Friday, May 31, 2013

(San Joaquin) Report Critical of Stockton’s Former City Manager, Finance Department

by Sam Cohen, -

A grand jury report says it was a lack of reliable information and lack of project oversight that led to Stockton having to file for bankruptcy. They make many recommendations to the city, including forming new audit and budget systems, and provide finance training for current department staff and council members.

According to the report released Thursday, the San Joaquin County Grand Jury found “evidence of inadequate information presented to the City Council by a former city manager; lack of project oversight; unilateral control and manipulation of projects by a former city manager without City Council knowledge or approval; poor accounting of the various transactions involving the Events Center; lack of reliable information between city staff and the City Council; and, a financial system that is inadequate for the accounting needed.”

The group looked at Stockton’s current financial situation, and also what information the city council knew, or didn’t know, the effectiveness of the City Auditor, the finance department and prevalence of financial training for council members and the mayor.

Read the whole report here.

The grand jury report criticizes Stockton’s Finance Department, stating the department’s software and computer hardware was more than 20 years old. “The inability to manage and extract information makes it difficult to prepare timely financial reports in a format that is easily understood by elected officials and the public.”

They recommend the department prepare a training program for all finance department staff to improve their knowledge and account skills.

The report also chastised the lack of communication between the former city manager and city department heads, and the general council about the financial health of Stockton; specifically alerting the council about which departments of the city were or were not adhering to their budget limits.

In addition, the current grand jury report reconfirms an earlier report in 2006 that the then-city manager failed to provide information about the true cost of the Events Center to council members. This incident, and the increasing costs of building the Events Center, led to a growing mistrust between the city manager position and council members, according to the grand jury.

In conclusion, the grand jury report made it clear the responsibility is on the mayor and city council to know what is going on in their city. “A Mayor and City Council that prefers to not ask questions or demand complete and accurate information from its management, or to remain uneducated about the intricacies of the city’s financial structure and operations can be more easily swayed by staff recommendations that are not in the public’s best interest.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

(San Joaquin) Grand jury faults bug-control agency

By Kevin Parrish, Record Staff Writer -

The agency that protects San Joaquin County by killing dangerous bugs and vermin has come under grand jury criticism for the second year in a row.

The county Mosquito and Vector Control District - which states as its mission "comprehensive vector surveillance and control services to enhance ... public health and quality of life" - was targeted by the 2012-13 grand jury for three areas involving its 11-member governing board:

» Open-meeting violations.

» Failing to understand health benefits trustees approved for themselves - and lacking in basic understanding of district finances.

» A sense of entitlement on the part of some trustees and appointments to the governing board.

"We certainly respect the efforts of the grand jury to ensure county residents are receiving the most efficient and responsible service," said Ed Lucchesi, district manager. "If there are efforts we need to improve on, we will look into it. This may cause us to do a self-evaluation."

Lucchesi, a district employee for 26 years, replaced longtime manager John Stroh last summer.

The current grand jury investigated two complaints involving the Brown Act, California's open-meeting law, and found no violations had occurred.

According to its report, posted Tuesday, the grand jury did, however, find other areas of concern: a lack of transparency regarding district board meetings, lack of understanding by trustees, a failure to grasp district finances, concerns over trustee appointments and the board's governance structure.

The mosquito-and-vector control district's legal counsel is Stockton attorney Chris Eley.

"The report states that the district board ignores the peoples' right to be informed. I think that mischaracterizes the actions of the district and the board."

Eley said the criticisms were minor. He said the board "has done a good job in keeping up the level of service" during difficult financial times.

"Trustees are community members who take time every month to do the unglamorous work of overseeing vector control work," Eley said.

The district has 37 employees and an annual budget of approximately $6.7 million. There are 68 other mosquito-control districts in California. Only three offer health-insurance benefits for trustees.

The local board president is Marc Warmerdam, who represents the Lodi area. The 11 members, who meet monthly, are appointed by the county Board of Supervisors and the seven incorporated cities in San Joaquin County.

The county's bug-fighting agency has been criticized for the health-insurance practice by the San Joaquin Taxpayer's Association.

In January, trustees reaffirmed a 2009 resolution to receive the same health benefits as employees.

The projected cost at the time was $66,000 for six of the 11 members (about $11,000 per trustee).

The grand jury also recommended the district "allow the public greater access to ... agendas and reports" and that the county supervisors and cities "consider adopting term limits."

Grand jury members said they had "concerns about whether having a separate district with a separate board is the most effective structure for present and future vector-control needs."

A year ago, the grand jury looked into accusations of sexual harassment in the form of rude, vulgar and lewd remarks. The district reported back its disagreement with some findings and a recommendation to improve training.

The grand jury has given the district 90 days to compile an official response.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

(Kern) Stay at Lerdo costs more than Marriott

17 -

It used to be called the Honor Farm, but Lerdo jail is becoming more dangerous by the day - and more expensive, too - according to a new report by the Kern County Grand Jury.

On average, it costs 129 dollars per day to house each inmate. You can get an executive room at the Downtown Marriott for that price. That's 47 thousand dollars a year, which is more than two semesters tuition at USC medical school.

There are nearly 27 hundred inmates in Lerdo's four units. That's more than 126 million dollars per year, three times what it's going to cost to build the new dorms at at Cal State Bakersfield.

The grand jury says because of prison realignment, every inmate released tends to be replaced by a more violent one.

There are 300 inmates serving sentences of three years or more.

Click here to read the whole grand jury report.

Friday, May 24, 2013


By Karen Pearlman, U-T San Diego -

Alpine voters OK’d 2 bond measures, but still no campus

East County

The San Diego County Grand Jury took the Grossmont Union High School District school board to task Tuesday for not coming through on construction of a high school in Alpine despite passage of two bond measures.

A grand jury report found that “the residents of GUHSD and the greater Alpine area deserve clarity from the School Board regarding the proposed 12th high school.”

Since 2004, voters in the district have approved two bond measures, totaling nearly $700 million, that include funding to construct the high school in Alpine along with upgrades to existing schools.

School officials say the high school is on hold because available bond funds are insufficient, that enrollment projections do not support a new school and that the school would not be economical to operate.

“The district will give serious consideration to these recommendations and will develop a timely response following a thorough review,” said Catherine Martin, a spokeswoman for the school district. She noted the district has 90 days to respond.

The district serves nearly 25,000 students. Most students living in Alpine attend Granite Hills in El Cajon or Steele Canyon in Jamul, said Al Haven, one-time Alpine Union School District superintendent and one of three chief petitioners to the grand jury.

“We started this in 2002 because Grossmont was not providing a high school for our kids, some of whom need 60 to 90 minutes one way to attend school,” Haven said. “We have kids spending 10 hours a week traveling to school, whereas for other kids in the district it’s 20 minutes at the most. And we’ve had kids being killed on the road.”

The grand jury recommends that the board make a final decision by Dec. 31. If it decides to build, funds should be placed in an escrow account and a timeline established. If it does not commit to the school, the board has been asked to support a unification effort in Alpine so voters can decide whether to have a high school built as a part of the Alpine Union School District.

Board members Priscilla Schreiber and Jim Stieringer, both of whom have supported the building of the Alpine school, were heartened by the report.

“I have made my statements for 10 to 12 long years, and the grand jury report and findings should confirm my fight for the Alpine community plight and the total disdain and disregard for the Alpine community,” Schreiber said.

Stieringer said he agreed with the report’s argument that “the district has consistently made promises to the residents of Alpine that it either could not or would not keep.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

(Mendocino) Grand jury: Law enforcement should not be mental health system

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 05/21/2013 10:10:57 PM PDT

While the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors debated the contract it will issue to a private company to provide mental health services in the county, the Mendocino County grand jury issued a report which says more needs to be done to relieve local law enforcement from its role as the de facto mental health responders.

In its report titled "Cut Backs In Mental Health Services Impacting Law Enforcement" the grand jury said that in its look at law enforcement facilities this year, "There was one issue that came up repeatedly, the impact of 5150 arrests on departmental resources and public safety."

A "5150" is the section of California law which addresses individuals displaying high risk behavior posing an imminent safety risk to themselves or others. "Every 5150 arrest takes an officer away from patrol duty for hours at a time as they wait for a crisis worker to arrive or until preliminary procedures are complete," the grand jury report states. "The severe cuts to the County's Mental Health budget have resulted in less staff and resources. As a result, there is one crisis worker on duty for the entire county after hours and on weekends. Crisis workers have the authority to release patients over the objections of police, hospital staff, and psychiatrists. The lack of mental health workers is costly to law enforcement and local hospitals as well as to the safety of all citizens. Additionally, there are conflicting opinions on how this County's Health and Human Services Agency treats dual diagnoses."

The grand jury is recommending that the county mental health department administration continue and expand the search for a county psychiatrist for the jail, provide additional crisis workers after hours, and re-examine the 5150 hospitalization and release procedures.

"Mental Health needs to make funds available to implement a discharge plan to aid the mentally ill released from jail," the report states. "The medical provider at the jail is currently using a doc-in-a-box (telepsychiatry) in the absence of a psychiatrist. There is a psychiatric nurse on site. The GJ observed and determined the position of the camera was inadequate. Jail administration needs to move the camera closer to achieve personal contact. Telepsychiatry provides prescription service only, no counseling."

During a visit to the county jail, the grand jury was told that close to 20 percent of all inmates have mental health issues. "Due to the lack of mental health services and facilities in this County, people arrested for behavioral issues end up in jail," the report states. "There are people in jail who are not accepted by mental health facilities, not deemed competent to stand trial, or are waiting for conservatorship status."

At the time of the grand jury visit, it was reported there were 254 inmates, of which 46 had mental health issues. "One third of these are women," the report states. "Twelve inmates are acutely mentally ill (half men, half women) and should be hospitalized. This includes one inmate with a misdemeanor waiting months for a mental health bed."

Patient inmates are often placed in solitary confinement for their own safety, as well as the safety of others. Jail staff quoted, "solitary confinement in jail is the worst thing we can do to someone ... safety cells are a horrible, horrible necessity. There is no other way."

According to the grand jury, a senior jail official told them, "We provide more mental health services than the Mental Health Department. We are the end recipient for the people the Mental Health Department no longer serves."

The grand jury's findings include that:

The Mental Health Department scheduling one crisis worker after hours and weekends is insufficient for Mendocino County.

Crisis workers have conflicting responsibility and authority.

Health and Human Services Agency and Ukiah Valley Medical Center have conflicting views on the procedures for treatment of patients with dual diagnoses.

Mendocino County Jail enlisted the help of MH staff to begin a follow-up program for released patients deemed mentally ill.

The current method of providing psychiatric services needs improvement.

Telepsychiatry (doc-in-the-box) is an expensive/poor substitute for the "real thing."

HIPAA regulations prevent mental health communication between law enforcement and medical staff. Hospital staff may only transmit patient information to the medical staff at the jail.

They recommend:

Mental Health provide an additional crisis worker after 6 p.m. and on weekends. (F1)

The Health and Human Services Agency re-examine its policies regarding crisis workers making the determination for releasing 5150s when a supervisor's authorization is required to hospitalize a patient.

Health and Human Services Agency clarify the procedures for treatment of patients with dual diagnoses.

Mental Health funds be used to implement a discharge /follow-up program for mentally ill inmates released from the jail.

The doc-in-the-box camera be repositioned for improved personal interaction.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

(Marin) Grand jury calls for methane plant; critics say its full of hot air...

by Jason Walsh, Pacific Sun -

A Marin Civil Grand Jury’s call for the County to partner with Redwood Landfill to create a methane gas-to-energy plant is leaving some environmentalists with a bad taste in their mouths.

In its latest report released this week, “Garbology in Marin: Wasted Energy,” the grand jury, citing the need for a local landfill that can produce local energy, says the Marin County Hazardous and Solid Waste Management joint powers authority should join landfill officials in making a methane plant a “reality”… “as soon as feasibly possible.”

And, despite a legal challenge to the Redwood Landfill’s ongoing quest for an additional 19-year operating permit, the grand jury says it “supports the extension of the landfill’s life.”

The landfill’s current permit allows operations to continue up to 2022; its application for a new permit to manage the landfill through 2032 was successfully challenged in court by the group No Wetlands Landfill Expansion. In her ruling striking down the validity of the environmental impact report accompanying Redwood’s application, Judge Lynn Duryee cited a lack of information on the cumulative effect of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions; the possible increased non-cancer health impacts; mitigation of groundwater contamination; and suggestions for an alternative waste disposal location. The case is currently being appealed by Redwood owners Waste Management Inc.
Redwood’s proposed energy plant—which would be abandoned if the landfill’s lease is not extended—could convert enough methane to power between 6,000 and 8,000 Marin homes, according to the grand jury report.

But critics of methane plants say they allow too much methane to escape into the atmosphere. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methane is the second most prevalent human-produced greenhouse gas emitted in the United States, behind carbon dioxide. Yet, it is 21 times more powerful in its “warming” effect than CO2.

Despite the dangers of methane, the grand jury concluded its report by saying that if Redwood Landfill closes, “Marin’s carbon footprint will increase and rates may also be increased if our waste is hauled to more distant landfills” and that the grand jury “hopes that [Redwood Landfill] will continue to enhance its operations in Marin County regardless of the outcome [of litigation].”

Monday, May 20, 2013

Grand jury slams Marin officials over medical marijuana

by Jason Walsh, Pacific Sun -

Let the chronically sick folks smoke some pot, for crissakes, a Marin Civil Grand Jury is urging County officials.

In a new report, titled “Medical Marijuana: Up in Smoke,” the grand jury laments the vast closure of medical marijuana facilities in the county and lambasts county and city officials for not have the backbone to support what 73 percent of Marinites voted for when the Compassionate Use Act was passed in 1996.

A Justice Department crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in the last few years has shuttered dispensary doors across the state, leaving patients with choices of either the black market, dubious online providers or going without pot-pain relief entirely. “The county’s response to this situation has been to take a wait and see position,” reports the jury. “One supervisor stated that medical marijuana is not a priority, and a representative of the County’s Department of Health and Human Services stated that they ‘did not have a dog in this race.’”

Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is considered a Schedule I narcotic, on par with heroin and ecstasy. Critics of the classification say that’s like taking a rated R movie and lumping it in with the rated X’s. Many would prefer to see it regulated along the same lines of more similar drugs as alcohol and tobacco.

The grand jury also took aim at local city councils for bowing to the complaints of the minority of folks who live near the dispensaries—the grand jury refers to it as “the NIMBY effect”—by enacting bans, moratoriums and changing land use codes to drive away the dispensaries.

According to the grand jury, this is in spite of three major studies, including one by the National Institutes of Health, that have concluded “that there is no increase in crime in neighborhoods around dispensaries.” Nevertheless, continues the report, local governments have responded to citizens’ misgivings.

The grand jury cites Mill Valley, San Rafael, Larkspur and Novato as passing bans on dispensaries; Sausalito has a moratorium; Corte Madera shut down a dispensary under threat of a cease-and-desist order. Marin Holistic Solutions, in Corte Madera, is the only dispensary still operating in the county; its agreement with the Town allows it to operate until spring of 2014.

Marin Holistic Solutions serves about 800 patients in Marin, says the report. Their average age is 40. MHS pays sales tax and a gross receipts tax of 1.4 percent to the city. During an onsite visit to MHS, “grand jury members observed tight security measures… and the chief of police reports that there has been no increase in crime in the area.”

In its conclusion to the report, the grand jury recommends that the Board of Supervisors “respect the will of the voters and the intention of the Compassionate Use Act by using its authority to uphold access to medical marijuana within the county” and to develop a viable set of ordinances for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the unincorporated areas of the county.

“Compassion without action,” the report concludes, “is not enough.”

Saturday, May 18, 2013

(San Diego) Grand jury wins unusual court case

by JW August, 10News(ABC) -

Testimony reveals reasons behind restraining order

Judge William Dato said it best: "This is a most unusual case." Dato was being asked to decide if key records for an ongoing grand jury inquiry could be used in its investigation.

The hearing involved the City of Imperial Beach squaring off against the County of San Diego and the San Diego County Civil Grand Jury.

Attorney Steven Boehmer argued that the billing records for attorneys working for Imperial Beach shouldn’t be released to the grand jury. Normally anything the grand jury does is secret until it finishes its investigation. However, a temporary restraining order from Boehmer’s firm provided a glimpse into what the jury was curious about and why the firm of McDougal, Love, Eckis Boehmer and Foley fought to keep the legal bills out of the grand jury’s hands.

Attorney Boehmer based his arguments on the attorney-client privilege. He felt the legal bills with detailed narratives on the services the firm provided were protected. Boehmer’s firm deals primarily with redevelopment issues for the city.

Opposing him was Deborah McCarthy from the office of San Diego’s County Counsel. Her agency had been pulled into the dispute after the county auditor had requested the bills on behalf of the grand jury.

The jury had asked for the auditor's help in evaluating legal bills the City of Imperial Beach was paying.

Auditor Tatiana Foster testified she received the records after requesting them from the city.

According to Imperial Beach Administrative Services Director Kathleen Von Achen, she had instructed a temporary employee to just give the auditor the basic bill and a coded description of the legal services, nothing more.

The code describes generally what the law firm was doing for the money.

But as the testimony revealed, the employee provided the entire set of books for the grand jury.

The city wanted the records back and didn’t want the grand jury to be able to use them in any investigation.

That’s why the TRO was filed.

McCarthy would argue that the grand jury had every right to review the records, how else would they have a full understanding of exactly what was going on. While some details are sketchy, it was clear from the testimony from both sides they were talking about a large sum—25 million dollars. Also revealed was the probable focus of the grand jury’s inquiry -- illegal use of redevelopment funds.

Also revealed in testimony was another law firm the city used on other matters did provide codes with detailed explanations of charges. The bills from McDougal, Love, Eckis, Boehmer and Foley didn’t provide as much information as this other law firm.

County counsel argued that the detailed narratives with the bills were needed to understand what had happened to the money.

In his ruling Judge Dato said the temporary Imperial Beach employee was not provided adequate guidance in the release of the records. In addition, he made clear that for the grand jury to do its job, it needed to be able to review the legal bills in their entirety.

In the audience observing the hearing was the San Diego County Grand Jury. Team 10 asked the jurors what would happen next?

They were tight lipped, only saying they may be getting back to us. When Attorney Boehmer was asked if he would appeal the Judge’s ruling, he said no decision had been made. He appeared to be very upset.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Notes from the grand jury on San Luis Obispo County jails

The grand jury, comprised of 19 members, is a unique body that serves as a local government watchdog. The grand jury is an official body of the Superior Court in San Luis Obispo County.
The public or local governments may agree or disagree with the findings of the grand jury, but the ability of the jury to shine a light on the operations of government is one that can only lead to better public understanding of government. It also affords an opportunity for government to bring about necessary changes.

Occasionally a report does not receive the attention the jury believes it warrants. Such is the recent 2012-13 report on county jails. The report outlined several areas in which the jury was critical of the county jail and the holding cells at the county courthouse. These critical areas were well identified by the media. However, the grand jury is also aware that most of these areas are affected by a lack of funds, and most can only be corrected with additional public funding.

The grand jury would also like to recognize many of the positive findings at the county jail, juvenile hall and local police agencies, which we believe were not adequately identified to the public. The jury found that the holding cells in local agencies were clean and safe for occupancy. Juvenile hall is building a new wing, adding cells, classrooms and a multi-purpose room. The probation department staff at juvenile hall was found to be highly professional and dedicated to its work.

The staff in the jail demonstrated the highest degree of professionalism at the management and correctional officer levels. The staff at the men and women’s Honor Farm was commended for the development of programs to reduce recidivism, as well as educational and vocational programs for Honor Farm inmates — particularly members of the Women’s Honor Farm who support the adjacent San Luis Obispo County Animal Services shelter. Also of special note is the inmate cooks who are qualifying for certified food safety manager accreditation, a skill that can be utilized outside of jail.
The grand jury also commended the volunteers at the county jail and juvenile hall, particularly Sister Theresa Harpin and her Restorative Partnership program. Her work over the years has been exemplary.

This viewpoint is not to defend any actions of the grand jury, but rather to provide a fair and balanced review of a report that cannot acknowledge and recognize individually the efforts of so many. You may agree or not with this analysis, but the grand jury wishes to assure all residents of San Luis Obispo County that they are being well served in many ways that are never known, and perhaps sometimes not appreciated.
Edward Kreins is the foreperson of the 2012/2013 San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury. Grand Jury reports may be found at  _jury/reports.

Read more here:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


by Bill Trautman, CGJA President -

Once again, the constitutionally mandated annual ritual has begun: the courts are selecting and impanelling grand juries in each of California’s 58 counties for the 2013-2014 term. So we ask: who should they be looking for and what is needed to perpetuate and preserve the
grand jury institution, an institution that epitomizes democracy in action – truly government “by the people”? Where else can citizens take a close look at their local government and make recommendations to improve it?

What kind of jurors can be successful with this entirely new experience? Our grand juries need people committed to, and capable of, embracing the concept of self-government - people who believe that civic responsibility to one’s community is imperative in a democracy. Grand jurors must think independently, be open-minded, have the ability to rise above divisiveness and self-interest and must not be afraid to be assertive, though not antagonistic, to serve as citizen “watchdogs”. This is an experience that also requires one to have certain expectations of their government: expectations that look at local governmental entities and officials and ask are they operating legally, effectively, economically, openly and for the good of the people? In short, are these entities and officials accountable to their citizens?

Grand juries must understand why their credibility is so important. Pursuing inconsequential investigations; misusing the grand jury’s power; venturing outside its jurisdiction and intruding on policy-matters will bring criticism and disrespect for the grand jury institution. Grand juries need to work hard, make good choices and do significant work to be lauded and respected by their citizens, by the media and, particularly by local public officials. This respect does not just come with the territory, but rather, it must be earned. The most effective way to do this is for grand juries to undertake meaningful, useful investigations; to make factually supported findings; and to offer needed, feasible recommendations for improvements to their local government. If that is accomplished, it will make implementation of their recommendations more likely and most certainly will perpetuate and preserve the grand jury institution.

A closing thought: Trivial is not a pursuit for grand juries! Those that perform effectively will successfully fulfill their responsibility not only to their citizens, but also to the grand jury institution. Good luck to all 58 grand juries in the 2013-2014 term. Make us proud!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

San Joaquin grand jury report finds agencies largely in step

By Zachary K. Johnson, Record Staff Writer -

The San Joaquin County 2012-13 grand jury released a report Thursday finding that local government agencies, for the most part, complied with 36 recommendations laid out in investigations from last year's watchdog panel.

Each year, a civil grand jury issues dozens of recommendations and findings after investigating local government agencies in San Joaquin County. The law requires the agencies to respond to the reports from the grand jury, reconvened each year from a new batch of citizens.

Last year, the 2011-12 grand jury reports included 37 findings and 36 recommendations.

This kind of report follow-up on previous findings and recommendations holds government accountable to make changes often called for in grand jury investigations, said Gary Spaugh, foreman of this year's grand jury.

"Almost all of the recommendations are respected and implemented," said Spaugh, adding it showed the effectiveness of the process overseeing the public agencies.

The only agency that did not comply with all the recommendations was the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District, which did not provide documentation that all of the district's board members had completed training in ethics and the state law for providing transparency in government meetings.

The district received a scathing report last year that it had been "thrust to the brink of failure" by its leadership. This year's report verified steps taken to improve its finances and acknowledged changes in leadership.

"Everything is pretty much under control now," said Joe Valente, president of the district's governing board. He also said the remaining two directors had completed the training recommended by the grand jury.

Last year's grand jury also reported that social workers at Child Welfare Services were holding high caseloads that put children at risk; found fault with training of Stockton Unified police; found a relative of an employee at the San Joaquin Housing Authority received special treatment receiving subsidized-housing vouchers; and reported on other investigations into the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District, the Department of Juvenile Justice and Deuel Vocational Institution.

Thursday's report wasn't the first from the grand jury this year. Last month it investigated uncollected property tax revenue.

And it won't be the last.

Spaugh said the public can expect reports soon from the new investigations the grand jury conducted over the past year.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Grand jury: Mendocino County should curtail ad-hoc committee use

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff Updated: 05/12/2013 04:01:38 PM PDT Ukiah Daily Journal The Mendocino County civil grand jury urged the Board of Supervisors in a recent report to end its tendency over the past two years to assign important issues to ad-hoc committees while leaving dormant the more publicly accessible standing committees. The March 20 report, titled "Board of Supervisors - Standing Committees Public Access - Public Interest'" makes five findings and four recommendations, and claims that ad-hoc committees "circumvent" California's Brown Act, which is designed to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public. "Numerous labor contracts will be renegotiated this year. Mental health services may be contracted to non-County service providers. Changes in sentencing, probation, parole and County Jail populations continue to affect the courts and criminal justice system," the grand jury report says. "These and other pressing issues deserve and demand the opportunity for an informed public to access an open, formal forum for information and public expression."

The board in 2011 and 2012 appointed members to the county's four standing committees -- Health and Human Services, Criminal Justice, Public Resources and General Government/Personnel-Legislative -- but kept them dormant, saying they would only convene on an as-needed basis. County CEO Carmel Angelo noted that the committees hadn't met for two years when the board followed her recommendation in January to continue the practice.

"The exclusive use of ad-hoc committees is not consistent with the intent of the Brown Act," the grand jury report says among its five findings. The report notes that while standing committees are required under the Brown Act to notify the public of their meetings, post agendas and keep minutes, ad hocs are not subject to the act, meaning "opportunities for long-term planning, continuity and documentation are minimized or eliminated."

The grand jury report gives two examples of the problems with using ad hocs instead of standing committees, with the first being the board's October decision to form an ad-hoc committee to help plan Mental Health Court.

The two supervisors appointed to the ad-hoc updated the full, five-member Board of Supervisors frequently on the group's efforts during the portion of the meeting reserved for supervisors' reports, but "the update portion of the ... meeting is usually scheduled near the end of the open meeting, precluding easy accessibility for the public to know of the supervisors' participation, opinions or recommendations," according to the grand jury report.

The Mental Health Court ad-hoc committee was never added to the county's official list of ad hocs, according to the report.

"Therefore, the average citizen is almost completely unaware of the supervisors' interest and participation in Mental Health Court planning, further limiting the ability to provide public comment," the grand jury report says.

Follow-up on ad-hoc committee matters is also a concern, the grand jury reported, giving as an example the two supervisors appointed to an ad hoc to study efficiency in the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

"The study was completed, the report received and the (ad hoc) dissolved," the report says. "Neither the public nor the (Board of Supervisors) currently has a venue to address the status of the responses to the recommendations and the sheriff's efforts to improve departmental efficiency."

The grand jury also found that the ad hocs weren't reporting at every scheduled Board of Supervisors meeting under the county's rules of procedure, and that Mendocino County's exclusive use of ad hocs doesn't match the practices of other counties.

"Ad-hoc committees should be investigative, issue-specific and of short-term duration," according to the report.

The grand jury recommends that the board reactivate its four standing committees, assign appropriate issues to them and use them "as the primary vehicle for policy guidance and direction to the (board);" that the committees report at each regular board meeting; that the committees finish their business within the calendar year as a rule and that the county Executive Office update its list of ad-hoc committees on the county's website,

The Board of Supervisors was required to respond within 90 days, and Angelo had 60 days to respond.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

(Madera) Grand Jury critical of DA's Office

-Staff report, Sierra Star -

The Madera County Grand Jury recently criticized the Madera County District Attorney's Office, stating the office has not prosecuted a majority of alleged crimes committed within the Madera County jail, resulting in a "safety issue for officers and inmates."

In its recent reports, the Grand Jury also stated that the Madera County Department of Corrections (county jail) "might not refer a crime to the District Attorney's Office because they perceive the DA's Office will not prosecute the case."

The Grand Jury recommended that the DA's office review internal jail crime reports and increase the number of prosecutions.

The DA Office's response was that the recommendation "will not be implemented."

"The district attorney has and will continue to review crime reports submitted by the jail. However, the District Attorney's Office can not ethically file cases that cannot be proven at trial beyond a reasonable doubt just to increase prosecutions," stated District Attorney Michael Keitz in a letter to Judge Lynn Jones of Madera Superior Court, in response to the Grand Jury's recommendations.

"The District Attorney's Office will again review with the jail management their investigation process, the proof necessary for conviction at trial, the availability of pre-filing forum and the appeal process for rejected cases."

Keitz added that his office is "sympathetic to the safety concerns of the jail staff" and is therefore requesting a budget increase for additional staff to support investigation of crimes committed in the jail.

Keitz said due to budgetary constraints, his office has been "chronically short of prosecutors, investigators and clerical staff for a number of years."

However, the Grand Jury reported that "The District Attorney's Office has three funded supervisory positions currently unfilled" and that there is a "lack of liaison and communication (feedback between the District Attorney's Office and the county jail" -- what they also recommended be remedied.

In Keitz's letter, he said his office disagrees that there is any lack of communication and that a liaison already exists.

The Grand Jury reported that the county jail also has "no MOU (memorandum of understanding) or guidelines in effect to refer criminal cases occurring in the facility for prosecution" -- unlike the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla (now Valley State Prison) -- and that an MOU for the county jail needs to be established.

The MOU in place, as of January, between the state prisons in Chowchilla and the DA's Office is an agreement to establish guidelines for prosecution of serious crimes committed in state institutions, investigation of criminal activity, release of inmate records to the DA's office, and notification of inmate death or other major incidents, according to the Grand Jury reports.

Keitz's office said they do not plan to create any MOU for the county jail.

"An MOU (a contract) with the state prisons is necessary because the State of California reimburses the District Attorney's Office for prosecution and investigation services," stated Keitz in the letter. "An MOU cannot require the district attorney to file a case. Neither can it affect the evidentiary burden the district attorney is constitutionally required to prove in court. For these reasons, an MOU is not required, nor utilized, by nearly all the other numerous law enforcement agencies operating within Madera County."

The Grand Jury reported that they have "concerns about the lack of filing criminal complaints of crimes committed within the facilities" after an annual inspection and tour of the county jail in October, and after a September inspection and tour of Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla (now Valley State Prison).

Friday, May 10, 2013

Grand Jury Describes 'Atmosphere of Fear' in County Agencies

By TRACY WOOD(AP), Kitsap Sun -

The Orange County Grand Jury, in the latest in a series of reports severely critical of county government leadership, said Wednesday that an “atmosphere of fear” hinders county employees from reporting sexual harassment, among other issues.

“This atmosphere of fear seemed to come from the very top of County government,” according to the 16-page grand jury report titled The Culture of Harassment: Change on the Horizon.

“Many witnesses who testified and persons interviewed by the Grand Jury expressed an aversion to presenting the progress or results of their work product to County elected officials and executive management because they had experienced severe criticism on a personal basis,” the grand jurors reported.

In their report, the grand jurors urged county government leaders, both elected officials and top managers, to take responsibility for changing the “culture,” including concrete steps like requiring human resources employees to be well-trained and hold basic job qualifications.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson responded with the following statement in a news release:

While the Grand Jury does acknowledge that positive change is occurring, we feel that the significance of the County’s forward progress in this area was downplayed. The Board has consistently demonstrated its commitment to self-examination, transparency, and accountability, not only in response to the results of internal investigations but also through structural changes, such as the creation of the Office of the Performance Audit Director and the recentralization of Human Resources.

The grand jury gave the county credit for taking human resources responsibilities away from the individual agencies and applauded the hiring of an equal employment opportunity manager.

But the report described a dysfunctional reality that has existed for the past 18 years. Each agency had its own human resources department and therefore its own interpretations of state and federal laws. The departments were “staffed by many managers who had little or no training and little or no experience in human resource matters,” the report said.

And issues remain. As of April, according to the report, it is “unclear to employees how they can report sexual harassment anonymously and without fear of retribution.”

This report comes just a day after supervisors turned down a grand jury request to augment its budget by $20,000 so it could finish the work of its one-year term, which ends June 30.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said Tuesday that grand jury reports seem to be more about “grabbing headlines” than helping supervisors improve services.

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

Sexual harassment of county workers became public in 2012 when District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged former OC Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante on a dozen felony sex charges.

The charges against Bustamante, who was also a Santa Ana city councilman and rising star in the local Republican Party, included false imprisonment, assault with intent to commit a sexual offense, stalking and attempted sexual battery by restraint.

In the fallout from the Bustamante case, county CEO Tom Mauk and Public Works Director Jess Carbajal resigned and deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis left county government.

The grand jury based its findings on information it learned as part of the Bustamante criminal case and from 21 witnesses who, the report said, painted a “disturbing pattern of sexual harassment claims being overlooked, ignored, poorly investigated and even surpressed.” It said the witnesses came from all levels of county government.

“The Grand Jury found a severe lack of understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment,” the report said. “Also distressing was a strong tolerance for inappropriate behavior, especially when it concerned high-ranking elected officials and executives.”

The report went on to say that the jurors “heard that many think the culture in the County has changed and inappropriate behavior will never be tolerated, or ignored, as it was in the past. However, the Grand Jury does not find this to be true after hearing testimony and reviewing a series of fairly recent emails that shows the County may not have learned its lesson.”

Without naming names, the report described a troubling chain of events when an elected official from an Orange County city was under consideration for a management position at a county agency.

The report said:

This person had worked for this County agency in years prior and had sexually harassed multiple female employees in the department. When this person’s name surfaced as a candidate, one of the females brought this to the attention of executive management. The harassment was confirmed by many others in this department. The hiring process for this person did not stop and continued for another two months. The female who had been harassed and frustrated by the continuation of the hiring process within the agency where she worked, contacted the new Human Resource Services Department. Within one day, the hiring process for this person was stopped. The full exchange in the emails that the Grand Jury read showed fear from many in the department that the political alliances of this candidate would outweigh the fact that he had previously sexually harassed County employees. The disregard, by an agency executive, of confirmed sexual harassment clearly showed an ongoing tolerance for inappropriate behavior for elected officials and potential County managers at the expense of safe and equitable working environment.

"This event," the report went on to say, "shows the continuation of a culture in their agencies that officials and executive managers have loudly denied was still in existence.”

It called on county executives to openly and clearly lead a change in attitude.

“The culture will be changed by actions and examples and no elected official or County executive, manager, or supervisor should feel they are exempt from leading by example,” the report said.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

OC Supervisors Reject $20,000 Funding Request from Grand Jury

By NICK GERDA(AP), Kitsap Sun -

After issuing several scathing reports that took direct aim at county supervisors, Orange County's grand jury saw its proposed $20,000 mid-year budget increase rejected Tuesday by the board of supervisors.

“Apparently they cannot live within their means,” said county Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

Spitzer added that the grand jury reports seem to be more about “grabbing headlines” than helping supervisors improve services.

County Supervisor John Moorlach seconded Spitzer's sentiment and motion.

The panel has issued scathing reports critical of supervisors this year, including one titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle” and "A Call for Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County."

Grand jury foreman Ray Garcia didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Asked about Spitzer’s criticisms and the importance of the funds, Orange County Superior Court spokeswoman Gwen Vieau referred questions back to county supervisors.

“Your questions would best be addressed to the Board of Supervisors,” said Vieau.

In an interview Wednesday, Spitzer said the grand jury also didn’t explain to him why they were making the request.

“They didn’t come to me and explain why they needed more money,” said Spitzer. “There was no rationale for why they needed more money.”

He noted that relations with the panel have reached a sour point.

“I don’t think this board has any love lost for this year’s grand jury,” said Spitzer, adding that the panel didn’t consider any of the suggestions he made for their report on political corruption.

“I think they’re very concerned and they’re trying to have an impact on the county. I just think the way they’re going about it is long on dramatics and short on substance,” said Spitzer.

County documents said the grand jury’s $20,000 request was “for administrative support to the grand jurors, and court reporter services.”

The grand jury is expected to issue two more reports on CalOptima this session, with the health plan’s CEO Michael Schrader reminding its board members of that just last week.

The Orange County Superior Court budgeted $209,000 for the grand jury this year, with $180,000 of that going to salaries and benefits and $29,000 spent on services and supplies.

Spending is down about 20 percent from fiscal year 2011’s actual expenses of $259,000.

Orange County’s grand jury has produced five reports so far this year, including examinations of bus service for the disabled and challenges in collecting child support.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Grand Jury Questions San Diego Unified Action Center

By Kyla Calvert, -

San Diego Unified may have violated state laws by using part of its website for political advocacy. The county’s grand jury argues a sample letter to legislators in support of more funding for schools crosses the line.

Last year San Diego Unified added a section to its website called the Education Issues Action Center. Ahead of the November elections, the action center included that sample letter to state legislators urging them to support funding for schools as well as links to the Yes on 38 and Yes on 30 campaign websites.

A grand jury report released this week said those postings are the kind of political activity prohibited by the state’s education laws.

But, the district’s website wasn’t their only concern, according to Jury Foreman Paul Christian.

“A lot of the individual schools have their own websites as well and we thought there was somewhat of a lax supervision of those websites," he said. "We found that over 4,300 people had access to put information on the various websites through all the San Diego city schools.”

Tightening access to school site was one of the report's five recommendations. The grand jury also recommended that the district put more robust policies in place to prevent political activity on the part of district staff and closer monitoring of the Education Issues Action Center page for compliance with state law.

A school district representative said the district’s attorney is reviewing the report and will prepare the response required within 90 days under state law.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Marin County Civil Grand Jury: Library spending lacks oversight

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

Oversight of an annual $2.5 million Marin County library tax fund has been ineffective, with a "lack of involvement" from a watchdog panel that operates in the dark compounded by a fragmented budget that makes expenses difficult to track, Marin's civil grand jury asserted.

The county Library Commission, appointed by county supervisors in 2010 as the independent panel voters were promised would audit Marin's $49-a-year Measure A parcel tax, has done little to fulfill its oversight role, with "input ... limited to twice yearly reports from the library administration," the jury concluded.

Further, "expenditures of Measure A funds are difficult to track," the jury observed, noting that the administration has failed to provide either a separate line-item budget of special tax fund expenditures or an overall program outlining "planning, budgeting and scheduling" of future improvements.
"Line items for Measure A expenditures are not in the Marin County Library budget," the jury said. "Income from Measure A is displayed as a lump sum. The outflow seems to cover the entire budget deficit."

The Marin County Free Library includes branches in Bolinas, the Marin Civic Center, Corte Madera, Fairfax, Inverness, Marin City, Novato, Point Reyes Station and Stinson Beach. A renovation project in the main Novato branch this spring launched a systemwide remodeling program using Measure A revenue.

But instead of a coherent blueprint for Measure A spending, the jury said it found information, details, budgets and schedules scattered "in various places and in various controls," making tracking funding difficult. The situation prevents the commission, serving as the Measure A Oversight Committee, from an ability to see "the whole picture, track progress and extend the support it is tasked to provide."

Making matters worse, jurors indicated the commission has neither bark nor bite, saying commissioners listened to administration reports at monthly meetings but "had virtually no discussion or dialogue on substantive issues" and "gave no feedback, offered no opinions and had no open discussions of issues."

When serving twice a year as the tax oversight committee, the commission gets an update "by way of presentations" from the library administration, but does not provide "input, discussion or direction," the jury reported.

"The Library Commission's input on Measure A has been limited to twice-yearly reports from the library administration," the jury said, adding the panel's "apparent lack of involvement leaves an unfilled gap in what should be proactive support."

The jury, citing "insufficient long-range library facility and services planning," noted an Independent Journal report about a 50 percent cost overrun for last-minute planning work, bringing a consultant tab to $250,000 for the design of a library lobby remodeling project. The tab soared when library officials changed their minds in midstream about what needed to be done.
Library Commissioner Cal Kurzman, in a recent letter to other commissioners, also cited the newspaper report, saying the oversight committee "was left completely out of the loop" on the matter. Another news report, he added, indicated the county dipped into Measure A funds to cover pay and benefits for a $170,000-a-year employee it shifted from the personnel department to the library staff.

"My concern is the decision-making process," he said. "The Oversight Committee has not been receiving the basic information it requires in order to assure the voters of Marin County that their tax dollars are being effectively spent."

Kurzman said the Measure A Oversight Committee has met just three times, once for a session that lasted nine minutes, another for a session that lasted 12 minutes and a third that went on for 64 minutes.

Communication and collaboration or the lack of it were at the center of a number of other jury complaints as well.

Several commissioners told jurors they had never met with the supervisors who had appointed them. "It is apparent ... that the Library Commission and the Board of Supervisors do not have an ongoing dialogue, and that the Library Commission is not empowered to recommend solutions to the many long-lasting problems," the jury said.

Library staffers complained about top-down management, saying they were not consulted about restructuring library operations and programs, and several balked about hiring consultants to prepare studies when "little input was solicited from staff who had considerable day-to-day experience to offer," the jury said. Staffers expressed "hesitation and dismay" at shuffling library responsibilities in a new "single point of service" program that merges reference and circulation desks.

Jury findings seemed to reflect a county survey two years ago that indicated 69 percent of county library employees responding lacked confidence in senior management.

Scott Bauer, acting head of the library system after the retirement of Librarian Gail Haar, said he needs to reflect on the jury report, but added some jury findings are "spot on," and others already are being addressed. Overall, it appears the jury took "a very good look" at library operations, he said, adding the report will be discussed when the Library Commission meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Inverness Library at 15 Park Ave.

Judy Arnold, president of the Board of Supervisors, noted that change is in the works at the county library.

Carson City Librarian Sara Jones, Nevada's "co-librarian of the year" last year, takes over as head of the Marin library system on July 8.

Jones should "make improved communication a priority," the jury concluded.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Inmate fire crews in danger: grand jury

By J. Harry Jones, U-T San Diego -

The San Diego County Grand Jury has issued a report stressing the need to continue inmate firefighting camps in the county and recommending studies be done and plans be put in place to ensure that a new state law doesn’t affect backcountry firefighting readiness.

In 2011 the state enacted a court-ordered law, the California Public Safety Realignment Act, designed to reduce overcrowding in its 33 prisons.

According to the grand jury’s report, one of the unintended consequences of the law is that low-risk inmates, some of whom would have been assigned to fire camps throughout the state, will now be housed in county jails or be placed on probation and will no longer be able to fight fires.

Inmate firefighters have been used for decades to perform crucial work during firestorms and for duties such as clearing brush from vulnerable areas before a fire strikes.

The state’s corrections department, in conjunction with Cal Fire, operate 42 fire camps throughout the state, four of them in San Diego County. Each camp has between 90 and 150 inmates.

In 2011 there were 4,400 state prison inmates assigned to fire camps, but it’s estimated that only 2,200 inmates will qualify to volunteer for firefighting over the next several years because of the new law, according to the report.

The grand jury recommends that plans should be developed by the Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff’s Department to monitor the effects of the law on firefighting. The plans should have the goal of keeping the four existing fire camps open year-round using current levels of qualified firefighting inmates from either state or county detention facilities, and should be finalized by June 1, 2014, the grand jury says.

“The grand jury finds that in order to maintain current levels of inmate firefighters within San Diego County, future firefighter-eligible detainees could be drawn from county jail populations,” the report states.

That could be costly. Under the new law counties would have to pay the corrections department $46 per inmate per day to house them as firefighters within the fire camps.

Sheriff’s Capt. Frank Clamser said on Thursday the department is in the process of coming up with a contract with the state to send inmates to the fire camps with the hope that the prisoners will be used in the county.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents large swaths of the county’s rural areas, issued the following statement Thursday: “I fully support using county inmates at state fire camps and look forward to working with Sheriff Gore to bring the issue before the Board of Supervisors. The continued operation of these camps is essential to the region. They provide the boots on the ground we need to help battle wildfires and lower the risk of a disaster.”

There are four camps in the county, two for women and two for men. The female camps are Puerta La Cruz near Warner Springs and Rainbow. Male inmates are housed at the La Cima camp near Julian and at a camp in McCain Valley.

The Grand Jury investigates the operations of governmental programs in the area. A new Grand Jury is chosen each year. Members are nominated by Superior Court Judges and serve one-year terms.

To read the report click here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

(San Diego) Grand Jury mourns redevelopment end

The San Diego County Grand Jury endorsed San Diego city's 54-year effort a redevelopment, even as it mourned its state-ordered demise.

"The grand jury concluded that the taxpayers of San Diego did, indeed, get value for their property tax dollars in the contributions their redevelopment agency made to the city," the jury said in its April 30 report.

But the jury noted that the city is left with nearly $2.4 billion in debt tied to numerous ongoing projects, such as Petco Park and the 2001 San Diego Convention Center expansion.

"The grand jury recommends that Mayor Bob Filner personally lead a comprehensive, impactful advocacy effort to assure that the state fulfills this responsibility (to see that debts are paid) and the interests of the city of San Diego are well represented," the jury said.

The state ordered the dissolution of more than 400 redevelopment agencies last year as a way to reduce the state's budget deficit by a projected $1.8 billion. The money was returned largely to school districts, and relieved the state of filling the gap left by diverted taxes for redevelopment.

The state currently reviews post-redevelopment spending to cover certain debt obligations and can override items it deems disqualified. About $13 million in convention center and ballpark bond payments are examples of disallowed payments. The city general fund has had to make up the difference.

The grand jury took note of many redevelopment projects that it said successfully reduced blight and advanced economic development downtown and in many suburban neighborhoods. It cited as examples Horton Plaza shopping center, the new Central Library, now nearing completion, affordable housing, City Heights Urban Village, the Naval Training Center's conversion to Liberty Station and the North Park Theatre.

"Redevelopment in San Diego is unfinished business. Literally!" said the jury. "When San Diego's redevelopment agency was dissolved, many projects that were under way were left unfinished."

The jury recommended Civic San Diego, set up to wind down redevelopment, form a specialized work group to find new funding sources for those unfinished projects. Member said some of the funds should come from the city's share of redevelopment property taxes dispersed back to its general fund. So far the city has not made such a commitment, although it has used the funds, about $17 million this year, to cover the convention center and Petco bonds. The mayor also has backed spending $400,000 in city funds to install two new public restrooms downtown -- a project previously intended to be financed through redevelopment.

The jury did not discuss the views of many redevelopment critics, who objected to using of eminent domain to acquire sites; concentrating redevelopment funds on downtown projects rather than sharing them with other redevelopment project areas; and spending high amounts on subsidies for some affordable housing projects.

Instead, the jury recommended the city survey other states to see what alternate redevelopment concepts might be applied locally.

"The strong encouragement and unequivocal support of redevelopment efforts that have characterized past city administrations should be continued," the jury said.

Filner has called on Civic San Diego to broaden its view citywide, even suggesting its name be changed to "Neighborhood San Diego."

Coincidentally, CivicSD recently received approval for $35 million in federal new markets tax credits that could be used to help underwrite commercial projects. The jury cited this program as one example of a non-redevelopment funding approach.

City Council President Todd Gloria also has launched a look at floating perhaps a billion-dollar infrastructure bond issue to address projects that redevelopment funds previously might have supported.