operations between Oildale Mutual and NOR.

Oildale Mutual's response, sent Aug. 15 to the Kern County Superior Court presiding judge, who advises the grand jury, has not been posted, nor has anyone from the county responded to it, according to Oildale Mutual General Manager Doug Nunneley.

It was in that 20-page letter that Oildale Mutual first brought up the issue of libel and demanded a full retraction.

The letter also notes that no one from Oildale Mutual was contacted by the grand jury prior to the report being published and that when errors were brought to the jury's attention, it refused to correct them.

That includes the incorrect statement that Nunneley's father is a newly elected NOR director. Nunneley's father has been dead for five years.

When he called the grand jury forewoman right after the report was published and pointed that out, he said the response was "Dead silence.

"I said, 'Well it looks like you really did your homework. Thanks a lot.' What else can you say at that point?"

Oildale Mutual's claim doesn't list exact damages being sought, and Nunneley said that's not known at this point.

He did note that Oildale Mutual is in negotiations with another company over water quality on one well. The report, which Oildale considered damaging to its reputation, was issued at a time when settlement talks were underway. The other company mentioned that it was aware of the grand jury report.

"So, it's out there," he said of the report. "And it's potentially hurting us."

Libel suits are difficult to prove under even in the most straightforward circumstances.

When you throw in the grand jury, things get even trickier, according to libel attorney Thomas Burke with Davis Wright Tremaine in San Francisco. (Burke often represents The Californian in legal matters regarding news reports.)

Because the grand jury is a citizen watchdog organization, an anti-SLAPP motion might be a logical first line of defense, Burke said.

SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuits against public participation," and is meant to protect public speech when that speech criticizes a government entity.

Beyond that, Burke said, Oildale Mutual will have to prove the grand jury knowingly, or recklessly, disregarded the truth in making false statements about the company. That's known as "actual malice" and it's tough to prove.

Even the fact that no one from Oildale Mutual was contacted by the jury isn't necessarily proof of malice, Burke said.

"If the jury had reason to believe directors were getting free accounts, and I'm just speculating here, they might not have contacted them for fear the behavior would change and evidence disappear," he said. "It's a different standard when you're talking about an investigative body and how they wrote, or should have written, a report. Because you don't want a grand jury to pull back" on its watchdog role.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

(San Diego) Community Leaders Discuss Issue of Teacher-Student Bullies

By Rory Devine and R. Stickney, -

Throwing a book across a classroom, name calling, screaming – these are examples of misbehavior by adults targeted at students in the classroom.

Administrators of the San Diego Unified School District met with parents, educators and city leaders to discuss how to handle accusations made against employees of the district when it comes to adult-on-child bullying.

At issue: how does a parent alert the school or the district if a child was mistreated by school staff?

Thursday’s meeting stemmed from a Grand Jury report that criticized the district for not having an effective policy of investigating complaints against employees who may be bullying children.

Parents say concerns go beyond children being mentally abused and include neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse of children at school. The incidents, they say, go unreported.

“We have a culture of silence and a culture of vilifyng people who come forward with concerns,” said parent Judy Neufeld.

She said the schools have to change that and focus on child safety.

“Teacher bullying is illegal under the mental anguish law, so is neglect of children, so is physical assault on children and so is predation. We’ve seen all these types of concerns not be responded to appropriately in schools,” Neufeld said.

Parents want a clearinghouse, independent of the district, so complaints can be directed to the right agency for investigation.

They also want school staff to have better training so they know when they are mandated to report child abuse.

Representatives from the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, San Diego Unified School Police, San Diego Police Department and agencies involved with child protection discussed how to increase public awareness of the issue.

“We’re trying to be responsive to what we’re hearing and make sure we’re striving always to support student safety,” said Moises Aguirre, Executive Director of District Relations.

Several agencies suggested creating videos on mandated reporting laws and how parents can report child abuse at school.

Superintendent Cindy Marten has also set up a one-stop complaint center with the goal to track complaint and address them.
“We don’t want to say there’s an easy solution because we understand we are dealing with very sensitive issues,” Aguirre said.

“There’s definitely many areas we need to review carefully so we can put together a more focused more comprehensive solution rather than a piecemeal solution.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

(Ventura) City of T.O. rejects grand jury’s recommendation to sellThe Lakes

By Anna Bitong, Thousand Oaks Acorn -

The City of Thousand Oaks has roundly rejected a recommendation by the Ventura County civil grand jury that it sell its property near the Civic Arts Plaza to help pay off debt owed by its former redevelopment agency, saying that such a sale would be illegal.

The recommendation was included in a June report by the 19-person grand jury, which looked at the history of the nowdefunct RDA and its land dealings on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

In it, the grand jury, which serves as an ombudsman over the county, encourages the city to sell the 7.5-acre site at 2200 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. known as The Lakes, and nearly 3 acres of industrial-zoned land west of City Hall known as the Westside Property to pay back more than $200 million in RDA debt. The city is continuing its efforts to retain property assets formerly controlled by the RDA, including The Lakes site.

“What the grand jury is recommending can’t be done under the law,” Assistant City Attorney Chris Norman said at the Sept. 10 City Council meeting. “Under the RDA law, the city cannot use any proceeds gained from the sale of (RDA properties). Proceeds would have to be remitted to taxing entities (the county and the state).”

In short, Norman said, the city cannot benefit financially from the sale of the property, which the former RDA acquired using local tax dollars in 1991.

Rachel Wagner, city spokesperson, said The Lakes property was part of a larger parcel when it was acquired. The prorated cost for the 7.5-acre site was nearly $6.7 million.

“Only 6 percent of the proceeds would go to the city of Thousand Oaks,” Councilmember Al Adam said Sept. 10. “The rest would go to the so-called taxing entities. . . . Ultimately I am confident that the ownership of that property will revert to the City of Thousand Oaks and to you, the taxpayers.”

To that end, a paid consultant has been collaborating with city staff to draft a long-range plan for the management of former RDA assets, the city attorney said. The plan will be reviewed by the city’s finance department and a local oversight board formed to wind down the RDA’s financial obligations before going to a public hearing for final approval.

“It is premature to comment on the best way to dispose of assets,” said Norman of the former RDA, which in 2010-11 had an assessed value of $2.1 billion.

City responds

The grand jury’s investigation into the former RDA was initiated by a public complaint. The resulting report, which includes 27 “facts” and 12 “findings,” criticized the lease agreement between the city and Caruso Affiliated, which developed The Lakes, as a failed partnership that didn’t benefit either side.

In 2004, developer Rick Caruso signed a 55-year lease, with options to extend for four additional 10-year periods, to develop and manage the former Jungleland property east of the Civic Arts Plaza. The agreement allows Caruso to lease the property for free in years the center does not earn at least 12 percent of the $17.6 million he invested in The Lakes.

The City Council signed the deal after Caruso agreed to reduce the size of the project and provide amenities on the property, including a 2.5-acre public park and an ice skating rink. The park cost $2 million to build and requires $75,000 a year to maintain.

Since opening in 2005, the center has not been able to reach the 12 percent threshold.

According to the city, “The negotiated threshold of return on the lease is a cumulative 12 percent, (which) was in line with the typical rate of return used in development agreements statewide in 2006.”

But Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña, a longtime critic of The Lakes deal, said 12 percent was not the market rate.

“At the time that was still considered a high return,” she said.

“The grand jury is factually correct. There is nothing to disagree with because the threshold still has not been met in 10 years,” she said, adding, “Overall, it was a well-put-together response to the grand jury.”

In its response, the city also takes issue with the jury finding that the sales tax the city received from The Lakes dipped from about $267,000 in 2006 to $156,000 in 2012, saying that the decline was a result of the economy, not the shopping center’s shortcomings.

“Most businesses in Thousand Oaks reported declines from 2006 to 2012. The Lakes was not unique,” its response said.

Norman also noted that the grand jury report contained some factual errors—for example, the jury erroneously reported the size of the Westside Property.

And the grand jury said that the RDA used eminent domain authority to acquire the property where The Lakes and the Civic Arts Plaza and City Hall are located, contrary to city documents that state eminent domain was not used.

The city responded that “the use of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes occurred in one instance over 20 years ago to acquire a single parcel.”

The full city response to the grand jury report can be found on the Sept. 10 City Council agenda consent calendar, item 7C, on the city website,

The grand jury report can be found at under annual reports for FY 2012-13.

Monday, September 23, 2013

OC Supervisors Deny Bungling Bustamante Investigation

By TRACY WOOD, Voice of OC -

In their latest response to the most outspoken grand jury in recent memory, Orange County supervisors this month denied bungling the investigation of Carlos Bustamante, a former county Public Works Department manager accused of a dozen felony sex crimes involving numerous females who worked for him.

Board members do agree, however, with the grand jury that they’re generally doing a good job of cleaning up afterwards.

In a 5-0 vote Sept. 17, the supervisors approved a response to the 2012-2013 grand jury’s report, “The Goal of Equal Employment Opportunity: NO VICTIMS.”

The June report was the final and least controversial of four grand jury reports that infuriated county supervisors by raising ethical and corruption issues as well as describing an “atmosphere of fear” that grand jurors said prevented female county workers from reporting sexual harassment.

At one point, supervisors were so angry they denied the grand jury an additional $20,000 to finish its year of work.

The report on anti-harassment policies was released June 27 and recounted changes to county Human Relations policies in the wake of Bustamante’s dramatic July 2, 2012, arrest as he was enroute to Santa Ana City Hall.

Bustamante, who was a top county executive since 2003, was a member of the Santa Ana City Council and a rising star in Orange County Republican politics.

He resigned his county position in the fall of 2011 and has consistently maintained he is innocent of the accusations. He’s been charged with 12 felonies and four misdemeanors, including assault with intent to commit a sexual act, false imprisonment and sexual battery.

Bustamante’s arrest led to a rash of top-level county management departures and reassignments as questions were raised about what his bosses, including county supervisors, knew and when they knew it.

Voice of OC continues to challenge the county in court, trying to require officials to disclose records of how county supervisors and top executives handled the affair.

As part of its report on sexual harassment at the county, the grand jury did its own investigation of circumstances surrounding the Bustamante case and wrote:

"Although details will not be nor can they be revealed in this study, suffice it to say that each Grand Jury Panel Member was appalled at the alleged behavior and alarmed by the ineptitude of County managers who investigated complaints of sexual misconduct."

County supervisors disagreed. In their Sept. 17 response, they asserted:

"In one instance, inconsistencies in how existing policy was interpreted and carried out came to light during a recent, high-profile case. Once notified, the Board took swift action to correct the deficiencies that led to this situation."

The grand jury applauded the county for beginning to correct its human resources activities by reinstating a centralized system rather than allowing each agency to have its own human resources office, a practice that led to some HR departments having problems with “compliance, harassment, discrimination and/or retaliation violations which they often did not recognize.”

In their response to the grand jury, supervisors said they will continue centralizing human resources operations.

The grand jury also surveyed the county and 33 of the county’s 34 cities — Westminster didn’t participate — to see how they handled anti-harassment training and other issues.

Cities “appear to be on the cutting edge in their awareness of he potential tragedies and/or liabilities associated with sexual harassment and discrimination,” the grand jury concluded.

One highlighted area where many cities and the county needed to improve was in training “line staff” about existing laws, according to the jurors. While the county and all cities train managers and supervisors at least every two years in compliance with state and federal laws, most cities and the county provided no training for “line staff” because it wasn’t a legal requirement.

“Since it is line staff that generally files [harassment] complaints,” the grand jury reported, “it is critical that they understand their rights and their recourse when filing complaints.”

The county agreed and said the approximately 13,500 nonmanagement or supervisory staff will get online training beginning in a few weeks.

The grand jury had concluded, however, that in-person classes are more effective than online classes.

In the wake of the Bustamante scandal, county officials who were let go included Public Works Director Jess Carbajal, Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis and CEO Tom Mauk.

Mauk denied his resignation was connected to Bustamante. He received $270,000 in severance pay, “full indemnification and defense in any civil or administrative proceeding” and an agreement that the county would provide him with the legal counsel of his choice in any matter, up to an hourly rate of $300.

County supervisors have tried to keep secret documents that could answer questions about what top management and possibly supervisors themselves knew about accusations against Bustamante before he was let go.

Voice of OC has court cases and appeals pending in an effort to make those records public.

A county internal report conducted after Bustamante’s arrest determined the Public Works department was a dysfunctional organization plagued by meddling from county supervisors’ offices and Mauk on contracts for influential contractors as well as on property improvements for select constituents.

That report, which was obtained by Voice of OC, found that “past OC Public Works executive leadership has created cultures of favoritism, poor communication, organizational manipulation, and discrimination that have spawned low morale, distrust, and fear within [Public Works].”

Much of the blame for the Bustamante scandal was leveled at the county’s system of giving each agency its own human relations department rather than having a single HR department for all of county government. To save money, HR duties were decentralized after the 1994 bankruptcy.

In the months after Bustamante’s arrest, the county’s human relations system was recentralized. The county also modernized its harassment complaint system, including addressing the accusation that employees were afraid they’d be punished for trying to report Bustamante’s alleged crimes.

In May, the grand jury issued the report that described an “atmosphere of fear” that “seemed to come from the very top of County government” and prevented county employees from reporting sexual harassment, among other issues.
That report came just a day after supervisors refused a grand jury request to augment its budget by $20,000 so it could finish the work of its one-year term by June 30.

Earlier grand jury reports critical of the supervisors were titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle" and "A Call for Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County."

The ethical standards report recommended creation of a county ethics commission, a proposal that was rejected by county supervisors.

Friday, September 20, 2013

(San Diego) PUSD disputes findings in grand jury’s bond report

By Steve Dreyer, Pomerado News -

The Poway Unified School District is taking issue with portions of a San Diego County Grand Jury report that was highly critical of the use of capital appreciation bonds by several districts in the region.

The Poway district’s required response to the May report disagrees with three of the jury’s findings of fact. The report also declined to comment specifically on any of the jury’s four recommendations, saying that “further analysis” by the district would be required.

See full PUSD respond here.

The grand jury’s report called for “countywide school bond reform.” Those reforms should include “greater citizen oversight of bond requirements and increased transparency of total bond costs and future outlays,” the report said.

Many of the jury’s recommendations are incorporated into Assembly Bill 182, which is on the governor’s desk for signature.

State law required all 47 school districts in the county to respond to the report. All responses were due by Aug. 20. Poway, one of two districts that did not meet the deadline, received an extension to this past Tuesday, when its response was filed.

The Poway district has come under extensive public criticism for proceeding with a $105 million CAB that will eventually cost nearly $1 billion over the next 40 years. The voter-approved bonds were used to complete renovations at several PUSD campuses. However, district taxpayers will not begin paying on the bonds for 20 years, until after previously approved construction bonds are retired. As the grand jury report notes, the payoff ratio of the CABs is over 9 to 1 and there was no provision allowing for the early repayment of the bonds.

Comprised of four pages, the PUSD response said the district complied with the state Election Code in the wording of the bond measure presented to district voters. It also took issue with the jury’s finding that “The practice of artfully inflating the interest rate to generate premium for unauthorized uses allows additional bond proceeds over and above what the voters authorized.”

“We disagree with the statement …” the PUSD response says. “A premium is an amount paid by an individual bond purchaser over and above the principal amount. That bond premium is not debt and does not constitute part of the amount of the issued bond; it is not part that needs to be repaid.”

The grand jury report found that “Bond initiatives and propositions typically do not provide information as to the cost of principal and interest payments. The amount can be exponentially larger than the original principal in bond measures that employ a CAB structure.”

The district disagreed, saying “Bond initiatives always contain an estimated tax rate necessary to pay the cost of principal and interest payments. The District disagrees with this finding because information is publicly available and shared by the District in full with the voters.”

The jury report endorsed the provisions of AB 182, which the report said will require school districts to provide greater transparency to voters regarding the terms and conditions of CABs and require mandatory early redemption (call) guarantees.

The Poway district response: “The Poway Unified School District has always complied with all applicable laws when issuing any bonds. The District will continue to follow any laws passed by the State Legislature.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Merced County supervisors to consider federal funding for Sheriff’s Department

By Ramona Giwargis, Merced Sun-Star -

The Merced County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is scheduled to consider approving an additional $15,000 in federal funding for the Sheriff’s Department to combat illegal marijuana grows.

The funding comes from the Drug Enforcement Administration and would pay for overtime, training and the department’s aviation unit.

This federal program, now in its seventh year, helps the county pay for operation expenses and equipment for the eradication of illegal marijuana.

The $15,000 is in addition to $75,000 already allotted to the Sheriff’s Department, but “due to the significant amount of illegal marijuana being grown in the Central Valley, the DEA recognizes the need for additional funding,” according to county documents.

Supervisors will also consider accepting a $1,300 donation earmarked for the Sheriff’s Department canine unit.

In a separate agenda item, the board is required to respond to Merced County Grand Jury recommendations. Supervisors will consider approving a response letter on Tuesday.

The grand jury inspected John Latorraca Correctional Center on Sandy Mush Road and recommended that the county determine whether the facility can handle an increasing population of higher-risk inmates.

The board responded by saying it approved a plan last month to pursue grant funding through Senate Bill 1022 to build a new jail, which will house more inmates and improve security.

The supervisors will also view a presentation about childhood obesity before considering adopting a proclamation to declare September to be Childhood Obesity Awareness Month in Merced County.

The board will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building, 2222 M St., Merced.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Editorial (Tulare) Grand jury

September 13, 2013 6:00 AM

As a former member and foreman of the Tulare County Grand Jury, I was amused at Interim Publisher Rick Elkins’ article about the Grand Jury.

It appears the jury did exactly what it was supposed to do: inquire, investigate if necessary and report if appropriate.

All activity conducted in the jury room is secret and may not be disclosed.

Each juror takes an oath when impaneled, which includes the following.

“I will not disclose any evidence brought before the grand jury, nor anything which I or any other grand juror may say, nor the manner in which I or any other grand juror may have voted on any matter before the grand jury. I will keep the charge that will be given to me by the court.”

If an investigation is handed to the district attorney, you would have no way of knowing, and should not, because of the possibility of interfering with the investigation.

The reason for an investigation can be a citizen’s complaint, information gleaned from the media or one or more jurors suggestions, which would have to be voted on. An investigation can be carried over to the next jury if the court deems it necessary.

Three persons are named in the article. Although only one person was quoted directly, it appears all gave information to the Recorder about their interviews with the grand jury.

Each person witnessing before the Grand Jury is admonished by the court. (A written admonishment that prohibits them from discussing what questions, subject matter, or other information they discussed that day) If any of these three discussed the events of the session they attended, they could have violated the law.

The article also cites the jurors serve two-year terms. The jurors serve a one-year term and may at the court’s discretion be held over for a second term. They may serve a maximum of two years. The court must hold over one juror, but in Tulare County they usually hold over three to five jurors for a second term.

For more information, see California Penal Code Title 4 (888-939) or contact the California Grand Jury Association.

Bill White

(Tulare) Grand jury probe sputters out

Jury mum as usual
September 03, 2013 8:48 AM

The not-so-secret Tulare County Civil Grand Jury probe into alleged wrongdoings in the city has apparently ended with nothing from the jury.

John Duran, the citizen who filed a complaint against the city, told The Recorder last week that he has received a letter from the jury foremen telling him that the jury had reviewed all the allegations “and they concluded no further investigation was needed.”

Duran said he is now taking his complaint to the state Attorney General’s Office. Without going into specifics, Duran said his complaint deals with what he feels is a misappropriation of funds.

He said he was not certain, but he hoped the grand jury would have at least turned over its findings to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office.

While not confirming if that had occurred, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Fulz said the jury has forwarded investigations to the DA’s office in the past.

As was the case last spring when he grand jury was subpoenaing residents and then grilling them for more than two hours, the jury has refused to comment. Several calls by The Recorder to the grand jury and its foreman went unanswered. The jury never confirmed the investigation, and now it is not confirming that there is no longer an investigation, although the letter to Duran points that way.

Duran said he filed his complaint on June 12, 2012. He said he last met with the grand jury on August 20 and was told then the investigation was concluded.

Porterville city manager John Lollis said he has not heard if the investigation has ended: “I don’t know. We haven’t heard of any more activity.”

While not called to testify, Lollis confirmed that others with the city had been called before the grand jury. He said the last time anyone was called was in May.

Lollis would like to see the grand jury issue some kind of a statement, especially if its investigation found no wrongdoing.

“It is one thing to be accused and not being able to defend yourself,” he said.

Unlike many other probes by the jury, there has not been a final report. The annual grand jury report that came out in June did not mention the city, the local schools or any investigation.

For more than six months, the civil grand jury interviewed a variety of Porterville residents on a variety of topics, but no one really knows for sure what the jury was seeking.

The Recorder learned thoseinterviewedincluded city council members, city staff and residents of the city. Information gathered by the paper found the interviews were conducted by the entire grand jury, not a committee of the jury.

The civil grand jury is an official body of 19 men and women chosen to perform duties as prescribed by California law, according to the Superior Court website. The jury acts as a watchdog by inquiring into the conduct of local government, investigates citizen complaints and ensures that officials and departments perform their duties properly and efficiently. Then, the civil grand jury writes reports using the information gathered in the investigations making recommendations for improvements.

The grand jury is seated in July and serves until the end of June. Jurors serve two-year terms, with roughly half of the jury replaced every year. Information is the newly impaneled jury ended the investigation. It appears the new grand jury decided not to continue the investigation.

David Gong, a former candidate for city council, said he was one of those called before the jury last year. He said the investigation was at the request of John Duran.

City council member Greg Shelton testified in January and said the investigation appeared to be very broad. Council member Cam Hamilton also was called in.

“There are so many directions they [the jury] aregoing in,” Shelton said in April, adding he was surprised by the range of questions he got.

“They were looking at a lot of things. I’d be curious what they findings will be,” said Shelton.

Shelton said he was aware of at least a half a dozen people who had been called in for questioning.

Gong said topics he was questioned about ranged from school issues to Chamber of Commerce issues and to individuals, however the grand jury spokesperson said the jury is only a watchdog over governmental agencies, not individual citizens.

Federal lawsuit

Duran also has a federal lawsuit against the city of Porterville stemming from an incident prior to the June 2012 city election. He said that incident, in which he alleges the police department violated his rights, also led him to file the complaint with the grand jury.

In the federal suit, Duran said he is charging his civil rights were violated when officers made him take down campaign signs he had put up in Veterans Park. City officials say it is illegal to place campaign signs on public property.

That suit is making its way through the federal court system.

Rick Elkins is editor of the Porterville Recorder. He can be reached at 784-5000, ext. 1040, or by email at relkins@portervillerecorder. com.