Thursday, August 7, 2014
(San Mateo County) Harbor commissioners bicker over grand jury response
August 7, 2014
Half Moon Bay Review
By Clay Lambert
The San Mateo County Harbor Commission took up a damning civil grand jury report Wednesday night and those initial discussions could have been Exhibit A in the report itself, which called for dissolution a fractious, wasteful and redundant government board.
The agenda seemed straight forward enough: Set a timeline for response to the July report. California Penal Code 9933 mandates that the subject of civil grand jury investigations respond in a timely manner. The district may agree or disagree with the grand jury’s findings and recommendations, but it must respond. The grand jury has no power to enforce its recommendations.
Mere discussion of that response quickly broke down along familiar lines Wednesday in a conference room at Sea Crest School that students and faculty call “Think Tank.”
Commissioner Jim Tucker suggested members of the elected board forward written comments on the report to the board’s attorney, Steve Miller, who would then fashion those into a draft report that commissioners could discuss at the board’s Aug. 20 meeting.
“It’s not an enviable position to be in,” he said. “The grand jury, well meaning, pointed out some things we need to consider. I think we need to clear the air … and to be articulate in our response.”
Commissioner Sabrina Brennan countered that she was prepared to discuss the report in open session and thought that simply forwarding written comments to counsel was less than transparent. She said she planned to provide the civil grand jury with a separate, “minority report.”
Brennan wasn’t the only one uncomfortable with Tucker’s suggestion. Miller, whose firm only recently contracted with the district, said repeatedly that was concerned the plan could violate the Brown Act governing public meetings and that he wanted nothing to do with interpreting the wishes of the commission.
“You are proposing something unusual,” he said. “Certainly I would be very uncomfortable making policy recommendations.”
In the end, the commission voted 4-1 to take up the matter in full on Aug. 20.
A similar dust-up occurred over discussion of a separate grand jury report. This one chastised 23 agencies in the county, including the Harbor District, for what the grand jury found as less-than transparent business practices. Among the grand jury’s recommendations were more robust public agency websites.
After agreeing to accept a list of recommendations, including that the district seek “District of Distinction” designation and that the commissioners themselves receive more training, the Commission voted 4-1 to send a completed response to the grand jury.
District General Manager Peter Grenell said the district was in “almost complete compliance” with the recommendations for good websites and praised its website as a place the public can go to for agendas, regulations and other communications.
Again, Brennan begged to differ.
“I do not find our website to be professional,” she said, noting the district spent more than $14,000 on the Web presence in the last year. “I can’t fathom how we’re spending that much money on our website.”