Saturday, June 29, 2013

Palo Alto has highest rate of disability retirements in Santa Clara County

By Jason Green, Daily News Staff Writer -

Police officers and firefighters in Palo Alto are retiring with disability benefits at a rate that is nearly double the average in Santa Clara County, according to a new civil grand jury report.

And if that trend is left unaddressed, it could result in taxpayers paying more for pensions than if the workers had left with a clean bill of health, the report suggests.

Over the past five years, 51 percent of the 43 public safety workers who called it quits did so because of a job-related illness or injury.

That puts Palo Alto at the top of a list of 12 jurisdictions that were surveyed by the grand jury. Only Gilroy came close with 43 percent.

The average was 27 percent.

The report does not pinpoint the reasons for Palo Alto's disability retirement rate, but notes that jurisdictions with a higher ratio of fire personnel to law enforcement personnel tended to have higher rates. Data collected by the grand jury showed Palo Alto had 121 firefighters and 101 police officers.

"Palo Alto should identify what factors, other than a high proportion of firefighters in their public safety force, account for their IDR (industrial disability retirement) rates," the report concluded. "Palo Alto should develop a plan consistent with city objectives to lower its IDR rate."

Los Altos and Los Gatos, which only have police departments, had rates of 19 and 17 percent, respectively. And no one left the Campbell Police Department with disability benefits.

Police officers and firefighters who retire because of a job-related illness or injury could end up saddling taxpayers with higher costs. In most cases, they collect about 50 percent of their final compensation. But if a retirement account has contributions that are less than sufficient to fund the retirement, the employer's CalPERS annual contribution costs increase.

"The cumulative effect of the unfunded IDRs and other pension fund obligations presents a growing burden to entities, and therefore taxpayers," the report says.

City of Palo Alto spokeswoman Claudia Keith said the city was still reviewing the report as of Friday afternoon, but she offered one off-the-cuff theory for the city's 51 percent rate.

"We have our own paramedics," she said. "Many cities don't. So that may be a factor. Or it may not."

Council Member Pat Burt, a vocal supporter of pension reform who also helped roll back binding arbitration for firefighters in 2011, called the report "disturbing" in a telephone interview.

"We've done a great deal of work to attempt to create a much more sustainable cost structure for our employees, including public safety, and what appears to be excessive disability claims does much to undermine those efforts," Burt told The Daily News.

"I believe that our management and my colleagues are going to want to dive into this issue."

The report is available online at

Butte County Grand Jury investigates jail overcrowding, realignment, water, cities

By RYAN OLSON — Staff Writer, Chico Enterprise-Record -

In its annual report published today, the Butte County Grand Jury investigated a dozen topics including prison realignment, water resources and issues facing local cities.

In the Grand Jury's investigation of the city of Chico, the panel noted city management had provided financial data that was "outdated, incomplete and misleading" and called for the city to be more transparent in budgeting and financial matters. It also found the city was slow to respond to the loss of redevelopment funding and other revenue.

READ 2012-13 Grand Jury report
VISIT the Grand Jury website

A longer look at Chico's issues will be included in Saturday's Enterprise-Record.

In two separate sections, the panel evaluated the Butte County Jail and how prison realignment under Assembly Bill 109 has exacerbated overcrowding at the facility. The long-term housing of non-violent felons in the jail has also led to sometimes excessive waits for medical and dental care.

The Grand Jury noted alternative custody programs are effective at reducing overcrowding and recommended a system to track the effectiveness of the programs. It also recommended that the Butte County Sheriff's Office seek funding to expand the jail and find interim housing to house inmates until the expansion is completed.

The Grand Jury also conducted a thorough look at water resources in the county, including supply. It found local districts and agencies are efficient in water distribution.

However, the panel also noted that the public needed to be aware of potential problems that could jeopardize the local water supply. It highlighted the decline of the elevation of the Tuscan Aquifer, a lack of storage capacity and increasing demand to export the water from the county.

Both these issues will be reported on in greater depth in the next couple of days as well.

Each year, the Grand Jury investigates and reports on county and local governments. When called upon, local agencies must prepare responses to the panel's findings.

The Grand Jury also investigates citizen complaints and may be called to hear evidence in criminal cases for possible indictment.

The publication of the report this morning in Butte County Superior Court was the final action of the 19 members of the 2012-13 panel.

Acting presiding Judge Kristen Lucena released the jurors from their service and oversaw the installation of a new panel for the upcoming year.

Regarding the report, the judge noted it covered a number of topics and said people will find it informative.

Outgoing foreman Paul Moore said the county will see the jurors had prepared a good report and hoped future grand juries and agencies would build on their findings.

He also noted presiding Judge Stephen Benson informed him that this was the first Grand Jury in years where all the jurors were able to serve the entire year.

Each year, the court appoints several alternate jurors in the likelihood that some jurors will step down.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

(Napa) Grand jury wants elections process overhauled

PETER JENSEN, Napa Valley Register -


The Napa County grand jury issued a new report this week calling for the county’s registrar of voters to be appointed — not elected — and for a new independent board that would have oversight of the elections process.

The grand jury also wants interim ballot counts to be released between Election Night and the final certified results, as the three-week wait to know the results of the 2012 elections led some residents and candidates to express frustration with Registrar of Voters John Tuteur.

The grand jury monitored the Elections Division’s performance last fall. Its report criticizes aspects of how the division handled citizen complaints, how precincts with polling places were switched to vote-by-mail without public input, and how some residents were delayed in receiving ballot pamphlet.

It found no problems with the accuracy of the polling machines, the handling and counting of ballots, or security measures for maintaining and storing ballots, according to the report.

The report reserved its harshest criticism for Tuteur being an elected official overseeing the Elections Division, and states that it prevents the creation of an independent oversight board. The grand jury asserted that it was the sole independent oversight of county elections.

“The operation of a smooth, responsive election process is essential to a well-functioning democracy,” the report states. “It is almost inconceivable that an office with these most important and challenging responsibilities is not subject to periodic audit and oversight by an independent citizens board charged with that particular responsibility.”

Tuteur holds the registrar of voters position in addition to his duties as assessor, recorder and county clerk.

In an interview Thursday, Tuteur thanked the grand jury, and said its findings prove his office performed well on its biggest test — providing an accurate, secure ballot-counting process.

“On the overall, the report was very positive on the performance of the elections department,” Tuteur said. “That’s what I care most about.”

He issued a preliminary response to the report Wednesday, saying some of the grand jury’s points needed clarification.

He said that to his knowledge Napa County has never had an appointed registrar of voters since its founding in 1850, and 42 of California’s 58 counties elect their registrars of voters.

The grand jury report found that the Elections Division lacks a formal archive for citizen complaints, but Tuteur said he maintains one of phone calls, emails and other correspondence, and replies to each complaint.

On the issue of setting up an independent elections board, he said that’s up for the Board of Supervisors to decide, but doesn’t think California law allows such a board to be anything more than an advisory committee.

Some California counties have these committees, which are typically devoted to ensuring people with special needs are properly served in the elections process, such as people with disabilities or language barriers.

Tuteur said a task force recommended setting up one in Napa County in 2004, but he reviewed that request with county staff and didn’t feel it was warranted because of the county’s small population size.

“We felt we didn’t have voters in populations large enough,” Tuteur said.

No county has an independent committee with oversight or decision-making authority, he said.

Following long lines at polling places in the 2006 mid-term elections, Tuteur said he decided to begin converting polling place precincts, where California law permitted, to vote-by-mail. He said vote-by-mail provides residents an easy, secure means of filling out their ballots.

“That’s what it’s been all about,” Tuteur said. “I didn’t want a big mess on Nov. 2, 2008.”

He said of the 25,000 residents converted to vote-by-mail, he heard from approximately 400 people, and responded to each of them with his reasons for the switch.

“I heard from 400,” Tuteur said. “If you make all decisions based on whose wheel is squeaking the loudest, you never get anywhere.”

Even with an independent advisory board and the Board of Supervisors appointing the registrar of voters, one person would still have the authority to make the decision converting polling places to vote-by-mail, Tuteur said.

“There’s always got to be a person that’s got to do that,” Tuteur said. “I took action. Any good manager is going to have to make the best decisions they can.”

The grand jury report comes as the Board of Supervisors is preparing to make Tuteur’s job duties the subject of a study session in October. Tuteur is up for re-election in 2014, and will run for re-election, he has said.

The board addressed the issue during a meeting in May, with some supervisors expressing desires to see changes implemented in the elections process, although not to the extent of those recommended by the grand jury.

Supervisor Bill Dodd wanted to see the ballot counting expedited, while Supervisor Diane Dillon expressed interest in seeing the registrar of voters become an appointed position.

Supervisor Keith Caldwell cautioned against creating a new department and management position, given the costs the county would incur. Supervisor Mark Luce said having the Board of Supervisors appoint the elections chief would lead to public concern that it was improperly influencing the elections process.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said the grand jury report aligns with his view of how to reform elections in Napa County, although he wouldn’t want to see it result in the creation of a stand-alone department. Wagenknecht pressed for the county and the Board of Supervisors to review Tuteur’s position when he took over as chairman of the board in January.

“When it comes back up, I’ll cite the information in the grand jury report,” Wagenknecht said. “I think they got most of it right with this one. They were able to look at it pretty thoroughly.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

(Orange) Supervisors Officially Reject Grand Jury Report, Ethics Panel

By NICK GERDA, Voice of OC -

The Orange County Board Supervisors Tuesday formally responded to a grand jury report that alleged a “culture of corruption” in county government, calling the report “selective, one-sided and clearly tailored to reach a predetermined conclusion.”

In their official written response, supervisors — voting 3-0 vote with Supervisor Todd Spitzer abstaining and Vice Chairwoman Pat Bates absent — also rejected the grand jury's recommendation that they establish an ethics commission that would lay the groundwork for countywide ethics reform and the establishment of an “oversight authority.”

The grand jury’s finding in May that Orange County lacks effective ethics oversight of its public officials was “irresponsibly broad, vague, and not substantiated in the report," the supervisors asserted in their response.

They argued that the existing system of checks and balances works and that spending the money and staff time creating a commission would be “wasteful.”

They did, however, create an ad hoc committee to research whether to contract with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to provide ethics training and enforce local campaign contribution limits. It came on the suggestion of board Chairman Shawn Nelson.

The move came amid a period of extraordinary tension between supervisors and the grand jury. Supervisors last week called the panel’s work “shoddy” and “shameful” and threatened to slash grand jurors’ pay by 70 percent.

The supervisors are especially upset about the report officially titled "A Call for Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County" and another detailing problems at CalOptima, titled "CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle.”

“You’re here to help us, not to embarrass us nationally,” Supervisor John Moorlach told grand jurors.

“It’s a complete disservice to me, to the public, to people that rely on this,” said Nelson. “It was just chasing ghosts. I mean, it’s very frustrating, and really it’s shameful.”

The corruption report lays out a 40-year chronology of corruption and crime in Orange County.

“From 1974-77, an eye-popping 43 Orange County political figures were indicted, among them, two congressmen, three supervisors and the county assessor. Sadly the conduct continues today at all levels of Orange County government,” the jury wrote.

It also seemed to foresee the supervisors’ opposition to an ethics commission.

“In a healthy ethics environment, leaders are not afraid of an independent ethics program, because they understand that the best measure is to do everything possible to prevent officials and employees from creating an appearance of impropriety,” the report declares.

San Bernardino County recently contracted with the FPPC to enforce its local campaign contribution limits law.

Under that agreement, the FPPC audits the campaign committees of officials elected countywide, trains candidates on legal requirements and prosecutes violations.

Spitzer wrote a separate reaction to the grand jury’s findings.

In his response, Spitzer agreed that the county “lacks effective ethics oversight of public officials.” He said Orange County should have an independent commission, appointed by a panel of retired judges, to examine ethics bodies across the nation.

“It is essential to give the Blue Ribbon Commission a mandate to construct a proposal that enables an independent Orange County Ethics Commission to provide oversight, enforce ethics ordinances, and provide advice and training,” Spitzer wrote.

On Tuesday, Spitzer backed away from advocating an independent commission, saying he supports Nelson's plan to explore the FPPC model.

“People need to know that this is not to get people prosecuted, put in jail or fined. This shouldn’t be about gotcha,” said Spitzer. “This should be about setting a standard.”

Spitzer has said that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas helps foster a “tone of tolerance” in Orange County by not having an effective approach to pursuing wrongdoing by politicians.

Spitzer, once a protegé of Rackauckas, is now the DA's bitter foe and will likely challenge him in the 2014 election.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Supervisor Todd Spitzer voted with his board colleagues on their official response to the grand jury report. He abstained from that vote. We regret the error. The article has also been updated to clarify Spitzer's support for studying the FPPC model.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grand jury: Oakland council unable to police itself

By Mathew Artz and Rebecca Parr Staff Writers, Contra Costa Times -

The City Council's refusal to police itself or unshackle Oakland's political watchdog commission allowed one council member to skirt discipline after she improperly seized control over the construction and operation of a city teen center, the Alameda County Civil grand jury found.

The panel scolded council members for not investigating Councilwoman Desley Brooks after receiving evidence last year that she violated the city charter's prohibition on giving orders to city staffers in connection with the teen center project.

The grand jury also called on the council to strengthen and better fund Oakland's Public Ethics Commission, which has just one-full time staffer and a budget under $200,000. The San Francisco Ethics Commission has the equivalent of 17 full-time workers and a budget of $2.2 million.

"An ethics commission with appropriate resources and power to enforce ethical standards is of the utmost importance," the grand jury wrote in a 22-page report titled "Misgoverning the City of Oakland."

The report was one of several released Monday by the watchdog panel, which also looked at but took no issue with two Hayward programs.
Cities must respond to grand jury reports but are not required to implement the recommendations.

Brooks, who was not mentioned by name in the report, did not cooperate with the grand jury's investigation or return phone calls Monday.

With the council scheduled to approve a budget this month, she has opposed a proposal to increase the ethics commission's staffing. A budget plan she helped draft, which the council will consider Thursday, would remove funding for a part-time worker who focuses on registering lobbyists and government transparency projects.

'Complete Fiasco'

The grand jury's findings echoed those of the city administration and City Auditor Courtney Ruby, who have both looked into Brooks' work spearheading the Digital Arts and Culinary Academy in her East Oakland district.

While council members have power collectively to approve budgets and set policy, Brooks "took the unofficial role of project manager" for the teen center and "exerted control over nearly every element of the project," the grand jury found.

What ensued, the grand jury wrote, "was a complete fiasco" in which Brooks procured construction contracts and electronics equipment without the required competitive bids and staffed the center with her own office workers, none of whom had undergone requisite background checks before starting their jobs.

The City Council last year declined to further investigate the matter, which in part led to Ruby's report that cited Brooks for 12 violations of the charter's prohibition on interfering with city staffers.

The council has delayed consideration of Ruby's report until July. The center is still open with the city now in charge of it.
Weak commission

Oakland voters established the Public Ethics Commission in 1996 to oversee open government and campaign finance laws, but left its powers up to the City Council, which has effectively neutered it, the grand jury found.

The commission has been given little power to fine and punish violators and no investigators to seek out wrongdoing. The city charter didn't give the commission authority to investigate or punish Brooks over the teen center episode.

"We have essentially a weak, unstaffed ethics commission that will never be able to do its job, and that is exactly what the City Council wants," former commissioner Ralph Kanz said.

The commission's lone full-time employee, Whitney Barazoto, said it needed five full-time staffers to effectively do its job. As of the end of last year, the commission had 16 open complaints, half of which were filed in 2009 and 2010, she said.

Councilman Dan Kalb, who took office this year, said the city should explore taxing campaign contributions to help fund the commission. A competing budget proposal he co-authored with council members Rebecca Kaplan and Lynette Gibson McElhaney would add another full-time staffer to the commission.

"That's not nearly enough, but it would help," he said.

Hayward projects not cited

The grand jury found that Hayward is correctly administering its emergency services facilities tax, adopted in 1990 to fund seismic retrofitting of government buildings. The city issued $37.1 million in bonds to build a new City Hall and fire station.

The city pays $2.6 million on the bonds annually, with the tax generating $1.9 million. The difference, $700,000, comes out of the city's general fund.

The tax will expire in 2027, when the bonds will be paid off.

The grand jury also received a complaint about notification of residents to apply for an exemption from the Measure G school parcel tax approved in June 2012. Senior citizens had 24 days the first year to apply for an exemption from the $58 annual tax.

According to the grand jury report, the limited notification time was unavoidable to meet the county's deadline to include the tax in property tax bills.

Tulare County Grand Jury targets medical-marijuana enforcement

Written by Valerie Gibbons, Visalia Times-Delta -

The haphazard way Tulare County enforces its marijuana laws caught the attention of the Tulare County Grand Jury this year.

The Grand Jury is the county’s volunteer investigative body, charged with acting as a watchdog over the way public agencies do business.

In their report, released Saturday, the jury called for the establishment of uniform laws governing medical marijuana throughout the county.

The use of medical marijuana was approved by voters in 1996 but never approved by the federal government. Since then the law has been mired in the courts as counties and cities try to manage the growth of marijuana gardens and dispensaries around the state.

The jurors found that city officials in Lindsay, Exeter, Dinuba and Tulare do not know how many grow sites are within their city limits. Visalia officials have identified 80 grow sites that are within the city’s boundaries, Woodlake has 16 and Porterville has 75.

The jury found that each of the region’s eight incorporated cities and the county handle medical marijuana cultivation different ways, including:

• Only Farmersville and Woodlake have ordinances for medical-marijuana cultivation and a permit process to gain compliance.

• Dinuba and Visalia have ordinances for cultivation but no permit process, nor do they require permits.

• Exeter, Lindsay and Porterville do not have any city rules or permit process.

“Without a medical-marijuana ordinance it is impossible for cities to keep track of legal cultivation,” the report said.

The jury also took on the way school bond information is passed along to the voters. Tulare County voters have approved millions in school bonds slated to go to the construction of facilities and other projects.

According to the report the jury found:

• Ninety-one school bonds have been issued since 1998, the last of which will not mature until 2048.

• The bonds issued in the county total $653.6 million in fees, taxes and other costs.

• Information provided only has the face value of the bonds, not the amount that will eventually be paid in interest, fees or other costs.

“Voters do not receive adequate information to make informed decisions when voting on school bonds,” the report said.

This year’s findings and past reports are filed with the Tulare County Superior Court.

To file a complaint with the grand jury call 624-7295 or log on to

Monday, June 24, 2013

Failed Calaveras Technology Project Cost $400K

By Dana M. Nichols, Record Staff Writer -

Calaveras County spent $400,000 on software for a document-management system that never worked properly, the grand jury said Friday in a scathing report about the county's Technology Services Department.

The grand jury report also said that Technology Services Director Howard Stohlman has not had his performance reviewed by the county administrative officer during his 16-year tenure.

Stohlman, in turn, "rarely does performance reviews on his employees," the report said.

Stohlman, reached by email Friday, declined to comment on the grand jury's report.

"I'm still preparing my response to the report and won't be commenting until it's complete," Stohlman wrote.

The grand jury report focused on the effort to convert county government to an electronic-document system. Many county documents and records are on paper, and the county spends $7,000 a year to store those documents, according to the grand jury.

In March 2006, the Board of Supervisors approved spending $400,000 to buy a document-management system from a company called Questys. The new system was installed in August 2006.

The grand jury reports that within six months, a technician in the Technical Services Department discovered a security flaw in the Questys system that could expose the county's internal network to hackers. That meant official documents could be inappropriately altered by employees or others.

The company reportedly offered to repair the flaw, but county technical staff was never satisfied that the system could work properly. A year after the flaw was discovered, and with the full $400,000 spent, the project was abandoned.

The grand jury report said the chief information officer - Stohlman - made the decision to abandon the project but did not tell the county administrative officer.

The grand jury also looked into whether there was any effort to get a refund, since the system did not work. According to the grand jury, neither county staff nor Questys could provide a copy of a contract for the deal.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

(Calaveras) The Final 2012-2013 Grand Jury Report -

Dear Judge Martin: The 2012-2013 Civil Grand Jury, in accordance with Penal Code Section 933(a), respectfully submits its Final Report to the Calaveras County Superior Court. This jury has gone about its work enthusiastically, with good humor and an amazing ability to support each other through many unexpected difficulties. Some have been specific to their tasks as Jurors while others were personal. It has been a unique experience for us all. 19 diverse Calaveras County individuals, chosen by lottery, have become colleagues, investigators, report writers and friends all in the space of one year....

Just Click HERE For Your Very Own PDF Copy of the 76 Page Report

This could not have been accomplished without the help of our County's elected and appointed officials. To those officials who spent many hours helping us with our work, Janis Elliot, County Counsel and Barbara Yook,District Attorney, we would like to say a special thank you. They were both counselors and teachers. We want to thank Karen Osborn and the staff in County Administration who kept us off of all the complex logistical rocks, as well as the staff in the Superior Court who helped us remain clear of the legal ones. It has been my honor and privilege to serve as Foreperson to this Jury, and I want to thank all the jurors who made my job not only possible, but also fun, and very rewarding. To those of you who hardly complained at all as you took on extra work, or continued to return to the task during especially difficult times in your lives, I'm proud to have been a part of your jury.

I want to sincerely thank you, Judge Martin, for the guidance, support and courtesy extended to us, the Grand Jury, and to me as foreperson during our term of service.

Nancy Barton, Foreperson
Calaveras County Grand Jury

Friday, June 21, 2013

(San Joaquin) Grand jury sets new standard

By The Record -

The outgoing San Joaquin County grand jury is to be commended for drilling down on the subjects it tackled, from how Stockton got into bankruptcy to group homes.

Its reports revealed a depth of understanding and an eye for detail lacking in reports of many past juries. Reports in previous years often were so amateurish that responding agencies knew they could get away with a the-jury's-recommendation-is-being-addressed response. That really meant the jury's recommendations were being ignored.

The county's 2012-13 panel was different. Their reports in most cases indicated they asked questions not only until they got answers but also until they understood. Especially outstanding was their analysis of how group homes operate in the county. State officials, for example, started doing their job only after jurors kept pestering them for information (although it's not clear they'll keep doing their job).

The jurors' work and recommendations deserve a serious consideration by the agencies and those running the programs they studied. One suggestion we'd make is that the incoming grand jury, impaneled Monday, not be bashful about following up on the investigations their predecessors undertook.

Such follow-up would not only be a tip of the hat to those who came before but also a clear signal to those previously investigated that the grand jury reports cannot be viewed as just a nuisance to be ignored.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


The Escalon Times -

The San Joaquin County 2012-2013 Grand Jury has released its Final Report, which includes reports regarding new investigations, informational reports, observations and reviews of various law enforcement agencies visited within the county, and tours and presentations that have not been previously released. A brief summary of some of the reports follows:

San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors

An investigation by the Grand Jury into the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors’ agenda process and the County’s website resulted in recommendations that would promote greater public participation and discussion at the Board meetings and a more user friendly website. The Grand Jury initiated this investigation in order to ensure that the public interest and involvement in the Board’s deliberations and decision making process is maintained at a level ensuring an effective and transparent democratic government.

It was discovered that a large number of agenda items were on the consent (non public discussion) portion of the agenda and descriptions of some agenda items were incomplete on the website. During the course of the investigation, the Grand Jury found the Board and its staff open to improvements.

Law and Justice

Grand Juries are mandated to tour and inquire into the detention facilities of the State of California, County of San Joaquin, and Cities within the County per California Penal Code Section 919 (b).

The State of California has three institutions within San Joaquin County: Deuel Vocational Institution for adult males and two facilities for juvenile males, O.H. Close and N.A. Chaderjian (Northern California Youth Center).

The County has three detention facilities: the San Joaquin County Jail, the Juvenile Detention Center, and a medical custody facility at the San Joaquin General Hospital. In addition, the County has temporary detention facilities at the San Joaquin County Superior Court and the Superior Court facility in Manteca. Finally, each city police department has jail facilities or other temporary detention facilities. The Grand Jury visited all detention facilities located within the county.

The Grand Jury is reporting findings and recommendations for the following detention facilities: The Deuel Vocational Institution, Northern California Youth Center (O.H. Close and N.A. Chaderjian), and temporary detention facilities. Property rooms for the Sheriff’s Department and all city police departments were visited and a report written with findings and recommendations is included in this report. The Grand Jury participated in 30 ride alongs with public safety agencies, totaling more than 250 hours, with nine different agencies.

San Joaquin County Water Supply

“Never drink the water here.” That is what local newspaper articles have reported, indicating in some rural areas of San Joaquin County, the water supply from privately owned water wells is unsafe for public consumption. More importantly, notification to customers of high level of arsenic in groundwater wells in two cities within the County and total Trihalometane indicated unsafe drinking water. The Grand Jury reviewed the inspection reports of five drinking water treatment plants and toured the plant facilities to address the question: “is our drinking water safe?”

The Grand Jury conducted interviews, reviewed water quality reports by the State of California and local entities, and concluded that the major public water systems of San Joaquin County provide safe drinking water.

2012-2013 Tours and Presentations

The reports by the 2012-2013 San Joaquin County Grand Jury only reveal a portion of the thousands of hours the jury worked. In order to better understand the workings of different governmental agencies, the Grand Jury embarked on an educational quest to learn as much as possible about the County. The Grand Jury toured nine different programs/facilities. In addition, 10 presentations were made to the Grand Jury during the course of the year service.

Some tours are mandated by law, while others were selected to further the understanding of how selected agencies or institutions function.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

San Mateo County defends its generous pension plan

By Rachel Swan, San Francisco Examiner -

Clarity about the funding for San Mateo County's pension system should emerge in the coming weeks when officials respond to a report that pegs a shortfall of up to $2 billion — a figure that is disputed.

The county and the San Mateo County Employees' Retirement Association have until July 15 to respond to a civil grand jury report that raised questions about the employee-pension system.

The report cited a severe gap between its projected expenditures and its current coffers called an "unfunded liability." According to the grand jury report, the system was operating with $1 billion less than it needed to cover its projected pension budget in the 2012-13 fiscal year. It also said that the county could have a shortfall of up to $2 billion, depending on the return on its investments.

Officials have vehemently defended the current system. It apportions $33,876 annually, or $2,823 a month, to retired employees — about the cost to rent a two-bedroom apartment, county spokesman Marshall Wilson said.

Half the money for the pensions comes from biweekly contributions from employees' paychecks, but taxpayers cover the rest. Citizens also indirectly supplied the $92.5 million the county budgeted to help the retirement program handle its liability.

The grand jury report faults the Board of Supervisors for basing its funding strategy on "hope" — both that it wouldn't have to increase the county's and taxpayer's contributions to amortize the liability, and that its investments would earn a 7.5 percent rate of return, rather than the more conservative 5.5 percent rate that the grand jury projected.

David Bailey, CEO of the pension system, vouched for the current investment strategy, saying it's based on a mixed portfolio of stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities, which should generate far more than the grand jury predicts. He believes the 5.5 percent figure derives from "an average projection for a bond rate."

Wilson noted that the county has worked for at least five years to come up with a better pension system.

"San Mateo County has eliminated 700 positions — more than 10 percent of the workforce — in the past five years," he wrote in an email, adding that the county has also sought aggressive ways to reduce employee pay and benefit costs.

The county controller and manager both suggested that part of an annual $60 million revenue increase from the Measure A sales tax could help stanch the county's pension liability, but Wilson says that might be an odd fit.

"When Measure A passed, it was basically for services, not pensions," he said, adding that last week the Board of Supervisors was discussing proposals to set that money aside for libraries.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Retiree health tab for Marin cities hits $5,700 per household

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

The average household across all Marin cities owes about $5,700 to pay for retiree health care promised to public employees but left unfunded by elected officials, a new study indicates.

The calculation by the Marin County Civil Grand Jury follows the panel's disclosure that public agencies across Marin have mounted a $522 million debt for retiree health care, posing a potential fiscal burden for a future generation of taxpayers.

Grand jurors provided new details reflecting the impact of unfunded health care promises made by public agencies after an Independent Journal request for more information about a jury report issued a week ago.

The average tab for a home in a city or town across Marin was calculated by determining the liability of each taxing agency on a city household's tax bill, then adding them to determine the overall liability. The calculations range from highs of $7,982 per household in Mill Valley, $7,365 in Ross, and $7,127 in Corte Madera, to lows of $3,890 in Novato and $4,410 in Fairfax. Others include $4,484 in San Anselmo and $4,900 in San Rafael, as well as Belvedere, $5,184; Sausalito, $5,270; Larkspur, $5,374 and Tiburon, $5,500.

The liability for a single entity, county government, was "$293 million or about $2,627 per county household," representing a "looming financial burden," jurors warned. Overall liability for various unincorporated communities include the county tab as well as those of other taxing agencies in their areas. Marinwood households, for example, each face a $6,195 liability.

After the jury issued its report, foreman Rich Treadgold and juror Paul Premo provided calculations regarding the panel's novel "per household" way of expressing the cost of health benefits elected officials have guaranteed but left unpaid.

Premo, a retired Chevron fiscal executive and economic consultant, broke down liability per household by calculating liabilities for individual agencies that impose taxes within city limits, "adding up the layers" of debt, then factoring in the number of households.

"There is a multiplicity of layers of governmental entities that have promised benefits they have not paid for," Premo noted. "The people have a bill and it is not paid for yet."

The bill for health care is in addition to the tab for pensions, a program also plagued by unfunded liabilities. Although modest state pension reform caps several pension benefits for new employees, it allows health care costs to escalate unchecked.

With more people retiring and many living longer, coupled with variables including the rising cost of health care, the health tab will soar, Premo noted.

"It will go up every year," he said.

Premo and Treadgold noted the jury study of retiree health care approved by the county and 39 other local agencies concluded that officials must pay down debt, cut benefits and require employees to chip in.

Most agencies do not fund the future retirement health benefits they promise, but merely pay the current year's medical premiums for retirees, allowing the tab to increase. Barring action by elected officials soon, "each Marin County household will be assessed significant additional taxes or will see a dramatic reduction in services," the grand jury warned.

"We hope this gets the attention of Marin County residents," Treadgold said.

"We don't want a legacy like this for our grandchildren to deal with," added Nadine Muller of Nicasio, who served on this year's jury and will continue on as forewoman of next year's panel. "They won't be able to afford to live in Marin County."

More information:

Monday, June 17, 2013

Yolo County probation chief faces turnaround challenge

By Darrell Smith, The Sacramento Bee -

Yolo County's new probation chief faces the challenge of turning around a troubled department targeted by a grand jury ethics probe after the previous chief resigned last year.

Brent D. Cardall, San Benito County's chief probation officer, will take over the post July 1, Yolo County officials announced last week. He has a statewide reputation as an innovative leader who involves the community in working with probationers.

"I want to showcase the things we've done in San Benito," Cardall said. "I'm only 49, so I have a lot of energy to do a lot of good things in Yolo County."

"He's a uniquely great fit for Yolo," said Yolo County Administrator Patrick Blacklock, who actively recruited Cardall to head the probation department, adding Yolo leaders wanted someone with a statewide reputation as chief probation officer.

A native Utahan, Cardall is a 27-year law enforcement veteran, moving from corrections to probation and ultimately becoming director of Utah's Inmate Placement Program, overseeing 22 county jails and 1,500 inmates. He also has a master's degree in human resource management.
Cardall took the San Benito job in 2008 and quickly made an impact, developing a one-stop reporting center for probationers and a literacy program with the county's courts and library.

Known as "Booked in a Different Way," the reading program for first-time drug offenders and their children is geared toward reducing repeat offenses while boosting the reading skills of at-risk children.

Both programs won honors from the California State Association of Counties.

Cardall "had a strong record of success in San Benito County with innovative, collaborative programs that really work. All of them have a strong collaborative partnership element to them," association spokesman David Liebler said Tuesday. "I'm confident he'll bring that same innovation to Yolo."

The appointment comes a year after Marjorie Rist resigned as Yolo chief probation officer in June 2012.

Months later, a grand jury's report accused Rist of concealing an improper relationship with the CEO of the Utah firm that provided the department its software.

The panel said Rist oversaw $325,000 in county contracts with Utah-based software firm Allvest Information Services Inc. and improperly created incentives for Yolo probation employees to receive Allvest training, among a host of other allegations.

The grand jury's probe led to county audits of the department's payroll and procurements.

"It was all hands on deck," said Yolo County spokeswoman Beth Gabor. "We take grand jury reports very seriously. Everyone wants to fix any issues and make Probation a well-running machine."

Soon came revisions to department policies and procedures, a new process to address employees' concerns and a newly drawn county code of ethics expected to be completed this summer.

The next step will be changing the culture of the probation agency.

Blacklock said the probation department has "moved forward in a positive way" in the past year under interim chief Marlon Yarber. But he added that employees were "ready for strong, stable, long-term leadership."

Cardall said his first goal is to meet with department staffers.

"I'm here to serve them," Cardall said. "They're the ones doing the work."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Grand jury: Nevada County Consolidated fire board ‘woefully’ derelict

The Union -

The Nevada County Consolidated Fire District board of directors has fallen “woefully short in (its) roles and responsibilities,” according to the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury.

In a scathing report issued Thursday, the grand jury said the seven-member board collectively and individually engaged in secrecy, attempting to conceal key operational and personnel decisions, along with an exhaustive list of other examples of outright malfeasance.
“The board has failed to follow or has knowingly chosen to ignore the various NCCFD rules, ordinances and regulations, as well as California’s open meeting laws,” the report stated.

The board failed to appropriately use its legal counsel, illegally gave firefighters retroactive step increases despite assuring the public it would not do so, illegally hired employees, signed contracts it was not authorized to sign, circulated racially insensitive material and illegally invited members of the public into closed session meetings, according to the report.

“(T)here is an expectation of a higher standard of behavior by the Nevada County Consolidated board of directors as individuals elected to positions of public trust by the citizens,” the report stated.

The report also said the board further overstepped its bounds by undermining former Fire Chief Tim Fike, subverted decisions made by other members of administration and intimidated employees while engaging in mismanagement and micro-management by the board.

Chairman Warren Knox answered questions about the report after a budget subcommittee meeting Thursday, acknowledging the district’s serious deficiencies. But Knox said the institution was already taking steps to correct those.
“There was nothing in the report that really surprised me,” he said.

Knox said he agreed the board should not be involved in the day-to-day management of the district but should hire the appropriate people to run the district.

“We are trying to hire a chief,” he said.

The report concluded the district lacks a comprehensive policy and procedures manual, and the board members fail to operate as a cohesive unit.

“(The) Board of Directors is dysfunctional and is wracked by discord, acrimony, back-biting and mistrust among board members,” it read.

“As such, the meetings of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Board of Directors are acrimonious and lack professionalism, civility and respect between board members. Additionally, the board has exhibited a lack of civility, decorum and respect toward some employees of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District.”

Knox did not refute the characterization of the board as dysfunctional but said he would not discuss matters of personal strife between board members in a public way.

“I have never as a manager discussed any types of things like that,” he said. “My job is to make sure the district runs well, and we have to work with everybody.”

The lack of executive leadership and micro-management by the board of directors fostered an unhealthy working environment for administrative staff, which has led to personal hostility among administrative staff, the board and the district’s employees, according to the report.

“This unhealthy environment led to the physical separation of administrative staff, resulting in additional time and effort being expended to provide administrative services,” the report reads.

The grand jury laid out 10 recommendations, including that the board of directors train on basic operations of governance.
Clayton Thomas, vice president of Local 3800, which represents rank-and-file Consolidated firefighters, said the union looks forward to helping the fire district implement the recommendations.

“We agree with the 10 recommendations, and we want to work cooperatively as a group with the administration and the board to implement these changes,” Thomas said.

The board is legally required to respond to the report by Sept. 13.

To read the entire report, visit

Friday, June 14, 2013

(Ventura) Report lauds college’s nursing program

By Stephanie Sumell, Moorpark Acorn -

Moorpark College

After an investigation that lasted nearly a year, the Ventura County grand jury in May commended Moorpark College’s registered nursing program for offering a high-quality education.

Students who complete the two-year program, which is accredited by the California State Board of Registered Nursing, earn an associate’s degree in nursing.

But the students’ 100 percent pass rate on the state board ex- amination and 100 percent graduation rate in their fourth and final semester of the program in 2012 seemed “too good to be true,” said grand jury foreperson Jay Whitney.

The exceptional outcome realized by the program was one reason the grand jury decided to launch the investigation in July 2012.

“ We’re naturally skeptical people,” Whitney said. “We wanted to make sure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth and that the students are getting their money’s worth.”

Now, he said, “we have a huge success story. We’re happy to shout from the rooftops that we have an example of what we think is a positive outcome of taxpayers’ dollars and students’ hard work.”

Whitney said the jury has an ongoing interest in the Ventura County Community College District, an entity that has been highly criticized over the past year and had its accreditation threatened.

“They have a huge budget,” he said. “The number of students they affect, the number of people they employ, the amount of money they spend . . . everything’s a constant concern to us because of their size.”

Whitney said grand jury investigations often involve interviews, impromptu visits and document inspections.

“All cases take on a life of their own,” he said.

Each report must be approved by at least 12 of the 19 jurors.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors provides advice on any legal issues that have been brought to light in the grand jury’s report.

The report must be approved by a superior court judge before it is published.

Whitney said the grand jury has no special authority to take legal action against the individuals, businesses or institutions it investigates.

“Although we have no more (legal) power than you do, we hope to put the spotlight on wrongdoers and the people we think are guilty of misconduct,” he said. “We can point it out, we can publicize it and we can give it the amount of attention we think it deserves. The hope is that there is enough pressure to get other parties involved.”

Because there were no issues with the program, no such action was needed, Whitney said.

“It’s a laudatory report.”

“ It’s very positive,” said Clare Giesan, the director of administrative relations for the Ventura County Community College District. “We’re pleased because it’s an excellent program.”

Carol Higashida, the nursing program’s health sciences coordinator, said the students’ success is the result of hard work and good instructors.

“Course exams are designed with National Council Licensure Examination-style questions that become progressively more complex from one semester to the next,” she said in an email. “Students are also required to take practice online National Council Licensure Examination tests and complete remediation (exercises) if they do not achieve benchmark scores.”

Agoura Hills resident Darin Ross, a recent nursing graduate, said he never doubted the program’s legitimacy.

“I trust the school,” he said. “I have confidence in the program and in the district.”

Ross and other graduates look forward to a booming job market.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s bureau of labor statistics, the employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 26 percent from 2010 to 2020.

The bureau reported that nurses’ median pay in 2010 was $64,690 a year and $31.10 an hour.

Whitney said the Moorpark program is one of the finest in the nation.

“Students can learn at a low tuition, graduate and have a very in-demand and high-wage job,” he said. “We wish that were the case with every degree.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

(LA) Glendale rejects civil grand jury recommendations on utility revenue transfer

By Brittany Levine, Glendale News-Press -

Glendale officials have decided to ignore recommendations made by the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury in a report that city officials claim muddled the waters around an unsuccessful ballot measure in April. The measure would have changed how millions in electric utility revenues are transferred to the General Fund each year.

The civil grand jury serves as a watchdog and is charged with investigating city, county and other special government agencies. In March, it released a scathing report on the controversial practice of Glendale transferring millions of dollars in revenues from its city-owned utility to help pay for police, libraries and other public services.

The jury’s report recommended the city hold a special election to decide whether to continue the transfer, which critics charge with keeping consumer rates artificially high.

In the report, the grand jury said it was “not permissible for the city to use Glendale Water & Power as its ‘piggy bank’ to satisfy budgetary shortfalls,” and recommended Glendale look elsewhere for the money.

On Tuesday, city officials made it clear they plan to do neither.

“Our view is an election will not be necessary,” said City Atty. Mike Garcia. “We don’t believe that it’s necessary to discontinue the transfer of electric revenues.”

City Council members have said that without the transfer, Glendale couldn’t afford the police, parks and other public services residents have come to expect, but critics have called it a backdoor tax since it drains money from the utility, prompting rate increases to customers.

Glendale discontinued transferring millions of dollars from the water side of the utility a few years ago as a precautionary step due to a state rule that made the practice legally dicey. However, officials continued transferring money from the electric side of the utility, which they say is exempt from the state regulation.

Earlier this year, officials wanted to make it easier to transfer roughly $21 million in electric revenues by doing away with several administrative hurdles required by the city’s rules governing the decades-old practice. But the attempt to do so failed when voters rejected Measure B on the April ballot.

Officials blame that loss on the civil grand jury report, which was unsealed just nine days before the election. Typically, the grand jury doesn’t release reports until July.

“They released this deliberately, in my opinion, to affect the outcome of the election,” Garcia said. “I think there’s pretty strong case law that this was an unlawful use of public resources.”

He plans to bring back options on what recourse Glendale has.

“I hope we can do something to prevent this from happening again,” said Mayor Dave Weaver, accusing the civil grand jury of becoming “too political.”

While the city’s response to the civil grand jury — approved by the City Council on Tuesday — is required, implementing the recommendations isn’t.

Both documents are set to be posted on the grand jury’s website in July as part of an annual report.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Marin grand jury: Supervisors risk more computer woe

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

Marin County officials are seeking a new computer software system to handle complex fiscal affairs without an overall project plan and must tighten management, the civil grand jury asserted Monday.

The jury saluted officials for learning several lessons from a $30 million debacle in which an elaborate, untested system was installed in 2006, performed at half its expected capability and cost too much to maintain. But the panel warned other lessons are being ignored; jurors found some of the same "deficiencies" in planning for a new system that plagued the last one.

Change is needed to "avoid repeating mistakes" that led to the fiasco, the jury advised.

Management of the new project is inadequate, county supervisors are not as involved as they should be and the county continues to rely on expensive consultants, the panel observed. "There are indications ... the decision-makers still do not fully understand the risks and complexities," the jury said.

The project must be reconfigured to conform to professional Project Management Institute standards, governance must be tightened and accountability assigned, and county supervisors must step up to the management plate, the panel opined.

"Possibly the most glaring deficiency ... is the lack of a comprehensive project plan to guide all the key players and to measure progress," the jury concluded. "And surprisingly, none of the key players expressed a concern over this deficiency."

The panel added: "The current grand jury has approximately 135 years of collective project management experience among its members. None of us, nor any project management expert we talked with, nor any project management text we found, recommended embarking on a project of this complexity and size without a comprehensive project plan."
Further, while employees are more engaged this time around, "there is no clear change management plan ... it is unclear whether all staff are prepared for the change or how effective the training is."

County Administrator Matthew Hymel said he welcomed the grand jury review.

"As we have said before, we are committed to learning from our mistakes and keeping our board informed and involved in the development of a new system," Hymel said. "Basically, their recommendations are refinements to our current approach. We already plan to do much of what they are suggesting and we will seriously consider all of their recommendations."

While jurors commended officials for making sure the county's high-tech staff plays a key role in planning for the new system this time, the panel thinks the top tech staffer should have more authority and responsibility, and that a half-time project manager should be assigned to the job full time.

A new governance structure proposed by the jury assigns overall responsibility to the county high-tech chief and county administrator, saying the county, and not consultants, should be in charge. Just like last time, "the outside consultants seem to be the driving and controlling force," with a $600,000 adviser, now aided by another $100,000 adviser, convincing county supervisors to spend another $400,000 on "best business practices" in the finance and personnel departments. "Adopting best business practices now is unnecessary since it is likely the software will have these practices built in," the jury said, noting that consultants tend to recommend plans that result in additional contracts.

"We do not believe there is a lack of best business practices expertise in-house," the jury said, urging a consultant crackdown including strict hiring guidelines. "The process of hiring outside consultants has become too convenient for the Board of Supervisors."

"Marin should select a vendor now and then train managers and staff in best business practices as supported by the new software. ... This could save money and shave perhaps six months" over a timeline that puts the new system in place by the end of 2015, the jury said.

At the same time, the jury recommended use of an "objective advisory resource" or independent adviser to "review the current dynamics" of the project, the risks of proceeding as planned and the recommendations of the jury. The panel contended the move "is not to be confused with hiring an outside consultant" but is akin to getting a "second opinion" from an independent expert who can "whisper 'remember the taxpayer.'"

The jury concluded that although the county board is more involved with the current project than it was with the last one, its role remains foggy and "not as clearly defined" nor as effective as it could be. Supervisors should have more oversight and get monthly briefings that focus on areas that need attention.

The jury, although indicating officials have failed to learn all the lessons that past experience provides, pointed to a number of positive developments, including involving high-tech staffers in decision-making, better staff training, more staff "user input" in development of the system, and goals of obtaining simpler software designed for government for installation in phases based on readiness.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Grand jury: Mendocino County jail food just fine

Updated: 06/11/2013 08:43:29 AM PDT

Says complaints about starvation' diets unfounded
The grand jury gave the Mendocino County Jail and the Juvenile Hall rave reviews on the nutrition it serves up to inmates in a report it recently released, titled "Inmate nutrition."

The grand jury got a complaint claiming an inmate was "being starved,'" and read several letters to the editor in the Ukiah Daily Journal "complaining of food served at the jail and at Juvenile Hall," but, during a visit, "found both kitchens prepared meals that met the state guidelines and served quality meals at a low cost per meal," according to the report.

The report praises the jail's practice of baking its own bread as a cost-cutter and "good training for the inmates." The grand jury found that the average cost per meal at the jail is $1.

The bread-baking crew is usually two inmates, according to Lt. John Bednar of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

"We try to find someone with a longer sentence, because there's a training process involved," Bednar said.

Each loaf of bread costs an average of 30 cents to make, according to the grand jury report, and the inmates working in the kitchen "receive sufficient training to receive food handling certification preparing them for future employment."

Tom Cargile, 49, is currently the most experienced crewman on the job. He's been helping bake roughly 130 loaves of bread every day for five months, starting every morning at about 4:30 a.m. The loaves produce two slices per inmate for two meals, serving about 300 inmates daily, he said.

"This is my first time (as a baker)," Cargile said. "The jail trained me in it and I love it."

He said he plans to use his newly-acquired skills when he gets out of jail, and to use his food safety certification to apply at local bakeries.

Slices of the freshly-baked bread and lunch sandwich fixings awaited the four members of the garden crew, who were enjoying their work Thursday in the jail's two garden plots so much that they were in no rush to get inside out of the sun.

A shade house had, however, been built to shelter bell peppers, tomatoes and lettuce, according to John Youngbird-Holt, a contractor who supervises the garden crew. His crew was just putting in cantaloupes, and was caring for broccoli, potatoes, strawberries, asparagus, artichokes, leeks, pumpkins and one "voluntary" -- unplanned -- zucchini plant, among other things.

The garden is also home to a goji berry tree (which bears a high-antioxidant fruit similar to a cherry) and a single grapevine, and will soon also feature an herb garden.

Bednar noted that there is currently no way of tracking how much of the jail's vegetable and fruit needs the garden covers, but that it supplements the meals nicely.

Inmate Ron Maple, 49, dubbed the garden "crew chief," half-joked that being on the garden crew is "a lot better than being locked up in the main jail." His crewmates agreed with hearty laughter, and Maple noted that the men also enjoyed the sunshine, physical labor and camaraderie.

The grand jury found that the "garden is an important supplement of fresh produce and healthy outdoor work." One of the grand jury's few criticisms was that "only male inmates work in the garden," and recommended "that female inmates have the same opportunity."

Bednar said the jail would need a female supervisor to accomplish that, and currently only has a male supervisor, Youngbird-Holt. The jail is working on a solution, he said.

The grand jury found the food complaints "unwarranted," and noted, "If inmates ate all the food served at the jail, their diet may be healthier than what would be consumed at home."

Men need an average of 2,400 to 2,500 calories daily for a sedentary lifestyle, the report notes, and women need 1,900 to 2,000 calories daily. Between 500 and 800 more calories would be needed for "moderate activity," and 700 to 1,000 more would be needed for "hard physical work," according to the report.

Even the "disciplinary meatloaf," also called "nutraloaf" -- served to inmates "who show extreme behaviors" -- meets dietary requirements, the grand jury notes.

"Prepackaged and expensive" meals are available for special diets, as are meals for religious preferences at both the jail and juvenile hall, according to the report. Pregnant women get a fourth meal of fruit and milk.

The grand jury found the Juvenile Hall kitchen "small but efficient," and that it prepares about 26 meals three times daily.

Nutrition requirements for Juvenile Hall "are more than those for schools and include one cup of fruit at lunch and a recent increase in the amount of legumes served," according to the report.

In addition, the grand jury found that "the quantity of food served at the jail and JH are state mandates and monitored by a dietitian and annually by state inspectors;" that the Juvenile Hall kitchen staff needs a computer to access nutritional information, monitor caloric value of menu items and send required reports.

The grand jury recommended that Juvenile Hall administration provide a computer and nutrition program training, and that jail administration find a volunteer or "additional resources" to hire a part-time female supervisor to allow women to work in the garden.

Tiffany Revelle can be reached at, on Twitter @TiffanyRevelle or at 468-3523.

S.F. must do more to prevent bicyclists’ deaths, report says

By Paul Gackle, SF Examiner -

A civil grand jury report on bicycle safety urges The City to ramp up its efforts to reduce bike fatalities.

The report, which was released Monday, praises The City for encouraging bike transportation, but it also asks the mayor and Board of Supervisors to set a goal for zero bike fatalities as more cyclists take to the road.

"It's really important that we have some sort of goal in mind and really set our sights high," grand jury committee Chairwoman Maria Martinez said.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum applauded the grand jury's push for a zero-fatalities campaign.

"That's how things happen," she said.

Shahum said the report's one shortcoming is that it doesn't stress the need for additional space on the road devoted to bicyclists.

"Bike ridership increases and safety increases when there are designated bike lanes," she said.

A key way to reduce collisions and fatalities, according to the report, is to expand bicycle-safety education and extend it to noncyclists and motorists. The report calls for a widespread advertising campaign, bicycle-training courses for private businesses and incentives for people who complete bike safety workshops.

Martinez said police will also need to train officers to enforce bike safety laws to reduce the number of collisions on the street.

"SFPD needs to enforce these laws for everybody and really stand behind it," she said.

The report comes a day after a woman in her 60s was struck by a bicyclist who was reportedly riding on a sidewalk downtown, which is against the law. The woman suffered injuries that police said were life-threatening.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

(Mendocino County) Grand Jury: Ukiah needs to cap landfill

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 06/04/2013 12:00:25 AM PDT

City faces severe consequences' for delayed action
Ukiah Daily Journal

The City of Ukiah needs to take action soon to permanently close its former landfill and avoid "severe consequences" such as penalties and fines, the Mendocino County Grand Jury recently recommended.

According to a report titled "A landfill that refused to die," the Grand Jury found that the city "stopped receiving refuse at its landfill on Vichy Springs Road in 2001, but has not capped it yet.

"The law requires the landfill be capped and permanently closed within two years," the report states. "(But) it has been 12 years and the landfill is not capped, not permanently closed nor has the post maintenance plan been submitted for approval."

The GJ notes that the landfill "straddles an earthquake zone, a local watershed and two creeks that feed into the Russian River," and the city's "noncompliance with health and safety requirements for proper containment of landfill waste may result in severe consequences such as fines and constructive orders."

The GJ interviewed employees of the Ukiah Public Works Department, as well as county and state management and regulatory staff. It also reviewed federal and state regulations regarding landfills and water quality, along with communications between regulatory agencies.

The city's landfill was opened in 1954, and in 1999 the city submitted a "Final Closure and Post-Closure Maintenance Plan" to the Local (County) Enforcement Agency representing the California Health Department, CalRecycle (formerly the California Integrated Waste Management Board), and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

After receiving comments, the city revised the plan in 2000, and "for the next eight years comments and revisions went back and forth with the city missing important deadlines." The CalRecycle regulation requires permanent closure of the site within two years, and "on March 13, 2012, the city's landfill was put on the Inventory of Solid Waste Facilities Which Violate State Minimum Standards' due to chronic violations."

The city's budget for 2012-13 projects a reserve of $5,081,411 to cover the closure costs, which are expected to be less than that. However, the GJ notes that "closure costs are subject to change if the regulatory process imposes requirements not contemplated in the closure plan," and "each year there are more regulations making closure more expensive." According to the GJ, "inspection reports show the landfill has been properly maintained since 2001, funds for permanent closure were budgeted and earmarked, and initial plans were made for closure but never completed.

"City staff, the city consultant and the various state agencies blame the Water Board for not completing the early review process," the GJ states, concluding that "insufficient effort has been taken by the City of Ukiah to affect proper, permanent closure of the landfill," and it recommends that the city "take all necessary actions to meet their legal overdue obligations to permanently close the landfill before the state penalizes the city through constructive orders, fines and penalties."

The GJ notes that a response to this report is required from the Ukiah City Council within 90 days, and is requested from City Manager Jane Chambers, Public Works Director Tim Eriksen and Finance Director Gordon Elton within 60 days.

(San Luis Obispo) Grand jury advises Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach merge dispatch services

By Cynthia Lambert —
June 3, 2013
Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach should consider combining their police and fire dispatch systems and contracting with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office to provide dispatch services, the county’s civil grand jury recommended.

In a report released last Thursday, grand jurors said they found through interviews with various city managers and law enforcement officials that “some consolidation of police and fire dispatch is feasible and desirable.”

In addition, grand jurors suggested that other agencies, including the Five Cities Fire Authority and Cal Fire, should meet with a facilitator to consolidate dispatch services at one center run by the Sheriff’s Office.

Doing so could save money, grand jurors noted, though how it would be set up is left to the individual jurisdictions to work out.

The Sheriff’s Office and Cal Fire have been discussing the possibility of a shared dispatch center, Cal Fire Chief Robert Lewin said.

The two agencies could save costs by sharing a facility, Lewin said, and strengthen the relationship between the two entities. Cal Fire would continue dispatching for fire calls, while the Sheriff’s Office would continue handling calls from unincorporated areas of the county, he said.

Some money is proposed to be set aside in next year’s county budget to hire a consultant to study the idea.

Other attempts

The idea of combining police departments isn’t a novel suggestion to officials in Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach. Both cities have studied the possibility, but the discussions between the two cities came to a halt last spring.

“We’ve looked at consolidation numerous times since the ’80s,” Grover Beach police Chief Jim Copsey said. “We’re open to any kind of service consolidation if it meets or increases service levels and there’s a cost savings to it. The proposals we’ve put together for Grover Beach haven’t met those goals.”

Last year, council members in both cities looked at dispatch consolidation and decided to study the potential of combining their police departments, as they believed the possible savings could be larger, Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said.

But the Grover Beach City Council rejected a proposal from Arroyo Grande to provide police services under a five-year contract. They were worried about the cost and added that paying for services did not constitute “full consolidation.”

In the grand jury report, Sheriff Ian Parkinson said he believes Grover Beach could save at least $150,000 a year if it contracted for dispatch with the Sheriff’s Office.

“I’m interested in working with each of the cities if it is determined that consolidation would be advantageous to everyone involved,” Parkinson wrote Monday in an email. “However, the decision to combine the dispatch centers and contract with the Sheriff’s Office is something the cities themselves will have to make.”

Copsey said the information received by the city was a preliminary estimate and would require further study.

Adams said Arroyo Grande officials have had informational discussions with the Sheriff’s Office about dispatch services, but the option hasn’t been fully studied.

Five Cities left out?

If the cities decide to contract with the Sheriff’s Office for dispatch services, it’s unknown which agency would provide dispatch for the Five Cities Fire Authority, the joint department serving Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano.

Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach police currently provide dispatch for the fire authority.

The grand jury interviewed former Five Cities Fire Authority Chief Joel Aranaz, who said in the report he was not in favor of Cal Fire taking over fire dispatch services.

Current Chief Mike Hubert said he would be satisfied if Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach could work out a solution to consolidate their dispatch services. In the long run, he thinks a regional communications center in the South County, which could also include Pismo Beach, may provide an efficient, cost-effective solution for Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach.

“Anyone in public safety needs to do what’s in the best interest of their communities,” Hubert added. “I would do what I felt was the best, safest option for the people we serve.”

Lewin said he’s open to talking about contract services with any entity, but it’s up to an interested agency to approach Cal Fire. To date, Five Cities Fire has not done so, he said.

The grand jury report can be found at The cities, fire authority, Cal Fire and the Sheriff’s Office are all required to respond to the non-binding report by June 29.

Read more here:

New (San Mateo) grand jury report questions rationale of some Sequoia Healthcare District expenses

By Bonnie Eslinger
Daily News Staff Writer
Posted: 06/06/2013 02:00:00 AM PDT

A new San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report questions whether the Sequoia Healthcare District reaches too far in doling out some of the millions of dollars it annually collects from taxpayers.

And in at least two cases, grand jurors suggest, the district may have done just that by funneling money to an East Palo Alto health clinic and to a nursing program whose graduates then leave to find work elsewhere.

But this year's civil grand jury -- the fifth one to investigate Sequoia since 2000 -- didn't probe into the district's justification for continuing to exist. The district was established in 1947 to build and operate Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, now run by Dignity Health, formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West, which took over in 1996.

Grand Jury Foreman Timothy Johnson acknowledged in an interview Wednesday that some concerns stem from the fact the district annually collects about $8.6 million in property taxes and spends the money on a range of health care programs that weren't part of the original mission.

"I think there's just some befuddlement on why it exists when it doesn't operate a hospital anymore," Johnson said. And if anything, the grand jury report released Monday may fan the fires a bit.

It questions why the district gives $500,000 a year to the Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto, even though that city's residents don't pay property taxes to Sequoia. And it points out that many nurses taught through a program at Cañada College and Sequoia Hospital that has drawn $10.7 million from the district are not getting jobs within the county. "The nurses program appears to have been a big failure, in particular, in keeping track with where these nurses went," Johnson said.

Jack Hickey, a Sequoia Healthcare District board member whose campaign platform over the years has called for the district's abolishment, said Wednesday that the grand jury report underscores some of his concerns but only scratches the surface of how much money is used for "benefits that go out of the district."

Hickey said more scrutiny would show he's right that the district should be dissolved and the money redistributed to the other tax-supported entities in the county, so they could "spend it as they will."

Sequoia CEO Lee Michelson said there's no point in abandoning the district's mission.

"It's about $91 a year for the average taxpayer," Michelson said Wednesday. "Right now that money is going to good health care programs."

The Sequoia Healthcare District includes Redwood City, Belmont, San Carlos, Menlo Park, Woodside, Atherton, Portola Valley and parts of southern Foster City and North Fair Oaks. More than 60,000 people annually benefit from its programs, according to the district, including more than 25,000 public school children.

Michelson said the grand jury was told that the money given to the East Palo Alto clinic served 755 people who live within Sequoia's boundaries.

As for the nurses, he said about half of the 300 or so who have graduated from the district—funded training program now work within the district and the rest went elsewhere because there are only so many openings in the area.

"It was set up as an education program; you can't guarantee jobs," he said.

Email Bonnie Eslinger at; follow her at

(Madera) Grand jury foreman responds

By Phillip Atkisson, Sierra Star -

The Madera County Administrative Officer Eric Fleming wrote a guest commentary published in the May 23 edition of the Sierra Star entitled "Grand jury relied on rumor and guesswork." In this less-than-subtle commentary, the CAO states that the subcommittee neglected its legal obligation to adopt findings and recommendations which are based on factual and legal information. He continued by stating they subscribed to the theory of a handful of disgruntled individuals and relied on rumor and guesswork as the basis for this report.

Editors note: The following letter was recently sent to the Madera County Board of Supervisors.

Each year, grand jury members attend a very intense two-day training session conducted by the statewide Grand Jury Association, where, among other things, they learn to differentiate fact from rumor. Whats more, there is a methodical approach for fact determination taught in these training sessions. In the matter of the report entitled Complaint Regarding County Administration and Finance, a written complaint was received and an investigative committee was formed and chaired by Mr. Dan Hatcher.

The six-month investigative process included the summarization of the allegations and the gathering of a paper trail, including emails, letters, audit reports, and board letters. The investigation also required attendance at board of supervisor meetings and the review of archived video recordings of prior supervisor meetings. However, the most critical element of this investigation was the witness interview sessions.

Witnesses to be interviewed were selected from a large cross-section of people involved with and/or knowledgeable of Madera County government and included elected officials, department heads, employees, and non-employees. Questions were prepared in advance of these interviews and, before each interview session, the witnesses were sworn in and admonished not to discuss the questions or answers with anyone. Upon completion of each interview, committee members finalized their interview notes and filed them with other documentation regarding the matter, whereupon a large file of material in support of the facts was accumulated.

What is a fact? In grand jury parlance, a fact may be substantiated by the testimony of a minimum of three witnesses. A fact can be substantiated by a letter or email, audit report, instruction in a procedures manual, a contract, or Government Code section. And, a fact may be substantiated by attending public meetings and observing the ensuing discussion pertaining to an issue.

In this investigation, our facts were derived from several sources, including emails, letters, audit reports, board letters, attendance at supervisor meetings, and from direct testimony. We did much more than "interview a handful of disgruntled individuals." In fact, we conducted approximately two dozen interviews with more than 15 different people. An overwhelming majority (three quarters) of these witnesses confirmed the facts in one form or another, with differing levels of severity. So, when the CAO said "the grand jury relied on rumor and guesswork," that simply is not true, but it is a good example of "guesswork" on his part.

What is a rumor? A rumor is gossip, guesswork, antidotal information, or possibly misinformation spread by a person with an axe to grind. However, a rumor can be based in fact. Currently, there is a rumor going around that a Madera County department head is questioning employees to determine which of his/her subordinates testified before the Madera County Grand Jury on this matter. But, of course, that is just a rumor.

Now, if said employees were to file a complaint with the grand jury alleging that they are being intimidated into divulging something that they were admonished not to reveal, then that might trigger an investigation to include sworn testimony to determine how factual these allegations might be. This is how a grand jury distinguishes fact from rumor.

In summary, the CAO is advised to respond to the grand jury report as required by law. He may state his disagreement with the facts, findings, and recommendations. That is his right. But, this years grand jury takes great exception to the misinformation he provided the news media with his guest commentary and we hope that it does not have a chilling and demoralizing effect on future grand jury witnesses.

-- Phillip Atkisson is the current foreman of the Madera County grand jury

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

(Solano) Grand jury: Delta Camp isn't secure


An inquiry into the management of Delta Conservation Camp by the Solano County grand jury raised red flags concerning safety and security at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation-run fire camp, according to a recent report.

The grand jury's Dec. 12, 2012, inspection of the Delta Camp, located at 6246 Lambie Road, off Highway 12 between Rio Vista and Suisun City, prompted four recommendations and coincided with those made by the 2011-12 grand jury.

During its inquiry, the grand jury inspected Delta Camp facilities, which house up to 132 inmates, and interviewed staff from Delta Camp, the CDCR and Calfire.

So far, however, CDCR management has chosen not to act upon the findings, stating that current staffing levels are appropriate to the inmate population and their classification level, and that the cost of other suggestions, such as installing perimeter security cameras, "was prohibitive and would not be installed," the report stated.

Opened in June 1988, Delta Camp is one of 39 fire camps throughout the state that houses state prison inmates whose main mission is to supply quick-response strike teams to assist Calfire or other fire agencies that request assistance through mutual-aid agreements. Delta Camp inmates may also be hired by public agencies or nonprofit organizations to work on community projects.

The CDCR is responsible for the security, supervision, care and discipline of inmates assigned to the camp, while Calfire supervises "in-camp" inmate assignments and fire-line assignments in the field.

The grand jury said its concerns centered around safety and security measures for CDCR, California Department of Forestry and Calfire personnel, as well as the public.

At the time of the 2012-13 grand jury tour, 104 inmates were assigned to the camp, leaving 28 open beds, according to the report.

The grand jury also took issue with the state's modification of the inmate classification point system, which allows higher-risk inmates to be housed at Delta Camp, the report stated.

The grand jury said it found Delta Camp to be "clean, orderly, and well-equipped" at the time of its visit, but was concerned with the fact that, during the first shift -- from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. -- the ratio of inmates to correctional officers could be 132:1, the report said.

The current grand jury agreed with the findings and recommendations of the 2011-12 grand jury, which suggested adding a second officer to the first shift, installing perimeter security cameras and exit alarms on the inmate dormitory and equipping CDCR personnel with portable radios for immediate communication with Solano County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction of the area.

In the response to both grand jury reports, CDCR management stated that current staffing levels were appropriate, given the inmate population and their classification level. They also said the cost of installing and maintaining cameras was prohibitive.

After discovering that none of the recommendations had been instituted, the grand jury urged Delta Camp management to "revisit and reconsider these security concerns" -- especially given the increased classification score of inmates housed at the camp.

"This change could affect the operations of Delta Camp and possibly put Delta Camp staff and the surrounding communities at greater risk," the grand jury wrote.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Marin grand jury: Retiree health care debt poses fiscal calamity

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

City, county, school and special district agencies across Marin have mounted a $522 million debt for retiree health care, jeopardizing employee benefits and posing a fiscal calamity for a future generation of taxpayers, a grand jury investigation concluded.

In a detailed review of the cost of retiree health care benefits approved by the county and 39 other local agencies, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury urged officials to pay down liability, cut benefits and require employees to share the cost.

Most agencies do not fund the future retirement health benefits they promise, but merely pay the current year's medical premiums for retirees, allowing the tab to increase as more people retire and health costs soar.

Jurors said agencies may be unable to pay for benefits they have promised.

"If the liability problem is not addressed within the next few years, each Marin County household will be assessed significant additional taxes or will see a dramatic reduction in services," the panel warned.

After reviewing unfunded health liabilities for the county and Marin cities as well as key school and special districts, the jury found that 26 agencies have set aside no funding at all for future health benefits promised employees — and only 12 have set aside more than 5 percent of the current liability.

"The county was short about $293 million or about $2,627 per county household," the jury said, noting the tab at Civic Center accounted for the bulk of a "looming financial burden" countywide that faces future generations. The jury noted the county pays $12 million a year to pay for health benefits for 1,400 retirees, or about $8,600 per year per retiree. In 2008, officials capped costs at $3,000 for new employees.

But the jury found that county supervisors have funded only 8.2 percent of a $319 million tab for the retiree health benefits they have promised. "The county's retiree health care unfunded retiree health care liability is far more alarming than the county's pension funding inadequacy," the jury reported. "This is because the county's retiree health care liability is 92 percent unfunded. ... In contrast, its pension liability is about 25 percent unfunded."

What's more, "the county's unfunded liability is among the highest for any of the county's 11 cities and towns," the jury said.

San Rafael, however, was singled out for praise at the top of the funding list for taking "important steps" and "significant movement to control costs" while paying for 30.9 percent of its $35.2 million retiree health liability.

County Administrator Matthew Hymel, who regards the county as a regional leader in pension reform, said the grand jury had made "significant efforts to research this issue," and added the county agrees that retiree health care is a "serious issue that needs to be addressed." He also cited a series of "aggressive actions" the county has taken, including cutting benefits for new hires and paying down $26.5 million of health care liability this year.

The jury faulted liability repayment schedules employed by most, including the county, that use an "extreme" 30-year amortization period that enables agencies to minimize annual payments.

Other agencies that have paid down or set aside some funding for future health benefits, with liabilities followed by the percent they have been funded, include: Tiburon Fire Protection District, $3.1 million, 26.7 percent; Fairfax, $1.28 million, 19.8 percent; Marin Municipal Water District, $44.77 million, 19.4 percent; Tamalpais High School District, $6.54 million, 19.3 percent; Central Marin Sanitation Agency, $3.55 million, 19.1 percent; Kentfield Fire Protection District, $2.39 million, 16.2 percent; Mill Valley, $28.1 million, 12.9 percent; Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District, $2.15 million, 12.5 percent; Ross Valley Fire Department, $5.12 million, 6.1 percent; Novato Fire District, $17.71 million, 5.4 percent; Southern Marin Fire Protection District, $5.49 million, 3.6 percent, and Corte Madera, $11.83 million, 0.3 percent.

The jury reported that some agencies, including Mill Valley and the Marinwood Community Services District, provide generous benefits. Mill Valley's health tab last year, covering retirees and their spouses, was $14,000 per retiree, although costs fall to about half that for those eligible for Medicare.

Mill Valley City Manager Jim McCann, who had not yet read the jury report, said the city has cut benefits for new hires, set aside $4 million to help pay for retiree health, and is studying ways to do more. The city has a stellar record of paying its pension liability, with a 90 percent funding level as detailed in a recent actuarial study.

And in the Marinwood district, where employees may retire at 50 after only five years of service, a rich benefit "unique among the entities the grand jury studied," no provision has been made for future health funding of a $4.74 million liability. Marinwood has cut benefits for future employees and trimmed other payments but the unfunded liability per district household is about $2,750 or "four times that of any other special district the grand jury surveyed."

The jury also found agencies that provide far more modest payments, including Novato, where retirees get a health benefit of about $1,314 a year, and the Dixie School District, which caps benefits at $425 a month for five years "and thereafter provides retirees a mere $7.50 a month toward their health care coverage costs." The jury noted that "some employers offer substantially lower benefits and yet are able to attract and retain employees."

The jury focused on several agencies facing funding hurdles, including San Rafael city schools, which have set aside no funding despite a $10.4 million liability. With a wave of retirements due, the city schools face "substantial future outlays" for benefits.

At $12.03 million, the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District posted the highest unfunded health liability among those with no payment program. Other agencies with no payment plan, despite unfunded retiree health liabilities of about $1 million or more, include:

Larkspur, $7.49 million; Twin Cities Police Authority, $7.49 million; Sausalito, $6.63 million; Novato Sanitary District, $6.11 million; Marin Community College District, $5.69 million; Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin, $4.11 million; North Marin Water District, $3.07 million; Reed Union School District, $3.04 million; Tiburon, $2.9 million; Mill Valley School District, $2.16 million; Ross School District, $2.14 million; San Anselmo, $1.94 million; Ross Valley School District, $1.84 million; Novato, $1.8 million; Shoreline School District, $1.8 million; Kentfield School District, $1.43 million; Dixie School District, $1.06 million; and Novato School District, $820,000.

Solutions, the jury concluded, include "accelerated funding" and capping benefits and higher retirement ages. Generous benefits are not needed to attract employees and "for active and newly hired employees, the benefits should be trimmed and costs should be shared."

The panel requested responses from the county and all cities, the College of Marin, 12 school districts and 14 special districts.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

(Fresno Co) Grand jury: Del Rey utility district in financial hot water

By Pablo Lopez, The Fresno Bee -

Del Rey Community Service District has been operating at a financial loss for 17 of the past 18 years and board members can't account for missing money, a Fresno County grand jury report says.

The eight-page report, released this week, criticizes board members for not conducting themselves properly at public meetings and for failing to perform their duties in accordance with the law.

It was the second time in five years the county's civilian grand jury has investigated improper expenditures by the district, which was established in 1963 to provide water, sewer, solid waste and other service to 1,600 residents south of Sanger.

According to the report, the district's reserve had $687,942 in December 1995. A June 2007 audit showed a reserve balance of $284,844. But as of July last year, the reserve had dropped to $94,967.

"The findings of the current grand jury are in total agreement with those of the previous grand jury," the report said. "Records needed to identify how the funds were spent are non-existent."

In the report, jurors ask the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and the Local Agency Formation Commission, known as LAFCO, to have better oversight of the Del Rey district. Jurors also would like LAFCO to "take a more aggressive stance in recommending a merger of this district" with another, financially stable district.