Tuesday, April 30, 2013

(Napa) Grand jury chides loose-lipped witnesses

by KERANA TODOROV, Napa Valley Register -

Without naming names, Napa County’s grand jury, the group of citizens charged with investigating public agencies, is not happy with a number of public officials who have spoken about ongoing investigations.

The watchdog group issued an eight-page report late last week recommending every jurisdiction in Napa County remind their employees of the rules regarding the grand jury. Simply put — keep your lips sealed.

The reports did not reveal the investigation or the individuals accused of allegedly skirting the secrecy rules.

The report, released to the public Tuesday, alleges “certain witnesses” interviewed by the grand jury repeatedly violated the grand jury’s secrecy admonition, creating an atmosphere of apprehension and intimidation which impeded the grand jury’s investigation.

“While violations of the secrecy admonition were not endemic throughout the various public agencies, they happened enough times to seriously impede the grand jury’s investigations,” the report states. “It is clear that if a grand jury is to fulfill its statutory mandate to investigate local agencies of government, it must be able to do so in an environment where witnesses interviewed in its quest for truth are free to speak without fear, restraint or intimidation. It is only in this way that the full truth can be ascertained and the public assured of the efficacy of its government. County and citywide of training of employees regarding grand jury confidentiality rules would be an important step in remedying this problem.”

No citation have been issued. Instead, the grand jury issued a report in an effort to educate public officials and employees so they might better understand their “ethical responsibilities” toward the grand jury’s watchdog capacities and the general public.

The report was forwarded to a dozen agencies, including the Napa County Board of Supervisors, every city and the Town of Yountville.

Napa City Manager Mike Parness said he does not know what the grand jury is referring to. “I don’t really understand what they’re talking about,” he said.

The city will contact other agencies to make sure everyone is on the same page on what the standards, responsibilities and the requirements of the law are and will put together a response, Parness said.

Napa City Attorney Michael Barrett said the report does not allege any violation by “any city of Napa official, and the city is not aware of any such violation.”

“In any case, the city will prepare a response to the presiding judge of the grand jury within 90 days, as required by Penal Code Section 933,” Barrett said in an email.

Calistoga City Manager Richard Spitler said “I have no idea what they are talking about.”

“It wasn't specific, although I informed my department heads of their concern,” he said.

Steven Rogers, manager for the Town of Yountville, said he has not received the report. “As such, it is difficult to comment on this without a better understanding as to the specific allegations the grand jury is making,” he said in an email Tuesday.

American Canyon City Manager Dana Shigley said she has no comment until she receives any additional information.

“I have no idea what the problem might have been, but assume that since I never heard about it before today, it doesn't involve American Canyon,” Shigley said in an email.

Elizabeth Emmett, spokeswoman for Napa County, said “The county Board of Supervisors prepares a public response to each grand jury report, within the legal time frame and as directed by the grand jury. It is always approved for release at a public meeting. That moment is our first opportunity to comment publicly on any report.”

Victor Connell, foreperson for the 2012-2013 Napa County grand jury, said the April 25 document is the first of a “series” of reports for this term.

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