Friday, January 30, 2015
Carmel >> Monterey County’s civil grand jury is investigating the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s operations during the time Jason Stilwell served as city administrator.
The 19-member grand jury has heard testimony from Carmel residents. One of them was Richard Kreitman who wrote a letter requesting the investigation on behalf of Carmel residents.
At a November Carmel City Council meeting the council agreed that Mayor Jason Burnett would request that the grand jury investigate the city. At the same meeting Kreitman announced that an ad hoc group of citizens had met with the grand jury foreman and also would be seeking a probe of the city.
The letters were submitted the same week as the council meeting, Kreitman said. He said he testified before the grand jury but could not relate the substance of his testimony. He declined to name others who testified.
“Here you have the perfect vehicle to do it … (the investigation),” Kreitman said. “They are independent and they are less involved that those of us in the community, and it’s their job to do it.”
The grand jury will present its report in June and the city is required to respond to it. However, the city does not have to take action and can ignore the report if it chooses.
The investigation requests stem from a series of events during Stilwell’s administration. Longtime employees were fired or put on administrative leave with pay. There were questions about overpayments to city contractors and lawsuits and grievances filed by city workers.
Kreitman’s complaints to the grand jury include:
• Unfair treatment and termination of city workers.
• Extreme lack of transparency and non-responsiveness to Public Records Act requests.
• Loss of institutional memory and deterioration of city services.
• Fiscal irresponsibility regarding legal exposure and expenses.
The complaint wants the grand jury to determine what lapses in governance and oversight failed and were permitted to continue.
Burnett’s letter also asks jurors to figure out what went wrong and to look at the city’s checks and balances, policies and internal controls.
The City Council has taken a number of actions to rectify its problems as suggested by new City Administrator Doug Schmitz. Among them: Three fired employees have been reinstated and an investigation of city contracts is under way.
Stilwell resigned from his Carmel post in October. He is now working for the city of San Luis Obispo as interim director of IT and financial planning.
“I have no animosity toward Mr. Stilwell …,” Kreitman said. “I met Mr. Stilwell a number of times and I always thought he was a nice guy.”
As for the grand jury report on the city, Kreitman said, “We’ll see what happens.”
January 30, 2015
By Tom Leyde
Have you wondered how our county and city governments truly operate? How our jails are run? Are you interested in giving back and making a positive difference in your community?
One of the best opportunities to get an insider's view of local governments and agencies, and to improve the lives of fellow citizens, is to become a grand juror.
The Orange County Grand Jury is composed of 19 citizens who perform two types of functions: They receive evidence of serious crimes and determine whether to issue an indictment charging one or more felonies; and they investigate county and local governments and agencies to ensure that their activities are efficient and the services they provide are within the confines of the law.
The grand jury can also inquire into the actions of public officials who it believes may be committing malfeasance — for example, corruption or violation of the public trust. If the grand jury believes that a public official may be guilty of malfeasance, it can refer the matter to the district attorney's office for possible prosecution.
The Orange County Grand Jury is an independent public watchdog that is free to inquire into any governmental unit in the county. No one can dictate to the grand jury to investigate, or not investigate, any agency or any individual. That is the grand jury's sole discretion.
An investigation can be triggered in any number of ways: an anonymous tip, a formal complaint, an article in the newspaper, a belief by one of the grand jurors that a public agency may have committed wrongdoing.
At the conclusion of its investigations, the grand jury prepares and publishes a report with recommendations for improvements. By law, the government or agency reported on must respond to the report in writing.
In performing their duties, the grand jurors conduct extensive tours of various county facilities and get to meet the movers and shakers of the county. In the process, they gain extensive knowledge of how county governments and agencies, such as school and special districts, do their jobs.
The work is interesting and challenging; indeed, it has been characterized as life-changing by some former grand jurors. The term of the next grand jury runs from July 1 to June 30, 2016. It is almost a full-time job. On average, the grand jurors meet four and a half days a week.
Each grand jury sets its own schedule and typically observes the 13 court holidays, with an additional two weeks off during the year of service. Other time-off requests are submitted to the foreperson for approval. Grand jurors receive a stipend of $50 per day, mileage reimbursement and free parking in the basement of the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, where they meet.
The grand jurors must be 18 years or older, U.S. citizens and residents of Orange County for at least one year and have a sufficient command of the English language to be able to prepare reports. Experience has taught that the best grand jurors are those individuals who are committed to the job, who are diligent, who work well in a group, and who can write well and operate a computer — especially the word-processing function.
The court is seeking applicants from throughout Orange County. I encourage those who meet the minimum qualifications and who are able to devote one year of public service to go to http://www.ocgrandjury.org to learn more and fill out the application. Applications can also be obtained by calling (657) 622-6747. The application deadline is Friday.
January 26, 2015
By Charles Margines , assistant presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court
Note: this article comes, in part, from a 2012-13 San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury report on government email practices. See "Grover Beach" below.
Arroyo Grande’s policy states that email messages “should only be retained for as long as needed to accurately document city functions and to help create a historical record. This means deleting messages soon after they have been read, sent or printed and kept in a record keeping system.”
The system is set up to automatically delete messages more than 180 days old; messages in the trash folder are deleted after 14 days.
The policy dates to 2006 and “has been identified as one that needs to be substantially updated to reflect current information technology infrastructure and practices,” City Clerk Kelly Wetmore said.
Atascadero’s policy states that emails not deemed a public record should be deleted within 90 days. The policy leaves it up to each city employee to determine what is considered “city business.”
Non-record emails are defined as “correspondence not relating to city business, messages that do not set policy, establish guidelines or procedures or document city business (and) routine email messages comparable to telephonic communications.”
Public record emails include “policies and directives, correspondence and memoranda relating to official business (excluding duplicates), agendas and minutes of meetings, any documents that initiates, authorizes or completes a business transaction and final reports and recommendations.” Public records should be retained in hard copy or electronically.
Grover Beach’s email policy was put in place in December 2013, about seven months after a county grand jury concluded that Grover Beach residents couldn’t easily contact their elected officials via email because the city didn’t provide official city email addresses for each council member.
City officials disputed this contention because it provided an email address for the entire council. The City Council approved an email policy a few months later.
It specifies that email messages should be purged manually at least once a week because the email system is not designed to retain messages long-term. “Email that the employee desires to save or that becomes part of an official record should be printed and/or stored in another database,” it states.
Messages that have been deleted will be wiped from the city’s computer server after 30 days.
Council members and city employees determine if an email is an official city record. The city doesn’t have a policy specifying how long emails are to be kept.
A 2012 resolution states, “city emails are intended to fulfill the same general function as ordinary daily verbal communications among City Council and city staff and are considered ‘transitory’ documents (work-in-progress), and therefore are not subject to records retention requirements.”
Emails are kept only as long as needed, and the city attorney can help determine which should be deemed official city records. Those must be printed out and saved.
“City Council members and employees are encouraged to delete documents that are not otherwise required to be kept by law or whose preservation is not necessary or convenient to the discharge of your duties or the conduct of the city’s business,” the resolution states.
The resolution does state that emails are subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act.
The email system does not automatically delete emails at a specific time, City Clerk Dana Swanson said.
Paso Robles has a records retention policy adopted by the City Council in 1995 and a separate email and internet use policy from 1998, but city officials say the policies are outdated and they instead rely on the state’s government code.
The city doesn’t have a specific email retention policy, Assistant City Manager Meg Williamson said.
The 1998 policy dictates that the city’s computer systems and the contents are the sole property of the city and that “communications sent over the system may be subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act or litigation.”
Further, there is no formal policy for deletion after a certain number of days.
“We have the ability to search emails by key words, subject matter, recipients, timeframes, etc. And we have applied these searches when we respond to certain public records requests,” Williamson said. “Of course, all emails produced from those searches are screened to ensure that any privileged information is not disclosed.”
Pismo Beach does not have a specific policy in place governing email retention. Electronic communication, including email, is addressed in the city’s personnel policy, City Clerk Elaina Cano said.
The policy states that messages sent or received on city equipment may be saved and reviewed by others, and as a result, city employees have no expectation of privacy in such messages.
The policy does not specify how emails should be managed.
San Luis Obispo
Email messages are subject to the same retention requirements as other city documents (a separate “records retention schedule” details how long specific documents are to be kept).
Emails not deemed records or that are considered works-in-progress are not subject to the retention rules, according to the city’s email policy, approved in 2007.
The policy states that emails that are not records should only be retained for as long as needed – in many cases, deleting them as soon as they have been read or sent because mailboxes are limited to 600 megabytes. Deleted files are erased after 30 days.
Messages that are kept should be stored on a network drive or folder, or printed and filed, the policy states. The records retention policy was approved in 2001 and updated in 2009.
San Luis Obispo County does not have a specific policy regarding retention of emails, County Counsel Rita Neal said.
“There are numerous statutes that address document retention and many county departments have separate retention schedules,” she said. She said county staff is currently reviewing the retention schedules, which will include an analysis of how long emails should be kept.
The county does have an overall policy that addresses employee use of computers and regularly reminds employees that any writing created in the course of county business is potentially a public record.
January 24, 2015
By Tribune Staff
Civil grand juries have been around for centuries. They came to America with the first settlers from Europe.
The grand jury plays a vital watchdog role to help ensure local government — along with public schools, police and special districts — does the best job possible for its citizens.
“If you want to do something productive, to help the county be a better county, one way you can do that is by being a grand juror,” said former grand juror Debbie Brownrigg.
Brownrigg said her time as a grand juror for Plumas County was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of her life. She acknowledged it was one of the most important jobs she ever had.
It’s that belief that prompted Brownrigg to join seven other former jurors in forming the Plumas County Grand Jury Association in February 2014.
The association was formed to help support the county grand juries and streamline the jury selection process.
Plumas County is currently gearing up to pick a grand jury for the 2015-16 year. The goal is choose the jurors by March so they can be seated and get to work July 1.
Picking the jury is a time-consuming job. About 300 summonses are sent to qualified county residents, who are then interviewed by the Superior Court judge.
The interview process ends with the selection of 19 jurors and two alternates. They jury spends a year investigating and producing a report that highlights important issues involving county government.
The grand jury association members, who held their monthly meeting Jan. 8 at the Feather Publishing office in Quincy, said one of their goals is to end the need for summonses.
They want future juries to be made up entirely of volunteers who are willing to devote 10 – 20 hours per week for a year.
“That’s where we are right now,” said association member Dennis Doyle. “If we could somehow bring to (the judge) 50 qualified people, and he only has to select 19 of them, his workload would be reduced by more than two-thirds.”
Many larger counties in the state don’t have to summon citizens for grand jury duty because they get more than enough volunteers.
“They place an ad in the paper and people come in and fill out an application,” Doyle said. “But some of those counties have millions of people to choose from. Here we have fewer than 20,000 to choose from.”
A prospective juror must be a U.S. citizen over 18 years of age, have been a county resident for at least a year and be able to speak and write the English language.
A person convicted of a felony is not eligible.
Once a jury is selected, the jurors receive a week of training by members of the California Grand Jurors’ Association.
After the jurors take the oath and get to work, they will receive support from the new county grand jury association. The association members are not part of the sitting grand jury and have no influence on the issues the jury chooses to investigate.
“The association would like to be a local resource for grand juries to have so that they don’t have to go somewhere else to get information,” Brownrigg said.
The local association will apply its experience to help new jurors with interviewing and investigation techniques. They will lend advice on how to write reports.
The local association will also have the support of the state association. “And they have amazing resources,” Doyle said.
What the local association can’t do is help new jurors find the time needed to do the job.
“And that’s a big one for some people,” Doyle said. “I had a full-time job when I was on the jury for two years. You know, it’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it.”
Because of the time commitment, the grand juries tend to be comprised of retired residents.
Ideally, the association members said they would like to see more young people apply for the job, even if they are working full time.
Most of the grand jury meetings are held in the evenings. And some employers have allowed jurors to work flexible schedules.
How to apply:
County residents who want to serve on the jury can sign up by visiting a new grand jury association website, grandjuryassoc-plumas.org, or they can call the court at 283-6305.
January 23, 2015
Plumas County News
By Dan McDonald, Managing Editor