Saturday, September 28, 2013

(San Diego) Community Leaders Discuss Issue of Teacher-Student Bullies

By Rory Devine and R. Stickney, -

Throwing a book across a classroom, name calling, screaming – these are examples of misbehavior by adults targeted at students in the classroom.

Administrators of the San Diego Unified School District met with parents, educators and city leaders to discuss how to handle accusations made against employees of the district when it comes to adult-on-child bullying.

At issue: how does a parent alert the school or the district if a child was mistreated by school staff?

Thursday’s meeting stemmed from a Grand Jury report that criticized the district for not having an effective policy of investigating complaints against employees who may be bullying children.

Parents say concerns go beyond children being mentally abused and include neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse of children at school. The incidents, they say, go unreported.

“We have a culture of silence and a culture of vilifyng people who come forward with concerns,” said parent Judy Neufeld.

She said the schools have to change that and focus on child safety.

“Teacher bullying is illegal under the mental anguish law, so is neglect of children, so is physical assault on children and so is predation. We’ve seen all these types of concerns not be responded to appropriately in schools,” Neufeld said.

Parents want a clearinghouse, independent of the district, so complaints can be directed to the right agency for investigation.

They also want school staff to have better training so they know when they are mandated to report child abuse.

Representatives from the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, San Diego Unified School Police, San Diego Police Department and agencies involved with child protection discussed how to increase public awareness of the issue.

“We’re trying to be responsive to what we’re hearing and make sure we’re striving always to support student safety,” said Moises Aguirre, Executive Director of District Relations.

Several agencies suggested creating videos on mandated reporting laws and how parents can report child abuse at school.

Superintendent Cindy Marten has also set up a one-stop complaint center with the goal to track complaint and address them.
“We don’t want to say there’s an easy solution because we understand we are dealing with very sensitive issues,” Aguirre said.

“There’s definitely many areas we need to review carefully so we can put together a more focused more comprehensive solution rather than a piecemeal solution.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

(Ventura) City of T.O. rejects grand jury’s recommendation to sellThe Lakes

By Anna Bitong, Thousand Oaks Acorn -

The City of Thousand Oaks has roundly rejected a recommendation by the Ventura County civil grand jury that it sell its property near the Civic Arts Plaza to help pay off debt owed by its former redevelopment agency, saying that such a sale would be illegal.

The recommendation was included in a June report by the 19-person grand jury, which looked at the history of the nowdefunct RDA and its land dealings on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

In it, the grand jury, which serves as an ombudsman over the county, encourages the city to sell the 7.5-acre site at 2200 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. known as The Lakes, and nearly 3 acres of industrial-zoned land west of City Hall known as the Westside Property to pay back more than $200 million in RDA debt. The city is continuing its efforts to retain property assets formerly controlled by the RDA, including The Lakes site.

“What the grand jury is recommending can’t be done under the law,” Assistant City Attorney Chris Norman said at the Sept. 10 City Council meeting. “Under the RDA law, the city cannot use any proceeds gained from the sale of (RDA properties). Proceeds would have to be remitted to taxing entities (the county and the state).”

In short, Norman said, the city cannot benefit financially from the sale of the property, which the former RDA acquired using local tax dollars in 1991.

Rachel Wagner, city spokesperson, said The Lakes property was part of a larger parcel when it was acquired. The prorated cost for the 7.5-acre site was nearly $6.7 million.

“Only 6 percent of the proceeds would go to the city of Thousand Oaks,” Councilmember Al Adam said Sept. 10. “The rest would go to the so-called taxing entities. . . . Ultimately I am confident that the ownership of that property will revert to the City of Thousand Oaks and to you, the taxpayers.”

To that end, a paid consultant has been collaborating with city staff to draft a long-range plan for the management of former RDA assets, the city attorney said. The plan will be reviewed by the city’s finance department and a local oversight board formed to wind down the RDA’s financial obligations before going to a public hearing for final approval.

“It is premature to comment on the best way to dispose of assets,” said Norman of the former RDA, which in 2010-11 had an assessed value of $2.1 billion.

City responds

The grand jury’s investigation into the former RDA was initiated by a public complaint. The resulting report, which includes 27 “facts” and 12 “findings,” criticized the lease agreement between the city and Caruso Affiliated, which developed The Lakes, as a failed partnership that didn’t benefit either side.

In 2004, developer Rick Caruso signed a 55-year lease, with options to extend for four additional 10-year periods, to develop and manage the former Jungleland property east of the Civic Arts Plaza. The agreement allows Caruso to lease the property for free in years the center does not earn at least 12 percent of the $17.6 million he invested in The Lakes.

The City Council signed the deal after Caruso agreed to reduce the size of the project and provide amenities on the property, including a 2.5-acre public park and an ice skating rink. The park cost $2 million to build and requires $75,000 a year to maintain.

Since opening in 2005, the center has not been able to reach the 12 percent threshold.

According to the city, “The negotiated threshold of return on the lease is a cumulative 12 percent, (which) was in line with the typical rate of return used in development agreements statewide in 2006.”

But Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña, a longtime critic of The Lakes deal, said 12 percent was not the market rate.

“At the time that was still considered a high return,” she said.

“The grand jury is factually correct. There is nothing to disagree with because the threshold still has not been met in 10 years,” she said, adding, “Overall, it was a well-put-together response to the grand jury.”

In its response, the city also takes issue with the jury finding that the sales tax the city received from The Lakes dipped from about $267,000 in 2006 to $156,000 in 2012, saying that the decline was a result of the economy, not the shopping center’s shortcomings.

“Most businesses in Thousand Oaks reported declines from 2006 to 2012. The Lakes was not unique,” its response said.

Norman also noted that the grand jury report contained some factual errors—for example, the jury erroneously reported the size of the Westside Property.

And the grand jury said that the RDA used eminent domain authority to acquire the property where The Lakes and the Civic Arts Plaza and City Hall are located, contrary to city documents that state eminent domain was not used.

The city responded that “the use of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes occurred in one instance over 20 years ago to acquire a single parcel.”

The full city response to the grand jury report can be found on the Sept. 10 City Council agenda consent calendar, item 7C, on the city website,

The grand jury report can be found at under annual reports for FY 2012-13.

Monday, September 23, 2013

OC Supervisors Deny Bungling Bustamante Investigation

By TRACY WOOD, Voice of OC -

In their latest response to the most outspoken grand jury in recent memory, Orange County supervisors this month denied bungling the investigation of Carlos Bustamante, a former county Public Works Department manager accused of a dozen felony sex crimes involving numerous females who worked for him.

Board members do agree, however, with the grand jury that they’re generally doing a good job of cleaning up afterwards.

In a 5-0 vote Sept. 17, the supervisors approved a response to the 2012-2013 grand jury’s report, “The Goal of Equal Employment Opportunity: NO VICTIMS.”

The June report was the final and least controversial of four grand jury reports that infuriated county supervisors by raising ethical and corruption issues as well as describing an “atmosphere of fear” that grand jurors said prevented female county workers from reporting sexual harassment.

At one point, supervisors were so angry they denied the grand jury an additional $20,000 to finish its year of work.

The report on anti-harassment policies was released June 27 and recounted changes to county Human Relations policies in the wake of Bustamante’s dramatic July 2, 2012, arrest as he was enroute to Santa Ana City Hall.

Bustamante, who was a top county executive since 2003, was a member of the Santa Ana City Council and a rising star in Orange County Republican politics.

He resigned his county position in the fall of 2011 and has consistently maintained he is innocent of the accusations. He’s been charged with 12 felonies and four misdemeanors, including assault with intent to commit a sexual act, false imprisonment and sexual battery.

Bustamante’s arrest led to a rash of top-level county management departures and reassignments as questions were raised about what his bosses, including county supervisors, knew and when they knew it.

Voice of OC continues to challenge the county in court, trying to require officials to disclose records of how county supervisors and top executives handled the affair.

As part of its report on sexual harassment at the county, the grand jury did its own investigation of circumstances surrounding the Bustamante case and wrote:

"Although details will not be nor can they be revealed in this study, suffice it to say that each Grand Jury Panel Member was appalled at the alleged behavior and alarmed by the ineptitude of County managers who investigated complaints of sexual misconduct."

County supervisors disagreed. In their Sept. 17 response, they asserted:

"In one instance, inconsistencies in how existing policy was interpreted and carried out came to light during a recent, high-profile case. Once notified, the Board took swift action to correct the deficiencies that led to this situation."

The grand jury applauded the county for beginning to correct its human resources activities by reinstating a centralized system rather than allowing each agency to have its own human resources office, a practice that led to some HR departments having problems with “compliance, harassment, discrimination and/or retaliation violations which they often did not recognize.”

In their response to the grand jury, supervisors said they will continue centralizing human resources operations.

The grand jury also surveyed the county and 33 of the county’s 34 cities — Westminster didn’t participate — to see how they handled anti-harassment training and other issues.

Cities “appear to be on the cutting edge in their awareness of he potential tragedies and/or liabilities associated with sexual harassment and discrimination,” the grand jury concluded.

One highlighted area where many cities and the county needed to improve was in training “line staff” about existing laws, according to the jurors. While the county and all cities train managers and supervisors at least every two years in compliance with state and federal laws, most cities and the county provided no training for “line staff” because it wasn’t a legal requirement.

“Since it is line staff that generally files [harassment] complaints,” the grand jury reported, “it is critical that they understand their rights and their recourse when filing complaints.”

The county agreed and said the approximately 13,500 nonmanagement or supervisory staff will get online training beginning in a few weeks.

The grand jury had concluded, however, that in-person classes are more effective than online classes.

In the wake of the Bustamante scandal, county officials who were let go included Public Works Director Jess Carbajal, Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis and CEO Tom Mauk.

Mauk denied his resignation was connected to Bustamante. He received $270,000 in severance pay, “full indemnification and defense in any civil or administrative proceeding” and an agreement that the county would provide him with the legal counsel of his choice in any matter, up to an hourly rate of $300.

County supervisors have tried to keep secret documents that could answer questions about what top management and possibly supervisors themselves knew about accusations against Bustamante before he was let go.

Voice of OC has court cases and appeals pending in an effort to make those records public.

A county internal report conducted after Bustamante’s arrest determined the Public Works department was a dysfunctional organization plagued by meddling from county supervisors’ offices and Mauk on contracts for influential contractors as well as on property improvements for select constituents.

That report, which was obtained by Voice of OC, found that “past OC Public Works executive leadership has created cultures of favoritism, poor communication, organizational manipulation, and discrimination that have spawned low morale, distrust, and fear within [Public Works].”

Much of the blame for the Bustamante scandal was leveled at the county’s system of giving each agency its own human relations department rather than having a single HR department for all of county government. To save money, HR duties were decentralized after the 1994 bankruptcy.

In the months after Bustamante’s arrest, the county’s human relations system was recentralized. The county also modernized its harassment complaint system, including addressing the accusation that employees were afraid they’d be punished for trying to report Bustamante’s alleged crimes.

In May, the grand jury issued the report that described an “atmosphere of fear” that “seemed to come from the very top of County government” and prevented county employees from reporting sexual harassment, among other issues.
That report came just a day after supervisors refused a grand jury request to augment its budget by $20,000 so it could finish the work of its one-year term by June 30.

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

The ethical standards report recommended creation of a county ethics commission, a proposal that was rejected by county supervisors.

Friday, September 20, 2013

(San Diego) PUSD disputes findings in grand jury’s bond report

By Steve Dreyer, Pomerado News -

The Poway Unified School District is taking issue with portions of a San Diego County Grand Jury report that was highly critical of the use of capital appreciation bonds by several districts in the region.

The Poway district’s required response to the May report disagrees with three of the jury’s findings of fact. The report also declined to comment specifically on any of the jury’s four recommendations, saying that “further analysis” by the district would be required.

See full PUSD respond here.

The grand jury’s report called for “countywide school bond reform.” Those reforms should include “greater citizen oversight of bond requirements and increased transparency of total bond costs and future outlays,” the report said.

Many of the jury’s recommendations are incorporated into Assembly Bill 182, which is on the governor’s desk for signature.

State law required all 47 school districts in the county to respond to the report. All responses were due by Aug. 20. Poway, one of two districts that did not meet the deadline, received an extension to this past Tuesday, when its response was filed.

The Poway district has come under extensive public criticism for proceeding with a $105 million CAB that will eventually cost nearly $1 billion over the next 40 years. The voter-approved bonds were used to complete renovations at several PUSD campuses. However, district taxpayers will not begin paying on the bonds for 20 years, until after previously approved construction bonds are retired. As the grand jury report notes, the payoff ratio of the CABs is over 9 to 1 and there was no provision allowing for the early repayment of the bonds.

Comprised of four pages, the PUSD response said the district complied with the state Election Code in the wording of the bond measure presented to district voters. It also took issue with the jury’s finding that “The practice of artfully inflating the interest rate to generate premium for unauthorized uses allows additional bond proceeds over and above what the voters authorized.”

“We disagree with the statement …” the PUSD response says. “A premium is an amount paid by an individual bond purchaser over and above the principal amount. That bond premium is not debt and does not constitute part of the amount of the issued bond; it is not part that needs to be repaid.”

The grand jury report found that “Bond initiatives and propositions typically do not provide information as to the cost of principal and interest payments. The amount can be exponentially larger than the original principal in bond measures that employ a CAB structure.”

The district disagreed, saying “Bond initiatives always contain an estimated tax rate necessary to pay the cost of principal and interest payments. The District disagrees with this finding because information is publicly available and shared by the District in full with the voters.”

The jury report endorsed the provisions of AB 182, which the report said will require school districts to provide greater transparency to voters regarding the terms and conditions of CABs and require mandatory early redemption (call) guarantees.

The Poway district response: “The Poway Unified School District has always complied with all applicable laws when issuing any bonds. The District will continue to follow any laws passed by the State Legislature.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Merced County supervisors to consider federal funding for Sheriff’s Department

By Ramona Giwargis, Merced Sun-Star -

The Merced County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is scheduled to consider approving an additional $15,000 in federal funding for the Sheriff’s Department to combat illegal marijuana grows.

The funding comes from the Drug Enforcement Administration and would pay for overtime, training and the department’s aviation unit.

This federal program, now in its seventh year, helps the county pay for operation expenses and equipment for the eradication of illegal marijuana.

The $15,000 is in addition to $75,000 already allotted to the Sheriff’s Department, but “due to the significant amount of illegal marijuana being grown in the Central Valley, the DEA recognizes the need for additional funding,” according to county documents.

Supervisors will also consider accepting a $1,300 donation earmarked for the Sheriff’s Department canine unit.

In a separate agenda item, the board is required to respond to Merced County Grand Jury recommendations. Supervisors will consider approving a response letter on Tuesday.

The grand jury inspected John Latorraca Correctional Center on Sandy Mush Road and recommended that the county determine whether the facility can handle an increasing population of higher-risk inmates.

The board responded by saying it approved a plan last month to pursue grant funding through Senate Bill 1022 to build a new jail, which will house more inmates and improve security.

The supervisors will also view a presentation about childhood obesity before considering adopting a proclamation to declare September to be Childhood Obesity Awareness Month in Merced County.

The board will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building, 2222 M St., Merced.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Editorial (Tulare) Grand jury

September 13, 2013 6:00 AM

As a former member and foreman of the Tulare County Grand Jury, I was amused at Interim Publisher Rick Elkins’ article about the Grand Jury.

It appears the jury did exactly what it was supposed to do: inquire, investigate if necessary and report if appropriate.

All activity conducted in the jury room is secret and may not be disclosed.

Each juror takes an oath when impaneled, which includes the following.

“I will not disclose any evidence brought before the grand jury, nor anything which I or any other grand juror may say, nor the manner in which I or any other grand juror may have voted on any matter before the grand jury. I will keep the charge that will be given to me by the court.”

If an investigation is handed to the district attorney, you would have no way of knowing, and should not, because of the possibility of interfering with the investigation.

The reason for an investigation can be a citizen’s complaint, information gleaned from the media or one or more jurors suggestions, which would have to be voted on. An investigation can be carried over to the next jury if the court deems it necessary.

Three persons are named in the article. Although only one person was quoted directly, it appears all gave information to the Recorder about their interviews with the grand jury.

Each person witnessing before the Grand Jury is admonished by the court. (A written admonishment that prohibits them from discussing what questions, subject matter, or other information they discussed that day) If any of these three discussed the events of the session they attended, they could have violated the law.

The article also cites the jurors serve two-year terms. The jurors serve a one-year term and may at the court’s discretion be held over for a second term. They may serve a maximum of two years. The court must hold over one juror, but in Tulare County they usually hold over three to five jurors for a second term.

For more information, see California Penal Code Title 4 (888-939) or contact the California Grand Jury Association.

Bill White

(Tulare) Grand jury probe sputters out

Jury mum as usual
September 03, 2013 8:48 AM

The not-so-secret Tulare County Civil Grand Jury probe into alleged wrongdoings in the city has apparently ended with nothing from the jury.

John Duran, the citizen who filed a complaint against the city, told The Recorder last week that he has received a letter from the jury foremen telling him that the jury had reviewed all the allegations “and they concluded no further investigation was needed.”

Duran said he is now taking his complaint to the state Attorney General’s Office. Without going into specifics, Duran said his complaint deals with what he feels is a misappropriation of funds.

He said he was not certain, but he hoped the grand jury would have at least turned over its findings to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office.

While not confirming if that had occurred, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Fulz said the jury has forwarded investigations to the DA’s office in the past.

As was the case last spring when he grand jury was subpoenaing residents and then grilling them for more than two hours, the jury has refused to comment. Several calls by The Recorder to the grand jury and its foreman went unanswered. The jury never confirmed the investigation, and now it is not confirming that there is no longer an investigation, although the letter to Duran points that way.

Duran said he filed his complaint on June 12, 2012. He said he last met with the grand jury on August 20 and was told then the investigation was concluded.

Porterville city manager John Lollis said he has not heard if the investigation has ended: “I don’t know. We haven’t heard of any more activity.”

While not called to testify, Lollis confirmed that others with the city had been called before the grand jury. He said the last time anyone was called was in May.

Lollis would like to see the grand jury issue some kind of a statement, especially if its investigation found no wrongdoing.

“It is one thing to be accused and not being able to defend yourself,” he said.

Unlike many other probes by the jury, there has not been a final report. The annual grand jury report that came out in June did not mention the city, the local schools or any investigation.

For more than six months, the civil grand jury interviewed a variety of Porterville residents on a variety of topics, but no one really knows for sure what the jury was seeking.

The Recorder learned thoseinterviewedincluded city council members, city staff and residents of the city. Information gathered by the paper found the interviews were conducted by the entire grand jury, not a committee of the jury.

The civil grand jury is an official body of 19 men and women chosen to perform duties as prescribed by California law, according to the Superior Court website. The jury acts as a watchdog by inquiring into the conduct of local government, investigates citizen complaints and ensures that officials and departments perform their duties properly and efficiently. Then, the civil grand jury writes reports using the information gathered in the investigations making recommendations for improvements.

The grand jury is seated in July and serves until the end of June. Jurors serve two-year terms, with roughly half of the jury replaced every year. Information is the newly impaneled jury ended the investigation. It appears the new grand jury decided not to continue the investigation.

David Gong, a former candidate for city council, said he was one of those called before the jury last year. He said the investigation was at the request of John Duran.

City council member Greg Shelton testified in January and said the investigation appeared to be very broad. Council member Cam Hamilton also was called in.

“There are so many directions they [the jury] aregoing in,” Shelton said in April, adding he was surprised by the range of questions he got.

“They were looking at a lot of things. I’d be curious what they findings will be,” said Shelton.

Shelton said he was aware of at least a half a dozen people who had been called in for questioning.

Gong said topics he was questioned about ranged from school issues to Chamber of Commerce issues and to individuals, however the grand jury spokesperson said the jury is only a watchdog over governmental agencies, not individual citizens.

Federal lawsuit

Duran also has a federal lawsuit against the city of Porterville stemming from an incident prior to the June 2012 city election. He said that incident, in which he alleges the police department violated his rights, also led him to file the complaint with the grand jury.

In the federal suit, Duran said he is charging his civil rights were violated when officers made him take down campaign signs he had put up in Veterans Park. City officials say it is illegal to place campaign signs on public property.

That suit is making its way through the federal court system.

Rick Elkins is editor of the Porterville Recorder. He can be reached at 784-5000, ext. 1040, or by email at relkins@portervillerecorder. com.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

(Riverside) MURRIETA: School district responds to grand jury report


The Murrieta Valley Unified School District has objected to some of the findings of a Riverside County civil grand jury report that was critical of its handling of a personnel dispute, but agreed to some suggested changes, its response filed with the county court shows.

In the response, written by Superintendent Pat Kelley and filed on Aug, 29, the district stated it had implemented or would implement three of the four recommendations from the grand jury report, but objected to the contention that the accused party in the dispute should immediately have been placed on administrative leave by the district, pending the outcome of the investigation.

The action the district took was to give the teacher an involuntary transfer.

“Each situation is handled individually,” Murrieta Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Karen Parris said. “There are times that placing an employee on administrative leave is an appropriate action to take, and there are times that's not an appropriate action to take.”

The grand jury report released in July listed a series of findings and recommendations from its investigation into the district's handling of a dispute between two teachers at Shivela Middle School that occurred from 2009 to 2011. That report took the district to task for transferring, rather than disciplining, the accused teacher and called upon the district to develop procedures for handling such conflicts in the future. It also said the district should provide training for employees who investigate such complaints.

It also recommended that the district take steps to ensure employees are aware of approved and unapproved behavior by spelling them out in the employee handbook, and that the district ensure a complainant is provided with the information necessary to file an appeal.

Those were some of the recommendations the district said it has implemented or will implement.

Parris said that the Board of Education will be taking up new policies and administrative actions related to employee complaints at a special meeting on Sept. 26.

Riverside County Presiding Judge Mark Cope said he received the district's response, but there will be no further action.
“We just file it, and that's all there is,” said Cope. “There is nothing else to come from our side of it.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

(Napa) Critics lambaste elections office as supervisors weigh changes


In advocating for an overhaul to the Napa County Elections Division, a St. Helena attorney and an American Canyon City Councilwoman offered blistering criticism of Registrar of Voters John Tuteur to the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The comments follow a critical report from the Napa County Grand Jury that was issued earlier this year, urging the supervisors to make Tuteur’s position an appointed one, not elected as it is currently.

The Board of Supervisors approved transmitting a response to the grand jury during its meeting Tuesday. The response letter said the board needs more analysis before deciding to overhaul the Elections Division, but attorney Kathleen Herdell and Councilwoman Belia Ramos Bennett urged the supervisors to do more.

Herdell said there’s a great deal of dissatisfaction among county voters with the current elections process, including Tuteur switching the vast majority of precincts from polling places to vote-by-mail, and the three weeks it took for the Elections Division to release the final results from the November 2012 election.

“People seek me out to make comments about the disarray,” Herdell told the board. “They believe you will only do what’s self-serving. We cannot allow this to happen.”

Ramos Bennett said she had been contacted by the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the Elections Division’s outreach to Spanish-speaking or bilingual voters, as the county had to begin publishing elections material in Spanish in 2011, following the 2010 Census.

“I am very concerned that the Department of Justice is on to Napa County,” Ramos Bennett said. “That is very significant.”

Ramos Bennett said after the meeting that she wants to see more done to engage Latino voters in the county to make them more involved in the elections process locally.

“This is a very good point in time to bring it up,” Ramos Bennett said. “This is an additional concern that the Board of Supervisors should be considering as they make their decision.”

Tuteur confirmed that the Department of Justice had made an inquiry earlier this year to his office, and said his staff had submitted all the materials and documents produced as part of the switchover to dual-language voting.

A Department of Justice official had one follow-up question regarding the number of bilingual workers in the Elections Division — five — but has otherwise made no further attempts to contact him, Tuteur said.

“That was the only question they had and we answered that,” Tuteur said.

When the county switched over, it issued postcards to all registered voters, asking which language the voter would like to see election materials printed in. It also began printing bilingual registration forms, which also asked a language preference. Spanish-language ballots and pamphlets are available upon request, Tuteur said.

Tuteur said that complies with the legal requirements.

“The DOJ seems satisfied with the materials we’ve published,” Tuteur said.

Representatives from the Department of Justice did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday.

Members of the Board of Supervisors were divided with how to proceed in pursuing any overhaul to divest Tuteur’s duties.

The county is holding a study session Oct. 22 on the duties of the registrar of voters and the Elections Division. The Board of Supervisors will debate making the registrar an appointed position, whether to split registrar from Tuteur’s other duties as assessor-recorder-clerk, among other changes.

But some supervisors were troubled about whether that would provide the County Counsel’s Office enough time to draft an ordinance changing the job descriptions and duties by the time candidates for registrar could begin collecting signatures in lieu of a filing fee, an initial round of campaigning that kicks off the last week in December. Tuteur has announced he will seek re-election in 2014.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht acknowledged that getting accord on the issue from his fellow supervisors will be difficult, perhaps exacerbating the time crunch.

“If we had three votes to make changes to the Elections Division, we probably would be doing it next week,” Wagenknecht said.

While he said he sees a need to improve the elections process, Supervisor Mark Luce said those concerns were trumped by a desire to see the registrar of voters stay an independent position in the eyes of voters. Having the Board of Supervisors appoint someone to the job would make the selection appear biased, he said.

“If I had a problem with that, it would be taken up at the next election,” Luce said. “I think there is great value in having an independent registrar of voters. I understand there are burps in the system all along. I understand there’s room for improvement.”

Supervisor Diane Dillon said she wanted to take time in another meeting this month and debate whether a majority of the board would support making changes to the job.

“I would like this board to consider if we are actually taking an action that would require an ordinance,” Dillon said.

Supervisor Keith Caldwell said he wanted to wait to see what the cost estimates of creating another management position in county government would be, which would happen if the board split registrar from the assessor-recorder-clerk position. But he also wanted the public to become more involved.

“To me, you’re putting the cart before the horse,” Caldwell said. “We need to hear from the public. They need to come and give their opinion.”

And ultimately, under the current setup any citizen dissatisfied with Tuteur’s job performance could opt to run against him, Supervisor Bill Dodd said.

“They have the right to run against him at any given time,” Dodd said. “That’s the yin and the yang of it.”

Herdell was displeased with those options, saying few citizens are qualified to do the duties of registrar and assessor-recorder-clerk.

“I don’t want to be property tax assessor,” Herdell said. “I want elections split off. There’s ways to set this up so it’s still independent.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Sheriff disputes criticism of Taser use


The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department disputed a critical civil grand jury report on its use of Taser guns and its handling of citizen complaints in its official response.

In its annual report, released June 28, the county grand jury recommended that the Sheriff’s Department review its training and documentation of Taser use, citing three deaths of suspects in confrontations involving deputies that occurred since 2008.

The grand jury also questioned how citizen complaints were being handled, citing two cases where the Yucaipa substation did not investigate vehicle accidents involving off-duty sheriff’s deputies.

In both cases, the Sheriff’s Department disagreed with the findings and said it already has procedures in place that address the concerns raised by the grand jury. The response was filed Aug. 20 with the presiding judge of the Superior Court, said Jodi Miller, sheriff’s spokeswoman.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve its response to other findings in the report at its Tuesday, Sept. 10, meeting.
In its report on Taser use, the grand jury noted that the three suspects died after multiple Taser exposures and expressed concern that deputies might be unaware how many times a suspect has been shocked.

The district attorney's office found the use of force was justified in all three incidents.

Tasers, used by many law enforcement agencies nationwide, deliver an incapacitating electro-shock through dart-like electrodes that remain attached to the gun by a wire. They usually are quiet when discharged directly into a suspect's body. That means deputies must rely on their observation of the suspect to determine whether the Taser worked.

The grand jury recommended that the senior deputy at the scene keep track of Taser exposures and that deputies get increased training, including better means of identifying when a discharge is effective.

In its response, the Sheriff’s Department stated that it was impractical to assign someone to track Taser exposures during a confrontation and it “could reduce tactical focus, jeopardizing the safety of the deputies and the public.” Deputies already provide verbal warnings before using a Taser, the response stated.

Sheriff’s officials also said that deputies already receive training on how to determine whether a Taser has been effective. Their training includes videos, presentations and live drills, in which many deputies voluntarily receive Taser charges to get first-hand knowledge of the weapon’s effects on the human body.

In its response to the report on citizen complaints, the department disagreed that it did not follow its own policies in the incidents involving the Yucaipa station. They were investigated as criminal complaints and forwarded to the district attorney’s office, which declined to file charges, the response stated.

Sheriff’s stations have procedures in place to accept complaints that are tracked in a log, the response states.

Miller said anyone with a complaint is referred to a supervising officer who will discuss the issue and attempt to resolve it. If someone wants to file a complaint, they are provided with a form.

Complaints are either investigated at the station level or – depending on how serious they are – referred to the internal affairs division, Miller said.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

(San Mateo) Mosquito abatement district in hot seat again

By Michelle Durand, The Daily Journal -

The special district oversight board which last year spared the scandalized mosquito abatement district despite questions about management allowing an $800,000 embezzlement by workers may reconsider the idea of transferring its functions to the county’s Environmental Health division.

In July, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury concluded that mismanagement, insufficient accountability and inadequate oversight were behind the crimes at the Mosquito and Vector Control District. The jury also urged the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission — which opted in 2012 to maintain the status quo near-unanimously after the embezzlement came to light — to take a second look at dissolving the district and transferring its services to the county’s Environmental Health division.

The San Carlos City Council — whose representative to the district is the one who prompted discovery of the stealing — agrees the idea needs further revaluation. The City Council signed off on its mandated response to the grand jury Monday night. LAFCo will gets its turn Wednesday afternoon.

Although county Supervisor Don Horsley, who chairs the LAFCo board, voted against dissolution last year, he said a decision this time depends greatly on whether the district has instituted recommended controls to prevent future errors. Horsley said he remains unsettled the district doesn’t contract its human resources to a more experienced agency and retains a 21-member governing board.

“I still have concerns about the governance. They may have some good processes and procedures in place but governance remains a problem for me,” Horsley said. “I’ll reserve judgment.”

The jury report also took aim at the board, arguing the district’s insurance company denied its $790,000 loss claim because of its failure.

The report said trustees are “confused” about their responsibilities and cities don’t prioritize having representation on the district board. The internal financial controls were “inadequate,” important policies were not followed and there were significant differences of opinion about whether district manager Robert Gay is equipped to manage the district, the jury concluded.

Gay hired finance director Jo Ann Dearman, otherwise known as Joanne Seeney, without a background or reference check and she in turn hired bookkeeper assistant Vika Sinipata. Between 2009 and 2011, the women embezzled district money by giving themselves extra pay at a higher pay rate and fraudulent time off, excessively contributed to their deferred compensation funds, used credit cards for personal purchases and electronically transferred money into their own accounts. Dearman even charged defense attorneys fees for an earlier embezzlement case to the district and at one point took medical leave, claiming she needed to care for her mother but in actuality served two years and eight months in prison for the two different embezzlement cases. In one of those previous cases, Dearman ran up more than a half-million dollars on her boss’ credit card.

Dearman pleaded no contest to 10 felonies and Sinipata faces eight years on 12 counts. Both are due in court Sept. 13 for sentencing.

Gay was placed on a performance improvement plan by the district which later extended his contract and LAFCo toyed with dissolution. The county previously handled rodent responsibilities but transferred them to the district in 2008 and shifted all vector control three years later.

The LAFCo board ultimately decided that while the district needed monthly auditing and scrutinizing of its operations, dissolution would only jeopardize public safety and punish the agency.

But while LAFCo, in its draft grand jury response, agreed dissolution warrants further evaluation, it continues that the Environmental Health division and the district are best equipped to study the transfer of employees, accountability and any possible cost savings.

In an Aug. 7 letter to LAFCo Executive Officer Martha Poyatos, district staff called dissolution “unnecessary” and said it would make maintenance of quality service “difficult.”

LAFCo meets 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11 in Room 101 of 455 County Center.

Monday, September 9, 2013

(LA) Glendale ranks low in grand jury report

Summary of economic health covers 2011-12 fiscal year of area municipalities

By Brittany Levine, Glendale News-Press -

Glendale ranks near the bottom in several categories of fiscal health compared to its fellow Los Angeles County cities, according to a recent grand jury report, an analysis city officials protested as flawed.

The categories, discussed in a 120-page report released by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury on June 28, include the percentage of revenue left after cities pay the bills, the ratio of assets to liabilities, and other financial indicators for fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12.

In addition to cash on hand, assets include the value of city-owned land and infrastructure. Liabilities include long-term debts, such as bonds, pension obligations, insurance claims and money owed to creditors.

According to the report for fiscal year 2011-12, Glendale ranked:

• 56th for net revenue percent of total funds — that is, leftover funds. This essentially means Glendale spent more than it took in through taxes, fees, permits, and other sources. Glendale spent about $29 million more than the roughly $259 million in revenue it generated, similar to most cities in the county.

• 70th for net revenue percent of General Fund, which pays for parks, libraries and other general services. The city has multiple funds, including the general, utility and enterprise funds.

• 42nd for ratio of assets to liabilities. It's ideal when the ratio is above 2, and Glendale had a ratio of 4.89, meaning the city has nearly five times as many assets as it does debts.

• 40th for unassigned General Fund money, which is money left over to pay for emergencies or budget imbalances. Glendale had about $38 million unassigned in its 2011-12 General Fund.

•70th for change in General Fund Balance. Glendale's General Fund balance dropped by about $75 million at the end of the fiscal year compared to the beginning. The prior year it increased by about $14 million.

While the grand jury report analyzed 88 cities in the county, only 77 were fully ranked. Several cities, including Azusa, Inglewood and Lawndale, did not have annual financial reports for 2011-12 complete when the grand jury conducted its analysis in April.

The grand jury, which consists of 23 volunteers from the public, suggested that cities spend down their reserves, liquidize assets and reduce services, among other recommendations to improve fiscal health.

"Cities cannot sustain a pattern of spending more than received in revenue and essentially not living within their means during the fiscal year," the report stated.

City spokesman Tom Lorenz discounted the report, calling it flawed.

"It is a snapshot in time without proper analysis," Lorenz said in an email, adding that it did not take into account the effect the end of redevelopment had on the city and Glendale's annual multimillion-dollar transfer from Glendale Water & Power to the General Fund.

In order to close a state budget gap, Sacramento lawmakers dissolved redevelopment programs throughout the state last year, forcing Glendale and nearly 400 other local governmental agencies to fork over the money previously used to spark economic development and encourage growth in blighted areas.

Lorenz also pointed to Standard & Poor's AAA rating and positive outlook of Glendale set in May as a sign of the city's fiscal health. AAA is the bond-rating agency's highest score.

The City Council is set to discuss a response to the grand jury report later this month, Lorenz said.

While Glendale ranked in the bottom half to bottom third on many of the fiscal health indicators, a bright spot for the city came from its responses to a questionnaire regarding governance and management practices.

Glendale ranked third in the best practices survey, answering 94% of the Grand Jury's questions positively. Best practices that Glendale carries out include measuring performance indicators, establishing an investment policy, setting annual executive goals and abiding by an ethics policy, according to the report.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tulare County school bonds 101

Grand Jury recommends adding projected interest to voter guide

Written by Crystal Morales, Visalia Times Delta -

Tulare County voters may not get all the information needed about potential costs when voting on school district bonds, according to a Tulare County 2012-2013 Grand Jury Report.

The Grand Jury recommends publishing information about estimated interest, fees or other costs associated with school bonds in voter ballot information pamphlets as well as in the local media.

The Grand Jury found Tulare County school districts together had accumulated more than $653 million in bond indebtedness, including interest and additional fees, for 93 bonds.

The average voter may not understand how the interest works on bond measures they are voting on, said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

“That is of great concern to us,” Coupal said. “We have always said, you’re at least paying twice the principal value. I don’t think people realize that.”

Doing the math

The best way to understand voter approved bonds for school districts is to compare them to home mortgages, said Robert Groeber, Visalia Unified School District assistant superintendent of administrative services.

The current mortgage interest rate for a homeowner with great credit is about 4.67. On a $250,000 home with a mortgage spread over 30 years, a homeowner would pay a total of $465,152.

The recently passed $60 million Visalia Unified Measure E is an example.

The interest over the life of the bond comes out to about $61.6 million. Combined, a total of $121.5 million will be paid back.

That’s just over a 1-to-1 ratio, much better than what some residents are paying on their houses, Groeber said.

“Bonds are just mortgages for public agencies,” said Groeber, who is also a part of the Association of California School Administrators and sits on the businesses services council. “That mortgage gets paid by our taxpayers, and they get to decide, ‘Do I want to buy that mortgage or not?’”

Bond Measure L in Tulare, which paid for Tulare Western’s pool and Mission Oak High School, had an initial principle of about $45 million, said Tulare Joint Union District officials. The interest on the bond will eventually equal about $59.4 million, about a 1-to-1.3 ratio.

The recent College of the Sequoias’ Tulare Center $33 million bond is estimated to cost taxpayers $70 million in interest, or a 1-to-2.4 ratio.

“In every decision and action taken, [board members] have tried to minimize the impact on our local taxpayers while still fulfilling the voter-approved projects they desire through use of the funding tools provided by the state,” Stan Carrizosa, College of the Sequoias president/superintendent, said in an email.

Some districts in California have accumulated much higher bond ratios than measures E, L and J. According to a California Watch article, the Poway Unified School District in San Diego’s 2011 $105 million bond will cost its taxpayers $982 million in interest alone. This comes out to about a 1-to-9.4 ratio.

Informing taxpayers

Currently, the projected amount of interest paid is not given in the voter information pamphlet on bond measures.

Districts do provide the legally required information and are not doing anything illegal in not presenting the interest, according to the Grand Jury report.

The VUSD would like more ways to get information about school bonds and interest rates out to the public, Groeber said.

“I think it’s important for everyone to understand that the more good information we get out there, the more informed our voters are, the better off we are,” Groeber said.

Though the exact interest amount cannot be calculated until after the sale of the bond, an estimate based on current market interest rates can be, Groeber said.

It is this number, and other costs like it, that the Grand Jury report states should also be included in the informational pamphlet.

Typically, interest rates are presented during school board meetings while they are being discussed and voted on.

What taxpayers get for their investment

Recent bonds in the area have helped build Mission Oak High School in Tulare and are currently funding projects in Visalia for solar panels in a new middle school. College of the Sequoias’ Hanford Center and Tulare Center were also results of voter approved bonds.

Bond measures are critical funding sources for new projects and existing building improvements, local school officials said.

“The only mechanisms available through California Government Code and the legislature to fund public construction are General Obligation Bonds and other short-term bonds and notes,” Carrizosa said in an email.

Groeber agrees that the only way to fund construction and campus updates is through bonds.

The money raised through bonds allows schools to qualify for state matching funds for projects by showing the state that the local community supports the school project.

Still, more ways to inform the public of their investments in school bonds is good in his opinion, Groeber said.

“Public stewards of public funds should welcome questions,” Groeber said.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

LA County Grand Jury Requested To Investigate Central Basin Water President James Roybal

By Brian Hews and Randy Economy, -

The Central Basin Municipal Water District Ethics Committee has voted to ask the Los Angeles County Grand Jury to investigate Director James Roybal’s involvement in leaking confidential documents to reporter Mike Sprague who works for the Whittier Daily News.

The vote for the review was made by Central Basin Water Board Directors Phil Hawkins of Cerritos and Art Chacon of Commerce.

Hews Media Group-Community News received a copy of a response letter written by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey that confirmed that Central Basin Municipal Water District Board President Roybal leaked a confidential internal document to the Whittier Daily News pertaining to a closed session discussion about former Interim Chief Operating Officer Chuck Fuentes.

See letter here.

The letter was in response to a complaint sent to the DA that alleged improper disclosure of confidential information approved in a closed session, which is a violation of Government Code Section 54956.9.

The letter stated, “based upon a June 3 (2013) memorandum from (CBMWD GM) Tony Perez, it would appear the details of the agreement disclosed to the WDN were subject to confidentiality clause and were not to be released.” Fuentes was fired from the agency in December by a new voting Board majority that consists of Director Leticia Vasquez, Director Robert Apodaca and Roybal.

In the letter, the District Attorney declined to take action on the disclosure, referring the matter back to the embroiled agency that has been a focal point of a massive investigation by members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the past several months.

The District Attorney cited the California Government Code 54963 that states “violations can result in disciplinary action against the employee who willfully disclosed confidential information and/or referral of the member to the grand jury.”

HMG-CN first reported on the situation back on August 6th.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Guest perspective: San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury

By Quentin L. Kopp in The Daily Journal -

I enjoyed Sue Lempert’s Aug. 5 column concerning the attack by San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie on the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury after it issued a report criticizing the county for not treating certain state educational funds (which exceeded school funding requirements) as revenue in its 2012-13 budget. The grand jury alleged that voters on a ballot measure to increase the countrywide sales tax weren’t informed that such state money refuted the representation to voters of a probable budget deficit without increased sales taxation. The county manager assailed the grand jury’s report and, additionally (and perhaps gratuitously), assailed the grand jury system for operating in secret sessions, as permitted by state law. Ms. Lempert opined that the county manager “made a big mistake in going after the grand jury.” She accurately pointed out that the grand jury functions as an investigative body; investigators don’t interview witnesses in open or public proceedings.

Ms. Lempert also reminded readers (and me) that in the mid-1990s, I fomented grandiloquently about a civil grand jury report concluding that San Mateo County would lose money if the extension of BART into San Francisco International Airport occurred.

I appreciate Ms. Lempert’s reference to me as the “father” of the BART extension into SFO, but I’m even happier that, contrary to the 1996 manipulations and misrepresentations of the then-SFO general manager, such extension eventually opened 10 years ago this fall while I was still sitting as a San Mateo County Superior Court judge. (The then-SFO general manager abhorred the idea of any other public agency, whether San Mateo County or BART, invading his “turf”). I’m even happier to note a little-disseminated fact: That section of BART, transporting riders to and from SFO to San Bruno, South San Francisco, Colma, Daly City, San Francisco and stations in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, constitutes the only portion of BART not requiring operating subsidies from taxpayers. In fact, for the past two years, the SFO extension has even generated profit for BART, which otherwise requires approximately 27 percent of its expenditures to be subsidized by taxpayers. (Incidentally, BART produces more money from the fare box, about 73 percent of its operating expenses, than any other of the 28 public transit agencies in the Bay Area by far). The SFO extension this past month recovered 114.7 percent of its opening cost from fares, highest in the state!

Having presided over the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury for 30 months of my judicial service during the last decade, I agree with Ms. Lempert’s observation that grand juries are “useful” and should be supported. I don’t know if the county manager or the grand jury was right regarding their dispute. I do know grand jurors volunteer many hours of effort on a weekly basis during their one year of service. Please don’t cripple them, if you’re a public official, despite the temptation to do so.

Quentin L. Kopp is a retired judge of the San Mateo County Superior Court and a former state senator. He lives in San Francisco.

Monday, September 2, 2013

(Butte) Draft Chico City Council response agrees with all Grand Jury findings

By ASHLEY GEBB-Staff Writer, ChicoER News -

The city's response to a critical Butte County Grand Jury report has been rewritten and will be up for consideration at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The response, which requires council authorization for Mayor Scott Gruendl to sign and submit it, was rewritten under the guidance of Councilor Mark Sorensen after it was found to be unsatisfactory at the Aug. 20 council meeting. City Manager Brian Nakamura and City Attorney Lori Barker reviewed the new response and recommend its authorization.

The June report stated that during an investigation of the city's finances, prior city management provided the Grand Jury with information that was outdated, incomplete and misleading. It also notes the city was slow to respond to the loss of redevelopment agency funding and that revenue shortfalls are being covered by other funds, some of which carry negative balances.

In the original response, the city agreed with some points but disagreed with others, including the finding about accuracy of information provided to the Grand Jury. It stated it was not the intention to reference outdated information and that questions did not ask about all city funds.

It also disagreed in part about the loss of RDA funding, citing court-related delays and legal uncertainties.

The new response, crafted by Sorensen with input from Gruendl, agrees with all of the jury's findings.

"(Redevelopment) funding was lost on Feb. 1, 2012. Period. End of discussion," Sorensen said. "We lost it and we did virtually nothing. We did nothing of any substance until the fairly recent reorganization."

The new response also notes the city has taken corrective action to address inaccuracies provided to the Grand Jury with restructuring and budget policy revisions. The jury's recommendations to increase fiscal transparency and continue restructuring have been implemented, it states, and the city is still working to develop its viable financial plan to replenish deficits.

It will take a few months to even know if the city was able to make enough reductions to balance this year's budget, he said. Then, it will need to either find more revenue or make additional cuts to restore its reserves and pay down debts.

"At this point in time we are not doing anything to attempt to pay down those debts," Sorensen said.

The response is on the consent agenda, where items are considered routine and normally enacted in one motion, but it could be pulled for further discussion.

Sorensen thinks the new response is appropriate and should be satisfactory to the grand jury.

"With all of their findings we say we agree," he said. "It's hard for them to have an objection on that part and I think at this juncture there is an honest determination to address all of their findings and recommendations."

Tuesday's agenda also includes interviews and possible appointments to the Sustainability Task Force. There are 16 applicants for seven positions.

The agenda also includes monthly finance reports, a cash flow update and authorization for a 2013-14 budget modification to appropriate $80,000 in general fund emergency reserves to renegotiate labor agreements.

Also Tuesday, Gruendl will issue certificates of appreciation to Chico police officers Lori Kligerman and Donald Finkbiner, who are retiring after 23 years of service. With those and other vacancies, the city manager is also requesting to proceed with in-house recruitment for sergeant and lieutenant positions and external recruitment for officers.