Saturday, August 31, 2013

(Santa Clara) School districts wary of grand jury's bond advice

by Nick Veronin, Mountain View Voice -

The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury is calling for local school districts to adopt self-policing policies that would limit the use of capital appreciation bonds, which the grand jury found can potentially be abused by districts.

While the local high school district formally agreed with the report's findings, district officials said they would not comply with the jury's recommendations to adopt a new policy, as legislation is now pending to limit the potential abuse of capital appreciation bonds.

The local elementary and middle school district formally disagreed with both the grand jury's findings and recommendation to adopt a policy.

With capital appreciation bonds, or CABs, both the principal and interest payments of the bond are deferred -- allowing districts to tell taxpayers that they won't have to worry about repaying the debt for many years. According to the grand jury report, released in May, CABs are often "rationalized with speculative assumptions about rising real estate values."

In reality, the report said, real estate prices do not always rise in accordance with projections, and in some cases, school districts end up kicking the can down the road on repayment for decades, allowing interest to compound to more than four times the amount borrowed.

Although pending legislation, Assembly Bill 182, would place limits on the way districts can use CABs, the grand jury report recommended that districts also adopt policies pledging that they will not issue abusive CABs.

Craig Goldman, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, acknowledged that CABs have been abused by some districts in the past, but he disagreed with the report's official finding that CABs are "inevitably" damaging.

"We believe that under the right circumstances ... CABS can be used responsibly," Goldman said, adding that his district and the MVLA district have a good track record in using CABs responsibly. The district has not initiated a CAB since he joined it in 1998 and has no plans to use one in the near future, he said.

That said, he concluded, he wouldn't want the district to tie its hands by adopting a policy on limiting its use of CABs, especially when the Legislature appears poised to pass new rules soon. "We would not want to make a decision in advance that under no circumstance would CABs be a possibility," Goldman said.

Joe White, superintendent of business services for the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, said the district agrees with the report's findings that CABs are sometimes abused and ought to be more tightly regulated. However, in a written response, White and MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves said they would not pursue a new policy "because it is not necessary."

The district plans to follow any state regulation that is passed, White explained. And given that AB 182, if passed, would impose the limits on CABs that the grand jury is advocating, he said, there is no need to pass an official district policy.

The report, which the grand jury adopted on May 9, concluded that it is unfair to expect taxpayers to foot the bill for decisions made years prior and asked that county school districts formally respond to the report's single finding -- that CABs "will inevitably compound the burdens school districts face in operating effective schools."

In addition, the jury recommended that "each school district in Santa Clara County adopt a board policy and any necessary administrative regulations indicating its intent to comply with the moratorium called for by the state Treasurer and the state Superintendent of Public Instruction."

Friday, August 30, 2013

(San Diego) IB COUNCIL ‘RESPECTFULLY’ DISAGREES WITH GRAND JURY REPORT

City ‘respectfully’ says grand jury report on redevelopment finances was flawed

By Allison Sampite-Montecalvo, U-T San Diego -

IMPERIAL BEACH — City Council members approved a response Aug. 24 to a San Diego County civil grand jury report, saying they disagree with the panel’s conclusions earlier this year that questionable spending and other deficiencies occurred in the city related to redevelopment.

In July 2012, Imperial Beach resident Libi Uremovic filed a complaint that made allegations of fraud, a lack of transparency within city records and failure of the city to act in the best interest of citizens.

The alleged financial misbehavior led to the grand jury’s 2013 investigation, and its report was released May 28.

“The very first summary paragraph of this says, the results of this investigation did not uncover any fraud,” Mayor Jim Janney said. “We did not do anything wrong.”

The investigation included a formal audit of city financial records by the San Diego County Office of Audits and Advisory Services, which examined outsourced attorney charges and employee time allocations from 2010 to 2013.

“We believe that a lot of the findings were reflective mostly of the city trying to navigate a process that was changing midstream,” Assistant City Manager Greg Wade said, “We’ve gone through this very detailed and … we had already implemented many of those recommendations at the time of the audit and made that clear to the auditors.”

Wade said the grand jury report includes significant inaccuracies and misleading statements “that should be and are clarified and corrected in the city’s response.”

The grand jury report provided nine findings and recommendations to the council and city staff. It concluded that labor and legal expenses related to the city’s redevelopment activities should have been better recorded and allocated. It made no allegations of fraud.

“The 2012/2013 (civil) grand jury issued 15 reports this year to various local agencies,” City Attorney Jennifer Lyon said. “These are all policy recommendations ... We’re required to respond. But there’s nothing about the law that requires the city adopt their policy recommendations.”

The state dissolved all California redevelopment agencies beginning Feb. 1, 2012, to help reduce the state budget deficit. The Imperial Beach City Council, like councils in most cities, became the redevelopment successor agency, responsible for paying, performing and enforcing existing obligations.

The agency is required to prepare recognized obligation payment schedules every six months of the fiscal year and disclose the amount and funding source.

Wade said the way the legislation was written complicated the process.

“So poorly written was that legislation that during this dissolution process they rewrote the legislation and adopted a new bill in June of 2012, trying to make clear some of the provisions,” Wade said.

Wade said in May he felt the city had been singled out.

“Generally speaking, the audit period covered a time during which if an auditor were asked to audit any agency in this state, I would venture to guess they would have found much the same thing if not worse,” Wade said.

He said the fact that the city has had all of its recognized obligation payments schedules approved and in on time speaks for its success in navigating the process.

“We’ve met every obligation of the dissolution act,” Wade said. “We have navigated this process better than most agencies in the state of California. Transitioning into dissolution and moving forward, we have weaned ourselves off reliance of those dollars.”

Councilman Ed Spriggs said the allegations have impugned the city and all of its elected officials.

“It isn’t often that a grand jury goes to this length with so many allegations about the conduct of city business,” he said.

Despite the harm, Spriggs asked Lyon to include “respectfully” before each time the response states the word disagrees.

Wade said that, given the challenges of the dissolution process, he acknowledged the city can always do better.

“At the very least, this grand jury audit forced us to do that,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Lorie Bragg thanked Wade for the report.

“The last two years of unwinding the RDA were strenuous, rigorous and gut-wrenching, and we survived it,” Bragg said. “It was unchartered waters and those waters changed on a daily basis. I’m proud of the outcome of this. I think that as a small city … we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

(San Diego) WATER AUTHORITY STRATEGIES ALIGN WITH GRAND JURY RECOMMENDATIONS

East County Magazine -

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday said the agency is advancing plans that align with recommendations issued by the San Diego County Grand Jury in its May report, “Reduce Dependence on Imported Water.”

The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies “will continue to implement programs and projects that encourage efficient water use through conservation and water recycling,” the Water Authority’s official response said. “Additional supply options are being pursued to address the multiple challenges to providing future water supply reliability.” The letter was submitted August 1 to comply with the Grand Jury’s deadline, and then ratified on Thursday by the Water Authority’s Board.

“The Grand Jury’s articulate assessment of water issues benefits the entire region,” said Thomas V. Wornham, chair of the Water Authority’s Board. “It’s encouraging to have this kind of support for our mission as we craft water supply plans through 2035. We will continue diligently looking for cost-effective ways to enhance the county’s water supply portfolio and emergency safety net.”

In May, the Grand Jury said the Water Authority “has made substantial progress in diversifying water supply sources.” It formally recommended that the Water Authority “continue to pursue a vigorous policy to lessen dependence on imported water by continued conservation, reuse and reclamation, additional emergency storage projects and new desalination projects.” It also recommended that the Water Authority “further demonstrate the economic feasibility of expansion of desalination projects to include a Camp Pendleton location.”

The Water Authority said those recommendations are being implemented through various means, including the development of local groundwater and recycled water supplies, ongoing conservation efforts and the evaluation of seawater desalination options conducted in collaboration with Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

In addition, the Water Authority fully agreed with two findings issued by the Grand Jury – that desalination is a viable local source of water and that long-term local storage of water for use in emergencies is vital.

The Water Authority partially disagreed with a third finding – that six months of water storage capacity for emergencies is insufficient. Based on projected growth, supply development and conservation, six months of capacity for emergency use remains adequate for responding to an earthquake or other catastrophic event for the next 20 or 30 years, according to the Water Authority. However, the agency is developing 100,000 acre-feet of additional storage at San Vicente Reservoir to address potential needs due to environmental restrictions on water deliveries, drought and other factors that can limit supply availability but don’t fall under the parameters of the Water Authority’s Emergency Storage Program.

The Water Authority’s diversification strategy dates back to the early 1990s, when the agency relied on the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for up to 95 percent of its water. In 1991, a severe drought led to a 31 percent reduction in supplies for San Diego County, with threats of deeper cuts.

In response, the Water Authority launched a long-term plan to increase water supply reliability through a series of investments in major infrastructure projects, water-transfer agreements and conservation measures. The agency helped craft the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer in 2003 and embarked on a multi-billion dollar Capital Improvement Program that has substantially increased the region’s ability to move and store water by adding and expanding facilities.

In addition, the Water Authority has promoted water-use efficiency through legislation, outreach and conservation upgrades such as low-flow toilets, weather-based irrigation controllers and water-efficient landscaping. Those efforts helped decrease regional water consumption by about 30 percent between 2007 and 2012.

The Water Authority’s overall strategy has markedly reduced its reliance on MWD. In 2020, the San Diego region plans to meet 30 percent of its demand with water supplies from MWD, and the rest will come from its portfolio of other sources.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

(Santa Clara) Grand Jury Reports Dominate Board of Supervisors’ Next Meeting

Three Civil Grand Jury reports will go before the Board of Supervisors next week.

by Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside -

The people in charge of providing financial and protective services for Santa Clara County residents run a department lacking structure and accountability, according to a just-released Civil Grand Jury audit that goes before the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

This isn’t the first time the Office of the Public Administrator/Guardian/Conservator has come under scrutiny. It’s been subject to several grand jury audits over the past decade, investigations prompted each time by complaints. Its function as public guardian and conservatorship of the elderly, in particular, has riled up some residents who contest the legality of the county taking control of the assets of the elderly. Take a look at this Facebook page. Or this YouTube video. Or this one.

The latest grand jury audit points out mostly administrative problems in the department under purview of the Social Services Administration. Employees in the office don’t clock in or out in any organized way. There aren’t any staff meetings. There’s no formal process to handle complaints.

About two-thirds of the department’s policies haven’t been reviewed in several years. Few people use the case management software installed five years ago to make everyone’s life way easier by automating the whole deal from start to finish. A bunch of staffers are behind on certification and training. And management was mistakenly under the impression that they couldn’t conduct employee evaluations because of some agreement with labor unions.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Mountain Messenger
Downieville, Sierra County, California     July 18, 2013

(Sierra County) Grand Jury Report Published


DOWNIEVILLE – The 2012-2013 grand jury report is finished, out and available.  Masochists, political junkies and scholars may find copies from the Clerk-Recorder’s Office as the courthouse or online by rummaging through www.sierracounty.ws.
This year’s panel reports on four areas of local governance; law enforcement facilities, the building department, employees’ conceders over whistleblowing, and the school district.  The report is somewhat unusual in its temperance.  Often grand juries second-guess elected officials and proclaim what County priorities should be.  While there are whiffs of this usual problem in this year’s report, the panel generally avoided that tendency.

Governors will nonetheless complain that while the grand jury has pointed out some problems, neglect, and failings, as ever the panel doesn’t offer funding for fixes.
“There’s always money.  It’s a matter of priorities.”  Auditor Don Hemphill was wont to say.  Therein lies the rub:  grand juries inevitably propose to change the priorities set by those actually elected to govern.

The grand jury concluded the leak in the courthouse roof needs fixing, that much of the security infrastructure didn’t get fixed with grand money, that prisoners don’t have a good enough exercise area, that the supes must consider closing the jail, that terrorists could wreak havoc and that the supes must do something about that, too.
Nope.

The county may, as the grand jury recommends, establish a standing committee to worry about such things.  On the other hand the supes might continue to assign those chores elsewhere.  The grand jury cannot command the supes to do anything, including share its assessment of likely terrorists attacks, or create and pay task force to re-examine the benefits of closing the jail.
The grand jury also believes the building department is fostering a disrespect for the law by ignoring most building code violations.

We had believed the State and the feds had the responsibility of fostering such disrespect.  But the grand jury is right: those who obey building laws pay dearly, while others skate.
“As to the problem the County has two options:  1) uniformly enforce the building codes, or 2) abandon the pretense of having a building code for structures in ‘Sierra County.”  The grand jury wrote.  We can find no way to quarrel with this analysis.

Complaining employees will always have a problem in such a small workforce.  ‘By the nature of a complaint, the complainer can often be identified.  Further, department heads, work so closely that complainers and whistle- blowers have a hard time believing their anonymity will be preserved by the personnel office.
We are somewhat sympathetic, while having little regard for anonymous narks.  We do not pay attention to unsigned letters, and are uneasy with anonymous complaints.  At the same time, we protect our sources.

Tough one.  The grand jury has discovered Nevada County would be willing to help us out with this.  We hope that avenue will be explored.
Finally, the grand jury responded to questions regarding the school district by attending meetings and interviewing staff.  We believe this chore will excuse each and every grand jury member from purgatory, if not harsher afterlife conditions.

The grand jury concluded the school district is clean; it does abide by the Brown Act, the State’s open meeting law.
The grand jury also notes the school district’s website makes digging out background information exceedingly difficult.

The grand jury points out the obvious problems of educating our youth: a steadily declining number of kids spread over 1,000 square miles, underpaid teachers, the lack of an economy of scale and, finally, a relatively uncaring populace.
If, the grand jury explains, the people of Sierra County want the level of excellence long provided by an under paid and under-appreciated staff, they’ll simply have to get involved and pay for it.

Amen.
Don Russell, Editor

 

Friday, August 23, 2013

(Santa Clara) Hospital district improving transparency, agency says

After critical grand jury report, El Camino making strides

by Nick Veronin, Mountain View Voice -

A better website, a distinguishing name change and modifications to the way the organization keeps track of taxpayer money have made the El Camino Healthcare District more transparent and accountable to the public, according to an official with the Local Agency Formation Commission of Santa Clara County.

After being publicly criticized last year by the LAFCO board and the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury for a lack of openness and questionable business practices, ECH and the district are turning their act around, said Margaret Abe-Koga, a member of the LAFCO board and the Mountain View City Council.

"From what we've seen, it seems they have actually made quite a few changes and a lot of progress has been made," Abe-Koga said, referring to a report, which officials from the local healthcare organization delivered before the LAFCO board on Aug. 7.

In the report, ECH and ECHD leaders highlighted a number of changes made over the past year aimed at improving transparency.

Officials noted that a much sharper distinction has now been drawn between the hospital and the taxpayer-funded hospital district. Before, the hospital was named El Camino Hospital and the district was named the El Camino Hospital District, and both entities shared a single website. Now, the district has changed its name to the El Camino Healthcare District and it no longer shares a website with the hospital.

According to Abe-Koga, money collected by the healthcare district used to essentially be funneled directly into the hospital corporation. Once there, officials promised that they only used they taxpayer-generated funds for capital improvements and community benefits projects as the law requires. However, because there was no sharp dividing line, many questioned whether that money might be used for other purposes.

Now, the district keeps a very separate set of books, and instead of sending tax dollars directly to the hospital's capital improvement and community benefit funds, the hospital corporation now has to formally request funds from the district, according to Abe-Koga.

"We were very pleased that the district took LAFCO's recommendations seriously," Abe-Koga said. "Overall things are looking much better than they did a year ago."

In addition to Abe-Koga's endorsement, the district also received a certificate acknowledging their efforts to increase transparency from the Special District Leadership Foundation.

The SDLF, an organization composed of leaders from special districts from all over California, gave the district its District Transparency Certificate of Excellence -- recognizing the district for taking a number of steps to improve its openness.

Those steps included putting all of its board members through an ethics training course, adopting official policies for dealing with public records act requests, conducting annual audits and making sure policies are in place to prevent conflicts of interest.

"This award is a true testament to the hard work and collaboration between the district and our community over the past several years," ECHD Chair Patricia Einarson said in a press release. "As a publicly accountable organization, we are committed to being open and transparent about activities and decisions impacting district residents."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mono Grand Jury finds allegations against MCSO “unfounded”

by Benett Kessler on August 21, 2013
The Mono County 2012-2013 Grand Jury Report is out. One of the investigations involved someone who complained about an alleged illegal search and excessive force by the Mono County Sheriff’s Department. The Jury found that allegations agains the Sheriff’s Department were “unfounded based upon all available evidence.”

The Jury did investigate the allegations that an officer used an excessive amount of pepper spray and denied paramedic transport of the complainant to the hospital. The complainant also alleged that an officer illegally obtained evidence without probable cause.

The Jury found that officers did have probable cause to search the occupants and their vehicle. They also found that officers followed guidelines in Sheriff’s Department Policy 300. The Jury Report said Sheriff vehicles carry a first aid kit and water to counteract effects of pepper spray. So, they concluded, medical attention was provided.

The Jury Report did say that the complainant had resisted officers’ repeated directions to vacate the vehicle. The Report says the complainant was removed from the vehicle but care provided was not captured on camera. The Jury recommended that whenever possible, officers contact with individuals should be captured on camera and that dialogue from visual and audio tapes should be transcribed and included in reports when applicable.

The Jury Report said from viewing the video tape, it was difficult to tell how much pepper spray was used. They recommend development of a system to document when a canister of pepper spray is issued to an officer and when it has been depleted. Again, the Jury concluded that allegations against the Sheriff’s Department were “unfounded based upon all available evidence.”

http://www.sierrawave.net/26087/mono-grand-jury-finds/

(Marin) County embraces grand jury computer advice

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

Civic Center officials are taking recommendations of the civil grand jury to heart as they seek to select a new computer software system, saying some jury proposals will be embraced while others will be studied.

The jury raised questions about the overall project plan and urged that management be tightened in a report that saluted officials for "lessons learned" after the $30 million system installed in 2006 worked so poorly and proved so costly it now has to be scrapped.

A county administration response to the jury report endorsed by county supervisors Tuesday indicates two jury recommendations already have been implemented, four will be put to work in the future and two will be studied. A jury proposal that an outside expert or entity be routinely used to help oversee all major projects was rejected.

"I really appreciate the thoughtful program, the thinking that has gone into how we move forward" in selecting a new system, Supervisor Katie Rice told County Administrator Matthew Hymel.

Civic Center officials say they are on track to select a new program by next summer after detailed study by a staff task force and expert analysis including $880,000 for consultants.

Although lauding the county's cautious, studied approach to planning for a new system, jurors found some of the same "deficiencies" in the program that torpedoed the last one. Management of the new project is inadequate, reliance on consultants too great, and county supervisors are not as involved as they should be, the panel observed, adding governance must be tightened and accountability assigned.

"Possibly the most glaring deficiency ... is the lack of a comprehensive project plan to guide all the key players and to measure progress," the jury concluded.

The administration's response said such a plan will be developed, adding, "project planning and change management activities have been occurring with each phase of this project to date."

Jury proposals to make the project manager a full-time post and issue regular briefings to supervisors also will be "implemented in the future." And jury recommendations providing for independent oversight advice and appointing the county administrator and information technology chief as project directors already have been implemented.

Jury proposals to ease up on consultants, and that when consultants are hired, county staffers acquire "missing expertise" from them, will require "further analysis," according to the response.

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

The jury said the county, and not consultants, should be in charge of the new computer plan. Just like last time, "the outside consultants seem to be the driving and controlling force," the jury reported. Yet the jury also urged an "objective advisory resource" or consulting adviser review the project and its risks.

Positive developments listed by the jury included involving high-tech staffers in decision making, better staff training, more staff "user input" and a goal of obtaining simpler software designed for government.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Culver City Ranked #3 in Los Angeles County’s 88 Cities in 2012-13

by Kelly Hartog, Editor, Culver City Patch -

Incorporated cities were judged on their fiscal health, governance, financial management and compensation.

As part of its recently released Final Report, the County of Los Angeles 2012-2013 Civil Grand Jury ranked Culver City #3 of the County’s 88 incorporated cities for the City’s outstanding performance in its fiscal health, governance, financial management, and compensation programs.

The Civil Grand Jury is empowered by state law to investigate county, city, and joint-powers agencies and acts in a “watch-dog” capacity by examining carefully and completely the operations of various government agencies within Los Angeles County.

Earlier in the year, the Grand Jury issued an in-depth questionnaire to each city involving the topics of fiscal management policies and practices, audit requirements, and public participation in the budget process. In response to the questionnaire, Culver City provided over 120 pages of City Council adopted policies, procedures, and other documents for evaluation. Based on those documents, the answers to the questionnaire, and follow-up investigations, the Grand Jury scored Culver City’s responses with a 94 percent, which ranks Culver City #3.

“There is a high level of transparency and solicitation of public involvement inherent in Culver City’s local government.” said Mayor Jeffrey Cooper. “Especially in today’s environment, the City is pleased that the Grand Jury’s Report recognizes Culver City’s fiscal management policies and practices as a model for other cities and the importance of spending the public’s money wisely and efficiently. The Culver City community can take pride in the results of this report!”

The Grand Jury’s Final Report can be accessed on the Grand Jury’s website at http://grandjury.co.la.ca.us/gjury12-13/Final%20Report%20%2012-13.pdf

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Editorial: Solano grand jury report raises questions about dog licensing

Published by The Reporter
POSTED: 08/18/2013 01:04:58 AM PDT

Representatives of Solano County and its seven cities have said they will get together during the next six months and work on addressing a grand jury report criticizing the disjointed way that animal control services are provided. That's all well and good, but the report raises a more fundamental question that ought to be addressed by the community at large: Should the county and cities continue to require licenses for dogs?

One of the grand jury's findings is that approximately 72 percent of dogs in Solano County are unlicensed. That means only 28 percent of dog owners follow the law -- about the same number as in 2002, when Solano County outsourced licensing duties to Texas-based PetData, in hopes of improving compliance rates.

For a while, it did. A 2009-10 grand jury report noted that PetData had managed to increase compliance to about 40 percent. Now the numbers have dropped again. Part of that fall-off, no doubt, is linked to the recession.

But there may be another contributing factor: The most recent grand jury report notes that only 20 of the 37 veterinarians in Solano County are filing required reports about the dogs that they vaccinate for rabies. The information on those reports is used, among other things, to send dog license notices to pet owners. Without knowing where the dogs are, the county, via PetData, can't send out those notices.

It's hard to know if noncompliance by so many veterinarians is new, but it's troubling. For one thing, it's required by state law -- as are dog licenses, for that matter. And the rabies vaccination reporting law isn't new. It's been around for decades. One would think that the veterinarians' own licenses to practice might be made contingent upon complying with the rabies reporting law.

But back to the dog licenses. The funds raised from licensing dogs -- it costs $60 in Vacaville and Benicia, and $40 in the county and other Solano cities -- help pay for animal care services: shelters to house lost or stray animals, officers to pick up wandering pets or carcasses in the streets, investigators of animal abuse or dog bites, etc.

The license fees don't cover everything, but they contribute a substantial amount. If every dog actually were licensed, it might even be possible to lower the current fees and still cover more of the costs. Given the experience of the past decade, though, it doesn't seem likely that the county will get close to 100 percent compliance any time soon. Besides, the matter of dog owners flouting the law isn't unique to Solano County. It's been estimated that, statewide, only about 40 percent hold them.

If that's true, it may be time to reconsider the whole licensing issue. After all, why should dog owners bear the entire responsibility? Animal control deals with plenty of stray cats on a regular basis, and other animals, large and small, periodically. It might make more sense to pay for those services with a tax on veterinary care or pet supplies and do away with dog licenses. That would require changes to state law.

For now, Solano County and its seven cities have to deal with the laws that are in effect. The Solano County Sheriff, who now runs the county's Animal Care Services, has agreed to lead a discussion with the cities to address the grand jury's concerns, including its criticism that the public is confused about who provides services in various jurisdictions.

Judging from the city responses to the grand jury report, it will be a timely discussion. In northern Solano County, Vacaville, Rio Vista, Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City are part of a consortium that contracts with Humane Animal Services, a division of the SPCA in Vacaville, to handle its animal control. While Vacaville and Suisun City -- which spend $293,000 and $80,000, respectively, each year for the service -- are content with that arrangement, Fairfield and Rio Vista have indicated that they are not. Noting that their annual costs are $280,000 and $51,000, respectively, Fairfield and Rio Vista officials stated that the company "has failed to provide upon request an accurate accountability of funding and expenses for over two years."

With the county's PetData contract coming up for renewal at the end of this fiscal year, this seems to be an ideal time for the cities and the county to come together to see how they might help each other provide quality animal care services for all of Solano County.

http://www.thereporter.com/editorials/ci_23887277/editorial-solano-grand-jury-report-raises-questions-about

Saturday, August 17, 2013

San Bernardino County DA Michael A. Ramos keeps focus on gangs

By Joe Nelson, Staff Writer, The SUN News -

Despite the shaky economy and budget woes, San Bernardino County's district attorney says he has no plans to cut back on resources to his hard-core gang prosecution unit.

DA Michael A. Ramos established the gang unit in 2005, when gang warfare raged through the county. The unit started out with three prosecutors, but quickly expanded to 15 at satellite offices around the county.

Then, in 2007, the economy tanked, and since then Ramos has had to make the same tough decisions other top county officials have had to make: where to cut costs while at the same time trying to maintain the proper level of service to taxpayers.

"It was tough. I lost 34 positions in 3-1/2 years," Ramos said in a telephone interview Friday.

But he refused to make such sacrifices in the gang unit.

"I had to make this a priority," Ramos said. "The minute you back off, it gets worse."

On Thursday, the District Attorney's Office released its second-quarter gang stats for 2013.

From April 1 through June 30, 194 gang cases were filed, with 134 defendants committed to state prison for a collective sentence of 996 years, the statistics show.

For the same period, 72 gang enhancements were found true and 13 of those defendants were found guilty by juries .

A gang enhancement adds years to a defendant's prison sentence if it is found true that the defendant was a gang member at the time of the offense or committed the crime to benefit a street gang.

In its annual report released on June 30, the county's civil Grand Jury recommended that county law enforcement officials should revisit a strategic plan drafted in 2005, at the height of the gang crisis, which recommended, among other things, a centralized database for tracking gang crimes using GIS technology and establishing research-based programs for at-risk youths.

The Grand Jury made the recommendation in order to assess how far law enforcement has come in implementing the recommendations and how effective the plan has been.

A migration of gang members and their families from Los Angeles to San Bernardino County in search of cheaper housing in 2005 helped fuel the increased gang activity. The city of San Bernardino logged 58 homicides that year.

The Grand Jury praised the District Attorney's Office for its use of enhanced sentencing for gang members.

County prosecutors secured 25 percent more state prison sentences against gang members for the first six months of 2012 than in all of 2011. Between January and June 2012, 158 gang members were sentenced to a cumulative 738 years in prison, according to data provided by the District Attorney's Office.

Ramos welcomes such a review.

Aside from aggressive prosecutions, he said his prosecutors have doggedly been working with the county Probation Department on intervention and prevention programs, including the Let's End Truancy (LET) and Gang Resistance Intervention Partnership (GRIP) programs, which are geared toward educating at-risk youths and their parents on the dangers of gangs and the importance of education to escape the cycle of violence and poverty so many of them face.

When prison realignment -- the shifting of parolee oversight from the state to county probation departments -- took effect in October 2011, the Probation Department, at a time when county employees were being given their pink slips, increased its number of officers to address the influx of parolees and probationers.

Gang members are more closely monitored as a rule of thumb, said Probation Department spokesman Chris Condon.

He also welcomes the Grand Jury's recommendation on revisiting the strategic plan from 2005 and presenting an update and how far the county has come in dealing with its gang problem.

San Bernardino County ranked third in the nation in 2011 in its gang population, with Cook County, Ill., having the second largest gang population nationwide and Los Angeles County having the largest, according to FBI statistics.

But there is hope.

"I do believe we're making considerable inroads," Condon said.

Since Ramos launched the gang unit in 2005, his office has filed 8,216 cases, resulting in 4,400 prison commitments.

"We continue our war against these gang members in San Bernardino County," Ramos said. "I have some of the best prosecutors in the nation working these cases."

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tehama County 2012-13 Grand Jury: Air Pollution District needs more consistency

By RICH GREENE, Red Bluff Daily News Staff Writer -

The Tehama County Air Pollution Control District and CalFire need to better communicate and the district needs to be more consistent with its fine schedule, the 2012-13 Grand Jury recommends in its report.

The Grand Jury reviewed the Air Pollution Control District focusing on the issuance of burn permits, reports and complaints, investigations, enforcement and documentation of illegal burns.

The review included how CalFire responded to reported burns and how its department documents and reports incidents to the Air Pollution Control District.

The Grand Jury found the latter to be an informal process where CalFire personnel who have responded to illegal burns may complete an agency report with violations for the Air Pollution Control District.

This typically happens with illegal residential burns, where the Grand Jury found the Air Pollution Control District is often reliant upon citizen complaints or notification from fire departments to learn about burn violations.

However there is no established procedure for the prompt delivery of reports.

The Grand Jury found while verbal explanations of violations and warnings form CalFire may be sufficient in some instances, the Air Pollution Control District is often delayed from hearing about more serious violations because of the lack of an established procedure.

The Grand Jury recommends the two agencies meet to agree on a set of communication procedures and action plans to implement them.

The Grand Jury also made recommendations regarding how the Air Pollution Control District deals with violations.

It found documentation related to potential illegal agricultural burns in the past three years were sometimes signed only by district employees and not the Air Pollution Control Officer.

The Grand Jury said it was unclear to them if all correspondence issued by the Air Pollution Control District was therefore reviewed and authorized by the control officer.

The Grand Jury recommends that the control officer or a designee sign all correspondence addressing alleged violations.

This would ensure consistency with both the professional quality of correspondence issued and provide an authority source for response by the recipient, the Grand Jury's report reads.

The Grand Jury also found inconsistencies between the fines paid by different violators.

Fines not determined by the California Health and Safety Code are set by the air pollution control officer.

Those fines are often based on the ability to pay based on income status as stated by the violator or other factors such as degree of violation or intent of the burn.

Fine amounts seem to be based on negotiating abilities between APCD and the alleged violator, rather than a consistent and predictable table of fines, the Grand Jury's report reads.

The Grand Jury recommends the Air Pollution Control District establish and document its level of fines, possibly still taking into account discretionary procedures such as infractions, degree of burning and intent.

However the document would eliminate the appearance of arbitrariness, favoritism or bias.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

(Santa Cruz) Meet Los Gatos Juror Nell Griscom

by Sheila Sanchez, Editor, Los Gatos Patch -

The foreperson on the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury, Los Gatos resident Nell Griscom, 50, is happy to explain what her duties are on the civil panel.

She says that unlike other states, California has civil and criminal grand juries in each county.

It's formed by the random selection of citizens following certain criteria such as being older than 18 years of age, having no felony convictions, etc.

The way Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties select the bodies is by sending out thousands of mailers once a year in the spring asking residents if they're interested in serving.

The commitment requires a lot of time, Griscom said, between 15 and 20 hours a week.

Citizens who express an interest normally attend a meeting where they receive information about the job. The field is narrowed to 60 candidates who are then selected by the Superior Court judge who presides over the grand jury, Griscom explained.

From there, the field of applicants is cut in half, with the magistrate looking for a cross section of people who represent different age groups, gender, ethnicities and parts of the county.

The names are then put into a pinball-like machine for random selection, Griscom said.

In Santa Cruz County, the jury consists of 19 people. Up to 10 can be held over from the previous year, but members can't serve longer than two years.

As the foreperson pro-tem for the group, Griscom comes to the job with the experience she acquired during her first year of service.

"The reason I wanted to be on the grand jury was because I knew so little about government in general. I've never held any political office and I just felt it would be a great way to learn a whole lot ... about local and county government and politics. I've really enjoyed it," said this married mother of two children.

It's not a lucrative assignment. Members of the grand jury receive compensation for mileage travel to meetings and a per diem stipend of $15.

A veterinarian by profession, Griscom lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but has a Los Gatos address, in unincorporated Santa Cruz County.

Among the hardest things to learn have been the legalities related to the job. "It's a big learning curve," she said.

The body issued five reports during the past fiscal year, Griscom said, adding that each dealt with a different county or local government topic.

The most difficult task yet was the examination of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, Griscom said.

"It was a tremendous number of documents that the people who worked on it had to read and go through ... they had to attend many meetings and interview a whole lot of people," she said. "It was very time consuming."

How are topics chosen for grand jury investigations? Griscom said the ideas could come from jurors as long as they don't have an "axe to grind" and citizen complaint forms filed online in any language.

The body decides whether the requests are within its purview and often begins investigations into areas it wasn't able to conduct in the previous year, she said.

Does the grand jury have any teeth? "All we can do is investigate and report," she said. "What we hope for is that either the agency we're reporting on repairs itself or, if it doesn't, the topic is picked up by public citizens and they form their own committees and keep the issue in the media's interest."

For example, she said, for many years the grand jury investigated the City of Watsonville because of its financial mismanagement. The panel submitted several reports a couple of years a in row about the problem and the municipality's response was that there was nothing wrong with their government and it was doing fine.

However, Griscom noted, the grand jury elected to do an independent financial audit of the city, which was unusual. Results were published in January.

"We're the local government's watchdogs. We're not trying to tear people down, we're just reporting problems and recommending ways to fix them," she said.

Griscom has one dog, two cats and one guinea pig at home. Her two sons attend Los Gatos High School. She's lived in the same house in the Los Gatos mountains for 19 years.

When her term expires, Griscom said she plans to join the California Grand Jury Association, which has chapters in most of the state's counties.

Such chapter members are being viewed as extra power for the grand juries, able to take up matters to higher powers to correct problems, if needed, Griscom said.

"I didn't know the grand jury existed until I got that letter. I thought that there were only criminal grand juries," she said.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Marin's top librarian embraces grand jury 'roadmap' for improvements

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

The county's new librarian is taking criticism from the civil grand jury to heart.

Sara Jones, who took over as chief of Marin's library operations last month, said officials will provide a "significant overview" of Measure A library tax funding when the county Library Commission meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Novato library at 1720 Novato Blvd.

Library commissioners, she said, will be provided with an "opportunity for input of further details, decisions and reports the commission is interested in for their further involvement."

Jones, in candid commentary included with the commission agenda this week, added she agreed that "more input and oversight is desirable," saying she thought a recent grand jury report had merit.

"I believe the grand jury's report provides a good road map for the future of the Marin County Free Library and establishes priorities for me as the new library director," she said.

"The report indicates staff feel they were not involved enough in planning," she noted. "A thorough strategic planning process is needed and staff will provide foundational input and that is a top priority for me."

She has scheduled an "all-staff meeting" for Sept. 27, coupled with a community telephone survey aimed at broadening planning perspectives while assessing resources and services.

Jones takes the helm in the wake of a particularly biting grand jury probe, with jurors contending that oversight of the annual $2.5 million library parcel tax fund was ineffective, plagued by "lack of involvement" from the library commission. The panel operates in the dark and asks few questions about a fragmented budget that makes expenses difficult to track, the jury said. Jurors portrayed the commission as having neither bark nor bite, saying commissioners engaged in "virtually no discussion or dialogue on substantive issues" and "gave no feedback, offered no opinions and had no open discussions of issues."

The commission, appointed by county supervisors in 2010 as the independent "watchdog" panel voters were promised would audit Marin's $49 Measure A parcel tax, has done little to fulfill its oversight role, with "input ... limited to twice-yearly reports from the library administration," the jury concluded, adding the panel has no communication with county supervisors.

County supervisors promptly reappointed four commission incumbents but otherwise gave the jury report a rare reception by embracing many of its observations. In a departure from business as usual, the Board of Supervisors agreed with or called for more study of most jury criticisms. "The library needs to do a better job of showing how the Measure A funds are being used to benefit the communities," supervisors agreed. "The library will work to improve this transparency."

Jones, head of the Carson City library system who was honored as Nevada's 2012 co-librarian of the year, took command of the Marin County library July 8.

In Carson City, colleagues credited the 51-year-old Jones with computer, media lab, business and youth club improvements as well as launching what one called "a team approach that was well-received and won over the rank and file."

She joins a Marin organization in which morale has been ebbing, with an employee survey indicating lackluster support for management. Issues cited by some include a "best seller" book priority mentality that comes at the expense of older works and resource materials that have been tossed out.

Jones earned a bachelor's degree in interpersonal communications from Boise State University and a master's in library and information science from Syracuse University.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Filing Urges Grand Jury to Take Action Against Filner

By Joel Hoffman, Voice of San Diego -

There’s been a lot of discussion among those who hope Mayor Bob Filner’s days as mayor are numbered over whether a resignation or a recall vote to oust him from office is better for the city.

But a recent filing underscores the possibility of a Plan C: the San Diego County Grand Jury.

A new grand jury complaint filed against Filner on Aug. 1 argues that an investigation into various dealings by the mayor is “necessary and the Grand Jury is the only body that can do so in a prompt and efficient manner.”

It says a recall would be next to impossible to carry out successfully because “no city in the state of California has a higher barrier” for a recall.

The filing cites Filner’s dealings with developer Sunroad, questions over the funding of his trip to Paris and sexual harassment accusations to bolster its argument that the Grand Jury should oust Filner.

A grand jury could potentially find enough evidence of “willful or corrupt misconduct in office” against Filner to indict him under a “rarely invoked” California state law, Logan Jenkins pointed out in the U-T.

By sticking to allegations that could be corroborated with documents and other tangible evidence, the filing gives the grand jury an opportunity to establish Filner has engaged in serious misconduct.

The lawyers behind the filing don’t have to prove Filner committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. They just have to establish with compelling evidence that he intentionally engaged in misconduct. The brief argues that there was clear intent behind Filner’s misconduct, and that it is enough for the grand jury to take action.

A grand jury indictment would lead to a jury trial. If a jury were to convict Filner, he would be immediately removed from office, but he would still have the right to appeal.

It is not clear how long it would take the grand jury to carry the process through to its conclusion, nor is it clear who filed the document, though he or she is being represented by the firm Lounsbery Ferguson Altona & Peak.

California law also states that “any officer subject to removal pursuant to this article may be removed from office for willful or corrupt misconduct in office occurring at any time within the six years immediately preceding the presentation of an accusation by the grand jury.”

But there is no time limit on grand jury proceedings and “it is entirely up to the grand jury to decide what to do with complaints, if anything,” William Trautman, president of the California Grand Juries’ Association, told VOSD in an email.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Marin officials: Grand jury medical marijuana plan a pipe dream

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

A Marin County Civil Grand Jury report urging that county officials ensure medical marijuana is available for those who need it went the way its title predicted this week: up in smoke.

The jury urged that the Board of Supervisors use "its authority to uphold access to medical marijuana within the county," develop "a viable set of ordinances" allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas, and direct health officials to establish standards for edible pot confections.

County officials indicated that the jury's recommendations were pretty much a pipe dream in light of a federal crackdown on dispensaries, but agreed to "continue to explore ways the county can support the intent of our voters."

In 1996, Proposition 215, the "Compassionate Use Act" — a measure which was supposed to make medicinal marijuana available — was endorsed by 73 percent of Marin voters.

The county board, in responding to the jury report this week, did not elaborate on how it would "explore" support of Proposition 215, but noted state law allows marijuana patients to form collectives to get pot and to grow their own plants.

The county board flatly rejected the jury's call to establish ordinances allowing pot dispensaries, or to develop standards for edible marijuana products.

"Given the federal law and recent enforcement actions, we are not taking action to change our land use and zoning codes for the permitting of marijuana dispensaries," the board agreed.

Supervisor Steve Kinsey said the federal government's position on pot is short-sighted. He added the Obama administration is "missing an opportunity to be a partner in this." Kinsey said a "future crisis" looms for marijuana patients because the last remaining marijuana dispensary in Marin, Marin Holistic Solutions in Corte Madera, loses its lease next year.

The grand jury's report noted that while dispensaries once operated in Novato, Kentfield, Sausalito, San Rafael, Fairfax and Corte Madera, all but one have been closed "by the passing of moratoriums and bans by local governments or under the threat of forfeiture by the federal government."

As a result, "safe access for patients who are medically approved to use marijuana is no longer ensured," the panel warned.

The jury report, which borrowed its title from the Cheech and Chong movie "Up in Smoke," included a disclaimer of sorts: "This report is not to be construed as advocating the use of marijuana for recreational purposes; this is not the grand jury's recommendation."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

(San Mateo) Grand jury report praises police outsourcing

By Rob Franklin

The decision to contract out Half Moon Bay’s law enforcement to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office for the past two years has proven an effective solution to protecting the community at a lower cost, according to the grand jury report released July 25.

Strapped for money due to rising costs and pressing bond debt, Half Moon Bay’s City Council re-evaluated the structure of its police department in 2009. To cut costs, its two options were to either combine police forces with the Pacifica department or to begin contracting services from the County Sheriff’s Office. In June 2011, the City Council chose to implement the latter strategy because it offered a sustainable solution at a lower cost.

Some residents initially opposed the decision, despite the guarantee that the transition would not result in layoffs of local officers. Two years later, however, the grand jury reports “general satisfaction” with the Sheriff’s effectiveness at serving residents while cutting costs in Millbrae, San Carlos and Half Moon Bay. This “general satisfaction” was measured through interviews, response at town hall meetings, and first-year surveys sent to those who had interacted with law forcement.

Contracting police services enhances efficiency by eliminating redundancies in administrative staff and gives the officers themselves more opportunity to advance professionally within a larger police structure, according to grand jury foreman Timothy Johnson. The transition also benefits the County Sheriff’s Office by stabilizing the budget and strengthening the staff, said Sheriff Greg Munks in a recent article in the Daily Journal.

All data indicates success. Since 2011, the $2.3 million contract has saved Half Moon Bay $500,000 annually “without any reduction in services,” according to the report. In fact, because of the savings, the city has been able to reinstate discretionary programs such as the “D.A.R.E. program, traffic control officers, and school resource officers.”

Additionally, the city of Millbrae recently reported a 17 percent decline in crime and a 37-second decrease in average response time in dealing with the Sheriff’s services. While no such statistics exist to suggest that a drop in crime has occurred in Half Moon Bay, the grand jury reports there has not been an increase in “police involved incidences” associated with the transition on the Coastside.

Supported empirically with data on improvement and public response, the grand jury report advises all three counties to continue contracting their police forces from the Sheriff’s Office. The cities addressed in the report, namely the Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, and San Carlos city councils, must respond to the findings within 90 days of the report’s publication.

Based upon the grand jury’s findings, the cities will likely continue their arrangements with the Sheriff’s Office. “It’s one of those rare occasions where everything panned out as planned. This saved the cities money, and people are still satisfied,” said Johnson.

http://www.hmbreview.com/news/grand-jury-report-praises-police-outsourcing/article_9a2ea2d4-004e-11e3-83c7-0019bb2963f4.html

(Marin) Critics spar with county on retiree health tab

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal -

The county is doing better than most other Marin agencies in dealing with the spiraling tab for retiree health care, but the civil grand jury says it should be doing more, and pension critics agree.

Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans urged county supervisors this week to tighten their fiscal grip on retiree health costs as advocated by the jury, but the county board agreed officials already are doing plenty to rein in what critic Jody Morales called a "Cadillac" health care plan.

With a minor addition, supervisors approved the administration's response to the jury's hard-hitting examination of Marin's retiree health care costs.

Speakers for the sustainable pension group contended current employees should share costs and should be required to work longer by "extending the age for benefits to commence." But county officials disagree, saying higher retirement ages "will not be implemented" and that changing cost programs for current employees requires analysis — and is a matter for the bargaining table.

"We agree with the grand jury that retiree health is a significant issue that needs to be addressed by nearly all public agencies," County Administrator Matthew Hymel said. "We have been aggressive in our efforts to reduce our long-term liabilities."

He noted the county adopted a lower-cost health plan for employees hired after 2008, contributed $26 million to a retiree health trust this year, will chip in $12.5 million next year, and intends to pay off unfunded liabilities over the next 30 years. Critics say a shorter payoff period should be required.

The only jury finding that both the supervisors and the critics agreed on was that local agencies "promising relatively generous benefits should provide clear justifications" to taxpayers. That's because retiree benefits vary widely, and the unfunded tab exceeds $522 million, posing a fiscal calamity for future taxpayers, the grand jury said.

Jurors said that in effect, the average household across all Marin cities owes about $5,700 to pay for retiree health care promised employees but left unfunded by elected officials. The liability at the county Civic Center was "$293 million or about $2,627 per county household," jurors added. Unfunded liability calculations range from highs of $7,982 per household in Mill Valley, $7,365 in Ross, and $7,127 in Corte Madera, to lows of $4,044 in Novato and $4,410 in Fairfax. Others include $4,484 in San Anselmo and $4,900 in San Rafael, as well as Belvedere, $5,184; Sausalito, $5,270; Larkspur, $5,374 and Tiburon, $5,500.

Barring action soon, "each Marin County household will be assessed significant additional taxes or will see a dramatic reduction in services," the grand jury warned.

The jury found that 26 agencies have set aside no funding at all for future health benefits — and only 12 have set aside more than 5 percent of the cost.

The jury noted the county pays $12 million a year to pay for health benefits for 1,400 retirees, or about $8,600 per year per retiree. In 2008, officials capped costs at $3,000 for new employees. But the jury found that county supervisors have funded only 8.2 percent of a $319 million tab for the retiree health benefits they have promised.

"The county's retiree health care liability is 92 percent unfunded," the jury reported. "In contrast, its pension liability is about 25 percent unfunded."

San Rafael has paid for 30.9 percent of its $35.2 million retiree health liability. Other agencies that have paid down or set aside some funding for future health benefits, with liabilities followed by the percent they have been funded, include: Tiburon Fire Protection District, $3.1 million, 26.7 percent; Fairfax, $1.28 million, 19.8 percent; Marin Municipal Water District, $44.77 million, 19.4 percent; Tamalpais High School District, $6.54 million, 19.3 percent; Central Marin Sanitation Agency, $3.55 million, 19.1 percent; Kentfield Fire Protection District, $2.39 million, 16.2 percent; Mill Valley, $28.1 million, 12.9 percent; Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District, $2.15 million, 12.5 percent; Ross Valley Fire Department, $5.12 million, 6.1 percent; Novato Fire District, $17.71 million, 5.4 percent; Southern Marin Fire Protection District, $5.49 million, 3.6 percent, and Corte Madera, $11.83 million, 0.3 percent.

At $12.03 million, the tiny Marin Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District posted the highest unfunded health liability among those with no payment program.

The Marinwood Community Services District, where veteran employees may retire at 50 after only five years of service, a generous benefit "unique among the entities the grand jury studied," no provision has been made for funding a $4.74 million liability. The Marinwood district alone has generated unfunded liability per household of about $2,750 or "four times that of any other special district the grand jury surveyed." When health liabilities of other agencies serving Marinwood are counted, the household tab is $6,195.

Agencies under a wave of red ink include San Rafael city schools, which have set aside no funding despite a $10.4 million liability. Liabilities of other agencies with no payment plan include:

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Grand jury: Filner's worst nightmare?

by Logan Jenkins, U-T San Diego -

Former District Attorney Paul Pfingst describes as “hallucinogenic chess” the maneuvering to blast Mayor Bob “Hell No I Won’t Go” Filner out of office.

To be sure, a surreal array of end games present themselves, all blurring into each other in a psychedelic traffic jam as alleged sexual harassment victims keep surfacing with drip-drip-drip regularity.

On Tuesday, yet another woman, a nurse advocating for a wounded Marine, came forward to add more sexually dark texture to the portrait of the mayor as an old letch.

So far, three plausible checkmates have received the most attention: resignation, probably under the clear and present danger of Filner’s “financial Armageddon,” as Pfingst puts it; recall, if more than 100,000 signatures can be gathered in the relative blink of an eye; and criminal prosecution, a clear-cut verdict even our thick-skinned mayor could not ride out.

Less remarked upon, however, is the rarely invoked Section 3060 in the California Government Code that empowers county grand juries to bring accusations of “willful or corrupt misconduct in office” against public officials.

If the grand jury gives its blessing, a Superior Court trial can take place. If found guilty of one or more accusations, the official is removed from office. No civil or criminal penalties are imposed. (As I understand it, criminal cases and civil lawsuits can take their own course.)

In 2002, the mayor of Mountain View, a city in Santa Clara County, was accused of violating the city’s charter by skirting the city manager’s authority for gain.

Empowered by 3060, the grand jury heard evidence and charged the mayor. The Superior Court jury found the mayor guilty not of corruption but of “knowing and willful misconduct.”

Just like that, Mayor Mario Ambra was thrown out of office. He’d had all the process he was due.

On Friday, attorneys with Lounsbery Ferguson Altona & Peak, an Escondido firm specializing in government law, sent a complaint to the county grand jury outlining a possible 3060 case against Mayor Filner.

Though some contend the city’s charter is a roadblock to the grand jury gambit, legal experts I consulted are convinced there’s a solid legal foundation for it to go forward if the facts, not simply the allegations, line up.

Interestingly, the North County firm’s complaint doesn’t focus on sexual harassment, the emotionally combustible charges that set off the anti-Filner wildfire. Instead, it takes the Sunroad to France, so to speak.

To be sure, it’s an open question what the grand jury will do. A veil of secrecy is drawn over its thought process. And remember, any legal proceeding takes time. There’s no guarantee this method of mayoral extrication would be faster than, say, a recall.

Nevertheless, Pfingst believes it’s increasingly plausible that the state attorney general will wind up standing in for DA Bonnie Dumanis, who has recused herself, to prosecute Filner in a 3060 trial.

No matter what, it’s notable that a potent chess piece is in play to chase the rehabbing Filner into a position from which he cannot continue in office.

As if we needed further proof that You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, let’s go back to 1999, Mayor Susan Golding’s last year in office.

In what was widely seen as an eccentric exercise of its powers, the county grand jury accused Golding of a secret quid pro quo with the San Diego Hotel-Motel Association to pass Proposition C, the downtown ballpark measure, and sought her ouster from office.

In a sharp rebuke to the grand jury, Judge Wayne Peterson declared Golding factually innocent. Then and there, the 3060 case died. In his ruling, Peterson blistered the watchdog group, saying the charges were “more an indictment of the grand jury” than of the mayor.

Shortly after being taken to the woodshed, foreman Peter DiRenza addressed a progressive crowd and defended the anti-Golding effort.

“The people who don’t want the grand jury are afraid of the grand jury,” he declared. “They don’t want the skeletons coming out of the closet.”

Among those voicing support for the jury’s aggressive attitude toward suspected mayoral malfeasance was a particularly noisy congressman.

Yes, you guessed it.

From the back of the audience, Bob Filner drew applause when he shouted: “I just want you to know there’s one public official who says thank you!”

How rich the irony if the grand jury, often derided as gone in the teeth, proves to be a decisive piece on the surreal chessboard.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Maltbie vs. (San Mateo) Grand Jury

August 05, 2013, 05:00 AM By Sue Lempert

This is a tale of good accounting practices versus public relations. San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie stirred up an outpouring of editorials, letters to the editor and chatter when he attacked the civil grand jury for a lack of transparency. He also didn’t like the grand jury’s recommendations regarding the county’s fiscal accountability.

Maltbie is not one to be taken lightly. He was called back from retirement to lead the county once again and supervisors have renewed his contract. They wish he would never leave because the county has been in excellent shape in his hands. The core of his objection to the grand jury’s criticism makes sense. It is dangerous for any governmental entity to use one-time or irregular sources of revenue for ongoing expenses. The cities and school districts who did this in times of financial crisis are still suffering the consequences. The grand jury felt that the Educational Revenue Augmentation Funds, money left over after schools reach their funding requirements, was reliable enough to be shown as revenue in the operating budget. The county has received ERAF money since 2004. But Maltbie and the board have calculated this revenue separately from the regular budget because they are not guaranteed.

The problem, according to the grand jury, was that the county successfully went to the voters for a sales tax increase and did not reveal that these ERAF money made the actual amount on hand more than the advertised budget deficit. It’s smart accounting, but bad for public confidence in local government.

Meanwhile, the county has achieved a half-cent sales tax increase for the next 10 years by telling voters there would be drastic cuts unless the measure passed. There is no guarantee that ERAF money will be coming into county coffers regularly for the next 10 years. And the county, as a provider of indigent care, needs the funds. However, it’s bad news for future tax or bond measures.

The usually political savvy Maltbie made a big mistake in going after the grand jury. The grand jury, whose rules are governed by state law, is an investigative, not a governing body. Investigative bodies need to meet and question people in private. In contrast, we expect our elected officials to do their business in public. It’s not atypical for savvy politicos to go after the grand jury if they don’t like their recommendations. When a former grand jury advised that the county was going to lose its shirt if BART to SFO was approved, former state senator Quentin Kopp (the father of the BART extension) went ballistic. Grand juries perform a useful public service. We need to support them. And if local governments don’t like their recommendations, there is no law which says they have to carry them out. Some think that’s too bad.

*** http://www.smdailyjournal.com/articles/opinions/2013-08-05/maltbie-versus-the-grand-jury/1772958.html

Solano County supervisors respond to grand jury criticism

By Melissa Murphy, The Reporter -

The Solano County grand jury didn't hold back its criticism in a report regarding the lack of performance evaluations at the county administration level.

Now, the Solano County Board of Supervisors is now responding to the grand jury's findings and recommendations.

Departments criticized for being out of compliance include the Registrar of Voters, Health and Social Services and the Sheriff's Office, all of which the grand jury said were lagging considerably. A random sample of personnel files found that employees in the registrar's office were waiting at least 46 months between evaluations, the report said. It was slightly more than 25 months in Health and Social Services and 21 months in the Sheriff's Office.

While the Registrar of Voters division disagrees with the finding, it is implementing a recommendation that all staff receive performance evaluations annually at the time of their employment anniversary.

Additionally, the Department of Human Resources agreed with the grand jury on its lack of performance evaluations. They agreed to include the evaluations with the managers' appraisals.

In an effort to implement corrective action and continuously improve the process, the Sheriff's Office is working with the Human Resources Department to "develop and implement a better tracking mechanism to ensure timely submission of annual performance evaluations," according to the board's response.

Also, the grand jury found that many individual personnel records were missing annual performance evaluations.

In the board's response, county officials said the County Administration Office has already implemented the grand jury's recommendation to ensure that all personnel evaluations comply with county policy and procedures and forwarded to the Department of Human Resources in a timely manner for inclusion in the individual files.

Additionally, an analysis is being done to determine if there are performance evaluations that still need to be submitted to the Department of Human Resources.

In the past, the Department of Human Resources didn't track performance evaluations and did not record performance evaluations into a centralized database because individual departments tracked the due dates for the employee's next performance evaluation.

That has since partially changed, according to the board's response.

The information system for Human Resources does include fields for recording when an employee's performance evaluation is next to be completed and when the last one was given.

"The Human Resources Department is working with all county departments to populate those fields so that departments can run their own monthly reports on upcoming and past-due performance evaluations," the response said.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

(Ventura) Council deliberates carefully on response to grand jury

By Stephanie Guzman, Camarillo Acorn -

Reportfinds fault with cities’ bus systems


The Camarillo City Council was reluctant to make any sort of a commitment in its response to a grand jury report that found seniors have a hard time getting around the county using public transportation.

The Ventura County grand jury released the results of its yearlong investigation in May and made five recommendations.

The grand jury cannot force the county or cities to do anything, but city councils and the county Board of Supervisors are obligated to respond to the report.

The Camarillo City Council agreed earlier this month that the city’s response letter should be carefully worded and not include phrases such as “committing to.”

A draft of the letter was reviewed by the council July 10, and the letter was approved during the council’s July 24 meeting.

The jury’s report states there is little to no coordination among cities’ public transportation services and schedules, making it “difficult, if not impossible” for senior citizens to travel easily within the county.

The report focused on senior citizens who may be unable to drive due to medical conditions or don’t have access to a vehicle.

While it’s relatively easy for a resident to travel in Camarillo using local bus services, it could take hours for a person to travel from Camarillo to Ventura, which is normally a 20-minute drive.

The jury’s report asked the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to allocate more funding toward coordinating transportation between the cities.

Councilmember Bill Little said the recommendation is directed at the county Board of Supervisors and doesn’t understand why the city has to comment on a recommendation the city has no control over.

“Basically, if the county wants to increase their funding, we have no comment on it as long as they can afford it,” Little said.

The jury suggested the county create a nonelected administrator position to oversee the programs and serve as an advocate for senior transit riders.

The council disagreed with the proposal and said the Ventura County Transportation Commission already has staff to handle such efforts.

The jury also recommended a countywide transportation plan for seniors, with help from the Ventura County Transportation Commission and the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging.

Mayor Charlotte Craven said plan administrators could ask Camarillo to make its bus prices and hours the same as other cities, something the council shouldn’t agree to do.

Councilmember Jan McDonald agreed with Craven and said the county and other agencies shouldn’t have the ability to dictate how much the city charges for its services.

“The Ventura County Transportation Commission or the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging doesn’t have the ability to come in and tell us what to do or how to run it,” McDonald said. “We are our own entity.”

The council’s response letter states Camarillo will continue to improve programs aimed at senior riders within the city.

Council members pointed to the recent decision to add hours to the city’s Dial-A-Ride program, a service that picks up residents from their homes and charges seniors $1.50 per trip.

The city expanded hours on Saturday evenings and added Sunday services, improvements that will cost the city $80,000 a year to operate.

Cities and the county have until the end of the month to respond to the grand jury’s report and recommendations.

Friday, August 2, 2013

(San Mateo) Report asserts county has been fabricating deficit

By Rob Franklin, Half Moon Bay Review -

San Mateo County’s Board of Supervisors has been fabricating a “structural deficit” for the past decade to maintain a budgetary surplus, according to the civil grand jury’s report released last Monday. The report asserts that the county has neglected to recognize all sources of revenue when outlining the annual budget, habitually omitting what is called Excess ERAF.”

“The structural deficit only seems to exist because the county chooses not to recognize Excess ERAF,” said the 2012-2013 grand jury foreman Timothy Johnson in a phone interview.

The term Excess ERAF refers to the surplus left when Educational Revenue Augmentation Funds exceed school funding requirements. In 1992, the State of California created ERAF as a means to address the state deficit’s toll on the education budget. The mandate stipulates that individual counties are partially responsible for funding education and must reallocate specified portions of property tax revenue to ERAF.

San Mateo County is one of just three counties with an excess of ERAF along with Napa and Marin, due primarily to high property values. With Excess ERAF included, there has not been an actual deficit “since at least 2003,” according to the grand jury’s report.

The county says that the excess money should not be incorporated into the annual budget as revenue, considering it as “one-time” amounts because the state can cut the program at any time.

In a biting op-ed for the Daily Journal that responds to the grand jury’s report, San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie criticized the grand jury for both its secrecy and their perceived “abysmal lack of understanding of the principles and practices of budgeting and financial management.” Maltbie echoes the rationale that the county board does not incorporate Excess ERAF because it takes a “conservative approach to budgeting uncertain funding sources.”

“They say it’s one time, but they don’t treat it as such,” said Johnson in response. In the past, the excess money has been used for ongoing operations, for various county projects such as new jail properties, and to balance the budget for the past five fiscal years, according to the report.

The dubious deficit has also been used to sway legislation, according to the grand jury. The report accuses the county of hiding the true nature of its finances in order to deceive voters into supporting tax increase measures T, U, X, and A in 2012.

In the June 5, 2012 election, the ballot arguments in favor of these measures cited that the county was dipping into reserves each year to balance the budget, making San Mateo’s finances appear strained.

For T and X, the official statement included, “next year, San Mateo County will face another $28 million budget deficit, an amount that could exceed $50 million by 2017, even while utilizing reserves.” While the Board reported a $28 million deficit, it actually had a $26 million surplus with everything accounted for, according to Johnson.

Based upon its findings, the grand jury offers various recommendations for the Board of Supervisors including: that they begin listing Excess ERAF in the budget, that they cease stating that the county has a deficit unless all revenue streams are accounted for, and, lastly, that the Board adopt a procedure in which they provide a financial report of all anticipated revenue and expenses when tax measures come to public vote.

These provisions reflect a desire for more transparency in government, especially when it comes to county finances. Though not legally bound by the recommendations, the county board must respond officially within 90 days by holding an open session to address the findings.

The Board maintains that the structural deficit is not only very real but also critical, according to Board of Supervisors President Don Horsley.

“Talk to the person who runs our county hospital about the cuts they’ve been forced to make. Talk to the employees and unions who haven’t had a raise in five years,” said Horsley. “If you just look at budget books, you may come to one conclusion, but talk to the people who have been affected directly.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

(Alameda) Oakland Public Ethics Commission Laments Lack Of Power, Jurisdiction (Analysis)

Steven Tavares, Oakland Local -

The Oakland Public Ethics Commission is having a major identity crisis. After years of being part of Oakland’s backwater of appointed boards and commissions and without any tangible power, a scathing Alameda County civil grand jury report has breathed new life into what should be the city government’s ethical compass.

Although, ironically, the county civil grand jury has no power to enforce its findings, either; its words tend to have weight. Coupled with a City Council interested in burnishing a new public image, a new council president and its three new members, along with a public bent on greater government transparency, the time may be ripe for change at the Public Ethics Commission.

However, until then, the commission faces a host of problems some critics deem were designed to defang the potency of a group created and financed by the Oakland City Council ostensibly to keep watch of themselves and other city agencies. The commission has no power to fine or reprimand those found in violation of city rules and can only forward potential violations to the Alameda County District Attorney. In fact, it’s jurisdiction over matters is so limited in scope that it was forced last year to turn down 18 different cases brought to their attention.

Its staff numbers just two and it hopes promises by the City Council to boost the commission’s budget will yield a staff of at least five. Comparably, according to the grand jury report, San Francisco‘s ethics commission employs a staff of 17. The council’s power of the purse and a legal structure seemingly at odds with an independent government watchdog has long hamstrung the commission.

The grand jury’s report released last June scolded the City Council for not funding the commission. Some members of the commission have questioned the role of the city attorney’s office, which acts as the its legal counsel while also representing the levels of government under the commission’s purview. Although, the commission admits the current legal arrangement has not been an issue, it may consider the option of hiring outside counsel, said Whitney Barazato, the executive director of the Public Ethics Commission, “if not for public perception.” Barazato is appointed by the mayor.

Among the powers the ethics commission may seek include, formulating rules for disciplinary action, the ability to issue advisory and warning letters to violators, administrative fines, debarment, censure and the removal of public officials from office for misconduct.

A working group created by Councilmember Dan Kalb is due to convene in the next few weeks with the hopes of bringing the City Council a publicly-vetted proposal to strengthen the commission’s role in Oakland city government. Kalb told the commission last week his goal is to have plan ready for the City Council by January 2014. “Hopefully we’ll have something that is strong,” said Kalb, including what he called a package of recommendations featuring not only an ordinance, but tweaks to a number of laws already on the books. However, Kalb told the commission, “I can’t make any promises now.”

Last week, the contentious censure hearing into alleged violations of the City Charter by Councilmember Desley Brooks fell short, but yielded a motion approved to create specific rules for censure. An amendment to the motion offered by Brooks also faulted past and seemingly widespread violations of the city’s non-interference laws by council members. The general admission may be an opening for the ethics commission going forward.

With a high-profile grand jury report advocating for beefing up the commission’s powers, coupled with strong support by the public and local media, Roberta Johnson, a member of the commission, thinks a perfect storm exists for change. “It’s appropriate to have an ethical presence in Oakland,” she said. “If there is an opportune time, this is it.”