Saturday, August 29, 2015

Calaveras County Grand Jury Needs Your Input

San Andreas, CA. Do you feel there are areas in your county government or its operations that can be improved in order to better serve the community? Do you wonder where the “watchdogs” of the county are and what they are doing to ensure that county departments and agencies are operating efficiently? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you can help your community become a better place by contacting the Calaveras County Grand Jury. They ARE the “watchdogs” and they represent all citizens.
The Grand Jury is comprised of 19 Calaveras County Citizens who serve for a term of one year. Although these jurors have different backgrounds and experiences, they have one thing in common: they share a concern for the well-being of the county. Every effort is made to uncover all the facts of each case to assure investigations are completed thoroughly and without bias. At the end of each fiscal year the Jury’s findings are published in the Grand Jury Final Report. How well the Grand Jury’s process works relies largely on citizens identifying areas of concern.
That’s where YOU can help! If you are aware of anything that you feel may need to be investigated, you are encouraged to fill out a complaint form and mail it to the Calaveras County Grand Jury. All correspondence and complaints are strictly confidential and held to the highest standard of secrecy.
A written complaint form is preferred and can be requested by writing to the Grand Jury at the address below or it can be found online at along with full details and instructions. You may also call the number below to request a complaint form.
Filling out a complaint form anonymously is an option, but it can prevent the jury from contacting you regarding your concern which can result in the inability to investigate further.
Mail completed form to: P.O. Box #1414,
 San Andreas, CA 

[San Joaquin County] Manteca Unified Trustee Drain resigns

Elected in November, she was facing fraud charges, recall

Blog note: this article refers to a Grand Jury report criticizing the trustee.
MANTECA — The Manteca Unified School District confirmed Tuesday it had received a letter of resignation from Area 2 Trustee Ashley Drain, effective immediately.
District administrative assistant Chelo de Leon said the letter was given to them by the San Joaquin County superintendent of schools confirming the resignation. She said Drain gave no reason for resigning.
Drain, however, is the subject of a recall petition and is facing charges of voter fraud. She had been elected in November along with Alexander Bronson, who also was charged with voter fraud. Both had listed the same address for election records, even though the address was not in the area either was running to represent. And it appears neither lived there.
Bronson resigned in May, shortly after the charges were filed. He is next scheduled in court on Sept. 18.
Drain, who also was charged with welfare fraud, was arraigned in May on 10 counts that included grand theft of personal property over $400, food-stamp program violation, voter registration violation, false filing of a declaration of candidacy and multiple counts of perjury by declaration. 
A preliminary hearing has been set for Sept. 3, but a plea agreement could come before then, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Drain, whose actions were criticized two months ago in a report by the San Joaquin County civil grand jury, represented a section of Manteca Unified that includes Weston Ranch.
Bronson, Drain and board Vice President Sam Fant were described in the grand jury investigation as going against other members on board actions. Much of the report was focused on Drain and Fant and that the district mishandled the releasing of Weston Ranch Principal Jose Fregoso, among other findings. The report said many employees feared for their jobs because of some public comments from trustees.
The board eventually voted to accept the findings at a meeting on Aug. 11, after Drain had described the findings as “ridiculous and unbelievable.”
“It is what it is,” Drain said during comments. “Even before hearing anyone speak, I was like ‘I’m going chop this grand jury report up,’ because it’s so ridiculous and unbelievable. Now I’m at the point to just get over it. Anyone who actually reads with a little bit of common sense — a little bit — can see that this is a bunch of malarkey and not all the way true.”
Drain was served recall papers on May 12. Fant, too, is facing a recall. A petition to begin the recall process was approved on July 14 by the Registrar of Voters' office.
De Leon said the board of trustees will move forward in the next few weeks to determine how to fill the vacancy. When Bronson resigned, they took applications and in June unanimously elected Stephen Schluer to fill the post. They might opt to interview other replacement candidates or to have the voters choose a replacement.
August 25, 2015
Stockton Record
By Nicholas Filipas

Marin [County] supervisors reject call for greater labor talk transparency

Negotiating who gets paid how much for what at the Marin Civic Center will remain behind closed doors as county supervisors rebuffed civil grand jury proposals to let the light shine in.
The county board Tuesday dismissed a call by the grand jury for a more open government.
“What are you, what are the unions afraid of?” asked former San Rafael councilman Jack Nixon, foreman of last year’s grand jury. “Why can’t you at least let the public know what is being proposed during negotiations?”
But supervisors approved without change an administration analysis rejecting or deferring key grand jury proposals to pull the covers off employee pay talks.
County Administrator Matthew Hymel’s review of a transparent labor negotiation process called Civic Openness In Negotiations, or COIN, similar in some respects to statements issued by other public agencies in Marin, disagreed with aspects of it while saying more study was required. The county sees value in some provisions but “other provisions may work against our ultimate goal to negotiate the best deal for taxpayers,” he said.
The grand jury liked the program so much it recommended it twice, issuing reports urging the county and local cities to adopt it, then following up with a directive that key special districts do the same.
The one proposal Hymel identified as helpful — and recommended for adoption “after good faith bargaining” with labor unions — is publication on the consent calendar of tentative labor pacts a week before they are up for review. The plan lags more progressive programs, such as in Fairfax, where officials agreed to publish pay pact proposals a month before they come up for review.
Freshman Supervisor Damon Connolly dominated board commentary on the plan, saying releasing negotiating proposals during labor talks could backfire amid grandstanding disruption.
“I fundamentally disagree ... with negotiating in public,” he declared.
Connolly, calling COIN a “legally suspect gesture,” noted that public posturing during the BART strike triggered confusion, hardened positions and delayed resolution of issues.
Other board members lined up behind Connolly, with Kate Sears saying bargaining requires candid conversations. “Our Board of Supervisors is committed to transparency,” Sears said, but “bargaining in public is very different, whether it be for a nuclear Iran deal or a sports star contract.”
Supervisor Judy Arnold lauded Hymel’s analysis, including publication of tentative agreements a week early on the consent calendar. “Yet again our board has responded,” Arnold said, saluting county efforts on pension reform.
Supervisor Katie Rice had unusual praise for relentless board critics, saying, “I appreciate the pressure Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans has brought on us ... to improve.”
A half-dozen members of the pension group criticized the county retort to the grand jury, replaying a debate on the open negotiation program last spring. This time around, representatives of county fire unions, who earlier had provided fierce criticism of allowing the public to know more about labor talks, did not appear.
Jody Morales of Lucas Valley, founder of the pension group, said the county was embarking on business as usual and “thumbing its nose” at the grand jury as well as taxpayers. “It is time to open closed doors,” she said.
Criss Romero, a senior representative of the Marin Association of Public Employees, said critics suffered from “flawed logic” and lauded the “service mentality” of the county’s workforce.
The grand jury advocated an open government process in which taxpayers get independent interim reports on how pay and benefit pacts are progressing and letting the public chime in long before decisions are final.
The jury noted that the negotiation process itself would not be public, but more information about it disclosed. As it stands in Marin County today, public officials exclude local residents “from input until it is too late for a reasoned public dialogue,” jurors noted.
“Although Marin County residents pay taxes to support decisions by the Marin County Board of Supervisors and the city and town councils, there are numerous times when no transparency into the background of those decisions is made to the public,” the jury said.
The issue, the jury said, is “What should be disclosed to the residents of Marin, and when?”
August 25, 2015
Marin Independent Journal
By Nels Johnson

Friday, August 28, 2015

Former [Humboldt County] juror offers his take on grand jury

This is the third year in a row that I have written a critique of the annual grand jury report. In the past two years I have not been kind and have been critical of the grand jury members.

This will not happen this year as the problem is really with the system itself.

With the items that were addressed for the 2014-2015 year, the grand jury did a credible investigation with notably addressing the corrections to be made.

I would ask if those items they investigated were what they were supposed to be doing. Below is a description taken from the Humboldt County grand jury web site of what the grand jury is all about and the duties and responsibilities:

“The civil grand jury is an investigative body having for its objective the detection and correction of flaws in government.

“The primary function of the grand jury is to examine all aspects of county and city government (including special districts and joint powers agencies), to see that the monies are handled judiciously, and that all accounts are properly audited. In general, the grand jury seeks to assure honest, efficient government in the best interest of the people.

“The grand jury serves as an ombudsman for citizens of the county. It may receive and investigate complaints by individuals concerning the actions and performances of county or public officials.”

It is mainly about funds and numbers. In the past three years, outside of a few items, the main items were not addressed, which are, the departmental budgets, the expenditures from those budgets, the annual audit. One of the main expenditures is personnel and pensions. This is administered by the county union contract that they call the Memorandum of Understanding and is 108 pages and covers everything to do with personnel. The union contract has never been investigated by the grand jury to verify the validity and honesty of the contract. It appears to be off limits. Self-investigation has never worked to the benefit of the people. Nothing that has to do with the workings of the county should be off limits to investigate.

One of the biggest problems is the selection process of grand jury members. Names are drawn at random out of those that apply. The result is that most of the members do not have the skills to investigate what the grand jury is there for. Skills like accounting skills, budget skills, auditing skills, management skills and investigative skills. What usually happens is that they investigate what I call “feel good” items. Such as when a person is taken into custody and transported to Eureka and then released, the person is not informed of their right to claim travel expense to transport them back to were they were taken into custody. This is hardly a major expenditure item. There are other picky items that don’t amount to much.

 The one thing I object to personally is that people volunteer for this position. It is not a job. As such there should be no compensation for the time or travel to and from the position. If compensation is accepted then you become a government employee. This again is self-investigation. I have been volunteering at a thrift store for nine years and have not accepted a penny for my time or transportation. It is from the heart.

For those of you who doubt my ability to make an assessment of the grand jury report, I submit that I was a grand jury member a few years ago.

By Alfred Parodi, who resides in McKinleyville.
Published in the Eureka Times Standard, August 27, 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cross [San Bernadino] Grand Jury Service Off Her Bucket List

Imagine actress Rosalind Russell, setting aside the audacious, adventurous life she portrayed in the 1958 smash hit film Auntie Mame, and serving instead on a county Grand Jury, and you’ll have the perfect picture of Jeane Hallin of Cedarpines Park.

Hallin, 71, is a free spirit. She’s also one of 19 San Bernardino County residents chosen to serve on the 2015-16 civil Grand Jury, and she’s the only representative from the San Bernardino Mountains.

“I thought the mountains were underrepresented,” Hallin said. “I was kind of concerned. I was curious about the Grand Jury.”

But her desire to serve, and to learn, could easily have fallen on deaf ears, because Hallin missed the deadline for submitting applications for appointment to the panel, whose main duties include studying the operations of various county departments, making recommendations to improve them, and investigating complaints against county personnel and programs.

“I was a month late in applying but they put it through anyway,” she said. She missed the cutoff, she added, because she was in Ethiopia at the time, visiting one of the countries on her bucket list, a ledger that has shortened considerably as the roster of nations she has toured, on every continent on planet Earth, has lengthened.

The Grand Jury selection process involves being interviewed by a panel of judges, Hallin said. “They were cute, young and sweet, and interested in my travels. They ask you a lot of questions about your life experiences and what you did for a living.”

Like Russell’s film character Mame Dennis, who flits from one pastime to another with seeming abandon, Hallin’s career has headed in many directions. Early on she taught school, including instructing in English, science , mathematics and tennis in Israel, from 1970 to 1973.
“I left when the war started,” she recalled.

Tennis held center stage in Hallin’s life for a time, and she taught it at kibbutzim in Israel and at Stevens College, a liberal arts institution for women in Columbia, Missouri.
At another point it was off to study law at Loma Linda University. “I passed the bar exam on my first try,” she said. “It’s not that difficult, just a bunch of stories from English law you have to remember.”

Hallin said she set up practice in San Bernardino, fresh out of law school. “I practiced just about everything,” she said, but mainly criminal defense, including representing police officers charged with a third drunk-driving offense.

Often she’d approach judges and tell them she was new and unfamiliar with handling herself in court. “They were very nice,” she said. “They’d object for me when I should have objected.”

Retired now, Hallin has become a world traveler. “I have this travel bug,” she said. “I think I was born with it,” and it keeps motivating her to scratch countries off her bucket list. So far she’s visited Israel, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and its nearby islands, Peru, China, Ireland, Australia, Portugal, Spain, France and Sweden, the land of her ancestors—and those are just the ones she recalls.

In Papua New Guinea, she said, “they just walk around completely naked all the time,” while in Ethiopia, “they sleep on animal skins and keep cows in their houses. They make their own alcohol in front of you and offer you some.”

Hallin visited China in 2008 to take in the Summer Olympic Games, she said, and managed to wrangle tickets to watch basketball competition, though at first she was told no tickets were available.

Her interest in athletic competition comes naturally; her father, she said, was a track star in high school in Michigan. In addition to the China games, Hallin said she’s watched Olympic athletes perform at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games and in Atlanta in 1996.

Her fascination with track and field has carried over into her own life as well. Hallin said she has competed extensively in Senior Olympics, participating in the pole vault, shot put, discus, triple jump and marathon, and has garnered “about 100 medals. I’ve medaled in everything I attempted, though not all of them are gold,” she said.

But time does take its toll. “I’m 71. I’ve slowed down some, I don’t pole vault quite as much” these days, she said.

One outdoor adventure she also tried was ziplining. About two years ago, she said, she built her own zipline on her property, to help her carry food to her llamas.

“We had a zipline when I taught special education to kids in Ohio,” she said. I thought I knew everything (about them).” But apparently there was a blank spot in her knowledge, because Hallin had a zipline mishap in which she suffered a broken neck and had to be airlifted for medical care.

Grand Jury service seems just the thing for Hallin at this stage of her life. “It’s a great group of people we work with, and we have a wonderful lawyer to give us advice,” she said of the county attorney who staffs the Grand Jury.

As for how her service will unfold, Hallin is waiting for developments. “I’m not sure what to expect. So far we’re looking at a lot of things. We had a complaint that just came in,” she said, but, given the confidential nature of Grand Jury service, she couldn’t talk about it, other than to say that “a lot of complaints are a little bit self-serving.”

Grand Jurors are prohibited from serving on consecutive one-year panels, but may reapply after a year off, and Hallin said she’s interested in reapplying. “We have some people who’ve been on the Grand Jury 10 or 15 times.” Her current colleagues “are the most intelligent people, from all types of experiences,” including airplane pilots, entrepreneurs and even a former air-traffic controller.

“Everybody should apply,” she said. “It’s a great thing.”

By Glenn Barr, Reporter
The Mountain News, August 27, 2015
Lake Arrowhead, CA

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Response to [Monterey County] civil grand jury report on jail reviewed

Agreeing with a little less than half of the findings of a scathing 40-page civil grand jury report on the Monterey County Jail, the Monterey County Board of Supervisor’s formal response to the report as well as recommendations on how issues have been addressed or will be addressed will come back to the board Sept. 1 for final approval.

The Board of Supervisors responded to 24 findings regarding the jail as well as addressed 20 recommendations in the response document.

Findings that the board agreed on included problematic jail staff overtime, but they noted that recruitment and reorganization is addressing it, albeit in a short-term fashion.

The board also agrees that there is inadequate inmate programming space at the jail as well as that contraband drugs are a serious problem at all correctional facilities, not just Monterey County Jail.

Nearly half of the money from the Inmate Welfare Fund, totaling about $500,000 and intended to pay for providing things like inmate training and programs, was instead being used to pay staff for jail cleaning and maintenance, according to the findings.

The board agreed that those staff positions had devolved from their intended purpose in recent years, and the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office is recruiting more staff and reorganizing the inmate training programs in response.

The board also wholly disagrees with several findings, such as that jail cleanliness and conditions are substandard and staffing levels are inadequate, noting that staffing with overtime has been adequate to fulfill state and federal mandates.

The board also disagrees that a planned jail addition may not include adequate space for inmate programs.

One finding in the draft response report has since been amended after supervisors were provided with more information, said Manuel T. Gonzalez, assistant county administrative officer.

While the board originally disagreed that it was inadequate that only one officer at a time keeps an eye on jail cameras, it changed its response to agree with the finding. It also agreed on a separate finding that there are too few cameras at the jail in general, and a request has been submitted to upgrade the jail’s camera system.

The report also made allegations that there is minimal use of a formal disciplinary system for staff infractions, a finding that the board wholly disagrees with, stating that formal and informal discipline is used whenever employee misconduct is found.

Partial disagreements with findings included issues of insufficient mailroom staffing, inmate-to-inmate mail posing a safety risk, and allegations that inmate health and welfare checks and logs aren’t being consistently completed.

The board said county officials routinely audit health and welfare check logs completed by correctional staff, and while some aren’t completed correctly, routine checks are conducted and action is taken when policy violations are found.

Some of the board recommendations on these issues, such as approving adequate funding for staff and inmate programs, has already been implemented.

Others, such as installing prison-view windows or prohibiting inmate-to-inmate mail, were deemed unnecessary by the board and will not be implemented.

Planning for fulfilling other recommendations is in the works. Examples include the need to appoint at least four civilians to the Inmate Welfare Advisory Committee, which will be re-established by September, and to widely advertise the bid for jail medical services next time it comes up. The contract has been held by California Forensics Medical Group for 26 years. The current contract expires in June.

Lastly, the board said some recommendations, like seeking funds for an additional full-time mailroom clerk and to buy electronic mail scanning equipment, will require further analysis.

The Californian
Chelcey Adami, Salinas5:46 p.m. PDT August 25, 2015

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

[Sonoma County] Fountaingrove fire station delayed by disability-access issues to open

Blog Note: This article references a 2004 grand jury report finding the need for a new fire station. Grand jury reports can have influence long into the future.
Firefighters are moving in to the new Fountaingrove fire station Tuesday, nearly four months after the $4 million building was found not to comply with state and federal laws meant to ensure access for people with disabilities.
The new Station 5 at the intersection of Fountain Grove Parkway and Newgate Court has been staffed during the daytime since last Friday, when the building received a temporary occupancy permit from the city’s chief building official.
Firefighters have been making the transition to working out of the new station ever since, and after furniture, appliances and other gear is moved in Tuesday, they will spend their first night there tonight.
“It’s very, very exciting to get into the building and start responding to calls,” Fire Chief Tony Gossner said.
The station’s new location atop Fountaingrove is about a mile north of the existing Station 5 on Parker Hill Road. The new spot will significantly improve the ability of water-laden fire engines to respond quickly to emergencies in the area, Gossner said.
The affluent hillside neighborhood is located in a high fire danger area known as a wildland-urban interface, yet the response times to emergencies there have long been the slowest in the city. A department study in 2002 confirmed as much and a 2004 Sonoma County grand jury report concluded the city badly needed to build the new station.
More than a decade later, after the station was finally constructed, city officials in April realized numerous features failed to provide required access for the disabled, even though able-bodied firefighters are the only ones expected to regularly use the building.
The height of kitchen counters, the width of doors, the location of bathroom grab handles and even the volume control knobs on the station’s radio system were all found to not comply with the latest state building codes.
The changes are expected to take about three months to complete. The cost of the work has yet to be identified. City officials last week expressed hope it would be less than the $60,000 remaining in the contingency fund for the project. This week, however, Jason Nutt, director of transportation and public works, said conversations with the contractor, GCCI, Inc., made that seem less likely.
“It’s looking like the cost is going to be pushing our limit,” Nutt said.
August 24, 2015
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
By Kevin McCallum