Friday, March 29, 2013

Alameda County gets $500,000 to reduce rape kit backlog

By Paul T. Rosynsky, Mercury News -

Natasha Alexenko waited more than nine years for the man who raped her to be arrested and charged with the crime.

The case could have been solved in 90 days.

Alexenko's long wait for justice is one that hundreds of thousands of woman endure as cash-strapped and overworked police departments fail to send DNA collected through rape kits to labs for testing.

There are more than 400,000 rape kits sitting on evidence room shelves throughout the U.S. collecting dust rather than clues that routinely lead to the arrest and conviction of a sexual predator.

Alexenko, 33, is hoping to eliminate that backlog and is beginning in Alameda County, where her New York City-based not-for-profit organization, Natasha's Justice Project, has donated $500,000, and pledged to raise $1 million more, to eliminate a backlog of untested rape kits.

"It's important to test these kits; you're often able to close cases and find out that the person did this before," Alexenko said. "Unfortunately, most of these kits do not ever leave the police department."

Alameda County has about 2,000 untested rape kits sitting on evidence shelves at its police departments. The kits haven't been tested for numerous reasons, including the cost and, in some instances, because a case has already been solved.

It costs between $800 and $1,200 to test evidence collected in a rape kit, and it also requires the work of an expert criminologist.
Alameda County's two crime labs, operated by the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office suffer from both problems, an Alameda County civil grand jury investigation found last year.

Alexenko said she decided to begin her campaign to reduce rape kit backlogs in the county because of the size of its backlog and because District Attorney Nancy O'Malley answered Alexenko's offer to help.

The untested kits in Alameda County will be sent to an independent laboratory for initial testing. The results of those tests will then be reviewed by criminologists working at labs at the Oakland Police Department and the Sheriff's Office. The results of the DNA tests will then be placed in a countrywide database that is used by law enforcement to match suspects to crimes.

Erasing the rape kit backlog will help solve the crimes for which the kit was used and, most likely, other crimes committed by the defendant, said deputy district attorney Jason Chin.

"These rapists are not specialists; they often don't find a single victim and often don't commit a single crime," Chin said. "There is really no excuse for not getting this done. It is so valuable to have these profiles in the system."

While only 20 percent of rapes are committed by strangers, Chin said it was important to test rape kits that come from cases that have been solved through witness identifications. Not only does evidence collected from the kit help corroborate a victim's testimony, it often connects defendants to other crimes, Chin said.

Alexenko said she hopes to erase all backlogs throughout the U.S. but realistically believes her organization can raise enough money to erase backlogs in four major metropolitan areas.

By erasing Alameda County's backlog, Alexenko hopes to generate publicity that shows the importance of having all rape kits analyzed.

"Part of the problem is people don't know about this issue," Alexenko said. "We want to make the public aware because when the public is aware, they are not going to take it anymore."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

(LA) Grand jury criticizes city for using Glendale Water & Power as 'piggy bank'

By Brittany Levine, Glendale News Press -

Report hammers funds transfers

A preliminary Los Angeles County civil grand jury report unsealed this week criticizes Glendale for using its utility as a "piggy bank" to cover budgetary shortfalls and heralds a more thorough review in the months ahead.

The report, which was released Monday, comes a week before the April 2 election, when voters will decide whether to approve Measure B, a city ballot measure that would change how the city collects tens of millions of dollars from the electricity fund of Glendale Water & Power.

While the civil grand jury acknowledged the fiscal challenges facing cities such as Glendale, “it is not permissible for the city to use Glendale Water & Power as its ‘piggy bank' to satisfy budgetary shortfalls,” the report stated.

City Manager Scott Ochoa railed against what he called a flawed report and its timing just days before the general election.

“The civil grand jury looks at charter cities like they're the hammer and we're the nails,” Ochoa said, referring to Glendale's status as a city that has its own governing laws. “They're hell-bent on finding a narrative that fits what their perspective is.”

But Harry Zavos — a retired law professor who has long criticized the transfer and filed the complaint with the grand jury that prompted the report — said that after months of degradation by City Council members and city officials, the preliminary findings were gratifying.

“I hope [the report] sends a message to the new council that instead of ignoring or distorting criticisms, or belittling those who make them, it should honestly and fairly engage with them,” Zavos said. “No one likes to be criticized, but in our form of government, the public is best served when the government does not, like the turtle, draw its head into its protective shell.”

For decades, the city has transferred tens of millions of dollars annually from Glendale Water & Power to the General Fund, which pays for police, parks and other public services. While critics have called it a backdoor tax that artificially inflates utility rates, city officials say it is the only way they can maintain the current level of public services.

In 2011, officials stopped transferring money from the water utility because some court cases cast doubt on the legality of the practice, but they continued to transfer electricity revenues.

The grand jury report recommends the city work with an independent attorney specializing in municipal tax law regarding the transfer's compliance with two state propositions that require utility rates not exceed the cost of providing service.

City officials argue that they are immune from those laws because they are predated by the 70-year-old transfer. And one of the propositions exempts electricity rates completely.

Another point of contention centers on the method for making the transfer. Critics say the money should only be transferred from the surplus fund, but city officials contend the money can be pulled from general operating revenues — a practice that would be certified by the passage of Measure B on Tuesday's ballot.

City officials say the measure is about cleaning up arcane accounting language, but Zavos contends it would bring a much more fundamental change.

The grand jury report recommends that the city hold a special election on the utility rates and revenue transfer, a move city officials called unnecessary and premature.

This spring the City Council is slated to review increasing electricity rates by 14.7% over four years — a discussion Ochoa said would not be sidelined by the civil grand jury report. Electricity rates have not been increased since 2006, he said.

Ochoa also took issue with a recommendation in the report that the city use other sources of revenue to pay for General Fund services.

“To offhandedly comment that the city should try to find $20 million someplace else, well OK, where do you say that [should] occur, or where do you suggest we cut?” Ochoa said.

Los Angeles County spokesman David Sommers said that since the civil grand jury's work is confidential, he could not give a timeline as to when the final report would be released.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marin supervisors reject grand jury's recommendations on pet-project fund

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

Marin County supervisors rejected tough proposals to corral a special spending account critics call a "slush fund."

Supervisors did, however, either agree or "partially agree" with a number of Marin County Civil Grand Jury recommendations aimed at tightening the account's grant process and making it more transparent.

But they refused to heed the jury's advice that they relinquish all control of the program, bar subsidies for ongoing operations of grantees, eliminate consecutive-year grants to the same organization, and put pet project funding on ice if other Civic Center offices face budget cuts.

The action came as the county board endorsed an administration response to a jury report that recommended a series of reforms. A number of jury proposals regarding the spending account were part of changes officials approved last week, when supervisors gave the program a facelift while hailing it as a vital community service.

The board has agreed the account will be directed by the county administrator, who will make decisions on grants "sponsored" by supervisors, with a funding distribution goal of "geographic equity" to ensure that each supervisorial district gets a fair share of the money. Other changes involve cutting the budget 14 percent by capping the fund at $300,000 a year, limiting grants to between $1,000 and $10,000 and increasing accountability.

Under new procedures, allocations will be made to nonprofit agencies or "other government partners" three times a year, and any "unspent balances" will be returned to the county treasury. Any money in the account at the end of the fiscal year will be held in reserve for use on "one time" projects.

"This is ... consistent with what you adopted last week," County Administrator Matthew Hymel told the board of the response to the jury report.

Two citizens offered opposing views.

"We can do better," said realty agent Toni Shroyer of Novato, who is seeking to oust Supervisor Judy Arnold in 2014. The "continuation of the slush fund," she said, indicates that supervisors "aren't listening to the people."

But Laura Lovett of Larkspur, who related her experience of getting trapped for a time inside Larkspur's community garden compound at night because she couldn't read an old combination lock, called the pet project fund a lifesaver for small projects — including the recent $3,500 gate and lock upgrade at the garden. "You're fixing something that isn't broke," she told the board.

The supervisorial perk has prompted more than a decade of controversy over the propriety of officials spending as they please. No comparable county in the state provides its supervisors with a similar personal spending account.

The fund first drew the ire of the civil grand jury a decade ago, with jurors saying it nurtured political favor.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

(Orange) Supervisors Inch Toward Response to CalOptima Report

By TRACY WOOD, Voice of OC -

A divided county Board of Supervisors is moving forward to craft a response to a scathing grand jury report from earlier this year that criticized the county’s handling of CalOptima, the health insurance plan that covers much of the area’s poor and elderly.

A 3-2 board vote adopted a draft response on March 19 to severe criticism the board received in January from the county grand jury, which issued a report titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle.”

Both the CalOptima board and the supervisors are required to respond to the report by April 25.

Supervisors created a temporary committee of Supervisor Janet Nguyen and Supervisor Todd Spitzer to further analyze grand jury recommendations that more supervisors be added to the 11-member CalOptima board.

Only Nguyen serves on the board, which oversees about $1.5 billion in state and federal funds, the largest of any county agency.

“We as a board do not accept the criticism that CalOptima is imploding,” said Supervisor Pat Bates, one of a three-member majority that voted to restructure the previous CalOptima board.

Bates said supervisors remade the CalOptima board after prior board members began to leave, although actually it was the other way around. In October 2011, Nguyen, with the backing of lobbyists from the Hospital Association of Southern California, abruptly proposed a major change to the existing CalOptima board.

Nguyen's ordinance, adopted in December 2011 with the support of Bates and former Supervisor Bill Campbell, caused several existing members to be ineligible for reappointment and in the months that followed, and others, like former Vice Chairman Jim McAleer, quit.

Among other things, McAleer cited micromanaging by Nguyen as interfering with the work of CalOptima staff. In the months after Nguyen took over CalOptima, at least 16 top or key executives, including the CEO, chief operating officer and chief medical officer quick to work for private industry or other government agencies.

In the past, CalOptima had received high marks for providing MediCal and Medicaid coverage to more than 400,000 county residents.
“Something happened at CalOptima, because there was a mass migration,” said Supervisor John Moorlach, who, along with board Chairman Shawn Nelson, voted against Bates’ proposed response to the grand jury.

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

The grand jury’s term ends in June, and it’s not clear what, if anything, will happen as the result of its findings. The grand jury is supposed to issue two more reports concerning CalOptima before disbanding.

Just before the supervisors began to discuss the grand jury report, Bates distributed a four-page proposed response, providing no time for the public to read it in advance.

Open-government expert Terry Francke, who advises Voice of OC on public access issues, said such actions are legal because the 60-year-old Brown Act, which requires open meetings, doesn’t ensure transparency under all circumstances.

Bates' proposal cited five grand jury findings and stated that supervisors disagreed “wholly” with most of them.

The first finding declared that a majority of the supervisors “have failed to take an active role in preserving an entity playing a vital role in the healthcare needs of the County’s young, disabled, low income and senior residents.”

That’s not our job, Bates’ response asserted. “By design, the Health Authority Ordinance [which created CalOptima] provides no authority for the Board of Supervisors as a body to participate in the detailed operation and oversight of CalOptima.”

That response applied to another grand jury finding that supervisors failed to act while key CalOptima executives left for other organizations.

The grand jury also asserted that “member organizations have expressed fear of retaliation if they do not support certain causes or candidates and the Board of Supervisors majority has not attempted to curtail or dispel these fears.”

Bates’ draft response stated that “the finding lacks specific information required for further analysis.” The county “takes seriously its obligation to investigate issues of fraud, intimidation” and other laws, the response asserted.

Complaints that result in an investigation — including complaints about the supervisors themselves — are reported to the board’s Audit Oversight Committee, which includes two supervisors, according to the draft. “To date there is no record of any complaints or investigations relating to ‘fear of retaliation reported by member organizations,’” it stated.

The Bates report also “wholly” disagreed with the grand jury that having just one supervisor on the CalOptima board keeps the two county department heads also are on the board from acting independently. The grand jury asserted that “county employees are reluctant to vote against a Supervisor.”

In her draft, Bates declared that it’s common in Orange County and elsewhere to have county employees serve on boards and also to appoint only one supervisor.

In its recommendations, the grand jury urged the supervisors to appoint more than one of its members to the CalOptima board, noting that all five supervisors serve on the financially smaller Orange County Transportation Authority.

After the grand jury report was issued, Nelson, Moorlach and Spitzer said they favored adding more supervisors. But in the past, some supervisors have been reluctant to serve on the CalOptima board. Spitzer and Nguyen will make a recommendation to the supervisors on the issue.

Adding more supervisors “would minimize potential conflict of interest and reduce any opportunity for CalOptima to be used for political gain or to advance personal agendas,” the grand jury declared.

Monday, March 25, 2013

SAN BERNARDINO: Airport developer Scot Spencer arrested

by IMRAN GHORI, The Press Enterprise -

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos announced Monday, March 25 that conspiracy and perjury charges have been filed against former airport developer Scot Spencer and one of his business associates.

He accused Spencer and Felice G. Luciano, an investor in one of Spencer's companies, of stealing more than $1 million from the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and using it as a "personal piggy bank."

“It’s an unconscionable crime,” Ramos said, accusing them of taking advantage of local efforts to try and turn around the struggling airport.

Spencer was arrested in Boca Raton, Florida on Sunday while Luciano is at large and considered a fugitive.

Prosecutors hope to have Spencer brought to San Bernardino County soon if he waives extradition.

The complaint includes two charges of conspiracy to commit grand theft against Spencer and Luciano. Spencer was also charged with two counts of perjury and one count of preparing false documents.

If convicted of all counts, each would face up to five years in prison. Ramos said he also hopes to seek restitution.

Spencer, the airport’s first developer and manager was the focus of a critical San Bernardino County civil grand jury report in 2011 and a FBI-led search that September 2011 looking for evidence of wrongdoing.

Spencer had done time did time in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud.

Spencer first arrived at the airport in 2003 to operate a failed charter airline before being awarded no-bid agreements to oversee the conversion of Norton Air Force Base into a commercial airport. The cost grew from $45 million in 2007 to more than $200 million. It hasn't been finished and there are still no scheduled flights.

The companies' insurance lapses were corrected, but a bankruptcy judge signed two orders Friday, Oct. 19, authorizing the immediate removal of Spencer's SBD Airport Services LLC from the luxury private pilot terminal that had been known as Million Air San Bernardino and his Norton Property Management Services LLC from one of the airport's largest aircraft hangars.

Spencer had been removed from airport property earlier this year after a bankruptcy judge threw out his cases, which he filed to avoid eviction.

Staff writer Richard De Atley contributed to this report.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

(Humboldt) Not so fair in Ferndale; association looks to appoint interim GM

Grant Scott-Goforth/The Times-Standard -

Over the last few months, the Humboldt County Fair Association board has voted against renewing the contract of its longtime general manager, been accused of violating the Brown Act, had some members receive subpoenas from the county grand jury and taken a few verbal lashings.

County officials say there's little oversight for them to provide, other than approving the association's budget and its lease for the fairgrounds -- and they are not looking to step into the fray.

The fair board is slated to consider appointing Ferndale resident Richard Conway as the fair's interim general manager on Monday, according to an agenda. Calls to Conway were not returned, and the fair association did not respond to requests for Conway's application. Fair association President Tim Renner did not return several calls requesting comment.

The fair is slated for Aug. 14 to Aug. 25, and is considered a major economic draw for the county.

The recent turmoil began in January when the fair association voted against extending the contract of longtime fair General Manager Stuart Titus, who is also the mayor of Ferndale. His contract ended Feb. 28, after 22 years of service.

Titus said in a previous statement to the Times-Standard that the decision against renewal stemmed from an April 30, 2012, meeting where he was informed by the 21-member board that they “felt threatened” when he reminded them that they had to follow the Brown Act -- the state's open meeting law -- and when he electronically recorded meetings.

Titus said board members also expressed reservations about his association as a silent partner of the Ferndale Enterprise. His wife Caroline Titus is the paper's owner, publisher and editor.

Stuart Titus said he “was informed that, as the silent partner of the Ferndale Enterprise, I should ensure that board members be 'made not to look bad' in any stories which appear in the weekly publication.

”To accentuate these points, a certain member of the committee informed me that if I failed to take them into account, it could cost me votes when it came time for my contract to be renewed,” he said in the statement.

Stuart Titus has declined repeated Times-Standard interview requests since January.

In a January interview with the Times-Standard, California Horse Racing Board Executive Director Kirk Breed called Stuart Titus “one-of-a-kind” in his willingness to fight pressure from other fair managers who wanted to take control of the Humboldt County Fair's horse racing meet.

”That meet could have fallen by the wayside many times,” Breed said. “Stuart has always been the one that stood up to those guys.”

The third and most recent board member to step down is Ken Christen, who 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn said was instrumental on the building committee that oversaw maintenance of the fairgrounds. Christen did not return calls seeking comment.

The Humboldt County Fair Association is a nonprofit corporation that's considered an affiliate of both Humboldt County and the state. The association leases the Ferndale fairgrounds -- approximately 65 acres -- from the county.

The Board of Supervisors has the option to terminate that lease -- it's due to end Aug. 31, unless renewed. The current lease agreement was written in 2002, modified in 2004, and is renewed every three years.

Fifth District Supervisor and board Chairman Ryan Sundberg said he's not concerned about the fair board's possible Brown Act violations, which Caroline Titus has written extensively about in her coverage of the fair board.

”I haven't seen anything where they've broken the Brown Act. That's completely speculation,” he said, adding that even if the grand jury finds violations, he expects they will be rectified. “I don't know if we even need to be a safeguard.

”It's a big board with a huge spread of community members on there that I respect,” he said. “I think they should be able to self-police themselves.”

Bohn, whose district includes Ferndale and the fairgrounds, agreed with Sundberg's assessment on the violation allegations.

”All we have is the fact that they did not extend the contract, or offer a new contract to Stuart,” he said. “Maybe they'll come out with the grand jury, and maybe they won't.”

The lease agreement between the fair and county calls for the association to submit a copy of the minutes of each board of directors meeting. The county would not confirm to the Times-Standard whether the association complies. The lease agreement also states that fair association records be made available to the county on request.

In a prepared statement, Bohn said, “For more than 100 years, the Humboldt County Fair has been a significant contributor to the community, and the County has not needed to provide a level of oversight to the actions of the Fair Association in view of the other needs that the County has faced during this period.”

According to a California Division of Fairs & Expositions 2009 economic impact study, the Humboldt County Fair generated approximately $6.4 million in “spending activity” in 2009, and created the equivalent of 70 jobs as a result of spending by the fair, its support businesses and its attendees.

The county approved a $1.3 million proposed 2013 operating budget earlier this month, an annual formality, according to Bohn. An independent audit reviewing the fair association's 2011 financial statements found no significant conflicts.

Bohn said the staff reviews the budget and recommends approval, barring any glaring discrepancies.

”You look for any red herrings,” he said. “Nothing jumped out at me. That's the same thing we want to do for anyone that leases our property.”

The Ferndale Enterprise reported in its March 14 issue that the board's entertainment committee -- tasked with selecting a theme for this year's fair -- was advised by the association's attorney to reach a consensus via email, an apparent violation of the Brown Act because the decision-making process takes place outside of the public's purview.

Attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan, who specializes in government transparency, said there's a “huge test” to determine who must follow the Brown Act.

”Even if you're not required to follow the Brown Act, if you do it, you're stuck with it,” he said.

The fair association policy manual specifically mentions the open meeting law.

”Conduct of meetings -- All meetings (with exception of Board policies, or any state required procedures) will be conducted in accordance of Robert's Rules of Order, as well as provisions for public meetings as described in the Brown Act,” the manual reads.

Meanwhile, some of the fair board members have been subpoenaed. It is unclear exactly what the grand jury is investigating, or why. Grand jury Foreman Robert Dunlap confirmed by telephone that more than one member of the fair association was subpoenaed, but declined to comment further.

Jeff Farley confirmed to the Times-Standard that he was one of the board members to receive a subpoena.

Boylan said even if a grand jury turns up violations, it doesn't necessarily have the authority to enforce them.
”Grand juries are ways that the public blows off steam,” he said.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Marin supervisors: Controversial pet project fund vital for community

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

Seeking to hush controversy over a pet project account they contend critics unfairly call a "slush fund," Marin supervisors gave the program a facelift Tuesday, tossing it to the county administrator while continuing to control the purse strings.

County Administrator Matthew Hymel's plan cuts the program's budget 14 percent by capping it at $300,000 a year, calls for grants between $1,000 and $10,000, increases accountability and shifts the focus from individual supervisors to his own office under a "countywide allocation" system administered by his staff.

Although a key recommendation stemming from a recent grand jury probe involved removing control of disbursements from supervisors entirely, Hymel's plan

does not do so. The new program requires that grants be sponsored by a supervisor — and that "geographic equity" be a goal to ensure that each supervisorial district gets a fair share of the funds.
Hymel's facelift follows similar proposals by Supervisor Steve Kinsey and includes several suggestions pressed by the county civil grand jury.

The county board embraced the changes as recommended after several supervisors, backed by beneficiaries of grants, trumpeted the program so vigorously as a vital community service that some observers wondered why they were altering it all, much less trimming its budget.

Even Supervisor Kinsey, who last December called for reforms, noted the program enables officials "to recognize those critically important moments in civic life" in which a small helping hand from the county makes a big difference. "No matter what we do, it will be a source of criticism," Kinsey noted.

"The benefits to the community far outweigh the pain we will feel from the tomatoes and daggers," said Supervisor Katie Rice.

"This is a program I never thought was broken," added Supervisor Kate Sears, asserting, "these monies allow for the enrichment of our communities."

Supervisor Susan Adams talked at length of the many community programs, ranging from school gardens to flood control and open space acquisition, she has helped fund, and Supervisor Judy Arnold said transparency and funding guidelines urged by the administration were excellent ideas.

"A small amount of money can go a long way to help our communities," said San Anselmo City Councilman Jeff Kroot, noting his town has benefited from the program. "It is truly government working for the community," he added. "It's not a slush fund," added Kroot's colleague, Town Councilwoman Kay Coleman. "It's an investment."

Grant recipients from Sustainable Fairfax and the Novato Fourth of July Parade joined in a chorus of praise.

But Novato realty agent Toni Shroyer wasn't impressed. "The Board of Supervisors is not a nonprofit," she said. "Donate with your own personal savings."

Shroyer has announced plans to run for county supervisor in next year's elections.

Retired insurance executive Deke Welch of San Rafael, who often casts a wary eye at county spending, said Hymel had done a "good job of making the program appear to be more organized, more fair," and said it was "headed in the right direction."

Under the new procedure, allocations will be made to nonprofit agencies or "other government partners" three times a year, and any "unspent balances" will be returned to the county treasury. Previously, if an individual supervisor did not spend a $65,000 personal budget allocation, the money was rolled over for spending the next year, and funding was allowed to mount. The county board thus began this fiscal year with $900,000 to spend on pet projects as it pleased.

Although the administration plan incorporated a number of the 2013 grand jury's suggestions, several of the grand jury's strictest proposals were ignored, including severing disbursement control from the county board, and the panel's conclusion that no pet project money should be allocated if other departments are asked to cut their budgets. The jury also said grants should not be used for a recipient's ongoing operation expenses — and should not be made to the same organization in consecutive years.

Hymel's reform program is the latest twist in the saga of a perk that has prompted more than a decade of controversy over the propriety of officials spending as they please.

Several years ago, supervisors cut the annual budget of the 20-year-old program from $550,000 to $350,000.

The fund first drew the ire of the county grand jury a decade ago, with jurors saying it nurtured political favor. No comparable county in the state provides its supervisors with a similar personal spending account.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

(Calaveras) Grand jury blasts handling of AB109

By Joel Metzger, Calaveras Enterprise
Criminal justice officials meeting to implement California’s AB109 in Calaveras County were “disorganized, unfocused, repetitious, and hostile at times,” and have put the public’s safety at risk, the Calaveras County Grand Jury said in an interim report issued late Wednesday.

The Calaveras County Grand Jury is a group of private citizens empaneled by the courts to review government operations. Visit to read the full grand jury interim report.

The grand jury found that members of the Community Corrections Partnership, tasked with handling AB109’s realignment of prisoners, did not adhere to the Brown Act, failed to take adequate meeting minutes, were disorganized and disrespectful of each other and county departments.
AB109 is the cornerstone of California’s Supreme Court-mandated solution to reduce overcrowding, costs and recidivism in the state prison system.

Realignment shifts the responsibility of supervision of some felons – described as non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenders – from the state to the local level, and many offenders who previously would have gone to prison will now serve their time in the county jail.

The state provided funding to counties to handle the new responsibilities – to the tune of about $475,000 in Calaveras.

During the implementation of AB109, each county in the state was instructed to form a community corrections partnership with an executive committee – each member having an equal vote – comprised of the chief probation officer, chief of police, sheriff, district attorney, public defender, presiding judge and representative from a county social services department.

In Calaveras, the partnership was led by Chief Probation Officer Teri Hall, who was joined by Angels Camp Chief of Police Todd Fordahl, Calaveras County Sheriff Gary Kuntz, Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook, Chief Public Defender Scott Gross, Superior Court Judge Douglas Mewhinney and Calaveras County Behavioral Health Director Rita Downs.
After attending numerous meetings, requesting countless documents from various departments and interviewing county employees, the grand jury reached five findings.

Finding 1Community Corrections Partnership and minutes: Meeting agendas have not been detailed enough to preview what will be covered. Introductions, old business, new business and adjournment has been enough to satisfy the Brown Act but “is not terribly useful” to a productive meeting, the report read. It also said meeting minutes had not been recorded properly, presented in a timely manner, and, at times, were not even written down. The jury also found biweekly meetings the partnership decided would take place have not been taking place. The grand jury recommends minute-taking be vastly improved in several areas and the partnership should hold meetings at predetermined times. It asked for the Community Corrections Partnership and Hall to respond.

Finding 2CCP parliamentary procedures and mediation: “CCP meetings have been disorganized, unfocused, repetitious, and hostile at times. No formal structure such as ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ has been followed. Consequently, no process for mediating disagreements between members exists. Misunderstandings, disagreements (sometimes loud), lack of compromise, unresolved differences in philosophy, insults, eye rolling and derisive laughter have rendered meetings inefficient and frequently unproductive,” the report read. The jury recommended the CCP should adopt a formal system of parliamentary procedures to keep meetings organized and avoid “discord.” It also suggested partnership members use “common courtesy.” The CCP and Hall were asked to respond to the jury.

Finding 3Respecting other county departments: “Each county department has its own policies and procedures. Departments are frequently required to work together towards a common goal. It is necessary to respect each other’s policies and procedures for public and staff safety,” the report read. The grand jury recommends departments respectfully follow proper procedures when seeking information from another department. Response from the Probation Department and Sheriff’s Office was requested.

Finding 4Working together as equal partners: The grand jury found there was no clear specification of “rank” within the CCP other than Hall being named chair. It also noted the plan calls for “continuous program improvement” and the implementation of data tracking methods. The jury recommends all departments involved share information openly. Response was requested from the CCP and Hall.

Finding 5Meetings and statistics: The grand jury found the CCP’s plan states the partnership will meet monthly (or as needed) with appropriate treatment providers to discuss problematic offenders and what strategies “will best address the offender’s anti-social behaviors.” “This meeting was held only once and never repeated. However, the need for this kind of meeting is crucial to public safety as well as the success of reducing new offenses.” The grand jury found this type of meeting was only held once and was never repeated. It also believes this kind of meeting is crucial to public safety as well as the success of reducing new offense by the AB109 population. The jury recommended resuming these meetings immediately to be held at regular intervals, which would be determined by a CCP vote. It also recommended information should be freely shared among voting members of the partnership “without partners being expected to answer the question, ‘Please explain your need for this information.’”

Yook said that quote was from an email Hall sent after Yook requested information about the level of supervision given to a PRCS offender.

Sheriff Kuntz was the only CCP voting member who responded to calls from the Enterprise by Thursday’s deadline.

Calls to former Chief Probation Officer Teri Hall, who is retiring at the end of this month, were not returned.

Kuntz said the report was “very accurate” and it could have been much worse.
“They pretty much hit the heart of it,” he said. “They requested a lot of information they never received. It’s an ongoing problem for the Sheriff’s Office, Angels Camp PD and the DA’s office. Hopefully this situation will rectify itself and people will work better with each other.”

When asked if he would have acted any differently in meetings if he could go back and do it all over again, Kuntz said, “No, I don’t think I did anything wrong.”

Kuntz said he had to hold his ground despite a philosophical difference between the Sheriff’s Office and the Probation Department. When asked what led to the “hostility” he pointed to former Probation Chief Hall.

“We don’t control meetings, it was up to the probation chief to do that,” Kuntz said. “She ran the thing. There was a lot of repetition – the same thing over and over. It was just one thing after another. Hopefully in the future things will change.”

“My job is to protect the public,” he said. “And I will not allow people to run amuck in this county with no accountability.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sacramento Bee Publishes Update on Disbandenment of El Dorado County Grand Jury

This artilce, by reporter Cathy Locke, covers much of the same ground as the earlier posting from the Lake Tahoe News, March 4, but adds some comments by Bill Trautman, President of CGJA, about how unusual this is, given that California law requires each county to always have a grand jury empanelled.

For the complete story please go to

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Local Organization Opposes Beach Revamp, Asks (Santa Barbara) County To Reevalute

Kelly Lin, Staff Writer, Daily Nexus, the Univiersity of Californiai, Santa Barbara's Independent Student Run Newspaper.

A group of Santa Barbara community members submitted a formal complaint to the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury to stop the implementation of Goleta Beach 2.0, a plan to review and renovate the Goleta Beach County Park.

Goleta Beach 2.0 is a plan designed to restore the park through environmental-friendly means. However, the local organization Friends of Goleta Beach Park has stated there are better alternatives to the current plan.

According to Ed de la Torre, representative of Friends of Goleta Beach Park, Goleta Beach 2.0 requires the government to spend unnecessary amounts of tax-funded expenditures to renovate Goleta Beach. Goleta Beach 2.0 diminishes the value of the park because its high costs harshly impact certain groups, and there would be loss of 150 parking spaces in addition to other negative changes, de la Torre said.

“In our perspective, [Goleta Beach 2.0] diminishes the value — reducing parking [and] grass picnic areas by [over] 20 percent decreases recreational value…This is not going to be cheap,” de la Torre said. “A lot of people are going to be disenfranchised,”

De la Torre said the Goleta Beach Park is an important city landmark that attracts many visitors each year, so the group is willing to take whatever measures necessary to protect the site. He said the organization is drafting a formal complaint requesting the Grand Jury to reevaluate the plan, decrease funding for the project and potentially implement alternatives that Friends of Goleta Beach Park is offering.

“[It’s] important because it’s such a recreational asset in the community and visited by 1.5 million people a year,” de la Torre said. “Our goal is to save and protect the park,”

According to Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who oversees three county parks, the goal of the project is to improve the beach so that its recreational resources could be used to their full potential. Wolf said the public had numerous opportunities to voice their concerns regarding the public project.
“One of the things they look for is the impact of recreational resources. When the Board of Supervisors initiate review for the 2.0 project, there is a sequence of review process [that follows],” Wolf said. “The public was invited to comment and to be aware that the purpose of the review process is to investigate the impact of any purposed projects.”

The project is currently in the environmental review phase, and it must undergo many review processes before going to the board, Wolf said.

“We will also look at alternatives,” Wolf said. “The planning commission takes it and then more public comments and then it will come to the Board of Supervisors.”

Amber Geraghty of the California Coastal Commission said they will also take public input into consideration when deciding whether or not to approve or deny proposals. Geraghty said such proposals first come before Coastal Commission and then Santa Barbara County sends in applications to the Coastal Commission, and it is up to Commission members to approve or deny the applications.
“As for the complaint made by Friends of Goleta Beach Park, any kind of public input we would take into consideration,” Geraghty said. “It is very important to the Commission that we consider different group views of the project.”

Despite the complaint, 25 year-old environmental organization Santa Barbara Surfrider Foundation supports Goleta Beach 2.0.

According to Surfrider Foundation representative Everett Lipman, the Foundation has protected the coastal environment from construction damages for the past 20 years, with Goleta Beach 2.0 being just another addition to that long tradition.

“Our chapter works to protect the local environment, ensure beach access and preserve undeveloped coastal land,” Lipman said. “We support the Goleta Beach 2.0 because it will provide more sandy beach and preserve the park without environmentally damaging the coastal armor.”
Lipman also said the new beach park plan has been developed following California Coastal Commission guidelines and the plan itself avoids most environmentally harmful methods of restoration.

“The Goleta Beach 2.0 plan has been developed according to guidelines given to the County by the California Coastal Commission,” Lipman said. “[It] does not involve any armoring, and instead moves utility lines and other vulnerable structures further back from the ocean.”

Friday, March 8, 2013

(San Luis Obispo County) Grand jury praises peace officer training

Staff report, Santa Maria Times
March 07, 2013 12:00 am 
An investigation conducted by the San Luis Obispo County grand jury found local law enforcement agencies are in compliance with California Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission requirements.

In a report released this week, the grand jury commended the county’s law enforcement agencies for efforts to maintain high standards of training, including constant review and upgrading and refreshing so-called perishable skills.

Perishable skills include driving, tactical firearms, arrest and control, force options and verbal communication that require constant refresher courses to remain at a high level.

The grand jury investigated the agencies’ Mandated Peace Officer Training Program out of concern that budget and resource cuts would delay or eliminate participation, which could degrade public safety and increase liability risks from inappropriate action, according to the report.

The grand jury audit included the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department and the Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Atascadero and Paso Robles police departments.

The full report is available for review at

Monday, March 4, 2013

El Dorado County Grand Jury disbanded

By Kathryn Reed
El Dorado County no longer has a grand jury.

Steve Bailey, the Superior Court judge who oversees the volunteer board, signed a court order Feb. 22 dissolving this year’s jury. The document says the reason is because the grand jury numbers dropped below the minimum of 12 and “that due to the lateness of the year, alternate jurors cannot be sworn in and trained and thereafter conduct meaningful investigations before the statutory discharge of the jury in June 2013 ….”

Bailey is out of town this week at a conference and could not be reached.  He oversees the grand jury that looks into county matters, even though he is married into a politically charged family with deep roots on the West Slope.

There had been 19 active grand jury members, with 14 of them resigning this year.  Sources close to the situation told Lake Tahoe News one member of the grand jury was regularly meeting with former El Dorado County Supervisor Jack Sweeney to tell him what the grand jury was doing. This violates state Penal Code.  That individual essentially became a poison pill within the group, creating distrust and disharmony, and prevented others from doing the job they were tasked with.

Sweeney is good friends with Supervisor Ron Briggs. On Dec. 18, 2012, John Briggs, father of the supervisor, was before the Board of Supervisors representing the Briggs Family Trust. On a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Briggs recusing himself, the others agreed to purchase 5.2 acres from the trust on which a future courthouse is likely to be built.

Judge Bailey is the brother-in-law of the supervisor and son-in-law to the elder Briggs. And it is Bailey who watches over the grand jury, which looks into county matters, of which his in-laws are intricately involved in.
Judges receive regular training on ethics and are charged with determining whether a matter they are assigned creates an impermissible conflict of interest per the Code of Civil Procedure.

Ray Van Asten, who was foreman of the 2012-13 grand jury, told Lake Tahoe News he is one of the jurors who quit. But he would neither say why, nor talk about what led to others quitting.  “We are unable to say what happens inside the jury room,” Van Asten said. It is not known what the grand jury was investigating.
“What they are looking at or not is not something I could talk about if I knew,” Suzanne Kingsbury, presiding judge of the El Dorado County Superior Court, told Lake Tahoe News.  She said in the 28 years she has lived in the county (she has been on the bench 17 of those years) she does not know of a time when a grand jury was discharged midterm.

“The purpose of the civil grand jury is to act as a public watchdog and examine the operations of cities, counties and special districts. I think that the role of the grand jury in our state is a critical one,” Kingsbury said.

Even so, there will be no grand jury report in June. It is possible that whatever this term’s jury was investigating could be taken up by the next grand jury that is seated.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

(Yolo) County addresses former probation chief's ethics issue

by Don Francis, Daily Democrat -

Once again, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors has taken up the conversation on ethics that began with a former probation chief's unusual friendship.

Marjorie Rist, who ran the county's Probation Department from 2009 to 2011, was the subject of a scathing Grand Jury report last year after it was discovered she was close friends with the president of a company Rist hired to train her officers.

That friend, Sean Hosman, was apparently a substance abuser at the time he was training Rist's officers. The two were "in near daily contact" in the summer of 2011, according to the Grand Jury report, titled "A Troubling Contract, Questionable Ethics."

On Tuesday, county supervisors received a memorandum that took a closer look at the services provided to the county by, Hosman's Utah-based company that specializes in assessing the recidivism risk of inmates.

According to the memo, prepared by county counsel, the October 2012 Grand Jury report "recommended an analysis of the contracts (with and their performance to determine whether the County of Yolo had received" what it paid for.

The memo lists a total of four contracts, beginning in 2007 -- before Rist was probation chief -- and ending Dec. 31, 2012. For these, plus a few other services, the county paid just under $539,000.

The memo notes that at the time was considered a leader in its field. Also, it says, the county is still using the software and training it received. And all four contracts were approved by the Board of Supervisors.
In general, "The consulting services were apparently provided and paid for," the memo states.

The memo is less forgiving about Rist's relationship with Hosman, stating that her "excessive involvement ... in trying to assist with the personal problems of the president of also created the appearance of a potential conflict of interest that should have been avoided."

That involvement was detailed in the Grand Jury report. In one April 2011 incident, the two were pulled over in Sacramento and Hosman arrested for drunken driving, while Rist, "who was also under the influence of alcohol and unable to drive, was directed by law enforcement to sleep in the car," the report stated.

Despite such incidents, the county's auditing process has found "no evidence that received overly favorable treatment" by Rist, according to the memo released Tuesday.

The memo did contain one revelation that confirmed a long-held rumor: Soon after stepping down from her post as probation chief, in July 2012, Rist took a job at

According to the memo, county officials were told Rist's hire was not part of a quid pro quo agreement or reward for previous favors, nor was the plan in place before it was learned she was stepping down. County counsel did not try to confirm these claims, but the memo does say Rist's "conduct created at least the appearance of a conflict of interest that should have been avoided."

Supervisors didn't discuss all these matters at Tuesday's meeting, instead congratulating staff members for their timely and professional response to the Grand Jury report.

"This is an episode that we should all see as sort of a red flag," said Supervisor Don Saylor.

But it won't be the last time the board takes up the issue, according to county officials.

"We do expect additional follow up, likely on a quarterly basis, as we strengthen policies, etc., as part of the recommendations" in the Grand Jury report, said county spokeswoman Beth Gabor.

Friday, March 1, 2013

(Kern) 'Phase out computerized visitors' kiosks,' Grand Jury advises Board of Trade

By Patric Hedlund, The Mountain Enterprise -

The Kern County Grand Jury issued an analysis of the Kern County Board of Trade (BOT) on Monday, Feb. 25 and suggested computerized visitors' kiosks be phased out. Its overview of the six economic engines of the county included tourism and film / television production.

The Mountain Communities' festivals and organizations have worked hard to qualify for BOT tourism grants to advance the ecotourism model for economic development here.

The still-unfinished Lebec Visitors' Information Center at the northeast corner of Flying J was built as a volunteer project with encouragement from former Supervisor Ray Watson. The goal is to attract tourists westward from the Grapevine into the recreational opportunities of the Mountain Communities. A touchscreen computer system in a weather-tight housing was to be installed, Watson said, along with a giant condor model and attractive, weather-shielded color posters of mountain attractions. The project is still unfinished.

The grand jury's report suggests that, to cut costs, the BOT might consider phasing out interactive computer kiosks as mobile technology develops.

New Supervisor David Couch has been asked to comment in the coming weeks about what this means for the prospects of finishing the Lebec Visitors' Center.

Grand jury: Marin 'sobering center' would be more humane for public inebriates and would save money

By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal -

County health officials should consider creating a "sobering center," a safe place where public inebriates could be taken to sober up instead of being sent to a hospital emergency room or the county jail, the Marin Civil Grand Jury concluded in a report issued Thursday.

"A sobering center for Marin County can provide a more humane alternative," the grand jury said, and would likely "generate cost savings and improved efficiency for both county law enforcement agencies as well as for local hospital emergency departments."

Larry Meredith, director of the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, said, "I think it's a thoughtful perspective, and one we want to take a little more time to reflect on."

Meredith agreed a sobering center would be a more humane approach to dealing with inebriates; but he questioned whether such a center would provide any cost savings to the county.

Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle said he hadn't yet read the report, but he also expressed skepticism regarding cost savings for his department.

"The booking of public inebriates is just part of what we do in the county jail," Doyle said, "so I really doubt there would be significant cost savings."

Jon Friedenberg, the Marin Healthcare District's chief fund and business development officer, was more enthusiastic about the grand jury's recommendation.

Friedenberg said, "These are people who have no reason to be in the emergency department. To have somebody occupy a bed for four to 10 hours for no medical reasons whatsoever but just to sober up so we can discharge them is a grotesquely inappropriate use of emergency services and health care resources."
According to the grand jury's survey of Marin law-enforcement jurisdictions, police picked up 1,198 people for public inebriation in 2011. San Rafael accounted for 406 of the bookings; Novato handled 205.

The grand jury noted that law enforcement officers are often required to take public inebriates with possible injuries, or who are so drunk they can't walk, to a hospital emergency department for screening and possible treatment.

Friedenberg said, "Federal law doesn't allow us to refuse them, nor can we discharge them as long as they remain intoxicated."

The grand jury stated that on average, public inebriates occupy four to five beds every day in county hosptials' emergency departments for up to six hours at a time, and more than 20 public inebriates are incarcerated in the county jail every week.

As recently as fiscal years 2006-08, 295 inebriates, an average of six a week, were sent to the Helen Vine Detox Center in San Rafael for sobering, according to the report. Starting in 2008, however, budget cuts curtailed use of the detox center for that purpose. In 2011, only 97 of the county's public inebriates, about 8 percent, were transported to sobering beds at the detox center.

By comparison, that same year the city of Santa Barbara, a city serving a population a third the size of Marin's, admitted 734 inebriates into its sobering center. The grand jury said a study of a Shelter for Public Inebriates in Grand Rapids, Mich., found that the shelter saved the local emergency facilities and Grand Rapids taxpayers more than $280,000 a year.

In its report, the grand jury applauded the efforts of Marin County's Chronic Alcohol Use with Justice Involvement Project for exploring interventions to engage Marin's chronic inebriates in more long-term behavioral changes. The task force consists of the San Rafael Economic Development Department, the San Rafael Police Department and Marin County's Office of the Public Guardian, district attorney, public defender and Department of Health and Human Services.

The grand jury concluded its report by recommending that Meredith and the Alcohol Use with Justice Involvement Project, with input from local law enforcement, prepare a cost-benefit analysis of a stand-alone sobering center in Marin County and secure funding for a center from the primary beneficiaries.

Some initial steps have already been taken in this direction. In July 2012, the county of Marin started providing funding for two sobering beds at the Helen Vine Detox Center, and Meredith said perhaps as early as next month another two beds will be made available at the detox center for sobering. Meredith said Marin General Hospital has donated $100,000 and Kaiser Permanente has provided $50,000 to help cover the cost of the additional two beds.

Friedenberg said that until recently, the parties interested in this issue — the county, San Rafael, law enforcement agencies, and local hospitals — have acted on their own.

"We really haven't been working together," he said, "and as a result collectively we end up spending a huge amount of money providing a less than optimal response."