Wednesday, February 27, 2013

MARIN COUNTY'S grand jury is a valuable institution

by Dick Spotswood, Marin Independent Journal -

MARIN COUNTY'S grand jury is a valuable institution. It's both the county's ombudsperson and its public conscience, exposing error and waste while expressing approval when a public job is well done. It's occasionally a thorn in the side to those in power, but that's the whole idea.

Woodacre's Alex Easton-Brown, a former Assembly candidate, comes up with a fine suggestion.

California needs a statewide independent grand jury. It could give the annual once-over to the state's legislature, governor and permanent bureaucracy.

There are many hurdles toward making this happen, but if Marin-Sonoma Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine wants suggestions pursuant to his "Make the Golden State Shine" invitation for new legislative ideas, then creation of a California grand jury should be on his list.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Santa Cruz County Grand Jury and LAFCO At Odds

The Santa Cruz 2012 Grand Jury is disputing the Local Agency Formation Commissions responses to their report. The Grand Jury has called LAFCO out that district reviews are not being handled in a timely fashion as per government code.

In the 2012 Grand Jury report, one of the findings was that LAFCO was in efficient in reviews that would allow for early problem detection within special districts such as water districts. The LAFCO Executive Director responded to the Grand Jury that in the last 5 years since the recession, LAFCO has focused primarily on its core duties of reviewing applications, has secondarily prepared municipal service reviews and sphere of influence updates as necessary, and has chosen not to expand its work program and budget to prepare municipal service reviews with emphasis on early problem detection in independent special districts. LAFCO believes it is preparing service reviews in a timely and effective manner, as required by law.

The Grand Jury released a report today responding to LAFCO and contends that LAFCO is not performing reviews adequately under the Hertzberg Act. According to that law, LAFCO initially determines a special district's sphere of influence and "shall as necessaryreview and update each sphere of influence," but at minimum this must occur every five years. In conjunction with its sphere of influence update, LAFCO must also perform a "service review" of the district's "municipal services provided in the county." Following such a review, LAFCO "shall prepare a written statement of its determinations" of six specified items. Two of these items are "Financial ability of agencies to provide services" and "Any other matter related to effective or efficient service delivery, as required by commission policy."

So..the Grand Jury believes LAFCO is legally obligated to perform a service review of a special district in two instances: once every five years and "as necessary". The Grand Jury believes the major problems of the Lompico County Water District (LCWD) would have been discovered and possibly prevented if LAFCO had proceeded in accordance with its duties. As the legal entity with oversight of the county's special districts, the Grand Jury believes that LAFCO was surely aware of LCWD's problems such that an "as necessary" service review was indicated. But LAFCO did not act.

The County Board of Supervisors recognizes LAFCO as a separate board and they don't get involved in LAFCO as regard matters of the functioning administration of the board.

Friday, February 22, 2013

(Kings) Grand Jury criticizes city attorney hiring, pay

By Mike Eiman, The Hanford Sentinel -

The city of Hanford spends too much on legal services and should have hired a city attorney with more experience, according to a report released by the 2012/2013 Kings County Grand Jury.

The Grand Jury's investigation stemmed from a complaint alleging "continued waste of public funds and fiscal irresponsibility by the [Hanford] City Council." The brief three-page report doesn't explain how it reached its conclusions.

"I find the lack of detail shocking," City Attorney Bob Dowd said of the report.

The report criticizes the council's 2006 decision to hire Griswold, LaSalle, Cobb, Dowd & Gin. Of the 11 firms that submitted proposals, Dowd's firm was one of two that lacked the "minimum of seven years in municipal law experience representing general law and/or charter cities" requested by the council. The report recommended that "in the future, the city of Hanford should hire a law firm in compliance with its [request for proposal] to maintain the integrity of the bidding process whereby the best services are obtained for the least cost."

The report says that the city pays "substantially higher" legal fees to its city attorney than other cities of comparable size, but doesn't name which cities were used for comparison or their respective legal expenses. The report also said the proposal from Dowd's firm, the only local company to bid, was the most expensive and recommended the city "confer with the staff of other cities of comparable size concerning legal fees charged to find possible savings."

Dan Chin, who served as mayor at the time, said the proposal process served to find qualified applicants, but the council isn't required to hire based on the criteria listed. Chin noted that Dowd's firm had served as special counsel to the city for about a year in conjunction with an earlier Grand Jury investigation.

"It's the Grand Jury's fault we hired him," Chin joked. "The Grand Jury was investigating an agreement we made with former City Manager Jan Reynolds."

In addition to already having worked with the city, Dowd said his firm had represented a number of other public bodies, including area school districts, community services districts and the Kings County Housing Authority.

A section of the report cites figures for the city's yearly legal billings since 2001, when about $330,000 was paid to four attorney firms. In 2005, the city spent about $238,000 among three law firms. Last year, the report said about $660,000 in legal billings were paid to Dowd's law firm.

Dowd said the report fails to ask a number of questions, including what services are now being performed by the city attorney's office compared with several years ago. He said his office has taken on a growing list of duties including human resources, risk management assessments and redistricting. Dowd said the $660,000 figure includes about $300,000 to provide these other services.

"The real question is: What was being asked of the city attorney six years ago and what is being asked of the city attorney today?" Dowd said.

In recent years, Chin said, the city has eliminated a number of city staff positions, including two deputy city managers and a community development director. Many of their duties have been passed on to the city attorney.

The City Council approved a revised contract with Dowd's firm in May 2011, which increased the annual budget cap for the legal services provided by the city attorney from $250,000 to $350,000. The decision drew criticism from the public.

At that time, the city also discontinued its policy of hiring specialized law firms in addition to the city attorney in an effort to save money.

"The Grand Jury notes that despite one firm having been contracted in 2011 to cover all legal services, expenditures increased," the report says.

Chin disputed the Grand Jury's assertions that Dowd's firm is paid more than firms representing cities of similar size. He pointed to budgets from the cities of Tulare, which has about 60,000 people, and Madera, which has a population of about 63,000. Tulare's actual city attorney costs for 2010-11 totaled about $778,000. Madera paid more than $480,000 for legal services during the same period.

Visalia, which has about 127,000 residents, more than twice Hanford's population of about 55,000, spent about $1.16 million.

"They said that no other city in the South Valley had city attorney fees that high," Chin said. "It's easily verifiable information."

Dowd said the city has 90 days from the date it received the report on Feb. 6 to submit its response.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

(Santa Barbara) County Superior Court Seeks Volunteers for Civil Grand Jury

ANGELA BRAUN, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT - NOOZHAWK.com -

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Executive Officer Gary Blair announced Wednesday that the court is actively seeking volunteers for the 2013-14 Civil Grand Jury.

To be considered for service on the Grand Jury, you must be a citizen of the United States, be age 18 or older, be of character, have been a resident of Santa Barbara County for at least one year and have never been convicted of a felony or malfeasance in office.

Some of the principal functions of the Grand Jury include investigation and review of the departments and special districts of county and city government; involvement in fiscal or management audits; and the preparation of reports on related matters. Reports are then filed with recommendations for improvement of operations.

Service on the Grand Jury is for a period of one year commencing July 1 through June 30 and usually involves about 25 hours per week. There is no question that service on the Grand Jury is an enormous sacrifice of time; however, it is an excellent opportunity to learn about the inner workings of government while providing a valuable service to the community.

Applications for the 2013-14 Grand Jury can be obtained by clicking here, or from the court’s Jury Services office during regular business hours in Santa Barbara at 805.882.4530 or Santa Maria at 805.614.6464.

Applications should be submitted no later than Friday, May 3 to Santa Barbara Superior Court, Jury Services, 1108 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. The new Grand Jury will begin July 1 and serve through June 30, 2014.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

CGJA - Regional Meetings

Dates and times of regional meetings scheduled in 2013 are posted here. As you may have heard by now, they are full of information, shared experiences, fun and camaraderie. These collaborative meetings are open to all members, regardless of chapter affiliation. If you would like to attend one, contact the appropriate person:

San Joaquin Valley Regional meeting to be held April 12, 2013
9:30 AM to 3:00 PM
Lunch will be ordered in from a nearby deli at the cost of less than $10
Woodward Park Library, 944 E Perrin Ave, Fresno, CA 93720
Contact: Gary Greenberg g_greenberg@att.net 559-269-1340


Bay Area regional meeting to be held May 4, 2013
9:30 AM to 3:00 PM
$25 for lunch served, three choices of menu
The Club at McInnis Park, 350 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael, CA 94903
Contact: Beate Boultinghouse beateb4@aol.com 415-608-4244

Friday, February 15, 2013

(Napa) Time to apply for grand jury

Napa Valley Register, by Vic Connell / Foreperson, Napa County grand jury 2012-13

February is Grand Jury Awareness Month in many California counties. The Napa County Superior Court is encouraging residents to apply to become members of the 2013-14 grand jury on which 19 appointed jurors will be impaneled for one year, from July to June.

The civil grand jury serves as a citizen local government watchdog. It is an official entity of the superior court, with important investigative powers, but it has no enforcement authority.

In addition to a routine review of governmental agencies, the grand jury may respond to specific citizens’ complaints, investigate areas of public concern identified in the media, follow up on recommendations by previous grand juries, and various other sources of information.

When appropriate, the grand jury can issue reports of its findings and recommendations in formal reports, to which the local government agencies or officials are required by law to respond. These formal reports are also distributed to local media, public libraries, and can be viewed by the public on the Napa County Superior Court website.

There are many individual benefits to serving on the grand jury. It can be a unique opportunity to contribute to your community and learn about how your local government functions, while serving with a diverse group of fellow citizens.

As a result of your service, you will meet and likely develop friendships with other county residents who have a broad range of experience and interests.

Although service on the grand jury is probably best suited for retired or semi-retired citizens — because it requires many hours a week over 12 months to undergo training, conduct investigations, participate in interviews, tour jails, and write reports — anyone willing to devote the amount of time required to be an active, effective member is encouraged to apply.

Please consider applying to be a member of the 2013-2014 grand jury. More information and applications are available at the Napa County grand jury website: napa.courts.ca.gov.

(Orange) More Grand Jury CalOptima Reports Expected by June

By TRACY WOOD, Voice of OC -

The Orange County grand jury is planning two more reports on CalOptima, the county’s health plan for disabled, low-income and elderly residents, whose oversight by the Board of Supervisors was the subject of a highly critical report last month, CalOptima CEO Michael Schrader said Thursday.

Schrader, who took over as CalOptima’s chief executive officer in December, told a meeting of about 50 Orange County legislative and congressional aides, lobbyists and reporters that he received a call from the “lead juror” after the Jan. 25 release of the grand jury report.

Schrader said the lead juror told him a second grand jury report on CalOptima is planned for March and a third before the grand jury’s one-year term ends June 30. It’s not known what issues will be covered, and Schrader didn’t give the name of the lead juror.

Schrader said, however, that he was told the grand jury didn’t want CalOptima staff to “weigh in” as part of the agency’s required response to the January report.

That report, titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Board of Supervisors Fiddles,” asserted that “political turmoil threatens the organization, jeopardizing its membership’s access to quality healthcare and potentially putting the entire entity at risk.”

CalOptima operates with $1.5 billion in federal and state funds to ensure medical care is provided to more than 400,000 county residents, most of them children.

Both the five-member Board of Supervisors and the board of CalOptima are required to respond to the grand jury findings by the end of April.

Last week, the CalOptima board appointed four of its 10 members to work with the agency’s staff on drafting a response. But after Schrader’s announcement about the grand jury not wanting staff input, it wasn’t immediately clear how CalOptima board members planned to write their report and what would be done to ensure staff wasn’t involved.

Among other things, the grand jury stated that “several current CalOptima Board members and recent hires lack the healthcare experience to understand the complexity of CalOptima as proven by their comments and questions during CalOptima Board meetings."

Schrader told the quarterly legislative lunch that the grand jury report was “really about the governance of CalOptima and not about the operations of CalOptima.”

Among its recommendations, the grand jury urged county supervisors to appoint more than one of its members to the CalOptima board. Currently, only Supervisor Janet Nguyen serves on the board. She engineered a complete restructuring of the CalOptima board that left it, as the grand jury noted, with no member who served longer than 20 months and most who have been there less than a year.

CalOptima is gearing up for major changes and new programs as part of the new federal health law that goes into effect next year.
"Supervisors should change the CalOptima board of directors to include more than one supervisor and remove the two county employees, the directors of the Health Care and Social Services Agencies. Employees have to report to the county’s CEO and are too likely to be intimidated by a supervisor," the report declared.

A majority of the five supervisors indicated they support changes to the CalOptima board that, among other things, would add more supervisors as members.

In the wake of Nguyen’s changes and related upheaval, 16 top and key executives left CalOptima for jobs in private industry or with other government organizations. According to the grand jury, a “CalOptima board member [Nguyen] and two CalOptima [staff] lawyers have been disruptive and created an atmosphere that according to current and former CalOptima employees is ‘unsafe for senior executives.' "
Schrader said Thursday he’s close to hiring a new medical director.

After the meeting, Schrader said the “lead juror” didn’t tell him what the two additional reports were likely to cover.

Campaign contributions raised from CalOptima contractors were part of the last report, including a fundraiser for Nguyen hosted by an executive of Integrated Healthcare Holdings Inc., a hospital chain that contracts with CalOptima. Julie Puentes, county lobbyist for the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC), helped with the fundraiser after she helped Nguyen make changes to the ordinance regulating the CalOptima board, according to the grand jury and interviews with former CalOptima board executives.

Nguyen has denied any HASC involvement in the ordinance change. A HASC spokesman has said the organization doesn’t comment “on investigative reports and studies performed by government watchdog agencies.”

HASC also was implicated in the grand jury report in connection with an anonymous letter that circulated last winter and was used by Nguyen, former Supervisor Bill Campbell and Supervisor Pat Bates against then-CalOptima Board Chairman Ed Kacic. While saying they wanted to find out whether accusations in the letter were accurate, the board delayed Kacic’s official reappointment. The board then delayed for weeks investigation of the accusations.

Puentes attended the legislative briefing Thursday. When asked by a reporter whether she had been interviewed by the grand jury, she declined to comment, citing HASC policy.

One issue that surfaced last year but wasn’t addressed in the January grand jury report is the result of a compliance investigation of an unnamed board member.

The CalOptima board voted March 23, 2012, to have its in-house lawyer, Gary Crockett, define the scope of the investigation that in turn would be conducted by an outside law firm.

At the time, Denise Corley, CalOptima director of compliance, said nothing like the accusations against the unnamed board member had ever happened before. The allegations, she told the board, covered “lots of different kinds of complaints involving conflicts of interest and Brown Act violations and things like that.”

In an Aug. 3, 2012, letter to Kacic, Nguyen stated the complaints involving a board member’s conduct were checked, and “no merit was found that required further investigation.” No other details have ever been made public.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

(Monterey) Sheriff disputes civil grand jury report

TheCalifornian.com -

Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller addressed the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to formally dispute the 2012 Civil Grand Jury report that called out his department for excessive overtime.

While he supports the work of the civil grand jury, Miller said, there were “glaring omissions and problems” withing the report pertaining his department.

The report states that the panel met with the heads of the five departments investigated, but Miller said he was not contacted. Another item in the report that was inaccurate, was a statement that the department had failed to cap its employees at 56 hours of work per week, including overtime. The report stated that no such cap had been implemented as of October. Miller said the “56 hours rule” was implemented in May.

He said steps have already been taken to reduce overtime in his department. Some of those include converting 12 deputy sheriff positions to custody and control positions at the jail to be staffed by civilians and reassigning five patrol deputies to the jail.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

(Solano) Grand jury says Benicia cemetery not in compliance

By Tony Burchyns/Times-Herald staff writer -

The city's locally controlled, historic cemetery is not complying with local and state laws regarding burial plot sales and the required posting of signs, a Solano County Grand Jury report released Thursday finds.

The four-page report also scolds the city for not regularly scheduling cemetery issues at Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission meetings, and recommends establishing an endowment fund to subsidize maintenance and operational costs.

The report also recommends reviewing burial fees to determine if they are sufficient to cover costs such as landscaping, road repairs and maintaining vaults. Fees haven't changed since 2005.

Reached Thursday, city officials said they were reviewing the findings and recommendations.

"We concur with the grand jury's overall assessment of the cemetery, which concluded that the cemetery is managed and maintained in an excellent condition despite budget limitations," Benicia Parks and Community Services Director Mike Dotson said. "We are currently preparing a response to the grand jury, for (City Council) review, prior to the May 6 ... deadline."

Established in 1847, the 24-acre cemetery at 1 Riverhill Drive, has more than 4,000 people interred. Cared for by city workers and volunteers, it is the burial place of a number of historical figures such as former sea captain Edward Von Pfister, who established the area's first general store prior to the Gold Rush.

The city took over the cemetery's operation from religious and service groups in 1978.

According to the report, the parks and community services department sells available burial plots. On occasion, however, the purchase of a plot is made through Passalacqua Funeral Chapel on West Second Street as a courtesy to clients. The funeral chapel then contacts the parks department to get a statement from the city indicating name, grave location and total costs.

The city then invoices the funeral chapel for payment; however, there is no signed paperwork provided by the funeral chapel to the city for the purchase of the plot in compliance with Benicia City Cemetery Rules and Regulations, the grand jury said.

It also found there are no signs posted at the cemetery stating that it is a "nonendowment care" property, as required by the Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Bureau.

Other issues noted by the grand jury included the city's inability to provide an accurate number of gravesites due to missing prior-operator records and missing or broken grave markers.

Dotson said some of the recommendations reflect goals that had already been identified by city staff. The rest, he added, appear to be issues that can be addressed by the city in a "reasonable time frame."

More detailed information, Dotson said, will be contained in the formal response to the grand jury that will be presented to council.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Grand jury: Fresno County farm-tax hikes appropriate

By Kurtis Alexander - The Fresno Bee -

The much-criticized tax hikes that hit Fresno County farmers over the past two years got validation this week from a report by the grand jury.

The citizen-investigations panel found that the county Assessor-Recorder's Office acted appropriately when it raised property taxes for thousands of agricultural landowners -- 23% on average just last year -- despite widespread claims that the increases were unwarranted.

The tax hikes, according to the Assessor's Office, were the result of rising crop values, and Assessor Paul Dictos said Wednesday that farmers will likely see taxes rise again next year as the Valley's agricultural industry continues to flourish.

"This report shows that I'm doing my job," Dictos said Wednesday.

Dictos won elected office two years ago pledging to update the county's out-of-date taxing procedures. The product of his effort was higher land valuations -- and hence higher taxes -- for farmland in the Williamson Act, a conservation program that generally assigns lower tax values to ag property.

The total tax value of ag property, under Dictos, is up 59% over five years ago -- to $9.2 billion -- the grand jury report notes. The value of most other property, meanwhile, has remained flat or is down.

The report calls the revised tax roll "accurate and timely," and grand jury Foreman Mark Kalchik said the investigation did not find any problems with the new Williamson Act tax calculations.

Under the Williamson Act, taxes are based on a parcel's income potential in agriculture instead of the parcel's market value, which generally nets a lower tax.

Dictos said that rising prices for pistachios, almonds and raisins would likely continue upward pressure on property taxes in the coming year.

County Supervisor Phil Larson, who represents Fresno County's rural west side, has been critical of the tax increases.

Despite Dictos' numbers and the grand jury report, Larson said it's strange that Fresno County farmers have been hit with larger tax hikes than their neighbors.

"If the other counties aren't doing this, why is Mr. Dictos so right? Are they all wrong?" Larson said.

Fresno County reigns as the top agricultural producer in the state with its wide variety of tree fruit, vineyards and ranchland.

The grand jury report is the effort of a volunteer group. The group is empowered by the Superior Court and was given access to county records for its investigation.

The group's members, however, have no expertise in the subject matter and their findings have no legal bearing.

Fresno County Farm Bureau Executive Director Ryan Jacobsen said the report didn't go far enough to convince him that the recent tax hikes are 100% legitimate.

"I don't think it either adds or distracts from the argument. It doesn't provide enough detail," Jacobsen said.

The Assessor's Office was investigated because of reports in The Bee about the tax increases on Williamson Act property, the grand jury report suggests.

Roughly 14,000 parcels benefit from the Williamson Act in Fresno County, more than anywhere else in the state.

Even with the recent tax increases, landowners will save upwards of $25 million this year because of the agricultural tax breaks.

The county will collect roughly $573 million in property taxes this year. The money will go to cities, schools, special districts and county government.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

CALIFORNIA GRAND JURORS’ ASSOCIATION
Public Relations Committee

Media Release – February 7, 2013

CONTACT PERSON:

Keath North
knorth@cgja.org
707.845.3612

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Click here to watch VIDEO of Lt. Gov. Newsom launching Public Service Announcements promoting grand jury service

The California Grand Jurors’ Association is pleased that Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has released two public service announcements promoting volunteerism in the state’s unique county grand jury system.

California’s county grand juries have a powerful role in local government, as they have the authority to review and investigate all local government entities in their county to determine that services are being provided in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
Embedded in the state Constitution, this important function is only possible due to the volunteer services of citizens in each county.

Service on a county grand jury requires a commitment of one year.

An inquiring mind and the ability to acquire and analyze facts to develop significant and achievable recommendations are needed. Grand juries acting in the civil oversight role, while not looking for criminal behavior, sometimes find it, resulting in an official being removed from office or convicted.

Lt. Governor Newsom was an active supporter of the San Francisco Grand Jury during his tenure as Mayor, and has lent his voice to this recruiting message. He believes in the system and encourages all interested and qualified citizens to consider volunteering in each of California’s 58 counties.

The California Grand Jurors’ Association is an all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the California grand jury system in its civil oversight role, through the training of grand jurors and education of the general public about the value of the grand jury system.

The two PSAs will be distributed statewide, and also posted on the CGJA’s website, www.cgja.org.

(Marin Co) County boosts volunteer program staff

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

County officials will hire a human resources assistant to help two staffers overseeing the Civic Center's popular volunteers program.

The move, in accord with a recommendation by the civil grand jury in June, in effect reverses budget cuts made a year ago and will fund this year's program at $305,000, up from $231,000 in fiscal 2011-12. In fiscal 2009-10, the program was budgeted at $297,000.

The program last year provided county departments with 241,000 volunteer service hours that officials valued at $10 million.

"The costs associated with facilitating the work of volunteers are a good investment which reaps benefits far beyond the expense," human resources chief Joanne Peterson said. "The volunteer program has a long history of connecting those willing to freely give their time and talent in a way that makes a difference in their community," she added.

"We have meaningful volunteer opportunities and community members who are excited to fill those roles," Peterson noted.

She said the addition of a personnel assistant brings the staff to three people, providing "support recommended by the grand jury." One analyst will focus on volunteers, another on interns, and a third will help with both.

Following the retirement of longtime volunteer chief Joan Brown two years ago, staff was reorganized, prompting the grand jury to take a look amid complaints the program had lost a "personal touch" that directed citizens to appropriate roles. The panel concluded that efforts to streamline the program were misguided, especially when a surge of baby boomers will swell the ranks of volunteers at a time county cutbacks open up new opportunities for helping hands.

In general, the jury said in a report called "Civic Center Volunteers Program: The Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs," that a limited budget prompted efficiencies that threaten the vitality of a program well worth funding.

The jury's report received a mixed review from County Administrator Matthew Hymel, who said at the time that "although we may not agree with all the grand jury's recommendations, we agree that additional investments should be considered to enhance the program."

Hymel called the volunteer program "a key strategy to help us adapt to declining resources ... it is an extremely beneficial and important program."

Several grand jury suggestions, including a proposal that a senior volunteer staffer be given management clout, are not part of the latest program shuffle, which was routinely approved without discussion by county supervisors recently.

Brown lauded officials for restoring staff. "I'm deeply grateful the Board of Supervisors, which has demonstrated unwavering support for Civic Center Volunteers from its inception, continues to recognize it absolutely vital in these tough economic times and is a tremendous partnership between county government and its residents."

The volunteer program, an innovative project launched by then-Supervisor Barbara Boxer following Proposition 13 budget cuts in 1978 at suggestion of the late taxpayers' advocate Mona Versi, was headed from its inception by Brown, a vibrant, energetic official who made it a national model.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Grand jury lauds Monterey County office of education

By CLAUDIA MEL√ČNDEZ SALINAS, The Herald -

In the final installment of the grand jury report, which was issued by segments throughout the year, the group provided an extensive overview of the services that can be found at the Monterey County Office of Education, but found no flaws with it.

"The (County Grand Jury) found all six of the MCOE's service departments well organized, efficient, and working diligently to provide support, guidance, training and resources for all members of Monterey County," the report reads in its conclusions.

"I found it very complimentary," said Harvey Kuffner, chairman of the Monterey County Board of Education. "I found (two) findings to be specially complimentary concerning activities that have taken place."

The civil grand jury issued its 2012 report in seven installments. The first one looked at the county's voting procedures, which grand jurors deemed "safe." The 19-panel member also criticized a Marina elected official just before the November election for acting too much like a staff member.

In subsequent, interim reports, the grand jury described the overtime at the Monterey County Sheriff's Department as excessive; examined the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority, Carmel Area Wastewater District and progress on medical trauma care in the county. In total, the grand jury issued six interim reports and a final one that included investigations about MCOE, detention facilities, and six south Monterey County school districts.

The final installment also looked at conditions in the county jail and Juvenile Hall.

Noting the chronic overcrowding at the jail — designed for 824 inmates but usually housing more than 1,100 — the grand jury recommended that the Sheriff's Office and Probation Department pressure county judges to hand down more "split" sentences, which combine jail time with rehabilitative programs.

A recent study found the county fell far behind most of California when it comes to adopting the blended terms that have been recommended by statewide association of probation chiefs.

After The Herald reported that pre-trial bail amounts in Monterey County are higher than in neighboring Santa Cruz County, the grand jury also recommended that the bail schedule for defendants awaiting trial for non-serious, non-sexual, non-violent crimes be revisited.

In the eleven-page portion about MCOE — which reads like a catalog for the organization — the grand jury lists the services available to the 24 school districts that operate within Monterey County. The services are grouped in seven areas: "pillars of success," administration services, educational services, finance and business services, human resources, migrant education, and special education.

After listing all the services that MCOE facilitates, the report broadly concludes that "the marked improvement in Monterey County schools these past five years can be attributed to the MCOE's high expectations for closing achievement gaps."

This and other findings could also be attributed to other educational oversight organizations, such as the California Department of Education and the school districts themselves.

Although closing the achievement gap is a federal and state mandate, one that every school district, principal and teacher takes seriously, Kuffner said he believed it was fair to attribute improvement in the county to MCOE.

"MCOE played a part in it, we sent out teams of our staff to help with particularly low achieving schools," he said.

The report also describes MCOE's solar energy project as "the first of its kind in Monterey County." But the solar power generation facility at CSU Monterey Bay, which opened two years before MCOE's, is three times as large. CSUMB power plant generates 16 percent of the university's energy consumption, which is also a savings for the taxpayers, like MCOE's project.

Also in the same report, the civil grand jury examined the workings of six of the smallest school districts in south Monterey County - Bradley, of 73 students; Chualar, with 334 students; San Antonio, 179 students; San Ardo, 102; San Lucas, 65; Mission, 26. Some operate in remote areas of the county, which would make consolidation difficult, the report concludes.

Among their biggest flaws, the grand jury found, are neglected facilities in some schools, defective phone systems and sometimes faulty websites.

Three of the districts are high achievers: Bradley, San Antonio, and Mission. The report concludes low performance could be attributed to many children belonging to "limited-English proficiency families who spend long hours in the agricultural fields and have less time to devote to their children and their education."

The grand jury recommended all districts to continue seeking funds to spruce up their buildings, the San Lucas district to try to re-open their pre-school program and to establish a tutoring program for low-achieving students.

For San Ardo, the grand jury recommended the administration install a fully functioning phone answering system, and to provide training for their board members "to assist in better coordination and an understanding of board activities"

Agencies have 90 days from the time the final report is issued to respond to the grand jury findings.

Nicole Hester, superintendent/principal of the San Lucas School, said the district never had Head Start - it was migrant education that ran the program, but it was eliminated due to budget cuts.

"We would love to have a preschool program," she said.

The report was not surprising to Hester, who has worked for the district for more than two years, the last two as three as administrator.

"I think generally (the grand jurors) were impressed with small South County school districts," Hester said. "Their original plan was to come to get to know this area and familiarize themselves with it."

Herald staff writer Julia Reynolds contributed to this story.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monterey County grand jury to release final report

The Californian.com -

The 2012 Monterey County Civil Grand Jury is scheduled to release its final report on Monday, a news release says.

The report will be available online beginning at 10 a.m. A limited number of printed and electronic copies will also be available for purchase.

In addition to six reports previously published last year, the final report will include these new reports:

• “Monterey County Office of Education,” directed to the Monterey County Board of Education.

• “Detention Facilities Inspections,” directed to the Monterey County Sheriff and the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

• “One School Districts in South Monterey County,” directed to the Boards of Trustees for the Bradley Union, Chualar Union, San Antonio Union, San Ardo Union, San Lucas Union and Mission Union School Districts.

Pursuant to state law, the boards or agencies have 90 days to comment on the reports; the sheriff must comment within 60 days.

Online: The Final Report will be available at: www.co.monterey.ca.us or www.monterey.courts.ca.gov.

Information: Call Chief Assistant County Counsel Leslie J. Girard at 831-755-5045.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lt. Governor Newsom and CGJA launch Public Service Announcements

CALIFORNIA GRAND JURORS’ ASSOCIATION
Public Relations Committee

MEDIA ADVISORY
FEBRUARY 5, 2013

11am Superior Court, Room 617
400 McAllister, San Francisco



CONTACT: KEATH NORTH
PR COMMITTEE CHAIR
knorth@cgia.org
707.845.3612


CGJA LAUNCHES FEBRUARY GRAND JURY APPRECIATION MONTH
WITH LT. GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom joins the California Grand Jurors’ Association launch of Grand Jury Appreciation Month by taping 30 and 60 second public service announcements encouraging Californians to do their citizens’ duty and apply to serve on their county’s Civil Grand Jury.

The public service announcements will be previewed at the San Francisco Superior Court Building, posted on the CGJA’s web site www.cgja.org and distributed to broadcast media statewide. Audio-only versions will also be available.

Embedded in the State Constitution, requiring each county to impanel a civil grand jury, country grand juries have a powerful role in local government, as they are given the authority to review and investigate all local government entities to determine those services are provided in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

The jury’s important functions are only possible if citizens apply to volunteer their services—time and interest—to serve on a jury for one year, usually from June to July the following year. Qualifications to serve on a civil grand jury are basic: California citizen, 18 years of age, a good command of English, no criminal record and an inquiring mind with the ability to analyze facts to develop significantly achievable recommendations. The CGJA web site can guide applicants to each county court’s contact information.

Lt. Governor Newsom was an active supporter of the San Francisco Grand Jury during his tenure as San Francisco Mayor, and has now lent his voice to this recruiting message. The Lt. Governor believes in the civil grand jury system and encourages all interested and qualified citizens to consider volunteering in each of California’s 58 counties.

The California Grand Jurors’ Association is an all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the California grand jury system in its civil oversight role, through the training of grand jurors and education of the general public about the value of the grand jury system.

Friday, February 1, 2013

(Orange Co) Former CalOptima Board Members Push Back at Nguyen

by TRACY WOOD, Voice of OC -

Two former board leaders at CalOptima, the $1.5-billion health program for the county’s disabled, low-income and elderly residents, said Tuesday that Supervisor Janet Nguyen made factual errors or omissions in her first specific comments about a stinging grand jury report.
Former Board Chairman Ed Kacic and Vice Chairman Jim McAleer both criticized an opinion piece Nguyen wrote for Tuesday’s Orange County Register, saying her arguments omitted important facts or were wrong.

Nguyen has not answered reporters’ questions about the 15-page report since its release Friday, but she scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. Wednesday to “set the record straight about CalOptima and the Grand Jury report.”

Her staff said reporters would be allowed to ask questions at the news conference.

The grand jury report, titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle,” blamed leadership by Nguyen’s and inaction by a majority of the supervisors for damaging the health plan that covers more than 400,000 of the county’s most vulnerable residents, most of them children.

Supervisor Pat Bates and former Supervisor Bill Campbell voted with Nguyen in December 2011 to radically change how CalOptima's board of directors operates. Supervisors Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach vocally opposed and voted against changing the county's ordinance.
Nguyen is now the only county supervisor on the 11-member CalOptima board. The grand jury recommended that more supervisors be added and two top county executives removed.

Since the grand jury report landed last week, Supervisors Nelson, Moorlach and Todd Spitzer (who replaced the termed-out Campbell) have told Voice of OC that they believe all five supervisors should serve on the board.

In her opinion piece, Nguyen blasts the grand jury, saying the panel erred when it reported that lobbyists for the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC) drafted a 2011 change in the CalOptima ordinance that, among other things, gave medical providers a stronger voice on the board of directors.

“The grand jury's claim that, in March 2011, a lobbyist rewrote the county ordinance that changed the composition of the CalOptima board is outright wrong,” Nguyen wrote. “The ordinance that changed the composition of the board was rewritten and approved in December 2011, with no lobbyist involvement.”

But in the weeks before the final Board of Supervisors actions in December, sources close to the issue say the proposed ordinance was reworked because the original version, made public in early October, drew so much criticism.

Kacic said that shortly before the proposed ordinance went before the supervisors on Oct. 4, HASC lobbyists Julie Puentes and Jim Lott told him and McAleer “in a face-to-face meeting” that the “draft had considerable input from HASC.”

Lott, HASC’s Los Angeles representative, wrote in an email last week: “For the record, please know that the policy of our company is to not comment on investigative reports and studies performed by government watchdog agencies.”

According to Nguyen’s campaign reports, in the nine months after the proposed ordinance change was made public, she raised about $50,000 from the health care industry, including a fundraiser that HASC helped organize.

In her opinion piece, Nguyen criticized previous CalOptima boards for approving the purchase of an office building near The Block in Orange for about $30 million while still having to pay as much as $1 million a year for four years for leases on their former empty offices.
Several of Nguyen’s complaints about the actions of prior boards appear to include her colleague, Supervisor John Moorlach, who was her predecessor on the CalOptima board.

Yet in a Voice of OC video Friday about the grand jury report, Moorlach said: “It [CalOptima] ran really well when I was there for four years. I can only have people judge the record as it is.”

Regarding the building purchase, McAleer said health organizations like CalOptima are required to maintain strong reserves so they can pay their debts if something goes wrong. The reserves can be in bank accounts, short-term investments or property.
He said when the new federal health plan was approved, the CalOptima board knew that, among other issues, there wasn’t enough parking for CalOptima’s consumers.

At the same time because of the poor economy, commercial property was selling at bargain rates. He said the board debated the pros and cons
at public meetings and ultimately decided to buy their own building, even though they knew in the depressed commercial market it might be difficult to lease their old space. Even so, he said, the value of the new building gave CalOptima an overall financial edge.

The financial analysis showed it was “an excellent financial move for the organization,” he said.

Nguyen also raised issues that have been denied before by Kacic and others, including what she described as CalOptima spending “approximately $90,000 worth of staff time on non-Cal-Optima business.”

Kacic, as he has before, said the financial allegation is untrue. He said Nguyen didn’t mention that CalOptima received $12.4 million as a result of work done by the top leaders of county hospitals, working together through the Managed System of Care to find ways to cut health costs.

On another point, McAleer said Nguyen neglected to mention that CalOptima was in the middle of revising its procurement policy and fixing potential problems when she criticized former board members for renewing a public relations contract without competitive bids.
In her opinion piece, Nguyen again criticized the prior CalOptima board for awarding a pay increase to former CalOptima CEO Richard Chambers and allowing other employes to receive incentive increases.

Chambers’ pay, when he left in April, was $335,000 in base pay plus a car allowance, health and other benefits for a total of $550,000.
The new CEO, Michael Schrader, has less experience and is starting at $315,000 plus benefits. He also will be eligible for a performance-based increase, according to his contract.

McAleer said that because Chamber’s performance qualified him for the increase, CalOptima risked a lawsuit if it didn’t give it to him. Equally, he said, other top employes had incentive plans that had to be honored. Even so, he said, Nguyen didn’t want to give them the increases. At the time, the state and federal officials were cutting payments for health care.

Ironically, a few months ago CalOptima offered retention bonuses to key employees to encourage them to stay through January because at least 16 top or key executives left for private industry or other government positions after Nguyen began redoing the CalOptima board and, as McAleer said when he resigned from the board last spring, “micromanaging.”

The grand jury report warned that “political turmoil threatens the organization, jeopardizing its membership’s access to quality healthcare and potentially putting the entire entity at risk.”