Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Peninsula Health Care District role questioned: San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury calls on Peninsula Health Care District to prioritize its functions

By Bill Silverfarb, The Daily Journal -

The Peninsula Health Care District is a landlord, real estate developer and community health resource but it does not seem to prioritize which one is most important, according to a report released by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury yesterday.

It is also sitting on nearly $61 million in reserves that the civil grand jury said could be spent on taking care of the immediate health care needs of the 230,000 residents it serves now in the north and central part of the county, according to the report.

The $61 million, however, is being stashed away for when its 50-year lease expires with Mills-Peninsula Health Services to operate the Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame. Sutter Health built the state-of-the-art hospital for $620 million and, when the lease expires in 2057, the hospital will be transferred back to the district upon payment of its book value or the lease can be extended another 25 years. The district owned the old hospital until it was deemed seismically unsafe, which prompted the board to ink a deal with Sutter to build the new facility.

Board Chair Dr. Dan Ullyot agreed with the report’s findings mostly and said that perhaps the district’s most important role in the community will be as a real estate developer in the future when it builds a new health-focused campus adjacent to the new hospital.

The campus is planned to provide senior housing, a skilled-nursing facility, an assisted living/memory care facility and community center.

“In the long term, the health-focused facility will be big for the district and Burlingame,” Ullyot said.

The district’s top priority, however, is the hospital, he said.

“We have to make sure Sutter provides the core services for acute care that residents need,” he said.

Sutter rents the 21 acres of land from the district for about $1.5 million a year.

The district’s annual revenue is about $7.4 million, with $4.6 million of it coming directly from property taxes. Two years ago, the district put about $3.9 million of its revenue into reserve. This past fiscal year, the contribution to its reserve was down to about $1.8 million as the district spent about $2 million on special projects including the Healthy Schools Initiative and Lesley Affordable Assisted Living.

The civil grand jury recommends that the district, however, retain experts to determine the reasonable amount that it should allocate to reserves annually and adjust its allocation of revenue to “enhance support of current programs and grants,” according to the report.

The district annually spends more than $2 million in taxpayer money to support community health and currently partners with five school districts to help fund nurses, physical education instructors and a school-based health clinic.

The district also funds a full-time psychiatric resident physician in the county’s Behavioral Health Program for $500,000 a year. It spends another $125,000 a year providing dental services of frail seniors, adults with special needs and residents living on a low income, according to the report.

The district has been the subject of multiple civil grand jury reports over the years and once made a recommendation that it merge with the Sequoia Healthcare District, which also collects property taxes to provide similar services mostly in the southern part of the county.

To learn more about the district go to

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

(Napa) City responds to grand jury report on secrecy

CHANTAL M. LOVELL, Napa Valley Register -

In response to apparent misconduct by witnesses interviewed by the Napa County grand jury, the city of Napa is renewing its commitment to educate city employees as to the rules associated with such testimony.

On Tuesday, the City Council addressed one of the jury’s reports that was issued this summer. The report said certain witnesses in Napa County who appeared before the grand jury violated confidentiality pledges, thereby jeopardizing the work of the jury.

“While the violations of the secrecy admonition were not endemic throughout the various public agencies, they happened enough times to seriously impede the grand jury’s investigations,” the report said.

The grand jury did not state in which agency or agencies the leaks occurred, or even in which jurisdiction. The report was addressed to all government agencies within the county.

City Attorney Michael Barrett said while the city of Napa is not aware of any violations occurring within its ranks, it will work to better educate employees in response.

“We’re not aware of any city witness that violated this admonition and no city witness was brought to management’s attention as actually violating the secrecy admonition,” Barrett said. “With that said, the recommended action is for the city to provide training to the employees regarding essentially the nature of each individual witnesses’ obligation to the grand jury and specifically the obligation to maintain this confidentiality of the questions asked and answers provided to the grand jury.”

Barrett said the city already provides this type of education but will emphasize it to employees. Additionally, employees will be educated on the small amount of information that is confidential even to the grand jury, such as health information, financial information or information that would violate attorney-client privilege.

According to the jury’s report, witnesses are bound by law not to reveal which questions were asked of them or how they responded.

Though the grand jury believes it has ample evidence to pursue legal action against the alleged leaks, there are no plans to seek contempt citations for the people who it says “willfully violated the lawful secrecy” pledge they made prior to being interviewed.

“We have chosen to issue this report with its attendant recommendation, in the hope that through example and education, public officials and employees might better understand their ethical responsibilities toward the grand jury in its ‘watchdog’ capacity and to the public both serve.”

Monday, July 29, 2013


By Miriam Raftery, East County Magazine -

Yesterday, , the Grossmont Union High School District issued its response to the findings of a Grand Jury report, with attachments. In May, the Grand Jury report, titled “Fool me once, Fool me twice” concluded that district residents deserve more clarity from the School Board regarding a proposed 12th high school in Alpine.

Voters twice passed bond measures intended to help fund costs of building the new high school, but the district’s board majority repeatedly delayed or blocked plans for its construction.

In May, the Grand Jury recommended that the Board "declare unconditionally, by December 31, 2013, if they are or are not going to build the 12th high school using funds from Propositions H and U. That declaration was to include a credible time line and construction start date, , as well as funds placed in an escrow account to assure the work will be done, the Grand Jury proposed.

If the Grossmont District decides not to build the high school, it must then “cooperate with the Alpine Union School District in support of the ongoing Alpine community effort to become a unified school district that can serve high school students as well as elementary and middle school students.

Now, however, the Board has issued a lengthy response. The response disputed numerous facts in the Grand Jury report and insisted that the district cannot afford to build the school at this time due to declining enrollment and state budget cuts.

The Board refused to make any commitment to build the new high school, noting, “For our response, we will simply quote Benjamin Franklin: Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”

As for the Grand Jury recommendation to cooperate with the Alpine Union High School District in support of its unification effort, should the Board decide not to commit to building the high school, the Board response offered this conflicted statement:

“We agree to this recommendation….The GUHSD Board reaffirms our commitment ot build the 12th high school in Alpine when bond conditions permit, without compromising the quality of the education for the students served at other GUHSD schools and “upon the restoration of ADA finding for the district to the level it was at the time Proposition U was passed in 2008.”

Thus the District continues to claim it wants to build the high school, but without offering any specifics or clarity for voters that the Grand Jury had requested. The District implies it will not cooperate with unification to empower the Alpine Unified District to build the school as long as the District continues to make vague promises with no timetables.

The Board response was supported by Chairman Jim Kelly as well as members Robert Shield and Dick Hoy. Members Priscilla Schreiber and Jim Stieringer opposed the Board’s response.

Schreiber told ECM, “I will say, it is my opinion that the board majority has opened the district to even greater scrutiny. In an effort to defend their actions, it is my opinion, that they have compounded the issue with their 20 page response. The response offers, more of the same, which I believe prompted the initial investigation. Furthermore, I do not believe the response will settle well with the Grand Jury and may provoke the Grand Jury to further action.”

East County Magazine Radio interviewed three prominent Alpine community leaders about the Grand Jury findings before the Board issued its response, which is posted on the district’s website at Our interviews were with Sal Casamassima, chair of the Alpine High School Citizens Committee, Chris Loarie, cofounder of Alpine K-12 solutions and an expert on Prop U and Prop H bond financing, Doug Deane, former chair of the GUHSD bond oversight committee and former chair of the East County Chamber of Commerce Education Committee.

Some of our guests had predicted that the District would ignore the Grand Jury recommendations—and discussed their plan of action should this very thing occur. Hear our full interviews with these critics of the board policy, taped shortly after the Grand Jury report was released in late May, and scroll down for excerpts of their remarks.

Casamassima said the District has engaged in “bait and switch” tactics to dissuade citizens from pursuing unification efforts. “They’ve repeatedly broken their promises,” he said.

“We have absolutely no faith that the Grossmont school district will follow up on either of the Grand Jury recommendations,” he predicted, “and therefore we are continuing to pursue our unification effort.” Alpine citizens have gathered signatures to file a request for unification with the County Board of Education, he said.

Deane told ECM that his committee conducted a Student Recovery Report which found the district would gain from 260 to 480 students to the district if the Alpine High School were built. Average Daily Attendance money ($6,000 per student) multipled by 260 would be $1.56 million at the low range, up to 480 students or $2.88 million at the high end “which means that building the Alpine High School would have actually made the district money.”

Loarie said the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee was kept in the dark about those estimates. “It was a complete shock,” he said.

Deane added that although the district is comprised of over 50% minorities, “the District ceems to be completely out of compliance with the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act) and the only reason that I can see for the district’s reluctance in passing that is that it could cost a couple of their trustees possibly losing their seats…”

Loarie added the Alpine unification effort “will probably be the only way for us to extricate ourselves” and get a high school built through the Alpine Union School District instead of the GUHSD. Potentially, a unification agreement could require the GUHSD to turn over a portion of bond funds collected to the AUSD.

Deane concluded, “I believe that in light of the mismanagement by the trustees of the Props U and H bond funds and in light of the reluctance of the trustees to enact or comply with the California Voting Rights Act, I believe strongly that the voters need to make their opinions known in 2014…and decide if they are truly acting in our students’ best interests.”

Saturday, July 27, 2013

(SLO) AG, GB disagree with grand jury on dispatch consolidation

By Mike Hodgson, Times Press Recorder -

Two South County city councils have taken issue with a San Luis Obispo County grand jury report critical of their lack of a unified emergency dispatch service.

Council and city staff members for both Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach said the report was contradictory, contained errors and ignored their long history of consolidation efforts.

“The grand jury report fails completely right from the very beginning without batting an eye,” Grover Beach Councilman Bill Nicolls said as the council deliberated its response.

“The fact that it left Pismo Beach out of this report, this completely just boggles my mind,” he said.

City Manager Bob Perrault agreed that if consolidation is considered again, it should involve all three municipalities.

“As a staff member, I would probably support that because I tend to think that, as numbers grow, there’s more potential for efficiencies of cost,” Perrault said.

“However, it would have to be an equal participation amongst all the three agencies,” he added.

While the cities disagreed with most of the grand jury’s findings, they were not perfectly aligned in their criticism.

Both agreed with the grand jury’s finding that there is a duplication of efforts among the police and Five Cities Fire Authority dispatch services.

Both disagreed about their citizens being at risk because of computer incompatibility between their two systems.

They also both disagreed with the report’s contention that Five Cities Fire Authority and Cal Fire are at a stalemate over consolidating fire dispatch.

Arroyo Grande Councilman Joe Costello, who represents the city on the Fire Authority board, also disagreed about the claim it is reluctant to cooperate with Cal Fire.

“We work with Cal Fire every day,” Costello said. “We do work together, and we will continue to work together.”

But while Arroyo Grande agreed that consolidation could bring significant cost savings to both cities after the first-year expense for combining equipment, Grover Beach disagreed.

“All of the reviews completed thus far indicate there would be a limited amount of savings resulting from the consolidation of Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande dispatch centers,” Grover Beach said in its response.

“The actual amount of savings would vary, depending on which agency hosted the consolidation. Studies completed thus far do not indicate a significant future cost savings to either agency.”

Grover Beach council members said the city would consider consolidation proposals but doesn’t plan to make any immediate changes.

But Arroyo Grande council members indicated they want to push forward on both an interim dispatch consolidation, possibly with the County Sheriff’s Department, and an eventual permanent consolidation.

Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara said the cities, county, Cal Fire and Fire Authority should get together to discuss creating a regional emergency operations center.

“The South County lends itself to that sort of thing,” Ferrara said.

Councilman Jim Guthrie said in the meantime, the cities should seek a service proposal from the county.

“We owe it to the public to move forward with something sooner than later,” Guthrie said. “We should be moving forward with something that’s concrete today.”

Friday, July 26, 2013

(Santa Clara) San Jose school district paid teachers, administrators more than required

by Sharon Noguchi, San Jose Mercury News -

Even in tight budget years, the Alum Rock Union School District paid many of its teachers and administrators more than required by its contracts and rules, a practice that in 10 years has cost more than $1 million.

The district granted raises -- originally designed to award longtime district educators -- to shorter-term and sometimes new employees. The practice, which appears to date back at least 17 years, was questioned in a report released last month by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury.

School officials defended the raises for managers as necessary to attract and retain talented employees in a district beset by high turnover. They also said the practice was written into union-bargained contracts for support staff and that administrators had discretion to award those raises to managers as well.

The teachers union maintains that the raises for its members were established as district policy -- even though they were not specified in the teacher collective bargaining agreement -- via a 2005 arbitration of a grievance.

At issue is the practice of counting employees' years of employment elsewhere toward the "longevity increments," now set at $2,364, that bump up an employee's salary at 15, 20 and 25 years of service.

Regardless of whether the raises had become customary, the grand jury recommended that Alum Rock bring pay practices in line with union contracts and define how to award managers for longevity. The original idea, jury foreman Stephen P. McPherson said, "you stay with us, you get extra money."

Raises like Alum Rock's, if they are not included in a collective bargaining agreement, will not be calculated into an employee's pension, said Ricardo Duran of the State Teachers Retirement System.
Alum Rock Superintendent Stephen Fiss said that for managers, the district retains the right to grant credit for outside experience but that the adjustment must be approved by the board and made public. That apparently did not always happen in Alum Rock.

Teachers union President Jocelyn Merz criticized the jury's report: "They totally missed the boat." The Alum Rock Educators Association had requested the investigation and had hoped the jury would zero in on administrators.

Instead, the terse report also highlighted the off-contract raises for teachers -- which alone totaled $1.08 million in the 10 years ending in June 2012.

The contract between the district and the teachers union, covering 661 teachers plus psychologists, nurses and speech therapists, offers salary bumps intended to encourage veteran teachers to stick with Alum Rock, which serves some of the poorest and toughest to teach children in the county.

In May 2004, the school board tried to clarify the practice for management and issued a policy designating the raises for those who had been employed with the district for 15, then 20 and 25, consecutive years would receive an annual salary bump of $2,130.

That policy, then-assistant superintendent Micaela Ochoa wrote, "will provide longevity increments that reward staff for the commitment" to the district.

But officials awarded managers longevity raises, sometimes even to employees upon hire. Ricardo Balderas was hired as a principal in 2003 with two longevity increments. In July 2006, Robert Mayfield, human resources director at the time, received three longevity increments, together worth about $7,000.

And in July 2011, Irma Manzo, wife of the then-Superintendent Jose Manzo, received three longevity bonuses that bumped her salary to $109,333. Jose Manzo said that as superintendent, he was not involved in salary-setting, including the decision on his wife's bonuses. Instead, he said, administrative discretion in raises was Alum Rock practice.

"It had been in place for many, many years," said Manzo, who was superintendent from December 2008 until last July. He noted that administrators joining the district can receive a maximum of four years of credit for previous experience, while teachers can receive 10 years. Longevity increments help reward administrators whose salary otherwise might stay static for 10 years.

It's not clear when and why Alum Rock began counting teachers' out-of-district experience toward longevity increments.

But after teacher Evelia Rojas Gonzales filed a grievance over being denied the longevity raise, the district in March 2005 signed a settlement that appeared to cement that practice for all teacher union members. Still, the provision never made it into the union contract, and Manzo said on Tuesday that he was unaware of it.

In contrast, in San Jose Unified, for example, the school district can't pay managers more than what's set on the salary schedule, Superintendent Vincent Matthews said.

At Alum Rock, however, overpayment continued, the grand jury wrote, "despite several generations of negotiated (collective bargaining agreements) including 1998, 2005 and 2008 reaffirming the in-district requirements for 'longevity points.'"

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

San Mateo county manager lashes out at grand jury's critical report on spending

By Bonnie Eslinger, Daily News Staff Writer -

On the same day a grand jury released a report accusing San Mateo County officials of hoarding a stash of extra property tax revenue while crying about budget woes, County Manager John Maltbie lashed out Monday by contending the panel isn't credible.

"We don't know how the grand jury came to the conclusion that we've been sitting on money that nobody knew about," Maltbie told The Daily News.

Maltbie said, in an opinion column he submitted to local newspapers, that he has harbored long-standing concerns about the structure of the state's grand jury system, and about how the group of volunteers on the grand jury reaches its conclusions.

He decided to write about it after learning of the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury's investigation into the county's budget deficit, Maltbie said.

The grand jury's 16-page report focuses on the so-called Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) -- excess property tax dollars that the county keeps after distributing state-required minimum amounts to public schools.

The report is titled: "An Inconvenient Truth about the County's So-Called Structural Deficit."

During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the county received more than $98 million in excess tax dollars, according to the grand jury. Yet less than three months before the Board of Supervisors approved that year's budget, Maltbie said the county faced $28 million more in expenses than it had in revenues. So the budget eventually approved
was balanced after the county dipped $40 million out of its excess ERAF account.

Later, when voters were asked in the June 5, 2012, election to approve new taxes on commercial parking facilities and car rental businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county, Supervisors Adrienne Tissier and Carole Groom stated in ballot arguments: "Next year, San Mateo County will face another $28 million budget deficit."

Grand Jury Foreman Timothy Johnson said while the county's message is a "constant drumbeat of 'we have a structural deficit'... in fact, the county has a surplus." Of the state's 58 counties, only San Mateo, Marin and Napa have property taxes left after funding local schools, according to the grand jury.

"I think Mr. Maltbie feels that the best defense is a good offense," Johnson said.

San Mateo County has received excess ERAF money every year for almost a decade. It began in the 2003-2004 fiscal year with an extra $24.8 million and, with a couple of exceptions, the amounts have risen each year since. Over the last four years, the county has received $79 million or more each year in excess ERAF money.

Maltbie said the excess ERAF money has to be calculated separately from the budget because there's no guarantee the county will receive it. As a result, the board treats the money as "separate funds for special purposes," he said.

Although the board voted to include $40 million from the ERAF account into last year's fiscal budget, state budget changes threaten to siphon off $20 million to $30 million from what the county might expect this year, he said.

Johnson said that although the county might claim the money is only used for one-time purposes, for the last five years those purposes have been to plug budget deficits.

The grand jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors report in its budget all of the excess ERAF that it anticipates receiving in a given fiscal year and give the public the "most current assessment" of whether it has a deficit or surplus when it puts revenue measures on the ballot.

In response to Maltbie's published criticism of the grand jury, Johnson said that the county manager should have spent more time addressing the concerns of the 19-member grand jury than attacking it.

In his opinion column, Maltbie says the grand jury's interpretation of excess ERAF "demonstrates an abysmal lack of understanding of the principles and practices of budgeting and financial management." He states that grand jurors should be required to fill out financial disclosure forms and conflict of interest statements.

"How else is the public going to know if conclusions reached by the Grand Jury are a result of biases or even the financial interests of certain jurors?" Maltbie wrote. The grand jury should also release a transcript of its proceedings after a report is released, the county manager opined.

When the subjects of investigations are chosen, the civil grand jury asks its members to disclose any potential conflicts of interests, Johnson said, adding that those with conflicts are assigned to other reports.

San Mateo County's civil grand juries operate under the same state law that governs all counties, he added.

"If he (Maltbie) has a quarrel, he can take it up with the state," Johnson said.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

(San Mateo) Grand jury: County misled public on finances; county manager calls its conclusion 'bizarre'

The Almanac Online -

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury issued a report Monday that says the county did not publicly report the true condition of its finances when tax measures were voted on in the June 5 and Nov. 6, 2012, elections.

The report, "An Inconvenient Truth About The County's Structural Deficit," says that contrary to public perception, the county does not have a "structural deficit" when it counts all revenues it receives annually.

The grand jury says the county Board of Supervisors excluded Education Revenue Augmentations Funds when it calculated the so-called "structural deficit."

Click here to read the full report (PDF).

In a 785-word response, County Manager John Maltbie said the grand jury "demonstrates an abysmal lack of understanding of the principles and practices of budgeting and financial management."

He said the grand jury's conclusion -- that the county is not fully accounting for its revenue -- is "bizarre."

"Either the grand jury was uninformed or misinformed regarding the County's use of this funding source," Mr. Maltbie said. "Of course we'll never know because we'll never learn about their deliberations."

Much of his response is a criticism of the secrecy of the grand jury, and the fact that its members are not required to submit financial disclosure statements, as public officials must, so the public can be aware of conflicts of interest.

At issue is the use of excess ERAF (Educational Revenue Augmentation Funds). Mr. Maltbie defines them this way: "In a nutshell, the County and local cities get back some of their property tax revenue that is used by the state to meet its obligations to fund local schools when these revenues are in excess of the amount needed by the schools."

He said the county takes a conservative approach to budgeting uncertain funding sources, such as excess ERAF. The county budgets about half of what it expects to receive in excess ERAF, he said. The other half is used for reserves or other one-time purposes.

Click here to see the text of Mr. Maltbie's response.

Monday, July 22, 2013

(San Mateo) Grand jury: Mosquito district manager and board enabled employees to steal

By Bonnie Eslinger, Palo Alto Daily News -

Through poor management and lack of oversight, leaders of the San Mateo County Mosquito and Vector Control District enabled two employees to embezzle almost $800,000, according to a scathing report by a civil grand jury.

From 2009 to 2011, the district's former finance director, Jo Ann Dearman, and her bookkeeper assistant, Vika Sinipata, gave themselves extra pay, fraudulently took time off, used district credit cards for personal use, and made extra contributions to deferred compensation accounts that were electronically transferred into their personal accounts, according to the grand jury report issued Thursday and the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office.

The two women earlier this year pleaded no contest to multiple charges, including felony embezzlement. Dearman was also known as Joanne Seeney.

Blame for the thefts is shared by the district's manager, Robert Gay, and the district's 21-member board, the civil grand jury states in its report.

"The Manager and the Board's finance committee did not recognize red flags in financial reports that should have revealed the embezzlement far sooner," the report states.

As if to reinforce the grand jury's conclusion, the district's insurance company denied a claim to reimburse it for losses related to the thefts.

In an April 11 letter from a district-hired lawyer to an attorney for The Hartford insurance company cited by the grand jury, it's noted that one reason Hartford denied the claim was because the district failed to do a background check on Dearman when she was hired. A check would have revealed she was already facing charges for embezzling from another employer.

Dearman also took family medical leave from the district to serve jail time for that previous theft, the grand jury found.

Although senior district employees tried to speak to members of the board of trustees about financial irregularities, their warnings weren't heeded, the grand jury report states.

"The trustees put total trust in the Manager to fulfill the mission of the District and seemed oblivious to the business operations and its problems," according to the report.

The grand jury recommends that the board require monthly financial reports from the district manager and take other steps to improve oversight of the district's operations and $6 million annual budget.

It also asks the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees special tax-funded districts, to reconsider a proposal it rejected in July 2012 to dissolve the mosquito and vector district and transfer its functions to the county's Environmental Health Department.

Gay was out of the office Friday and unavailable to comment about the grand jury report. Assistant Manager Brian Weber, who has been with the district only 10 months, said the agency has put into place all the controls now suggested by the grand jury. It also began requiring background checks and has "taken all possible measures" to protect against future embezzlement, he said.

The scandal was uncovered after one trustee, Betsey Schneider of San Carlos, began to question some of the district's expenses. On Friday, Schneider said she had not read the entire grand jury report but feels its criticisms are spot on.

"It's a shared responsibility. The board did not look into things, they did not challenge anything they heard, we kind of nodded all our heads and accepted what we were told," she said.

The embezzlement resulted in a wake-up call, she said, noting that the board today has many new members.

"This would never happen again," she said.

On Friday, Dearman and Sinipata were scheduled for sentencing, but both cases were continued, according to the district attorney's office.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

(Lake) Grand jury report critical of D.A.'s program, overcrowded jail

By Rich Mellott, Record-Bee -

The Alternative to Community Service Program (ACSP) run by the district attorney's office should be turned over to a citizen's group or other independent panel because it puts the office and the county at risk for "an illusion of impropriety," according to the Lake County Civil Grand Jury's 2012-2013 report.

The ACSP allows misdemeanor offenders who don't live in Lake County to contribute to a nonprofit agency within the county in lieu of hours, with the district attorney's office determining the amount of the contribution as well as the recipient.

While recognizing that the program is "beneficial" to the county and that the district attorney's office "does not process the monies" for the ACSP, the grand jury voiced concern "that the arbitrariness and lack of transparency of not only who receives the monies, but how much each defendant pays, puts the county and DA's office at risk for the illusion of impropriety."

To reduce that risk, the grand jury recommends that a citizen's group be established to provide "checks and balances, including reviewing assessment, collection and distribution" of the contributions, or that "a three-to-five independent member panel be formed to determine eligibility and selection of the intended recipients."

In a 225-page report completed June 30, the grand jury also recommends that the board of supervisors address the overcrowded conditions at the county jail, which "jeopardize medical staff's ability to address mental and medical health issues;" that the county expedite the updating of building codes and increase funding for code enforcement; and that the Lake County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) prepare a feasibility study on the annexation of the county's independent water districts, which the grand jury concludes are riddled with duplicate administrative costs.

The report also advises the board of supervisors to research the feasibility of acquiring private water systems in the county.

The grand jury, based on its authority to provide "oversight" of the county's special districts, chose to look at the water districts this year "due to the topical nature of their service and the high level of interest generated in the county by local efforts to address concerns related to lake water quality and the growing costs of providing drinking water to county residents."

In its report, the grand jury admits that the study of the network of 20 water districts and 91 systems (some serving as few as five people) provided some major challenges.

"It is nearly impossible to determine how many of the water systems' listed with the state draw from the lake or from private wells," the report said.

"When there are 27 large entities and uncountable smaller users affecting the same natural resource" along with "outside considerations such as the Lake and Yolo County water agreement, federal and state requirements, the Clearlake Hitch and attempts to control the summer algae blooms, there is a great potential for disagreements, personal agendas, indecisiveness and unintended consequences. "

In its report on the county jail, the grand jury recommended that one of the two showers in the county jail's A-Pod "be repaired with priority" and that both showers be cleaned and sanitized on a daily basis.

"Due to the over-capacity (33 inmates) of A-Pod, a single shower does not provide adequate resources to ensure proper hygiene," the report stated, adding that "the shower area had what appeared to be black mold on walls, peeling paint and filthy shower mats."

The grand jury's report also was critical of the inability of LAFCo to gather information needed to complete a series of outstanding reports.

The report recommends that "due to the apparent shortage of reports from LAFCo, the commission reconsiders the budget, wages and/or work load."

The grand jury has no power to enforce its recommendations, but law does require governing bodies, elected officials and agency heads to provide "meaningful responses" to its findings and recommendations.

Friday, July 19, 2013

(Nevada) Truckee rec/park officials find fault with grand jury report

by Margaret Moran, Sierra Sun -

Members of the Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District board of directors are questioning recent Nevada County Grand Jury findings that detail an employee harassment incident and safety issues at select district facilities.

“I’m disappointed with the findings,” board director Kevin Murphy said this week.

According to an investigation report from the 2012-13 grand jury, a district manager overheard comments in December 2010 that were perceived to be “harassment.” The incident was verbally reported to TDRPD General Manager Steve Randall.

About 30 days after the incident was reported, a meeting occurred between Randall and the subject of the complaint, who was given a verbal warning.

Approximately 90 days after the initial verbal complaint, the suspected harasser filed a written complaint of harassment against the employee who initiated the verbal complaint, according to the grand jury. Randall reviewed the written complaint and met with all involved parties.

The grand jury found that there was a lack of timeliness in the investigation and settlement of employee complaints. Randall acknowledged to the grand jury that the matter of “perceived sexual harassment” should have been addressed more promptly, according to the report.

Under the section on unlawful harassment, the district’s handbook states: “The district will immediately undertake effective, thorough and objective investigation of the harassment allegations.”

Randall didn’t advise the board of either harassment complaint, the grand jury found.

The grand jury is recommending the board require the general manager to report all issues, including harassment, to the board.

Board director Peter Werbel said he and another board member talked to Randall prior to the report’s release earlier this year, informing him that the board needs to be notified of similar situations should they come up in the future.

It’s unclear based on the report if both harassment complaints were sexual in nature.

This week, Randall declined to comment on the report until the board issues a collective response.


The grand jury also investigated the closure of some piers/docks along Donner Lake due to safety concerns. A TDRPD employee told the grand jury there is no plan to repair the closed piers/docks, according to the report.

It’s recommended the board develop and implement an ongoing evaluation process to ensure all facility equipment is in “good working order.”

The grand jury also found the alarm system for the district’s community center was not being used, as all employees were not trained to operate it, and is recommending the board develop and implement policy to include proper training on the use of all facility equipment in a timely manner.

In its investigation, the grand jury also found that many of the policies, procedures, rules and regulations stated within the district’s handbook are outdated, recommending their update.

This week, board chair Kristin York said handbook updates have already been addressed, and have taken place over the past several months.

Werbel disagreed with the grand jury’s finding that there is a lack of open communication between district management and the five-member board, a sentiment echoed by other directors.

“I don’t know where they’re coming from (on that),” Werbel said this week, citing an open door policy among management.

The board of directors has until Sept. 28 to formally respond.

“All organizations — public or private — benefit from constructive feedback from time to time, and this is how we look at this report,” York said.

The report will be discussed at board’s Thursday, July 25, meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. in the Truckee Community Recreation Center at 8924 Donner Pass Road.

The grand jury’s investigation stemmed from a citizen’s complaint. The jury developed its findings along with recommendations after conducting interviews with board members, district staff, Nevada County Auditor-Controller staff and members of the public. The jury also reviewed various documents received from the TDRPD, Nevada County and the public.

More online

To view a PDF of the 2012-13 Nevada County Grand Jury’s report on the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District in its entirety, type in the following link in your web browser:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

(Plumas) Grand jury blasts CPUD board, former fire chief

Dan McDonald, Managing Editor, Plumas County News -

The Chester Public Utility District’s board of directors didn’t do its job. The county jail situation is still a mess. The Board of Supervisors treats the chief probation officer poorly. And the district attorney deserves a raise.

Those were some of the findings reported by the Plumas County Grand Jury in its 2012-13 report released this week.

The grand jury, a 15-member panel of county residents who serve a one-year term, included the results of seven investigations in their 57-page report.

The complete report is included in this week’s editions of Feather Publishing newspapers.

In addition to reports on the CPUD, county jail, probation department and the county’s legal salaries, the grand jury investigated the county’s budget, school safety and the Grizzly Lake Community Services District.

Jury foreman Dennis Doyle, of Graeagle, said the grand jury was also working on a report about economic recovery, but wasn’t able to finish before the deadline.

Doyle, who was also a member of the 2011-12 grand jury, said he was proud of the effort from this year’s jurors.

“We did a hell of a lot of work on this report,” Doyle said. “I can’t begin to tell you how much time and effort are involved. But we (jurors) feel very privileged to do it.”

Doyle added that he believes the grand jury’s work does lead to positive changes, even though the report is essentially a year behind by the time it is released. “Sometimes the change happens slowly,” he said. “But it does change.”

The jurors handed out some praise. But much of this year’s report was directed toward issues they said needed to be improved. In addition to their findings, the jurors included dozens of recommendations.

The grand jury interviewed more than 100 citizens, looked at more than 5,000 document pages, toured county facilities and attended various board meetings as part of its investigation.

“The Grand Jury found that overall Plumas County residents love their county,” the jurors wrote in the report’s cover letter. “However, there is an overwhelming concern that the dwindling job market and the loss of tourism dollars will continue to contribute to the downward spiral of Plumas County.”

Following is a snapshot of the grand jury’s report.

CPUD problems

The grand jury blasted the members of the Chester Public Utility District board of directors for not understanding their role.

In particular, the jurors criticized the board for failing to supervise the district’s former fire chief, who was also the district’s general manager.

The jury said the former manager operated “completely independently and without supervision.”

Only two of the board members who were serving during the grand jury’s investigation are still on the board. And the fire chief/general manager retired in November 2011, although he remained in the position through 2012.

But the jury chastised the board members for not understanding that the general manager was supposed to work for them.

Instead, the jury said, “The CPUD Directors who were sitting at the time (of the investigation) came into the position with adamant faith in the Manager of the District, namely the Fire Chief. This mulish confidence prevented the Board from recognizing the Fire Chief/Manager’s behavior as improper, possibly illegal.”

On July 9, the Plumas County district attorney filed a felony embezzlement complaint against the former manager.

The jury said the former manager was in a position of complete and unchecked power. He reportedly set the agendas and ran the board meetings.

He would “sign the agenda as ‘Assistant Secretary,’ post the agenda and would even determine whether or not a Board meeting needed to be postponed or canceled based solely upon his availability,” according to the grand jury.

The jurors said there was evidence the manager changed the draft minutes of meetings. They said he might have amended the minutes of the Jan. 12, 2010, meeting to include an attachment titled “Fire Chief’s Salary Schedule,” indicating at the bottom of the document “Approved by BOD on January 12, 2010.”

The jury said the manager was allowed to submit his own pay vouchers to the district’s CPA with no review or approval. “There was one voucher in the amount of $31,549.01 which simply stated ‘other pay’.”

Four of the five board members interviewed by the grand jury said they felt betrayed by the former chief.

“We believe that the Board set themselves up to be betrayed by allowing the Fire Chief/Manager to assume the governance power that they should have assumed,” the grand jury reported.

Included in the grand jury’s recommendations was that “above all else” the CPUD arrange for governance and Brown Act training for all of its current board members.

County budget getting better

After a stinging report last year, the grand jury said the county “is still in poor financial shape” this year. “But it seems the ship is turning around and heading in the right direction.”

The jury said the county is still struggling to recover from the recession. As an example, the report noted property tax revenue in fiscal 2011-12 continued a downward trend. It was $450,000 less than the previous year.

“The Board of Supervisors and management have made substantial cuts in spending by eliminating non-essential services, reducing the number of employees, employees’ hours and benefits,” the jurors wrote.

But the report was still critical of the county for continuing to spend more money than it makes.

The grand jury said the general fund revenues were $950,503 less than the previous year, but expenditures were only down $688,583. “Herein lies the problem,” they said. “Plumas County is spending more than it is taking in.”

However, the report credited the county’s departments for working together. It noted that conflicts the previous year were the “major reason” the previous county auditor controller resigned in early 2012.

Unlike last year, when the grand jury said the supervisors needed to hire a new administrative officer as soon as possible, there was no mention of a CAO in this report.

Instead, the jurors praised the county for balancing the 2012-13 budget and for implementing several budget workshops with the help “of a sharp and strong local budget consultant.”

“To the county’s credit, it seems to have come through this rough period intact, and is now on a new path of constructive problem solving.”

DA deserves a raise

The grand jury questioned the large discrepancy in pay between the county’s counsel ($168,000) and the district attorney ($103,000).

The jury recommended a 10 percent raise for the district attorney and a 10 percent pay cut for the county counsel.

“The pay disparity between Plumas County’s County Counsel (CC) and District Attorney (DA) is 163 percent,” the grand jury reported, noting that it surveyed 12 like-sized counties in the state. “No other county in the study pays their DA less than Plumas County and only Mono and Butte counties pay their (county counsel) more than Plumas.

“While the grand jury does not diminish the role of either of these positions, we are concerned about the pay disparity and the fact that the budget cuts were apparently heavy in the DA’s office while the funds were increased for the CC’s office.”

The grand jury said, “The simple fact is that the District Attorney’s office appears to have been asked to do more with less while the County Counsel’s office appears to be receiving more resources.”

County needs a new jail

Continuing on a theme that no county officials have publicly denied, the jury wrote, “It is painfully obvious that Plumas County needs a new jail.”

The grand jury toured the facility, which is more than 40 years old, during its investigation for the report. In addition to a lack of staffing, the jurors said the jail is outdated and run-down. They said it presents numerous safety hazards for inmates and staff. “The building is one of only 3 linear, cinderblock jail structures remaining in the state. This antiquated type of construction is inefficient, costly to maintain and has numerous safety and liability issues.”

The jury was critical of the Board of Supervisors for not having “public safety as a number one priority.” They said the majority of the supervisors had not toured the jail in the past 12 months.

The grand jury reported the sheriff is working to acquire a USDA loan and grant monies to buy the property formerly known as the Trilogy building in East Quincy for a new jail site.

“Should the acquisition of the Trilogy property fall through, the Board of Supervisors should be prepared to move forward in purchasing property away from parks, ball fields and schools in the area recommended by the Sheriff,” the report stated. “Any monies put forth for the existing jail is putting good money after bad.”

Board targets probation

The grand jury accused the Board of Supervisors of not supporting the county probation department.

The jury called interaction between the supervisors and the chief probation officer “confrontational, demeaning, and unprofessional toward the (chief probation officer).”

The grand jury said it elected to review the probation department’s operations in response to a letter alleging mismanagement.

“These allegations were found to be false and without merit,” the jury reported.

In addition, the jury accused one of the supervisors of having a “conflict of interest as well as a personality clash” with the chief probation officer.

“The Grand Jury found some County Supervisors to be unprofessional and this put undue turmoil onto the staff and the Department as a whole.”

The jury said the probation department was significantly underfunded and understaffed, with nine of its 21 positions vacant.

“The current shortage of probation officers, combined with increasing numbers of AB-109 referrals and the ongoing offenders adjudicated for probation means that intensive supervision cannot be assigned to every case that warrants it,” the jurors said.

The grand jury recommended the Board of Supervisors “should place an emphasis on returning the Probation Department’s staffing levels to sustainable working levels.”

School safety

The grand jury reported it was “impressed with the due-diligence put forth in the area of student safety by personnel at each school within the Plumas Unified School District.”

The jurors said the personal responsibility demonstrated by members of the school staff “was found to be exemplary.”

Collaboration between the schools and law enforcement and other agencies is occurring, according to the report.

The jury said it did find the school district’s emergency action plan had not been updated since 2005. “The plan was not site specific and appeared to be more of a guide rather than a plan,” they said.

Although the jurors said they were surprised by the outdated plan, they said they were impressed when the district responded by updating the plan in February.

The jury made nine recommendations in its report, including establishing a “regular schedule to collaborate with school personnel, law enforcement and pertinent agencies regarding school safety.”

Grizzly Lake CSD problems

The grand jury initially launched its seven-month Grizzly Lake Community Services District investigation to look into a conflict-of-interest complaint against a district employee.

The complaint alleged the employee was steering district business to a business owned by the employee’s spouse.

The complaint was resolved during the grand jury’s term, with the employee receiving a $4,000 fine from the California Fair Political Practices Commission in February.

However, the jury reported its investigation revealed several problems including “gross mismanagement.”

“Maintaining an antiquated sewer and water system is a big expense and a legitimate reason for the District’s lack of funds,” the jurors said. “But upon investigation, many of their financial problems are self-induced. Management has cost the District thousands of dollars that could have been used for more productive endeavors like system repairs and improvements.”

The jurors said “bungling” management has resulted in fines from the Internal Revenue Service, Cal Occupational Safety and Health Agency, California Fair Political Practices Commission and a lawsuit by a local sanitation business.

The jury recommended the services district fill the vacant general manager position. It said the district should compile a thorough operations manual within six months and make sure all employees are trained to use it.

However, by the end of its investigation, the grand jury reported that conditions at the district were improving.

“Most of the district’s management problems have been or are being corrected and the results are positive,” the report stated.

“Although the GLCSD is facing a major challenge in supporting itself, the Grand Jury feels the District, barring any major catastrophe, is now on the right path to financial solvency.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector District board to discuss grand jury report

By Ross Farrow/News-Sentinel Staff Writer -

Board members from the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector District will discuss a grand jury report critical of some of the district’s operations at today’s board meeting.

The San Joaquin County grand jury report, while saying that the district does a good job of killing mosquitos and protecting residents from the potentially deadly West Nile virus, was critical of operations in other areas.

For example, the grand jury questioned whether the mosquito board should give itself health insurance coverage that costs taxpayers $66,439 per year. The report also states that the 11 board members aren’t familiar with the district budget.

The grand jury recommends that the mosquito abatement board serve no more than two four-year terms. One board member is appointed by the city council of each of the seven cities, while the four remaining board members are appointed by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

In other action today, the mosquito abatement board will consider approving the district budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year and assessments for the fiscal year.

Today’s meeting, open to the public, will begin at 1 p.m. at the district office, 7759 S. Airport Way, west of Stockton Metropolitan Airport.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

(Santa Clara) Civil grand jury slams Burbank school bonds

The Mercury News -

California school districts have been taken to task for a form of borrowing that will greatly burden future taxpayers with massive, rear-loaded long-term bonds that will require debt payment beyond the lifetime of the renovations.

But news stories in December surveying districts didn't mention perhaps the worst offender, which now has been highlighted in a Santa Clara County Civil grand jury report on long-term "capital appreciation bond" issues from 2007 to 2012.

The one-school Luther Burbank district in San Jose raised $7.5 million through four capital appreciation bonds, at an initial cost of more than $700,000, the grand jury pointed out in a report released last month. But those bonds will cost more than $40 million to pay off. That, the jury points out, comes to more than $70,000 for each of Burbank's 570 students just to repay borrowed money, not to educate any of those children.

Superintendent Jan Kaay, who was not in charge when three of the bonds were issued, said she was constrained by terms set earlier when the district last year issued a new round for $1.39 million. The district will repay its most recent CAB bonds over 39 years at a cost of $13.6 million -- or a nearly 10-to-1 ratio of debt payments to principal.

Kaay said she was "grateful that a mechanism for funding much-needed school buildings in California existed."

Well, yes. But as jury foreman Stephen P. McPherson said, "There's a huge financial burden that's pushed off into the future."

The district's borrowing binge, however, at least appears to be over. Kaay said she's already responded to the jury and will abide by the grand jury's and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer's advice for a moratorium on capital appreciation bonds.

"I have no intention of doing that again," Kaay said.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sutter County grand jury: Jail practices fall short

By Eric Vodden/Appeal-Democrat Reporter -

Policies for monitoring inmates in Sutter County Jail sobering cells have not been consistently followed and training on those policies has been inadequate, the 2012-13 grand jury has determined.

The jury said it toured the jail last November "in part" due to a 2011 death in a sobering cell at the jail. A Yuba City woman, arrested in September 2011, on suspicion of being drunk in public, was found dead in the cell after being kept there 28 hours.

In its final report released Friday, the jury noted a lack of training and inconsistent practices in monitoring inmates under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the holding cells.

The jury also found sobering cell procedures "have not been consistently followed and training on the policies and procedures is inadequate."

"Management has not implemented new practices to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future," it said. "In order to make appropriate decisions, annual training on the policies and procedures and strict adherence to the policies are recommended."

Sutter County Sheriff J. Paul Parker said his department has already filed a formal response to the report, but it was not available Friday afternoon.

"As with all grand jury reports, there are parts we agree with and parts we don't agree with," Parker said. "On some of the issues, there is always room for improvement and we are always trying to improve."

He took issue with the jury's claim about the lack of training.

"We just did training on the policies and procedures of the jail," Parker said. "It's not always ongoing and roll call training, but every officer when he comes in is schooled greatly in weeks long training.

"That said, there is always room for improvement on some of their recommendations," he said.

The report states "there are inconsistent practices among jail shifts during the 30-minute checks on inmates in the sobering cell who appear to be sleeping or cannot be verbally aroused." It also maintains that some jail staff "are not thoroughly familiar with the policies regarding the sobering cell..."

Included among jail recommendations are tighter enforcement of procedures requiring officers to attempt physical arousal during 30-minute checks if inmates don't respond. It also recommends that staff receive training on policies and procedures annually.

Other jury recommendations

• Approving a series of measures to improve maintenance and operation of the county vehicle fleet, including a standard check-out, check-in procedure.

• Requiring all county departments follow generally accepted accounting practices. The auditor-controller should also be assigned responsibility for conducting internal audits, the jury said.

• Including emergency procedures for a slow-rise flood in the comprehensive emergency plan for the Feather River Academy.

• Developing effective marketing strategies to increase community awareness of the rental availability of Ettl Hall at the Community Memorial Museum.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

(Ventura) Grand jury: District needs to make good on promises

By Dawn Witlin, The Camarillo Acorn -

Nine years after voters passed Measure H, a $135-million bond initiative to renovate facilities and build two new high schools in Oxnard Union High School District, campuses remain overcrowded and construction has yet to begin on either of the new schools.

A recent Ventura County grand jury investigation into the district’s use of funds from Measure H, approved by voters in 2004, chastises Oxnard Union officials for what the jury considered misleading advertising and for movng too slowly on making good on the district’s promises during the election.

Oxnard Union includes seven high schools, an independent study program and an adult school. It serves an estimated 16,000 students in Port Hueneme, Oxnard and Camarillo.

Misleading sales pitch?

Political advertisements distributed by district officials to voters within the school district’s boundaries during the election varied drastically, the grand jury reported in its findings.

A flier distributed to Oxnard voters indicated the bond money would alleviate overcrowding at schools in Oxnard and Port Hueneme but didn’t mention a new high school to be built in Camarillo, according to the report.

A flier to promote Measure H in Camarillo stated, “Vote yes on Measure H to help Camarillo High School and add a new high school in our community,” the report states.

The grand jury report says Adolfo Camarillo High School has experienced increased enrollment since the passage of the bond, while Rio Mesa High School is at capacity with 2,100 students.

“There were radio advertisements and a campaign to enlist the support of the voters, and the people were misled,” said Jay Whitney, grand jury foreman. “The overcrowdings are still there, and the bond authorized new school facilities to reduce overcrowding, but millions of bond dollars later, that’s still the case.”

Pick up the pace

The bond stipulated that the district form a volunteer oversight committee to keep tabs on how the bond money was spent.

The report calls out members of the district’s school board and bond oversight committee for failing to issue the funds in a timely manner. An unsuccessful bid to merge Camarillo High with Pleasant Valley School District in 2008 contributed to the delay.

“The (bond oversight committee) met once in March 2005 and did not meet again until March 2011,” the report states. “District officials delayed issuing funds from the $135 million in authorized bonds while the Camarillo school unification proposal was considered.”

Whitney said the high school district should have formed a more solid plan for use of the bond money before asking voters to approve Measure H.

“You have to do that before you promise people things, and we take a dim view of the classic bait-and-switch approach,” Whitney said. “We’re talking about millions of dollars from taxpayers of whom we’re the watchdogs for, and we’d be derelict if we didn’t report it.”


The grand jury recommends in its report that the district use the bond oversight committee to review all proposed expenditures of bond monies, as required by Measure H and approved by voters.

Fred Ferro, chair of the bond oversight committee, said members of the committee meet regularly to review the Measure H expenses and report their findings to the school board several times a year.

“They’re asking us to do the job we’ve already been doing,” Ferro said.

He said it is the duty of the school board, not the oversight committee, to decide when and where the bond money is spent. He added that the oversight committee is charged with determining whether the money is being misspent.

The district bought unincorporated property behind the Camarillo Library on Las Posas Road in October 2004. It plans to break ground on an academy high school—with a focus on performing arts, engineering and design, and biomedical programs—in January and hopes to open the school by fall 2015.

Groundbreaking on the $60-million bond-funded project will not occur until the land can be annexed by the City of Camarillo.

Superintendent Gabe Soumakian said the process for building the new high school in Camarillo has been slow-moving due to the lengthy process required to annex the land in cooperation with the City Council and the Local Agency Formation Commission, which authorizes boundary changes.

The annexation process is moving forward. The Camarillo City Council is awaiting to see and approve a final environmental impact report on the project. Once the city signs off, the campus plans are sent to the formation commission to either approve or deny annexation of the property.

“I think building any high school in general is very cumbersome,” Soumakian said. “This project is moving at a fast-forward pace right now, and we’re working with the city and LAFCo to hopefully have it completed by August of 2015.”

Soumakian said the academy is projected to accommodate about 800 ninth- and 10th-grade students. A high school planned for construction in Oxnard sometime in the next year will have room for 2,250 students.

Meanwhile, Bakersfield-based S.C. Anderson construction is building a new concrete pool and aquatic center at Camarillo High using the bond money. The pool is expected to be completed in January and to open in June 2014. Apool is also being built at Hueneme High School in Oxnard.

Steve Dickinson, assistant superintendent of fiscal services for the district, said the school board and bond oversight committee plan to respond to the grand jury findings in writing within the next few weeks.

“I’m not overly concerned with the report because I know our bond oversight committee is extremely active and informed about all of our school projects for Camarillo and Oxnard as far as the new school and the new pools, so I’m very comfortable with what the district is doing,” Dickinson said.

“I give (the oversight committee) every piece of information they request, and they are very in tune with all the construction projects that the bond funds are being used for.”

Friday, July 12, 2013

(Mendocino County) Should the city of Ukiah cap its landfill?

Council mulls asking for waiver to leave closed dump alone
Updated: 07/12/2013 08:43:54 AM PDT

To possibly avoid paying several million dollars to cap its former landfill, the Ukiah City Council discussed pursuing a waiver from the state Legislature to exempt the city from current requirements. "This is a landfill that is already meeting the requirements as far as monitoring, and this community's going to spend upwards of $6 million literally just to cap the thing," City Manager Jane Chambers said at the council's last regular meeting July 3. "I really wonder, as your city manager, whether this is really a worthy expenditure or not. We are required to by state law, I'm told, but I don't know what it really accomplishes for our community."

The discussion was prompted by a Mendocino County grand jury report alleging that the city has "no plan, no schedule and shows no motivation to close (its former) landfill" off Vichy Springs Road, which hasn't been used for more than a decade. Certain staff members, including Chambers and Public Works Director Tim Eriksen, needed to respond to the report by July 16.

"There are probably 5,000 people that have moved to Ukiah since we closed it," Vice-Mayor Phil Baldwin said to Eriksen. "Can you tell the public what we're talking about?" "In the early 1950s, the city started a landfill out in the Vichy Springs area," Eriksen said. "That landfill was in operation until 2001, when we stopped receiving refuse there. The reason we stopped, is we were getting height restrictions for the power linesthat go over it from Pacific Gas & Electric."

Since the closure, Eriksen said the city has complied with the state laws that require certain actions after a landfill closure. "Why in the heck is it so hard to close a dump?" Baldwin asked, and Eriksen said, "Well, closing a dump, which we've done, is different than capping a dump," adding that "a closed dump doesn't receive (more garbage)," while "a capped landfill starts a 30-year process of monitoring."

When Baldwin asked what a cap meant, Eriksen said it is "a water-impervious top so that no rainfall can get in there." "So the toxins that are in there won't get into the Russian River?" Baldwin asked, and Eriksen said "yes, that's the idea. However, it should be noted that we have 20 monitoring wells around the landfill now, and there is no poison leaching. The poison goes into the sewer system.

"(Capping) this one is going to be a nightmare," Eriksen continued. "This thing should probably sit, with nothing else done to it." "I think what we should do is go the legislative route and ask our local legislator to try and get a waiver for us," said Council member Mari Rodin. "I know that special waivers like that are granted all the time. It might be worth trying before we spend all that money."

Mayor Doug Crane said "the process would seem pretty daunting, but it's worth a try," and Baldwin called the idea "brave and creative." City Attorney David Rapport said the city could be facing penalties while it pursued a legislative fix, and added that the council could only vote on the item at hand, which was approving the city's response to the grand jury report.

Eriksen said the city does have a plan for capping the landfill, has not missed deadlines and has filed all the necessary reports.

Justine Frederiksen can be reached at, on Twitter @JustFrederiksen or at 468-3521.

Grand Jury: Bonds issued by 13 San Mateo County school districts are 'ticking time bombs'

By Bonnie Eslinger, Staff Writer, Mercury -

Capital appreciation bonds used by 13 San Mateo County school districts are expensive "ticking time bombs" that will drain future taxpayers, according to a civil grand jury report released Thursday.

Those bonds enable districts to pay for capital improvement projects now, and don't have to be repaid for decades. As a result, they'll accrue substantial interest that eventually will cost the districts several times more tax dollars than the original sums, the grand jury warned.

For example, $35 million in bonds issued by the San Mateo Unified High School District in 2011 will end up costing more than $280,651,356 when they mature in 2050, according to the report.

"These blow up," Grand Jury Foreman Timothy Johnson said Thursday.

The grand jury report notes that use of capital appreciation bonds, known as CABs, increased considerably after the 2008-2009 housing market crash. As property tax revenue fell during that period, school districts turned to such bonds to pay for their capital projects.

Districts tried to justify the risky financial move by noting that when property values rebound, they'll generate more tax revenue to repay the assumed debts, according to the report.

Although voters approved bond measures, they were "ill informed" that the school districts would select capital appreciation bonds, Johnson said.

In January, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson called for a statewide moratorium on capital appreciation bonds until the Legislature and governor can reform the way they're issued.

"In many cases, CAB deals have forced taxpayers to pay more than 10 times the principal to retire the bonds," Lockyer and Torlakson wrote in a joint statement on Jan. 17.

"We are convinced that remedial legislation is needed to prevent abuses and ensure that both school board members and the public obtain timely, accurate, complete and clear information about the costs of CABs, and alternatives, before CABs are issued."

In San Mateo County, 13 school districts have borrowed a total of $553.4 million through 20 capital appreciation bonds, according to the grand jury report. The compounded interest projected for the debts total $1,580,234,305, so the sum to eventually be repaid will exceed $2 billion, according to the report.

Of the 20 capital appreciation bonds issued, the report highlights three as particularly imprudent because the debt service is four times the amount borrowed: a $22.7 million bond issued by the Hillsborough School District in 2011 that will multiply to more than $172.2 million by 2045; a $6.5 million bond issued by the Laguna Salada Union Elementary School District -- now the Pacifica School District -- that will multiply to more than $37.4 million by 2030; and the $35 million bond issued by the San Mateo Unified High School District in 2011.

According to the grand jury, the other school districts with capital appreciation bonds are Burlingame, Hillsborough, La Honda-Pescadero, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo County Community College, Sequoia Union High and Woodside. The report also states the "Jefferson" school district has a capital appreciation bond, but does not clarify whether it's the high school or elementary school district; Johnson said he was unable to provide that information late Thursday.

In response to the report, the Redwood City School District issued a press release that contends the grand jury incorrectly stated the total it owes on a $44 million bond issued in 1997. The district says it owes $91.3 million, not $135.3 million. It also says almost half of the bond has been repaid and the rest will be doled out over the next nine years.

In a written statement, Superintendent Jan Christensen said the district followed "prudent loan parameters so that the community can invest in safe, modern and attractive neighborhood schools without incurring significant financial risk."

The San Carlos School District issued three capital appreciation bonds -- in 1997, 2005 and 2006 -- that totaled more than $38.2 million and will end up costing more than $106.9 million, according to the report.

Robert Porter, the district's chief operating officer who wasn't around when the bonds were issued, said having the option to pay back at a later date gives school districts more flexibility.

"I think there are a couple of districts that have abused these debt instruments and unfortunately all districts are paying the price," he said.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

(Marin) Editorial: Grand jury's report on COM foundation a service

Marin Independent Journal Editorial -

THE MEMBERS of the Marin County Civil Grand Jury did the public a service in their report on the status of the College of Marin Foundation, a body that has helped so many local students, but lately has been mired in controversy and upheaval.

It has been nearly a year since the mass resignation of the foundation's board and the assumption of control by COM President David Wain Coon and then-board president Diana Conti.

Since then, there's been uncertainty about the foundation's future, which does little to instill confidence from donors.

The grand jury, in its report, focuses on the current status of the foundation and its future, rather than dwelling on what went wrong. Mistakes clearly were made. Strategic measures went sour. Money was lost.

The two-member foundation board made sure scholarships were doled out again this year.

The grand jury report, an independent citizens' review, puts a lot of focus on the rebuilding of the foundation and making sure its community mission — helping students further their academic educations and training — is not diverted.

COM is now awaiting a review by the state attorney general's trust oversight division. Its recommendations should help create a new framework for rebuilding the foundation.

It appears possibly advantageous to create a partnership with the Marin Community Foundation and its financial management team to help reduce the foundation's future overhead. That connection also should help the COM foundation rebuild its board of directors.
In order to help restore donor confidence, the new board should be comprised of a broad-based panel of well-known community leaders, some alumni among them.

Both of those moves will help create distance from political influences involved in the controversy.

The grand jury is right to be concerned that money given to the foundation be spent in a manner that respects the wishes of the donors.

"Restoring donor faith in the donation process must underlie the road ahead," the grand jury report states. "The goal of all concerned should be to restore donor faith to fundraising efforts and generate new donations for those programs and individuals within the college in need of financial support. The needs still exist."

In fact, the need is growing with every increase in tuition and every increase in the long-term cost of student loans.

An underscore of the need was the Associated Students of College of Marin, the college's primary student organization, which offered $30,000 to cover scholarships if the foundation could not fulfill its important role.

The sooner the foundation makes a fresh start, the better; for students and their educational opportunities and achievement and for donors who want to rest comfortably that their generosity is being invested in those students.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Imperial County Grand Jury issues recommendations, awaits responses

By JULIO MORALES, Staff Writer, Copy Editor, Imperial Valley Press -

Improved access to public records, reductions in prison contraband and renegotiating municipal water rates for two Valley cities are just some of the recommendations found in the 2012-2013 Imperial County Grand Jury final report.

The grand jury is tasked with investigating city and county government operations as well as tax-supported agencies and districts.

The jury investigated 10 entities this year, which included the county’s two state prisons, as well as the jail and juvenile hall. The Heber Public Utility District, county airport as well as the Salton Community Services District was also investigated. Operations for the water and wastewater departments for the cities of El Centro and Imperial, and the Niland Fire District were also reviewed.

The 19-member jury released its report June 28. Aside from the two prisons and the HPUD, all of entities that were reviewed by the jury have 90 days to furnish a written response to its recommendations.

The grand jury also had requested responses from agencies that appeared in last year’s report but that had failed to provide a response.

Access to public records and government transparency were additional concerns of the jury, with some of the investigated agencies credited as being more open and accessible to the public than others.

“The report speaks for itself,” jury foreman Lee Buckingham said.

Given the “reasonable amount of time” the agencies were given to provide documentation and information, Buckingham said some entities were slower to respond than others.

Rising water, wastewater rates a concern of Imperial County Grand Jury

The cities of El Centro and Imperial are being urged to negotiate with the Imperial Irrigation District for reduced water rates, according to the 2012-2013 Imperial County Grand Jury report.

The grand jury recommends that both cities attempt to negotiate water rates that more closely reflect the price charged farmers. Local municipalities purchase IID water at the standard municipal rate of $68 per acre-foot, while agricultural customers pay $20 per acre-foot for the same untreated water.

The recommendation stems from public concern following water rate increases recently implemented in both El Centro and Imperial. The recommendations are just two of several issued to both respective cities regarding financial management and public works operations.

The IID water rate is based on a 2009 study and subsequently approved by the IID board. The rate hike was controversial at the time, but failed to muster the number of public protest votes needed in order to block it. Only those who order water directly from the district — such as growers — were allowed to vote, while households in cities throughout the county were not.

“This one single fact shows that the power of a minority within the Valley, control the rates over the majority,” the report stated. “This is a situation that needs to be rectified and brought to the public’s attention.”

Under a plan adopted by El Centro, rates are slated to increase over the next five years by an average of 4.4 percent for water rates and 5.8 percent for sewer rates, for a total of 24.3 percent and 29 percent, respectively. Previous rates hikes from 2006 to 2009 saw rates rise 36 percent and 72 percent for water and sewer services, respectively, the report noted.

The report also found fault with the manner in which the average household cost due to the water rate increase was presented. The city’s Finance Department initially reported an average monthly increase of $4.36 for a household that uses about 13,000 gallons a month, for a total of $111.24. A grand jury committee’s subsequent analysis found the average household uses about 17,111 gallons a month and could expect a monthly bill closer to $124.85.

The possibility of negotiating lower IID water rates is something city officials have attempted in the past, El Centro Mayor Ben Solomon said.

He also stood by the city’s estimates about the average monthly ratepayer increases.

“Once (the grand jury) hears our rationale,” Solomon said, “they’ll be comfortable with it.”

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Grand jury criticizes Child Protective Services

BY JEFF HORSEMAN, Staff Writer, The Press Enterprise -

Investigators don’t properly consider past history, such as parents’ criminal records, when looking into allegations of child abuse and neglect in Riverside County, according to a grand jury report.

The report released last week also found heavy caseloads for investigators in the Child Protective Services unit of the county Department of Social Services. In addition, the jury found that families aren’t properly told how to file a complaint and that some social workers lack required training.

In an email, county spokesman Ray Smith wrote: “Riverside County will thoroughly review the findings and recommendations and will respond to the report after that review has been completed.”

“A written response will then go to the Board of Supervisors and then be forwarded to the grand jury within the time frame specified by law.”

The grand jury consists of 19 county residents who spend a year looking into the inner workings of local public agencies. Their findings are released every summer.

Child Protective Services, commonly known as CPS, has 90 to 100 investigators and an overall staff of about 450, according to the grand jury’s report. In 2011, the agency received almost 45,000 phone calls alleging child abuse or neglect.

Of those, 82 percent were investigated and 21 percent were found to be substantiated. Almost 4,000 children are under CPS supervision.
In its report, the grand jury found that when investigating complaints, social workers “do not consider all current and prior history,” including past instances in a home of substance abuse, unsafe conditions and poor school attendance by children.

“Sworn testimony revealed that (CPS) has not diligently considered all the law enforcement calls to the homes where dependent children reside, which limits their ability to access all factors related to the children’s safety,” the report read, adding that social workers have limited access to law enforcement records.

“Testimony revealed not all social workers investigate fully into the criminal history of adults living in the home, nor do they investigate the medical, psychological, or school records of children with ongoing neglect and abuse complaints,” the grand jury found.

Social workers said “they are overloaded with cases and cannot properly evaluate the cases assigned to them,” the report read. Some said they had 40 cases and were “overloaded” with paperwork, including seven to 14 reports a month and court reports that take, on average, 6 hours per report to write, the report added.

Not all social workers are aware of or understand the complaint process and some fail to tell families about it, the report read. Social workers are supposed to get nine weeks of “core induction training” before tackling cases, but that doesn’t always happen, the report added.

It’s not the first time a grand jury has looked into CPS. In 2000, a grand jury report criticized the agency for being disorganized and allowing employees in different bureaus to run “fiefdoms” with no consistent procedures.

And after 11 children died, apparently at the hands of their parents, during a five-month span of 1994, the county requested a review of CPS by the Child Welfare League of America.

In 1996, the league concluded that the agency’s shortfalls created a “dangerous environment for both children and social workers.” A follow-up review in 2001 found improvement, but concluded children were still at risk and suggested improvements such as more training and support of social workers by managers.

In the latest report, the grand jury recommends CPS develop procedures to get more information from law enforcement authorities and other sources.

“This will provide information to caseworkers of law enforcement activity at the home address of dependent children and other pertinent information regarding school attendance and/or medical information,” the report read.

CPS also needs to evaluate workers’ caseloads, do more to inform families of the complaint process and establish a plan for veteran social workers to mentor their less-experienced peers, the jury recommended.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Grand Jury gives San Bernardino International Airport a thumbs up

Report: Progress made as previous Grand Jury recommendations were followed

Ryan Hagen, Staff Writer, The SUN -

This time two years ago, the Grand Jury raised "serious questions" about management practices, internal controls and other issues at San Bernardino International Airport, and the airport passed a budget with a $982,400 deficit.

This month, a follow-up by the Grand Jury concluded that SBIA has implemented all of the county panel's recommendations, and the budget for the 2013-14 projects a $4.5 million profit. As with previous years, however, the budget includes an "investment" from the agency responsible for development around the airport -- $5.5 million for 2013-14, the same as last year.

Officials say things are indeed turning around.

"What's important is we focused on real opportunities for the airport, not imagined or fraudulently represented opportunities, and in doing that we are gradually building a positive reputation," said Interim Executive Director A.J. Wilson. "We basically adopted our budget last week at the commission meeting and that budget for the first time begins the process of building operating reserves so it can some time in the near future become self-sustaining."

Wilson's answer alludes to serious problems the airport had with developer Scot Spencer, who in March was charged with multiple felonies, including criminal conspiracy and perjury in connection with alleged corruption at the airport.

County Supervisor Josie Gonzales, who sits on the board of the Inland Valley Development Agency -- the body that develops land around the airport -- criticized the airport and its relationship with Spencer in the past, calling it "a mess."

She was guardedly optimistic Friday.

"We need to be cognizant of past actions and decisions and situations, and we need to be mindful of how we move forward, making sure those actions and missteps are not repeated," she said. "I think the Grand Jury did a great job of addressing the entire situation, and while it's not a complete bill of health, if you will, it is definitely encouraging and mandates that we continue to be transparent and progressive as we move forward."

This year's three-page review of SBIA is one of four follow-ups to earlier Grand Jury investigations, and is headed by Ed Burgnon, who was also foreman in 2011 when the Grand Jury blasted the airport management.

Problems identified in 2011 included questionable practices in regard to its finances, construction management and how it awards developer contracts, according to the report, as well as recommendations about how to address those issues.

"SBIA has implemented all of the Grand Jury recommendations," concludes this year's report.

Only about a quarter of the $43 million budget goes to the general fund, which reports a surplus of $305,711. That includes a $5.1 million transfer from the property management fund and $5.5 million from the IVDA, with operating revenue of $455,000 -- including landing fees, filming revenue and fuel flow fees.

The property management fund had a surplus of $2 million, after spending $23 million on improvements and the transfer to the general fund. Its revenue comes largely from leases and grants.

"We are in many ways still modernizing the airport facilities and overcoming past hiccups," said San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris, who is also head of the SBIA board. "A lot of capital-improvement projects are still in progress that will do well for us in the future, and all those projects are on their way to completion."

Morris points to new grants from federal agencies that withdrew their support in previous years as a sign of their faith in the airport.

Airlines have expressed interest in the international terminal under construction, and meetings with five commercial airlines in Atlanta last month "opened doors" toward future investment, Wilson said.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

(San Mateo) County responds to grand jury pension costs report

By Michelle Durand, The Daily Journal -

County officials disagree with the majority of a civil grand jury’s conclusions about its pension plan and will not implement recommendations made in a report that estimated more than $2 billion in unfunded liability, according to the legally required response.

However, not every facet of the response “SamCERA’s Unfunded Liability: The Elephant in the Room,” was met with opposition.

The Board of Supervisors does agree there is no assurance the San Mateo County Employees Retirement Association’s strategy change to include alternative investments will produce better returns or reduce risk. The board also agrees that financial reporting on SamCERA in the county’s annual financial report can be better and that it hasn’t yet committed any of its Measure A sales-tax revenue to paying down the liability.

Other than that, the formal response by County Manager John Maltbie coming before the Board of Supervisors for approval Tuesday is a laundry list of disagreements.

Along with estimating the unfunded liability at twice what the county reports, the April civil grand jury report concluded that elected officials have failed to monitor or significantly reduce retirement costs. The report also found the association lost more than $11 million on its investments for fiscal year 2012 and on average has failed to achieve its assumed rate of return over the past one-, five- and 10-year periods.

Maltbie wrote in his response that the county has closely monitored SamCERA’s investment policy, even exceeding funding requirements for the last two years, and is paying down the unfunded liability at a faster rate than anticipated by contributing an extra $11.5 million in fiscal year 2011-2012.

As for the estimates of that liability, Maltbie wrote that the Governmental Accounting Standards Board prevents SamCERA from using the same calculations as the grand jury which is why the figures differ.

The response also fights the jury’s conclusion that SamCERA’s investment performance the last decade is poor, instead calling it “commendable” at 7.6 percent because of the widespread losses suffered by other funds in the wake of the shaky economy.

The response also partially disagrees with the jury’s conclusion that county taxpayers rather than SamCERA’s beneficiaries bear the economic burden of its performance because tax increases or slashed county services pay for the unfunded liability. Maltbie wrote that in addition to tax revenue, retirement costs are funded by member contributions and investment earnings.

In addition to opposing most of the jury’s findings, the official county response also bristles at a number of recommendations. Among those, the Board of Supervisors will not formally review SamCERA’s investment performance in an open meeting every quarter. The idea is “unreasonable,” the response states, adding that SamCERA CEO David Bailey is available to attend Board of Supervisors’ meetings and the website posts information including reports. The response also shoots down the suggestion of more highly prioritizing the unfunded liability over new or expanded programs. Doing so could limit essential services to the county’s most needy residents, the response concludes.

The response does agree to bring public pension accounting more in line with the private sector rules and states the county has already implemented the recommendation to appoint to the Board of Retirement only individuals with substantial experience in financial analysis and management.

The civil grand jury reports carry no legal weight although recipients are required to respond in writing within 90 days.

The Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 9 in Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center, Redwood City.

Friday, July 5, 2013

(Riverside) GRAND JURY: Rubidoux district official’s compensation tops among peers

BY SANDRA STOKLEY, Staff Writer, The Press-Enterprise -

The Riverside County Grand Jury, in its 2012-13 report, singled out the Rubidoux Community Services District for the compensation package of its general manager. Construction of the Rubidoux district's second manganese plant was a major project for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The general manager of a small water and sewer district in Jurupa Valley has a compensation package that tops not just all water and sanitation districts studied by the Riverside County Grand Jury, but also the county’s chief executive officer, its report states.

The panel’s 2012-13 report, released Wednesday, July 2, noted the “substantial” compensation of some general managers of the 29 districts studied. It singles out the Rubidoux Community Services District, noting that the general manager’s compensation of more than $390,000 is greater than the $365,000 earned by Jay Orr, Riverside County’s executive officer.

Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith said the county’s top official, Jay Orr, receives $338,000 in compensation, less than what was originally in his contract, because he is paying a portion of his own retirement.

Rubidoux General Manager David Lopez said the report contained erroneous information on his compensation package as well as the size and budget of the district.

“It’s not a good report,” Lopez said, adding that he had called the panel’s office earlier this week, seeking a correction, but was told there was no one to take the information.

Lopez said the correct wage and benefits package was listed on the state controller’s website: $255,326 in regular pay, $56,569 in retirement, $28,192 in health/dental/vision benefits and $38,419 in other compensation which includes cashing in vacation and sick time.

That totals $378,506.

Lopez declined further comment.

Armando Muñiz, a longtime member of the Rubidoux district’s five-member board, said Lopez “deserves” the compensation he is receiving.

“His knowledge of the water industry saves the Rubidoux district a ton of money,” Muñiz said. “He runs the district like a business.”

The district is solvent, has money in reserves and provides low-cost, hig-quality drinking water to customers, Muñiz said.

“Dave Lopez knows what he’s doing,” Muñiz said.

In addition to water and sewer service, the Rubidoux district provides fire protection, trash collection, streetlights and weed abatement to residents in the Jurupa Valley neighborhoods of Rubidoux, Belltown, Paramount Estates, Jurupa Hills and a sliver of San Bernardino County.

It has an estimated 6,500 water and sewer connections, 23 employees and serves about 26,500 people. Last month the district’s board approved a $32.8 million budget for 2013-14.

The report says the general manager of the Jurupa Community Services District was paid $237,458 in salary and received $43,451 in benefits, for a total of $280,909.

The Jurupa district provides water and sewer service, graffiti abatement and streetlights to the rest of Jurupa Valley. It also is developing and oversees parks and recreation for Eastvale. It has 162 employees and about 27,000 water and sewer connections.

The grand jury also recommended that 14 of the 29 districts studied – including the Rubidioux district – hold board meetings after 6 p.m. to allow for “maximum public attendance.”

The Rubidoux board once held meetings at 7:30 p.m. but voted in 2011 to start them at 4 p.m. It is up to the board to set meeting times, Lopez said.

The grand jury report concluded with three recommendations:

Before raising water and/or sewer rates, water and sanitation districts providing insurance and/or retirement benefits to their director should reduce or eliminate full-time benefit packages for part-time directors.

A district website should give the public access to documents including financial, contractual, budgetary and compensation information for boards of directors and general managers.

Boards should hold meetings after 6 p.m. to ensure maximum participation and attendance by the public.


The Riverside County Grand Jury’s 2012-13 report on Riverside County water and sanitation districts lists compensation packages for general managers of the 29 districts studied. Here are the top 5 districts:

Rubidoux Community Services District, $391,821 (disputed by General Manager David Lopez)

Desert Water Agency, $377,181

Eastern Municipal Water District, $332,276

Western Municipal Water District, 323,307

San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, $319,563