Tuesday, June 30, 2015

[San Mateo County] Trainers should monitor all high school athletes for concussions, grand jury says

Concussions are a major concern in football, including at the high school level, but football is not the only sport in which concussions occur. High schools in San Mateo County need to take steps to detect such injuries in athletes in all school sports and use care in determining when students can get back in the game, according to a June 29 grand jury report.
A concussion occurs when a person's head collides with some hard object, including the ground, with an impact severe enough to cause the brain to shake within the skull. Using neurological tests administered on the sidelines, trained coaches and medics can detect concussions by measuring an athlete's brain processing speed, reaction time and visual and verbal memory, the report says.
The grand jury recommends that high schools establish neurological baselines for athletes at the beginning of the sports season and hire trainers certified in testing students and detecting concussions "on the field as they happen." The trainers should be present at all games, including soccer and basketball, the report says.
"Such testing can be used to prevent an injured athlete from returning to play before the brain is fully healed," the report says. "Studies show if a teen athlete returns to play too early, the original injury may become more serious. The athlete could then be at far greater risk for more concussions."
June 30, 2015
The Almanac Online

[Solano County] Grand jury blasts Solano College over $348M Measure

FAIRFIELD — A scathing Solano County grand jury report issued Monday reports that local voters were duped in 2012 by Solano Community College staff and supporters of a $348 million bond measure.
The report claims the wording of Measure Q on the November 2012 ballot was deliberately misleading and violated state laws and the California Constitution. The grand jury report also accuses the college’s board of trustees of neglecting the public interest.
The grand jury found no evidence of criminal activity on the part of either the board of trustees or any employee of Solano College, according to the report; “however, the loose manner in which the college conducts its business leaves it open to the potential appearance of misfeasance.”
Grand jurors reported that “. . . A lack of engagement and oversight by the board of trustees, coupled with a cavalier attitude on the part of some of its members is an issue of great concern.”
The grand jury states that college staff fabricated the existence of project master plans that detailed how Measure Q funds would be spent when they reported “The master plans are on file and available for review at the Solano College president’s office and include the types of projects listed below.”
“The cart was put before the horse – rather than identifying the specific needs of the college, and figuring out the costs of those needs, the district sought first to identify the amount of money it could obtain through the public through a bond measure.”
The grand jury report said a facilities master plan was not finalized until nearly two years after the election.
Solano College Superintendent-President Jowel Laguerre was blasted in the report for ignoring the law and claiming that the college “deliberately elected not to tie its hands with an exact list of Measure Q projects. Instead, we have taken the time to carefully research how we will best spend your tax dollars and have kept in mind the potential for projects that were ‘on the horizon’ but not finalized as we worked to pass the bond.”
Laguerre’s last day at the college is Tuesday.
Grand jury members interviewed each of the seven elected college board members who told them that they never saw any type of project list or any projected spending plan before the 2012 election and “nothing at all with numbers” until 2014. One trustee, unnamed in the report, claimed to have “all relevant documents” prior to the election. The trustee later retracted the claim and referred grand jurors to the college’s website.
The ballot pamphlet referred to Measure Q as the Solano Community College District Student/Veterans’ Affordable Education, Job Training measure, which the report said was misleading because state law precludes bond funds from being used for any of those purposes.
The grand jury report says voters were misled by simple deceptive techniques such as using bold typefaces and capitalization in the Measure Q bond measure to reference various purposes of Measure Q such as to provide essential job training and workforce preparation, improve access to disabled students and war veterans, expand high-quality affordable college options for students transferring to four-year colleges and offer middle college options to high school students.
 “Job training is not allowed under (state law), nor are job placement programs. Any relationship between offering high school students college courses or ‘high-quality affordable college options’ and buildings, facilities or land purchases is difficult to understand,” the report said, adding that “Measure Q is presented as much more than bricks and mortar.
“It is difficult to ascertain how a physical building or land acquisition relates to ‘affordable education,’ ” the report states pointedly.
“The casual attitude of some of the college administration coupled with its assumption that voters would positively respond to buzz words like ‘veterans,’ ‘disabled’ and ‘job training’ ” without investigating the bond measure resulted in “a bond that was not properly presented, and was arguably misleading at best.”
The grand jury report notes in closing: “Forty years is too long for a bond measure! Serious consideration should be given to shorter bond measure obligation time for future projects.”
July 1, 2015
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Jess Sullivan

[Kings County] Letter to the Editor: A response to the Grand Jury’s report on Avenal school

Your recent article, “Grand Jury Investigates Avenal District”, reported the findings of the grand jury, and as teachers at Avenal High School, we would like an opportunity to respond to the grand jury’s assessment of our teachers, as we felt the need for our voice to be heard as well.
First of all, let’s discuss block scheduling: According the grand jury report, “the schedule received some criticism from teachers who said they didn’t receive much warning about it and that they weren’t included in the development of the schedule.” We spent the ENTIRE 2013-2014 school year discussing/ planning/ preparing for block schedule; it seemed that every staff meeting and leadership meeting involved a discussion of it. There wasn’t a single teacher on staff that didn’t have a voice or knew that block scheduling was going to begin this past school year. Sometimes a vocal minority becomes the squeaky wheel that gets the oil, or in this case, a grand jury investigation, but, we are happy to report that with the implementation of block schedule, our student behavior and discipline has improved. Suspensions and expulsions have dropped significantly, as have violent and nonviolent incidents.
Secondly, regarding Chromebooks, as with any new endeavor there are people who hit the ground running and those that struggle to get out of the gate. Being that this is only our second year as a staff with every student having a Chromebook, it is expected that there is a steep learning curve and some teachers might not be as proficient as we would like, but as professionals, we are constantly developing new strategies and approaches to integrating technology into our classroom. The staff have access to many resources to help them monitor Chromebook usage and are gradually folding them into their routines. But, as AHS teachers present the one day the grand jury visited our school site, we have to question how many rooms were visited by the grand jury, when, how often, and how much of the student population was actually observed? We find the answers to these questions are important to the scope in which our school was investigated and reported about.
Lastly, Avenal High School, like any high school, has its issues, but is constantly striving for improvement and excellence. We would like to see our students’ successes heralded as much as our teachers’ struggles. For example, our football team was second in their division, our soccer and cross country teams were champions, the rest of our athletic department continues to be competitive, we have an award winning FFA team, our Agricultural Academy of 50+ students has earned 12 college units in their freshman year of high school, our 2015 seniors earned $147,000 in scholarships, overall our students are showing significant growth academically, and finally, the fact that we are giving our students access to technology ahead of so many districts in the state is something that should be celebrated.
June 30, 2015
Hanford Sentinel
By Amy Wilkinson and Stephanie Bollweg, teachers at Avenal High School

[Monterey County] Carmel: Committee appointed to answer grand jury report

Carmel >> An ad hoc committee has been named by Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett to prepare a response to the Monterey County civil grand jury’s recommendations to improve city operations.
Burnett announced the committee at Monday evening’s special session of the City Council. The group will be composed of Burnett, City Attorney Don Freeman, City Administrator Doug Schmitz, Vice Mayor Ken Talmage and City Treasurer David Sandys.
The draft of the city’s responses will be made public, Burnett said.
Monday’s workshop was one of the shortest in memory, lasting only about 15 minutes. Two Carmel residents spoke during the public comment session about the grand jury report.
Resident and business owner Richard Kreitman was not happy with how the report characterized Carmel residents as not being knowledgeable of the workings of city government. He called the report “a disappointing piece of work.”
However, he said the report correctly found that the City Council needs to implement their right to review city workings. Kreitman thanked the council for actions already taken to fix problems at City Hall.
Without those actions, he said, former City Manager Jason Stilwell and Susan Paul, administrative services director, would still be working for the city and three fired employees would not have been reinstated.
Carmel resident Skip Lloyd said the grand jury report was a good faith effort and that the jury grappled with a number of issues.
“I just hope the community takes that sincerely,” he said.
The grand jury released its investigative report, which the city and a group of Carmel residents requested, on June 19. It made a wide range of recommendations, that included, among other things:
• The mayor and council conduct a structured review of the city’s departments each month, to ensure proper oversight of operations and more aggressive use of their power of inquiry.
• An appropriate information technology system be procured and the data network secured.
• An experienced human resources director be hired.
• A formal, mandatory progressive discipline system to be consistently applied for all employee disciplinary matters.
• The city review the contract awarding process to ensure that the Carmel Municipal Code provisions are being followed and that where called for, public bidding is used.
• The city attorney position become full time, and that the person filling that role have experience in contracts, employment law, and Public Records Act requests, as well as municipal law.
While the grand jury report is not binding, the jury seeks responses to recommendations.
June 29, 2015
Monterey County Herald
By Tom Leyde

[Stanislaus County] East Side mosquito control district is stung by grand jury report

A civil grand jury report recommends that an outside entity review “widespread” management and human resources problems at East Side Mosquito Abatement District.
And it does not stop there.
The report recommends that Stanislaus County supervisors appoint new members to the district board and consider merging East Side with the Turlock Mosquito Abatement District, which would create one vector control agency for the 1,500-square-mile county.
The grand jury investigated complaints regarding management problems and employee issues, concluding that workers feel intimidated by a foreman, that the district’s human resources system is woefully outdated and that the district needs stronger oversight from board members.
The findings were based on a review of district documents and interviews with county officials, East Side employees and board members, the report said.
“The (grand jury) found that while some allegations were unsubstantiated, there are widespread human resources and management problems within the district,” the report concluded. “The problems are significant and pervasive enough to require wholesale examination by outside experts to recommend corrective actions.”
East Side officials have until mid-August to respond to the findings. A county government spokesman said staff members are digesting the report and will prepare a response within 90 days.
One of the special district’s top responsibilities is controlling mosquitoes that carry potentially deadly West Nile illness in Modesto and other communities north of the Tuolumne River. By reducing the concentration of infected mosquitoes, a vector control district can lower the risk that residents will be infected by mosquito bites.
The grand jury discovered issues that were not raised in the complaint and found that management had a different viewpoint on workforce issues than what was expressed by seasonal and year-round employees, the report said.
Two board members told the grand jury they take a “hands off” approach and allow General Manager Lloyd Douglass to run day-to-day operations.
The report concluded that the Turlock Mosquito Abatement District has a larger year-round staff and is more forward-thinking and proactive in controlling mosquitoes. With a $5 million budget reserve, East Side has the resources to expand its year-round staff, the report said.
Some of the complaints have focused attention on foreman Kevin Wall. He said Monday he was not aware of complaints that co-workers felt intimidated and that they were not able to air their concerns without fear of retaliation.
“My door is always open,” Wall said. “It always has been and always will be. I have no idea where that could have come from.”
Wall has been criticized for using a district vehicle to haul materials for a side business. He has a business selling lemonade at carnivals and street fairs.
The foreman said he does not work on the lemonade business on district time and has never been confronted by district officials about his moonlighting.
Douglass, the general manager, said that wasn’t so. There was a problem with Wall’s side business and “we have addressed that with him.” Douglass said he took disciplinary action but could not discuss the details because personnel issues are confidential.
Within the past year, the district hired two brothers whose father retired from the district. Douglass said it was not a violation of district bylaws as long as one family member did not supervise another. The manager added that one of the brothers’ job skills were equal to that of his father’s.
The grand jury looked into complaints that seasonal employees are not given a clearly defined path to year-round employment. Of the dozen vector control technicians employed by the district, seven are seasonal workers and five are year-round employees.
The district’s policies and procedures handbook for employees is outdated and its employee grievance policy was last updated in the late 1980s. The outdated manual talks about union representation even though workers have not had union affiliation for years.
Douglass said he is trying to find out if the complaints of intimidation were from a few employees or the majority of the workforce.
“Intimidation is not the way I want to run this,” he said. “I was surprised by that complaint.”
The manager said he could suggest that the board hold a special meeting on the findings. He disagreed with the conclusion that board members are not engaged. They have been involved with implementing new equipment and a mapping system for aircraft, attending meetings and dealing with personnel issues, Douglass said.
He said that employing a year-round staff comparable to Turlock’s operation would not be financially sustainable without another source of revenue. And it might be difficult to justify full-time employment for some of those workers, he said.
Board Member Carl “Tony” Ott said the board was blindsided by the complaints of employee intimidation and never had a chance to address the issues. He said the district had been in contract with an outside firm to update the employment manual and human resources procedures.
“We are going to study the (grand jury) report and dissect it and see what we need to do,” Ott said.
County Supervisor Bill O’Brien said board members have exceeded term limits on East Side’s board probably because it’s hard to find people to serve. He said the grand jury identified many issues for district leaders to work on, including human resources policies that have not changed for 25 years.
“The talk of consolidation with Turlock may be all it takes to make East Side take a look at its practices,” O’Brien said. The supervisor said that, based on comments from residents, East Side has done a good job responding to calls about mosquito problems.
Two board members for Turlock Mosquito Abatement District did not return calls regarding a possible merger with East Side.
A staff member for the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission said the agency has asked county government if it wants a study on consolidating the two districts.
According to a LAFCO report on the county’s vector control services, done in 2013, there have been past discussions on consolidating the East Side and Turlock districts, which concluded it would not produce significant efficiencies or savings. That is partly because the size of the county would require multiple field offices, the report said.
June 29, 2015
Modesto Bee
By Ken Carlson