Saturday, December 31, 2016

[Mendocino County] Grand Jury gets a prize

Blog note: this is an excerpt from an article reporting on the December 20 meeting of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.
Kathy Wiley, the 2016-17 Mendocino County Grand Jury foreperson, and Finley Williams, a former grand jury foreperson, updated the board on grand jury activities in the last year, which included winning a prize from a state association. Topics that came before the grand jury’s attention included, but were not limited to, budget transparency on Prop 172, the planning and building code enforcement in Point Arena, District Attorney David Eyster’s marijuana restitution program, and mental health services in the county. Wiley said the grand jury also “took a look” at the dispute between the CIty of Ukiah and the Ukiah Valley Sanitation District, but that the jury has an internal policy that does not allow it to make reports that might affect litigation. However, she said, in the event of litigation, “ratepayers would be on the hook, so that was an issue of great concern.”
In November, the California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA) awarded the Mendo County grand jury the Robert Geiss Excellence in Reporting Award for its 2014-15 report on the library’s record keeping and fund disbursement. According to the CGJA’s website, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors’ request for clarity from the state legislature regarding the payment of librarians’ salaries “May result in a change in how tax-supported librarian salaries are paid across California.” Williams told the board, “I think every agency needs to have somebody looking over its shoulder, and for you all, it’s the grand jury.”
December 30, 2016
The Mendocino Voice
By Sarah Reith

[Monterey County] Carmel Police roll out body cameras

Police officers in the city of Carmel by the Sea have all been assigned a body camera and the devices hit the street the week before Christmas 

Blog note: this article references a county grand jury report suggesting the purchase and use of body cameras.
Police officers in the city of Carmel by the Sea have all been assigned a body camera and the devices hit the street the week before Christmas.
The cameras, which consist of a small thick box affix to the front of an officer’s uniform. The devices record video, audio and can take still photographs.
The department spent $20,000 to buy 13 cameras, the software that goes with them and a server to house the data.
Carmel police are asking officers to turn on their body cameras anytime they make contact.
“I like it,” said officer David DiMaggio who was out demoing his camera on Friday.
DiMaggio said it increases transparency between the police and the public and the new Chief said that is what the body cameras are all about.
“It’s about transparency,” he said.
Chief Paul Tomasi said a Monterey County Grand Jury report focusing on law enforcement suggested departments purchases and implement body cameras.
Tomasi said the devices will not only increase transparency but will be used as a learning tool. Officers will be able to review footage and see what they’re doing right and what can be improved.
The department has decided not to use cloud storage but instead to store the video in house on a server. Tomasi said the department will store all video for up to a year and then delete.
Exceptions will be made for video involved in incidents or court cases.
December 30, 2016
KSBW The Central Coast

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lake County Grand Jury issues followup on annual report responses

Blog note: in this article, the reporter says that the foreperson of the 2016-17 Lake County Grand Jury credits CGJA training for the suggestion to publish responses to the previous grand jury’s recommendations.
LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – The Lake County Grand Jury has issued a roundup of local officials' responses to the recommendations issued in this year's grand jury report.
The report was released in July, with local officials required by state law to respond within 90 days, making the responses due by Sept. 30.
Later in the fall, the grand jury issued a followup, shown below, that brings the recommendations and responses together.
Rosemary Dontje, the foreperson for the grand jury through June 2017, said the idea for issuing a followup that gives the community an update on how local officials responded to the report came from the California Grand Jurors' Association.
“We're just getting started,” Dontje said. “This is the first year that we've really done it to this degree.”
Usually, local government agencies will separately issue their responses and approve them at public meetings. But now the grand jury is collecting them all together along with the report for the public's dissemination, she said.
“It's a new thing for us but it's a thing that's going to continue,” Dontje said, adding that they're excited to be able to do it.
The grand jury made an initial foray into creating a followup report last year, but that year's grand jury report had fewer recommendations, and the effort didn't get very far due to some organizational and technical roadblocks, said Dontje.
But this year, with many more recommendations, including a number related to the Valley fire, and the grand jury coming up with a better way to present all of the information in one place, it has gained traction, she said.
“This year we're more organized,” she said.
Dontje said she attended a task force meeting for the Valley fire earlier this year and found out that several people on the task force were enthused about the recommendations and looking forward to hearing more about the responses.
Part of what is different this year is that in the past agencies and local officials gave vague answers and seemed not to take the grand jury very seriously, she said.
“We're doing better about writing our reports, they're doing better about how they answer them, so I think it's beneficial for everything,” she said.
Thousand Oaks resident Jerry Lewi, who serves as the California Grand Jurors' Association's continuity lead trainer and editor of the association's journal, said the association has been advocating for this kind of continuity reporting by grand juries since before he began with the organization 15 years ago.
“Our thinking has evolved over the years,” said Lewi, explaining that the association now defines monitoring final responses to grand jury reports in four levels.
These monitoring methods are an integral part of the association's training program, which the Lake County Grand Jury has been taking part in over the last several years, Lewi said.
The first level of monitoring is seeing if government entities respond to grand jury findings and recommendations within the statutory requirements, he said.
Lewi said there are only two allowable answers to findings – agreeing or disagreeing. Regarding responses, there are four legal responses: yes, they will be implemented; they've already been implemented; no, the recommendations won't be implemented and the reasons why; and that more time and study is needed.
The second monitoring level is responsiveness, meaning, did the agency or organization understand the report and respond to it like they did or were they evasive, Lewi said.
The third level is implementation review, which Lewi said a number of grand juries are now doing more effectively.
That level of review essentially follows up to see if recommendations were implemented when an entity said they would be, Lewi explained.
The fourth and final level is effectiveness: How effective was the grand jury report, did it lead to someone wanting to implement its recommendations and actually doing it, he said.
Lewi said they're trying to learn how reports can inspire those types of responses. “We're just beginning to think about that.”
Most grand juries are doing that first step, and about 10 statewide are getting into implementation review, but not too many are dealing with responsiveness yet, he said.
A final report is the only way a grand jury can communicate with the outside world, said Lewi, and as these improvements to the process are made, the word spreads that grand juries do, in fact, make a difference.
In the spring, when the association did a training with the Orange County Grand Jury on report writing, Lewi said they learned that group had done a 2014-15 report on significant implementation in that county.
That grand jury had had gone back and looked at past recommendations that the Orange County authorities had agreed to implement and found that the follow through was very bad, he said.
Lewi said the Orange County Grand Jury subsequently sat down with county leaders and extracted from them a promise to do better at actually implementing the recommendations.
He said that was important because the grand jury has no power of enforcement, but has to persuade local governments that their recommendations are important to carry out for the effectiveness of the system. “It's just shining a light on a situation.”
Lewi added, “No grand jury has any legal responsibility to do any of this, none whatsoever.”
The report and the responses
This year's 102-page Lake County Grand Jury report included 13 separate investigations that generated 48 specific recommendations that the grand jury made to county officials, boards and special districts to better improve their operations and serve the residents of the county.
One of the grand jury's primary investigations focused on the Lake County Office of Emergency Services in relation to the 2015 wildland fires.
In that investigation, the grand jury found disorganization in the way the agency worked with other disaster agencies.
There also were reviews of pension plans, efficiency of the tax collector's check processing, a review of the District Attorney's Office Victim-Witness Division, employee accountability and record keeping at Health and Human Services, inconsistencies with the city of Lakeport's general plan and zoning ordinances, the objections of neighbors to the Lake County Vector Control District expansion plans, the Mendocino County Juvenile Facility that now serves Lake County, and nuisance abatement code enforcement in and around Lake County after the wildland fires.
The following are grand jury report titles followed by the responses offered by local officials, which are included in the recommendations and responses document show below.
Fire Safety in Lake County
• Funding for Integrated Public Alert Warning System software (IPAWS) for cell phone alerts has been received from the Lake Area Rotary Club Association and is pending implementation. Attempts are being made to identify funding for a siren warning system.
• Efforts made by the Middletown Rancheria tribe to set up another fire district will be supported by the Board of Supervisors and the Lake County Fire Chief’s Association.
Role of the Office of Emergency Services in County Disaster Preparedness
• A manager of the Office of Emergency Services (OES) has been hired and is engaged with updating the county Emergency Operations Plan and re-structuring the OES Website.
• The County Disaster Council has been reconvened and will hold regular meetings. The Disaster Council promises an Annual Report and Strategic Plan by the first quarter of 2017.
• Funding is being sought to support an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). An EOC was activated during the 2016 Clayton Fire.
Nuisance Abatement Code Enforcement after the 2015 Wildfires
• A log of nuisance complaints will be established with the impending new software implementation by the Community Development Department.
Pension Plan Review
• Recommendation that an employee survey be conducted to assess cost/ benefit ratio of pension plan effectiveness was rejected.
Tax Collector’s Check Processing Efficiency
• Date stamping and/or logging in of tax monies received to track processing time was rejected.
Board of Supervisors Investigation
• Development of a formal five-year strategic plan for Lake County’s future is being explored by the county’s Chief Administrative Officer.
• Written performance evaluations for Department Heads reporting to the Board of Supervisors was rejected.
• A comprehensive management succession plan for County department heads will be implemented.
Alcohol and Drug Services Available in Lake County
• Information about the dangers of driving after using certain medications is being regularly provided to seniors.
Membership in the Lake County Grand Jury is voluntary. Members fluctuate annually and new members are sworn in every July. 
The grand jury is empowered to investigate all branches of county government to ensure they are being managed efficiently, honestly and in the best interest of citizens, per Penal Code Sections 925, 925a.
December 27, 2016
Lake County News
By Elizabeth Larson

Monday, December 26, 2016

[Sonoma County] Reasons to be Optimistic

Blog note: this is an excellent pitch/rationale for citizens to apply to serve on a civil grand jury in Sonoma County. It applies to all of our counties.
What can you do in this New Year to make a Difference? Sonoma County residents are the epitome of thoughtful deliberation, and yet the weight of our positions has not recently carried the day nationwide. We all feel the need to do something to make a difference on this fragile planet. Here’s my view based on nearly two decades of retirement, I’ve found a niche in the local Civil Grand Jury system.
“All politics is local” is where I began, when I retired fifteen years ago. I ran for elected office, a lowly Park & Recreation Board member, in back-water Monte Rio. I won, and re-ran and won a second term. I worked fervently, not just for local community, but for the local library system, along with many committees and grass-roots organizations trying to address homelessness, poverty, addiction, and mental health issues. All of these are valid ways to make a difference and give back to your local community.
I found an additional and stronger voice these past few years, working within the Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury (CGJ) system. It is an anonymous and silent voice, which is fine: I’m not building a resume. I’m also not paid for more than incurred travel expenses, and my voice is no louder, nor quieter than any of the other eighteen members of the annually seated, collegial body. The collaborative nature of this century-old body dictates a uniform voice, just like a criminal court-room jury: not individuals, but “the Jury finds …”.
The CGJ system exists in all 58 counties of California. It is State-mandated by law, and has been in place for over a hundred years.  The concept goes back even further to English and Colonial laws. The concept is, “Who watches the politicians?” Our CGJ role in Sonoma County is to inquire and investigate all aspects of county government: both elected and appointed officials, and their staffs and organizations, to confirm that they are performing efficiently, as well as providing their directed functions to the citizens of Sonoma County. And yes, this gets down to the, “Are they picking up garbage on the designated days, and disposing of it in the contractually agreed manner, for the stipulated price?”
For the citizen who wants to give back some of their life-acquired expertise in computers, the law, accounting, social justice, or whatever, the CGJ is an opportunity to have a significant impact on county government. Again, no fame or fortune; altruism is the name of this game.
My experience with advocacy groups has been inconsistent; there are usually too few great leadership people. Often, there is a small cadre doing the bulk of the work. I’m in my second one-year term and each nineteen-member jury has been composed of enthusiastic, capable leaders. I’ve never failed, in saying aloud, “I need help with project X”, to find two or three hands raised saying, “When?”
A series of Q and A presentations are available this winter at the Sonoma County Library.
January 4, 2017 (posted on the internet prior to publication date)
Sonoma County Gazette
ByPeter Andrews

[Ventura County] Grand jury calls for greater transparency in campaign finance statements

To help improve political transparency, the Ventura County grand jury is urging seven cities to add local campaign finance data to their websites.According to a report issued this month, the grand jury found that only three cities — Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Ventura — provide information online about who is contributing money to the campaigns of local candidates.
In its final report, issued Dec. 1 and titled “Campaign Contributions Transparency,” the grand jury singled out Simi Valley for having “the most user-friendly format regarding monetary contributions online.”
Getting candidates’ contribution statements in the seven cities that don’t put the information online varies from city to city. Some provide the information in written form, others do so by email, grand jury foreperson Pam Riss said.
In Camarillo, according to the report, residents can get candidates’ campaign finance statements by visiting the city clerk’s office, but the information is not posted on the city’s website.
The situation is the same in Moorpark, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Ojai, Santa Paula and Fillmore, the report said.
The grand jury’s investigation, prompted by a complaint that campaign contribution data wasn’t easily accessible, focused on whether the county and its 10 cities were in full compliance with the state’s Political Reform Act of 1974.
California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which was established by the 1974 act, requires candidates running for public office to file a form, called Form 460, listing all campaign contributions of $100 or more,
The commission’s rules also require local governments to provide residents with access to records of campaign contributions “in an accurate, timely and transparent manner.”
Nothing in state law, however, requires cities to post the information on municipal websites.
Although the panel’s conclusion was only a recommendation, the report said if all 10 cities in the county offered the same user-friendly access to the records as Simi Valley, residents could easily compare monetary contributions made to the different candidates’ campaigns.
The county elections office website also fell short of the grand jury’s transparency standard.
That website provides access only to finance statements filed electronically by candidates’ campaigns. Statements submitted in written form are not available online, the report found. To get the written reports, residents must visit the county clerk and recorder’s office in Ventura.
While data on electronic filings are available on the county website, the information is not easy to access. It takes 11 steps to reach the webpage containing the information, the report said.
“The searcher must follow seven individual steps before arriving at a page which requires a specific name (last name only) and a filing date. Once the searcher gets to the ‘Summary Page,’ four additional steps are required to get to the page which documents monetary contributions,” the report said.
The website is “overly complicated, not intuitive” and may require help from county staff to navigate.
Although state law doesn’t require cities to post campaign finance records on their websites, Moorpark will comply with the grand jury’s recommendation, City Clerk Maureen Benson said this week.
“We’re happy to comply,” Benson said Monday. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s not required by law, but we’re going to be copying what the city of Simi Valley does on its website. We don’t know if it’ll look exactly like theirs, though.”
Camarillo City Clerk Jeffrie Madland said she planned to present a report on the grand jury’s recommendation to the Camarillo City Council, probably at the council’s meeting in January.
“They’ll make the decision,” she said.
Posting the candidate campaign finance statements on Camarillo’s website would be complicated, Madland predicted.
“You have to redact all this information,” she said. “If you look at Ventura County’s website, you see all these blank lines where addresses and other personal information is redacted.”
December 23, 2016
Moorpark Acorn
By Hector Gonzalez

Friday, December 23, 2016

Santa Clara County: Two top fairground executives abruptly out

Blog note: this article references a 2011 grand jury report critical of the Fairgrounds Management Corp.
SAN JOSE — The top two executives at the agency that manages the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds have abruptly left the organization, according to county and fairgrounds officials.
The Fairgrounds Management Corp.’s five-member board put Executive Director Delana Romero on paid administrative leave and accepted CFO Howard Thomas’ resignation during a closed-door personnel meeting late last week, according to fairgrounds spokesman Steve Stagnaro.
Neither Romero nor Thomas returned calls seeking comment. FMC Board President Mary Bartlett, who took over Romero’s duties as interim executive director in her absence, also was unavailable.
County and fairgrounds officials were tight-lipped about the reasons behind Romero’s leave, calling it a personnel matter. Her contract ends this month, before the next fairgrounds board meeting.
Rob Coelho, an attorney with the County Counsel’s Office, said only that her leave involves “an incident that is being investigated.”
“Right now it’s a personnel issue that’s being conducted and it is at its relatively early stages,” Coelho said.
Santa Clara County Board President Dave Cortese said the matter was the basis for a special meeting held on Tuesday by the fairgrounds board.
Sources familiar with the investigation said the issue involved whether the two executives mishandled allegations of financial improprieties involving another fairgrounds staffer, who has not been identified. The amount of money involved was said to exceed $100,000, the sources said.
“Something not good,” Cortese said.
The Fair Management Corp. board accepted Thomas’ resignation at the same series of closed meetings.
Recently appointed fairgrounds board member Tyson Greaves cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the executives’ departures.
“I would encourage people to suspend judgment until all the facts are in,” Greaves said.
Coelho said his department is not conducting the investigation, and a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said he could not comment on any pending matters before an outcome is delivered.
Stagnaro said Thomas had planned on retiring for some time but did not know why he opted to resign instead.
“There was general knowledge that he had already stuck around a year longer than he had wanted,” Stagnaro said. “I honestly don’t know if the timing was coincidental.”
The Fairgrounds Management Corporation is contracted to run the facility by Santa Clara County, which owns the 150-acre site on Tully Road near the Monterey Highway in San Jose.
Romero, 63, has been involved with the fair for decades, and was promoted from fair manager to executive director in 2012. The job involves overseeing operations at the fairgrounds and events center, the annual county fair, the off-track betting facility and other tenants.
As CFO, Thomas handled the financial side of the operation. He held the position for nearly six years.
According to Roger Mialocq of Harvey Rose Associates, the county’s contracted auditor, they have done high-level examinations of how FMC is doing financially overall, but have never been asked to do the sort of management audit that might reveal specific improprieties within a given department.
FMC was the subject of a scathing grand jury report in 2011, which found that it “does not employ sound business practices,” with a board that “does not demonstrate the business acumen necessary to effectively oversee FMC.”
“The fairgrounds for many, many years had been having a difficult time,” Mialocq said. “They often operate on a break-even basis, just barely making it.”
But that’s improved in recent years, said Cortese, although he still questioned FMC’s apparent lack of ability to draw people to the site.
“They figured out how to stay in the black and have learned to do pretty robust programming for the facility, and I’ll give them a thumbs up there,” Cortese said. “But where the arrow goes down is the fair itself. It’s supposed to be the granddaddy of all events but it’s just pathetic. They seem to be trying to go hand-to-mouth from one event to the next without any vision or inspiration toward putting on a first-class event.”
December 22, 2016
The Mercury News
By Eric Kurhi

[Mendocino County] It’s All Good: CGJ, LAB, BoS, AG-that’s 8 of 26 elements in our local alphabet soup

GJ & LAB >> My congratulatory comments on both our Civil Grand Jury’s Excellence in Reporting Award & on our Library Advisory Board’s steady pressuring our Board of Supervisors to clean up the County’s Library accounting procedures drew two responses: “Hey thanks for continuing to nip at the BOS’s heels. It will take a third GJ report to get the BOS to follow through with an AG opinion on the director’s salary,” and this one from Michael Schaeffer, a LAB member: “maybe you should mention that while the BOS supported joint meetings with the LAB twice a year, the last was October 2015 and after many cancellations from the BOS the next is vaguely scheduled for spring/summer, 2017!” (jm: Current operative date is sometime in July.)
Let me >> somewhat unpack the above item. Our Mendocino Civil Grand Jury, which has broad power to investigate and report on local government, has twice investigated the County’s handling of Library funding. The County (CEO & BoS) brushed off the first report (2013-14): BoS are busy people, the Library’s budget is a mere $2 mil or so, and (perhaps) no one pays attention to GJ reports anyway.--But the BoS’s Library Advisory Board certainly paid attention to the 2014-15 GJ report and—in public and charged meetings—got a good (if, still partial) agreement with the BoS: All money collected through our Measure A Library tax (passed in 2011), goes solely to verifiable Library costs.--The GJ had documented significant deviation from that self-evident proposition in an accounting area called A-87 costs. The second time the GJ reported Foul! on the County’s bill to the Library for A-87 costs, the County agreed to repayment. I have confirmation that The Library is receiving installment payments for inappropriately billed A-87 costs. No mention of interest. The total reimbursement is somewhat less than the amount alleged by the GJ.--Realism in play.
Still, money’s yelling >> and requiring explanation of the sardonic comment (above), “it will take a third GJ report to get the BOS to follow through with an AG opinion on the director’s salary.”--That comment refers to a provision of the state Education Code (which governs County library operations). The code requires that the District Librarian’s salary be paid from “the same fund” as that which pays the heads of other County departments. That is, our District (or County) Librarian is, by California code, to be paid from what Mendocino County calls “General Fund dollars,” or similar phrasing. Library funds are not General Fund dollars, in any phrasing. They are “dedicated fund” dollars. That is, Library funds are Measure A money plus approximately .01% of owners’ real estate taxes, and they cannot be used to meet General Fund obligations (in this case, the District Librarian’s salary).--And that proscribed money is exactly what the County uses to pay the District Librarian’s salary. Over time, the sum mounts up: the Librarian’s annual salary & benefits were $100,000/year in 2015. Pressure builds on the County not to agree to a common-sense reading of Library law, since such a reading would require the sort of repayment the County made for mis-billed A-87 costs.
And >> there is the (on-the-face-of-it) oddness that dedicated Library funds are not to pay the head librarian’s salary. That’s the law.
And the law’s >> the reason for the opaque sentence in comment #1 above, “It will take a third GJ report to get the BOS to follow through with an AG opinion on the director’s salary.”--The AG is the California Attorney General who, if requested by our BoS, will—in perhaps a year or two—give us a binding(?) ruling on whether the Legislature meant “the same fund” when it wrote “the same fund” into law. If the Legislature meant what it wrote, then our County’s “General Fund” owes our Library’s dedicated fund some bucks . . . & some more bucks for each day our BoS does not workshop an agreement with its own Library Advisory Board (BoS appoints the LAB, for heaven’s sake!) to stop the mis-billing and mis-payment based on mis-reading.
December 21, 2016
Ukiah Daily Journal
By Jonathan Middlebrook

[Humboldt County] In Exit Interview, Mark Lovelace Talks Accomplishments, HumCPR and the Frustration of Being ‘Completely Ignored’

Blog note: in this interview, the departing county supervisor comments on the county grand jury.
Last Wednesday, less than 24 hours after wrapping up his final meeting as Humboldt County’s Third District supervisor, Mark Lovelace sat down with the Outpost to talk about his eight years in that position. In the process he addressed his often-adversarial relationship with fellow supervisors and explained why, if he’d gotten the chance, he probably would have voted against the long-overdue General Plan Update.
He also talked about the pitfalls of being too argumentative, the reasons why county staff deserve more credit, and the humiliating events that left him feeling powerless, prompting his decision not to seek reelection. 
The conversation, which took place over coffee in Old Town, has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What are you most proud of during your eight years on the Board?
Trying to select any one thing is a little bit hard, partly because anything we do as a group takes at least three people, and even then it doesn’t happen unless staff actually does it. … We get all the glory — or all the grief — for our decisions, but staff are the ones that do the actual work. …
The bigger issues that have been accomplished in the last eight years are things like the movement on the Klamath towards a deal that just found a brilliant workaround to not require Congressional approval. … The Trinity River, getting the recognition of [Humboldt’s water rights]. After 60 years getting someone to say, “Yes, the contract says what the contract says.” That was something that was a long time in coming. Nod to [former county supervisor] Jill Duffy for highlighting that issue for a number of years.
Certainly moving cannabis towards a rational policy issue rather than this hysterical values-based issue where people were either for it or against it. That’s something that took a lot of years of just being willing to talk about it. It’s telling now that when we have discussions about cannabis policy almost no one shows up. It’s become as boring a routine as the godforsaken General Plan Update.
Is there anything you hoped to accomplish that —
You know the answer to this one, right? When I came into office in 2009, I never would have imagined that eight years later the General Plan Update would still be hanging out there.
What got it off-track? Why has it taken this long?
I think the General Plan Update is an example of something that can be a downfall of electoral government, which is that when you have a process that takes a long time, every time someone new gets elected — and I’m not pointing to any one person; it would apply to pretty much anyone I know that’s been elected in any office — you know, history starts the day you get sworn in. And when you’ve got something that’s been ongoing for 12 years before you even ran for office, that can be a really daunting task, to really wrap your head around it.
The General Plan Update contains somewhere around 1,000 separate policies to be worked through. And all of those policies, over time, were based upon board direction to staff over many years. And that was based upon a process of study and analysis and so many meetings and workshops to find out what’s important to people, to different interests and stakeholder groups. But wrapping your head around the history of it, if you weren’t there, you pretty much have to rely on a narrative of what’s happened. And if the narrative you’ve been fed is, “It was a rogue staff that was just doing it their own way, and [former Planning Director] Kirk Girard’s the devil,” then you’re going to see the whole thing through that lens.
What do you think about where the [draft] General Plan is now, where the policies have ended up?
I’d bet good money that it’s not going to be back [before the board] until 2018. That’s just my guess. When it was still targeted to come to us before the end of this year I struggled a lot with [the question of] what would I do when this thing came forward? Where would I stand on it? …
“The General Plan was basically watered down to the point of meaninglessness.”
There’s a lot of things in there where it was 4-1 and my input was completely ignored. The biggest frustration were things specific to the Third District, like some of the open space policies that applied only to the Third District, where my colleagues showed zero interest or deference in listening to the person who’d been elected by the people of the Third District.
My inclination — not having gotten to that point, obviously — is that I probably would have voted against it. Though there were still some good things in there, as a whole it was basically watered down to the point of meaninglessness.
The General Plan is supposed to be a vision of the future. It has to start with an idea of what we want Humboldt County to look like 20 years from now. And when you say, “Well, we don’t really have an idea of what we want it to look like; we just want it to be a product of individuals doing their own thing,” it abdicates that responsibility. I really don’t know that anyone could tell me what this General Plan does or what that vision is for the future.
What’s behind the recent discussion about the makeup of the Planning Commission? Because it seems like it dates back to when the Board sent a memo reminding commissioners that they’re not really supposed to do anything without the direction of the Board.
“There are some people on the Planning Commission who want to be county supervisors. They want to set the policy agenda.”
I think the struggle the board has had in recent years has been that there are some people on the Planning Commission who want to be county supervisors. They want to set policy, and they want to set the policy agenda. … 
Is it safe to say that [HumCPR co-founders] Lee Ulansey and Robert Morris are among that contingent?
I think it’s safe to say that. And if someone wants to set policy for the county, then they should run for the Board of Supervisors. That’s where it happens. When you raise money for candidates, and you back candidates, and you get an appointment by the people you supported, none of that makes you a policymaker. You have access and a voice. You have someone’s phone number on speed dial, but that doesn’t make you a supervisor. …
There are people who feel HumCPR has had an undue influence on the Board of Supervisors. Do you feel like the supervisors have remained somewhat autonomous?
Honestly, doing this interview is a little tricky, because I want to talk as openly and honestly as I can about things —
Why not?
I don’t want to say anything that sounds like attacking my colleagues or sour grapes, but more importantly recognizing that there’s still work to be done. Dividing people doesn’t necessarily help. …
It’s hard to deny that a group of people — a cabal, if you will — strongly associated with Humboldt CPR invested tens of thousands of dollars — hundreds of thousands of dollars — into county electoral politics. They’ve gotten various appointments, and they’ve been very effective. …
“I think there’s a natural tendency in people to accept the narrative that’s closest to your existing worldview.”
When there’s a whole range of issues that are new to you and you need to catch up on them, you’re going to reach out to people. … And if you reach out to folks on one side or the other you get two completely differing narratives. … I think there’s a natural tendency in people to accept the narrative that’s closest to your existing worldview, or that is brought by people that you trust or belong to.
There have been a number of crises in recent years — in the Mental Health Branch, the Aviation Division, roads, ADA stuff. Why did these things have to reach a crisis point before they were addressed? 
I think it’s unrealistic to expect that any one supervisor will be able to track everything that’s going on, or even the board as a whole. When you have a department that you’re not hearing any feedback from, any complaints, there can be a tendency to assume things must be going fine. If you don’t have a reason to dig in and investigate then you probably won’t put your time there.
So there are times something kind of explodes. And that’s one of the things that I know is important to all of my colleagues in our relationship to department heads is what we call a “no-surprises” policy: “Do not let us learn about something first in the paper — or on the goddamn LoCO.” [Laughs.] 
And with the Mental Health Division, the problems all came to the fore very swiftly, with very little notice, even though they’d been long-simmering. There hadn’t been communication through the chain of command. I’m not gonna say where I think the blockage may have been, but it didn’t make it to the board until it was ready to explode. 
Aviation was much more foreseeable. … I think there was a misdirection of what the problem was, for a time. There tended to be a focus on individuals rather than on departmental structure and fiscal issues — and in the sense that it’s a government problem when the reality is that all the problems with aviation can be traced right back to the private sector. It’s air service. You can’t fund the airport and its operations without a certain level of commercial traffic. That’s the private sector. Despite the term “air service,” it’s not a service; it’s a business. They’re not here out of recognizing any need we have … . It’s about butts in seats. It’s a purely private sector, free-market issue. …
Some people have said, “Maybe what we need to do is get the airport out from under the county, create an airport district or have it taken over by another entity.” Unless someone can demonstrate to me how a different structure results in more people flying I think it’s a fool’s errand. It really comes down to the service factor, and the county has been beating the drums for increased air service. We’ve been building relationships with a lot of different airlines. 
I’ve heard a few people address Grand Jury reports and what they perceive as a lack of accountability and follow-through. How do you measure success and accountability with responses?
We have no oversight [over the Grand Jury]. It’s supposed to run the other way: They’re a check on us. And sometimes the relationship can be a little tense. They offer suggestions to us that we may not want to hear.
There’s an aspect to the Grand Jury process, though: You’re required to reply to their recommendations in a certain way. “The recommendation has been implemented/will be implemented/will not be implemented … .” The language can sound like we’re flipping off the Grand Jury. We’re not. This is what we’re required to do, respond in this way.
We’ve had, clearly, a lot of really dedicated people on the Grand Jury for many years. We’ve also had a couple of years where we had very politically stacked Grand Juries, with people from HumCPR loading it up. And they had their own agenda. So the Grand Jury process can be difficult. 
Often times the Grand Jury, despite its best efforts, may or may not be able to get the full picture on some things. The information they get is dependent on who they choose to interview and bring in. … I will say the Grand Juries that we’ve had the last couple years in particular have put a phenomenal amount of work in. The reports that they’ve generated have been very well researched. It’s been great to see that.
Why didn’t you run for reelection?
[Long pause.] A number of things. Obviously, though my relationship with my board has been much improved over the last year here, that hasn’t always been the case. A lot of the differences, particularly over the General Plan Update, really damaged my working relationship with some of my colleagues. My mistake, perhaps, was in seeing our differences more through the ideological lens — “I’m over here and they’re over there” — when most times the differences with my colleagues were in how we approach the work, how we work through things.
I tend to think of myself as more analytical in my approach to stuff, more policy-based, and frankly more argumentative, thinking, “I’m going to do my research, come to my position on things and argue for my position, why I think it’s the right one.” Implicit in that is why I think someone else’s opinion may not be the right one. That’s never meant as a personal attack, and people who work through things in that way, who have that argumentative approach to things, relish that. To me that’s how I learn, and my favorite position is to be in a real solid debate with people who are smarter than me, who can kick my ass in that way. That’s how I learn, is by putting forth my best arguments and having to defend them.
“It was frankly humiliating to be treated that way by my own colleagues.”
And not everyone does that. … It took me a while to realize that I was working with people who have a very different approach to working with policy than I do. It’s much more relationship-based, much more conversational, perhaps — “Where do you stand on this? Where do you stand on that?” — just take the temperature of a number of people [to] help you see a couple different frames through which to see your issue.
By the time I started realizing that the differences with most of my colleagues weren’t ideological but more in how we work through issues, I think there’d already been a fair bit of damage done.
Did the so-called “back slap” incident play a role in your decision?
Yes, but not the back slap [itself]. While certainly I have to be responsible for my own actions at all times, and I own that, the event that led up to that — being completely thrown under the bus over co-chairing the Coastal Counties [Regional Association], which wouldn’t even have been in existence if I hadn’t resuscitated it. …
It was [long pause] … . It was frankly humiliating to be treated that way by my own colleagues in front of people I’d been working with for many years. To be treated that way was shocking, and not just to me. Other people in the room were pretty shocked by the way my colleagues acted on that. That was kind of a topper after so many other things — and so many things that followed since that, so many areas that I’d been investing my time in and working hard on that just, one by one, got taken away from me.
If I wanted to stay on the board and wanted to have a good working relationship with my colleagues, like I’ve had for the last year, basically I [would have] had to give up being able to get things done that were important to me. The job is much too important to me to have that be the approach to the work.
I’d have so many conversations with people that would bring an issue to me. I’d say, “I’m totally there with you. If you can get two other people on board, they know I’m the third vote.” But I couldn’t be the first or second. If I bring it forward it’s probably gonna die.
[Third District Supervisor-Elect] Mike Wilson seems ideologically pretty similar to you.
Yeah, but again, it’s not an ideological issue. I think it’s a relationship issue, and I think he has the opportunity to forge new relationships, which I’ve seen him do in the past with the Harbor District. When Mike came on to the Harbor District 10 years ago, I remember going to meetings where it was just abundantly clear that he was not welcome at the dais. And he stuck it out, and he worked with them, and he built their respect. He got them to come around and see his viewpoint, or he was able to come around to see theirs and would help them with things that were important to them. And he was able to build an effective working relationship that really resulted in turning the Harbor District around from what I think a lot of people saw as just being one of the remaining vestiges of the old boy network up here to [an agency] that’s been very strong and proactive and forward-thinking and has become one of the strongest economic engines of Humboldt County.
It almost sounded like you were saying earlier that reasoning and argument don’t necessarily work with your now-former colleagues on the board.
You can’t get your point across if people are not interested in listening and that’s the starting point. You can’t even have a discussion if their ears have become closed to you. And I have to own a part of that for thinking, again, that if I just lay everything out, the way I feel about it and why I’m passionate about it, then they’ll just realize the brilliance of my position and say, “Gee, Mark’s right.” It doesn’t work that way.
I like to think that I’m good at policy but I suck at politics. And politics doesn’t just mean left-right, blue-red, Democrat-Republican. I don’t mean politics in that way. I mean politics in terms of how you approach people to get them on your side. I tend to be much more blunt. … That approach tends to rub some people the wrong way, perhaps. … The position’s too important to take up that space if you’re not able to push for the issues that are important to you. It just seemed like it was time to step down and pursue other things.
What are you doing next?
I’m gonna be continuing to work on policy issues that I think are important, through other avenues — private consulting, working with other local governments, most notably around cannabis policy. There’s so many places around the state that are years behind where we are in Humboldt County, that are still struggling with how to even talk about the issue. …
There’s so much work that needs to be done around the state, and what I’ve seen is that most of the people who’ve been running in to fill that void post-MMRSA, post-AUMA, have been people from the industry itself, which is not a bad thing. Every industry should have its voice at the table. But the public position needs to be more agnostic. It’s not pro-industry; it’s not anti-industry. It’s just, “How do we regulate it?”
Any final thoughts?
One thing I’d really want to emphasize, as I have numerous times over the years, is my appreciation of all the department heads and all of our staff, because there’s nothing we do on Tuesdays that amounts to anything, that creates any improvement whatsoever in Humboldt County, if staff don’t do it. We talk about stuff; staff are the ones that actually do the work.
And on top of that, they’re the experts. There’s hardly a job in the county that doesn’t require you to actually have some experience or skill in that thing you’re being hired to do before you can get hired. There’s five jobs that don’t — the Board of Supervisors. Because the only qualifications are you have to be 18, you have to live in your district, you gotta have a pulse, and you gotta be able to convince 50 percent of the voters, plus one, to vote for you. …
Our staff, they’re doing what they do because over the years they took an interest in an issue, found out they were good at it; they went to school, they studied, they got a degree, certification, this that. They’re professionals — they’re engineers, they’re administrators, they’re planners, they’re attorneys, they’re social workers — whatever that position is. They had to actually know a thing or two to get that job.
It’s a strange relationship, if you think of it in that way, that they’re the ones advancing issues day-to-day and then the last step, they bring it before five lay people and say, “What do you think?” and expect us to be able to dig into it well enough to make the right decision on it. It’s a very weird thing.
The whole discussion at the staff level is all policy. It’s all fact-based. They’re technicians, basically. And our world is all narrative-based. It’s all values-based.
December 20, 2016
Lost Coast Outpost
By Ryan Burns

[Georgia] Civil grand jury recommends no charges in fatal officer involved shooting

Blog note: Another example of a state that appears to have a civil grand jury. The story refers to a new state law. Once again, the Blog staff will investigate and report.

A Dougherty County civil grand jury has decided an Albany Police Officer was justified when he fatally shot a man in September.

Albany Police officer Derrick Williams will not face any criminal charges in the shooting, according to Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards.

Officer Williams shot and killed Robert Lee Brown, 55, outside Brown's South Madison Street home on September 7th.

Investigators said Brown had dragged furniture into the street, when Williams stopped to talk to him, Brown stabbed him in the shoulder.

Officer Williams fired his gun, hitting Brown in the back.

Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards decided under a new Georgia law to let a civil grand jury hear the investigative report.

The grand jury decided the shooting was justified and recommended no further action.

Edwards said that he agrees with that decision.

"The grand jury spent the day today reviewing witnesses from the scene, and the investigative officers and made a determination that the incident was justified in terms of the actions of officer Williams in relation to the circumstances," explained Edwards.

Edwards decided under a new Georgia law to let a civil grand jury hear the investigative report.

That is allowed under a new Georgia law that supporters said will provide more transparency in officer involved shootings.

Brown's family said on Monday that they did not think the process was fair, and they did not expect the officer to be indicted.

December 20, 2016

[Tennessee] Grand Jury Cites Limited Recreational Area For Women At Silverdale Workhouse

Blog note: While having nothing to do with California Grand Juries, this story caught our eye as it appears there may be something like a civil grand jury in Tennessee. The Blog staff will investigate and report. The report cited in the story does have some similarity to a California grand jury report.

A final report from the Hamilton County Grand Jury cited problems with the recreational area for women at the workhouse at Silverdale.

The report from the panel headed by DeAnna Anderson said it is a small space enclosed by a brick wall.

The women at one time were able to use the larger open area where the men congregate. However, to transport the women to this area it necessitated a lockdown of the entire men's compound.

Several different members of the Grand Jury gave synopses of some of the places toured by the panel.

Click here for the full report.

December 18, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

[Mendocino County] It’s All Good: By hand, some poems; wide margins; Grand Jury wins one for us Peeps...

Blog note: this article reports on the California Grand Jurors’ Association awarding the 2016 Robert Geiss Excellence in Reporting Award to the 2014-15 Mendocino County Grand Jury.
Still thinking >> about Emily Dickinson as both a non-print and a post-print poet (Itsall, 15 Dec.). My notions start from Dan Chiasson’s 5 December essay in The New Yorker.--Dickinson is a non-print poet because she herself never saw her poetry through the complete, think-write-edit-be-edited-copyread print publication process. Her friends more and less skillfully did that work, mostly after her death, when she could no longer complain. Like most other writers, she made herself content with literary obscurity, and published to a small circle of friends in handwriting described as “fossil bird-tracks.” Unlike most other writers, she was a genius and possibly has bent the arc of American poetry toward what Chiasson describes as post-print poetry. Thanks to digital technology, we get the latest step toward the plenitude of some of Dickinson’s poems: Her hand-written words, her decisions & indecisions, her doodles and marginalia—all of which combine to create her sublime individuality, unconstrained by print convention.--The website Chiasson refers to is Not all her poems are yet posted in ms. form (or exist therein), but when you find one you know, it is revelation to see how she self-published it, by hand. Happy hunting!
And yet >> . . . there’s always an ‘and-yet’ in such speculations as these . . . I remember Mike Riedell’s beautiful poem “Excess,“ which graced Itsall on 29 November. I called it “‘Asian-small,’ meaning that the few words on Mike’s pages gather meaning from their wide and silent margins.” I’m thinking about print exactly & traditionally placed on the page, with the placement complementing the poise of a completed statement.--Dickinson, by contrast & frequently, makes a statement INcomplete [STET] by means of one of her famous dashes instead of by the conventional period . . . As in “And finished Knowing - then - ” (280); “Dare not venture - now -“ (698); “Through Haze of Burial - “ (972).--Her dashes are famous because (handwritten) they are of different lengths & rarely exactly horizontal, and they are what she wrote. They mean. What they mean is between you & Dickinson. Take a look at them online, or if you’re a computer dunce like me, in R.W. Franklin’s The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson: a Facsimile Edition, probably available by interlibrary loan.
Writing “interlibrary” >> reminds me that our Mendocino County Civil Grand Jury, resiliently led in 2013-14-15 by Finley Williams, twice investigated & reported accurately and negatively on the County’s management of Library funding. First report met with perfunctory County denial of everything our GJ uncovered. Second report led—after much BoS grutching—to County’s agreement to repay some costs inappropriately charged to the Library’s account, and to seek a (State) legislative ruling on a somewhat fanciful County reading of law about what funds pay our District Librarian.--For its persistence and success, our Grand Jury won this year’s annual Robert Geiss Excellence in Reporting Award for “a grand jury report that is of high quality, has a positive impact on the community and increases awareness of the California grand jury system.”
Also involved: >> Your Library Advisory Board, chaired first by Valerie Frey & then by Marc Komer, which took the GJ’s documented findings and kept keeping them public. This column also helped keep matters simmering and annoyed a power who still is.--Informed citizens make a difference.
December 16, 2016
Ukiah Daily Journal
By Jonathan Middlebrook

[Shasta County] Legal battle over Redding soccer fields cointinue

Blog note: this article references a June 2015 grand jury report.
While a lawsuit over the deteriorating synthetic turf at Redding Soccer Park drags on, the nonprofit operating the complex is working on a long-term plan that would include money to replace the fields.
“Litigation, in my opinion, is never a Plan A,” said Bryan Erickson, board president of the Shasta Regional Soccer Association.
No matter the outcome of the city of Redding’s lawsuit against Surface America Inc., the four fields at the park will need to be replaced in another 10 to 15 years and the money to do that must come from somewhere, Erickson said.
Soccer park officials, coaches and fans say the artificial turf began breaking down about a year after the $10 million complex opened in 2007. Large areas of the fields have turned black, a conspicuous sign of the failing fields.
After months of tests and consulting with attorneys, the city sued on Sept. 30, 2014. The lawsuit says the defects are covered under the Surface America warranty.
City Attorney Barry DeWalt said both sides have been in mediation since last April but there is a good chance the lawsuit will go to trial. DeWalt did not know when the trial would start, but it probably won’t be anytime soon.
Nearly a year after the city sued Surface America, the Shasta County Grand Jury released a report titled “Turf Troubles in River City” in which it blamed the field conditions on ineffective management between the city and Shasta Regional Soccer Association.
When the grand jury report came out in June 2015, it stated the synthetic turf was good for two or three more years, and to replace it would cost $1.5 million.
The Shasta Regional Soccer Association leases the soccer park from the city, which it built in 2006-07. The nonprofit is financially responsible for paying the utility bills at the park, maintenance and staffing. Erickson said his group has done this since opening day without support from the city.
Both Erickson and Chad New, executive director of the soccer park, said they are making the best of the conditions. The fields are often a topic, but they believe the complex is a “jewel” and an economic driver for the North State, especially when it attracts teams from around the region for seasonal tournaments.
“We have missed some opportunities” in landing bigger, more prestigious tournaments, New said of the fields. “We will get a comment sometimes from people coming from out of town, ‘What is all that black stuff?
“But we do as much maintenance and try to make the park look as nice as we possibly can under our small budget. . . . If we can run a good, smooth, clean tournament, then people don’t talk about the fields because they are enjoying soccer.”
Soccer park revenue comes from gate receipts, field rentals and business sponsorships. The park in recent years has received help from Redding Subaru and Redding Kia, which have donated vehicles for raffles. The money collected from the raffle tickets has helped boost the park’s bottom line, Erickson said.
Currently, the Shasta Regional Soccer Association is working with a consultant to develop a capital campaign that it hopes to release more information about in the coming weeks.
“We have realized in conversations and in strategy sessions that . . . we need a sustainable plan that will replace the fields in 10 years from now,” Erickson said. “We can’t charge $11 at the gate. That is not going to work.”
December 15, 2016
Record Searchlight
By David Benda