Monday, August 29, 2016
[Outside California: Pennsylvania] Letter to the Editor: Civil grand jury could resolve ‘improprieties’ within Luzerne County’s public bodies
Blog note: this letter to the editor of a newspaper in Pennsylvania from a California resident suggests that the California civil grand jury system might be able to solve problems in a Pennsylvania county.
I have been gone from the Wyoming Valley for 60 years, but it remains my hometown and I read the Times Leader from time to time.
The recent articles regarding the school bus issue in Mountain Top, as well as a number of similar occurrences throughout the area over the years, leads me to believe a solution might be found by adopting a county “civil grand jury” program such as exists in California.
The jury members are non-officeholders chosen to represent various areas of the county. The jury accepts suggestions from citizens regarding actions by public entities that might warrant investigation. After preliminary study, the appropriate committee reports on the matter, and the jury as a whole decides whether the matter merits in-depth study. Matters being pursued by the courts are not investigated by the civil grand jury. If, during its investigations, the jury discovers illegal activity, that is immediately referred to the proper authority.
The civil grand jury has subpoena power, and its meetings and procedures are not public. The civil grand jury sits for approximately six months; however, that could be subject to change. At the end of the term, the jury publishes it findings, and the public entity – school board, sheriff’s department, etc. – has 60 days to reply. Generally, the matters are corrected by changes in practices and/or procedures, while on occasion more drastic corrective action is necessary.
In any event, the civil grand jury and its findings cannot be ignored and can serve to correct some improprieties before they become serious problems or breaches of law.
August 29, 2016
Letter by Clifford Nagle, Riverbank CA
[San Mateo County] San Mateo cops to get body cams: City Council agrees with civil grand jury, implementation coming soon
Wearing San Mateo’s blue could come with some new technological accessories after the City Council gave a nod for the police department to investigate a body-worn camera program.
The San Mateo Police Department had preliminary discussions about the devices for years, and is now proceeding after a recent San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report recommended agencies without such equipment consider gearing up.
As part of its response to the report, this month the San Mateo City Council formally directed its department to begin developing policies and an implementation plan. Police Capt. Dave Norris said while there are a variety of factors that need to be fleshed out — from issues concerning public privacy to personnel and hardware costs — the department is firmly supportive of creating a timely program.
“Because we live in a time right now where incidents involving the police are subject to a rapid magnification by the media, this is the right time for us to move forward and be as transparent as possible and as accountable as possible to our community, and our public. And for those reasons, really from the top to the bottom of our organization we are excited and enthusiastic about moving to body-worn video,” Norris said.
Staff plans to return to the City Council with a proposal by the grand jury’s late November timeline, and have a program up and running in fall of 2017.
Yet there remains a litany of details to consider, experts with whom to consult, best practices to review and policies to develop in the coming months, Norris said.
Currently, Foster City, Belmont, Hillsborough, Menlo Park and Atherton have deployed body-worn cameras. Norris said San Mateo will be consulting with local agencies, national experts and investigating what type of program will be uniquely appropriate for the city.
“We want to make sure everyone from the officers who are turning on these cameras to the administrators who are managing the liability of this, … that everyone has some universal accord as best we can with what the best policy is going to be,” Norris said. “So we’re taking in experiences of different agencies, we want to know what’s working and what’s not.”
Developing sound policy will be key, he emphasized. Considerations will include when the cameras would be turned on, what to do about maintaining the privacy of passersby or unrelated license plates caught on camera, whether it’s appropriate to record confidential victims and how long the department should keep recordings.
Norris said how the data would be stored is being explored, and regulations about who should have access need to be determined. And of course, they’ll have to decide what type of equipment to purchase.
With about 117 sworn police officers and best practices currently suggesting each have their own camera assigned to them, Norris said they will likely consider between 100 and 130 apparatus.
Costs vary greatly based on the camera and Norris said he wasn’t yet able to provide a cost estimate. He noted policy decisions will also influence the expense of the program. For example, the more data stored or the number of public records act requests the department receives, could heavily influence the associated personnel costs, Norris said.
Part of the reason the department postponed acting on implementing a program was to wait and see the results of larger cities implementing body-worn cameras, such as in San Francisco and San Jose. There may also be state or even federal regulations, if not mandates, in the coming years requiring police to consider such programs, he noted.
City personnel from various departments, such as police, information technology and the attorney’s office, will be weighing in on how San Mateo frames its program in the coming months. Emphasizing nothing is set in stone, Norris added they would likely try a pilot program in advance of a full-scale implementation next year.
With national incidents highlighting racial as well as social tensions between various communities and law enforcement, Norris said San Mateo is prepared to implement a program that could benefit the public and officers alike.
“Throughout our department we are in support of implementing body-worn video,” Norris said. “We think it will not only serve as a benefit to us, we are looking forward to the opportunity for our officers to have a tool that holds the people we come into contact with accountable to their actions, holds our officers accountable to their actions, and provides a documentation resource of the great job our officers do every day.”
August 29, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Samantha Weigel
Sunday, August 28, 2016
FAIRFIELD — Drop-in day centers will not decrease the number of unsheltered individuals, says a joint powers authority of six cities in Solano County and county government, which instead supports permanent housing for the homeless.
Community Action Partnership Solano takes issue with a grand jury report that it work with the Board of Supervisors, Department of Health and Social Services drop-in center.
The grand jury, in its June 15 report “Homelessness – Omnipresent and Invisible?” recommends the agencies establish a drop-in center or permanent, year-round shelter.
Community Action Partnership, which oversees up to $500,000 allocated yearly to agencies seeking to end poverty and homelessness, responded Wednesday to grand jury recommendations including the drop-in center.
Agencies that are the subjects of grand jury reports are required to respond in writing by Sept. 8.
Community Action Partnership also took issue with the grand jury finding that no significant changes in the number of permanent, emergency and transitional beds have been made since 2008.
The joint powers authority said it has worked to increased federal Housing and Urban Development funds as well as Community Services Block Grant money.
An unprecedented nearly $2 million was received in 2015 and the funds were targeted to housing, the group said in its grand jury response.
Community Action Partnership Solano contracts with the federal Housing and Urban Development agency to oversee $1.2 million for services to homeless individuals and families.
Representatives of Fairfield, Suisun City, Vacaville, Vallejo, Benicia and Rio Vista – along with the county – serve on the board for the partnership, which met Thursday in Fairfield.
Fairfield City Council members at their Aug. 16 meeting approved a response to the grand jury that includes Fairfield stating the city began in 2015 to track costs attributed to the homeless and continues to do so.
Recommendations by the grand jury included that all cities in Solano County assess costs of homelessness.
August 27, 2016
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Ryan McCarthy
Two months after a civil grand jury denounced the travel of Mayor Osby Davis and Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga to Vallejo’s sister cities in the Philippines and Japan, the Vallejo City Council officially responded.
In a 5-2 vote Tuesday night, the council approved the city’s response to the June 2015 Solano County Grand Jury Report, Vallejo — Sister City to the World.
The city disagreed with many of the grand jury’s findings and recommendations regarding the ability of the mayor and vice mayor to approve their own travel and the purpose of the travel.
The grand jury recommended that if the purpose of the travel is economic in nature, the city’s community & economic development director should attend the travel and file a report with the city council.
The city disagreed.
“This recommendation will not be implemented because it is not reasonable to require the economic (development) director’s presence on a trip when she may have more pressing projects,” the city wrote. “The city requires a case by case evaluation of the desirability of the director’s presence at any particular event.”
The city also stated disagreement with the grand jury recommendation that the mayor and/or any Vallejo council member selected to participate in a sister city event which requires travel outside the state or country should recused themselves from voting to approve such a motion.
“This recommendation will not be implemented because it is not an impermissible conflict of interest for a member of council to pre-approve travel expenses consistent with the city’s travel policy,” according to the city’s response. “The vote undertaken by the council was to pre-approve travel expenses consistent with the city’s travel policy.”
The city also disagreed with a finding that highlighted the mayor’s activities during the trip, which included a stay at a sponsored member only country club in Philippines.
“It is reasonable that individuals travelling on city business will take part in some recreational activities,” the city contends. “In addition, tours are a regular part of Sister City and general economic development trips. Staying with host families reduced the city’s expenditures and is not prohibited by city travel policies.”
The city also stated that the Vallejo City Attorney provided the council with written legal documentation which supports a non-conflict of interest opinion regarding the mayor and vice-mayor approving their own travel.
In a 4-3 vote during July 2015, Councilmembers Robert McConnell, Katy Miessner and Bob Sampayan opposed the travel and $3,100 in travel expenditures. Davis requested and received $2,098.76 for travel expenses, according to a reimbursement request submitted to the city’s finance department last year. Verder-Aliga never submitted any reimbursement funds.
During Tuesday’s vote, McConnell and Sampayan opposed the city’s response to the report.
Reached by phone recently, McConnell said he voted “no” because the city should not be funding sister city travel.
“The city is pressed financially,” he said. “It’s not a wise move.”
McConnell added that the council has yet to receive a report on the economic benefits of the travel.
Sampayan could not be reached for comment before press time.
August 27, 2016
By John Glidden
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Sutter County supervisors responded to the final grand jury reports earlier this week, largely agreeing with most findings but taking issue with recommendations on Child Protective Services.
The grand jury suggested "CPS social workers should have their reports go to the Superior Court, essentially unedited by management," said Curtis Coad, the interim county administrator. "We do disagree with that, and we think it could involve a lot of liability to the county and wouldn't work."
In its CPS report, the grand jury noted multiple employees have quit or retired due to low morale and grievances that were not addressed by CPS management.
The grand jury suggested employees rate their managers yearly. The Board of Supervisors, however, rejected that, saying "such a process might encourage managers to inappropriately curry favor with their subordinates."
The grand jury, which said management limits decision-making capabilities and authority of social workers, recommended caseworkers have the ability to make their own recommendations independent of management.
Supervisors disagreed, saying, "The department's managers are ultimately responsible — legally, professionally, and morally — for ensuring the facts presented by individual social workers are accurate, consistent with department policy and state law, and reflect what is thought to be in the best interest of the child involved.
"The grand jury seems to be implying that the department managers, who themselves are experienced social workers, somehow detract from this process. The Board of Supervisors strongly disagrees with any such implication."
Current drug testing procedures put employees at risk of communicable diseases, violates personal privacy rights, and displays a lack of training regarding urine collection, according to the grand jury.
Supervisors said the grand jury's recommendation to follow all current OSHA guidelines about urine collection will not be implemented because "the policies and procedures regarding this function already follow all current Cal/OSHA guidelines."
The grand jury said the current CPS facility is lacking appropriate security measures to protect the clients, representatives of the county and county property.
Supervisors declined to implement the grand jury's recommendation of hiring a security guard and install video surveillance for the main lobby and parking lot, saying it is "not warranted and not reasonable," and that the county will continue to offer trainings regarding safety practices when working with the public.
August 26, 2016
By Rachel Rosenbaum
On June 22, 2016, a special Grand Jury Report, which investigated dozens of questions and problems with the County Board of Supervisors in its alleged mismanagement of the Amador Health and Human Services Building, was released to the public. Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors made an official statement, formulated by a special ad hoc committee, called "Response by the Amador County Board of Supervisors 2015-2016 Grand Jury Special Investigation – Health and Human Services Building Lease" (see link to document, below).
The response was approved at the August 23 Board of Supervisors meeting in a 4 to 1 vote. Only one supervisor, Lynn Morgan from District 3, dissented on the grounds of what Morgan perceived as disagreeable language in the text of the ad hoc committee's response. "I would like to see the tone of it changed," said Morgan, "Starting with the first couple of paragraphs."
Two of the Board members, Richard Forster of District 2 and Brian Oneto of District 5, had been tasked with looking into the civil Grand Jury's controversial findings and drafting the Board's official response. In their document, which was addressed to Judge J.S. Hermanson of the Amador Superior Court, who presides over the Grand Jury, the two supervisors start by expressing their "complete dissatisfaction with not only the inaccurate and unsupported conclusions" reached by Grand Jury, but also the "apparent unobjective and targeted manner" in which they allege the investigation was conducted." They claim that the Grand Jury made potentially damaging and unreasonable allegations in their findings. These "insulting and slanderous" insinuations, wrote the supervisors, have, "inexcusably violated the trust and authority afforded to the Grand Jury."
In their 23-page response, the supervisors goes on to address each of the 19 Finding enumerated in the Grand Jury's report, which bears the title "Rules Do Matter." Of all the findings, Oneto and Forster agreed with only three: Findings 8, 16 and 19. The supervisors partially agree with seven of the Findings, but they wholly disagreed with the rest. Of the Grand Jury's nine recommendations, the supervisors refuse to implement seven, claiming that Recommendation 4, for County to re-negotiate another contract, is already occurring.
Among the nine Findings with which the supervisors most vehemently disagreed was Finding 1, where the Grand Jury found no good reasons to enter into such an apparently bad deal for the County, since the lease amendment “significantly increased” the value of the HHS Building. To this, the supervisors responded, "Rather than making further inquiry in order to determine whether other factors could explain or contribute to the change in assessed values, the Grand Jury, as it does throughout this report, jumps to an unreasonable inference apparently because it supports their preferred or predetermined conclusion that has no factual basis as demonstrated by its insignificant findings."
In Finding 2, the Grand Jury claims that the HHS Director, the County Counsel, the CAO, and all the Board of Supervisors’ actions exposed the County to unnecessary financial risk. But the supervisors protest this claims, saying that there were not only valid reasons for entering into the amended lease, but, "while the County recognizes that the State could, theoretically, terminate certain contracts with the County at any time contingent on the availability of state and federal funds, there is an important difference between whether something is theoretically possible, and whether it is likely to occur. The Board contends that there was, and is no reasonably foreseeable risk that the State agreements, or the associated funding, would be terminated."
The Findings with which the supervisors did agree concerned the removal of an agenda item pertaining to the $400,000 cash payment the County received after amending the original lease, as well as with Finding 16, which affirmed the integrity and character of the County’s Auditor’s Office, the Tax Collector’s, Office, and the Health and Human Services department when the Grand Jury requested their assistance. The supervisors also agreed with the last of the 19 findings, which said, "While the new owners contradicted the county’s claim that the County was paying the taxes on the first $13.6 million of assessed value, this conflict was not resolved by the Board of Equalization prior to their ruling against the new owner’s appraisal appeal." The Grand Jury had determined that new owners were correct in stating that they were paying the taxes on the first $13.6 million of assessed value and consequently that the Board of Equalization based their decision in part on that Board's misunderstanding of property tax payments. In Amador County, the Board of Equalization and the Board of Supervisors are the same body.
What surprised some Amador residents, who are close followers of the Board of Supervisors' activities, was the fact that the same two supervisors, Oneto and Forster, were the two sole members of an ad hoc committee charged with answering for the suspicious irregularities mentioned in the report's Findings, who had been serving on the Board when it made what the Grand Jury considered a series of heedless and highly questionable dealings in securing a new building for Health and Human Services. "Complete conflict of interest" said Rhonda Pope of the Buena Vista Rancheria, which has been contending with the Board in legal battles to open a casino in Ione, "They should have recused themselves."
Other residents have questioned the timing of the release of the initial Grand Jury investigation, which did not reach public attention until after the June 7 elections this year. At that time, Richard Forster and Louis Boitano had been been contending with with challengers Amber Hoiska and Frank Axe for their respective seats in the County government. Forster went so far as to request that the Grand Jury foreman delay the publication of the investigations until after the election. "I felt the grand jury report would be released in mid-May or later and not give the Board of Supervisors adequate time to respond" said Forster, "If this had occurred, which appeared likely given the timing of his visit, then it doubtless would have affected the election results, to use Mr. Axe's words. There's been enough of a public lynching without a trial on social media sites already. My request was simply to preserve justice and allow time for an adequate response to the report."
As far as an official response from the office of the County District Attorney about any possible legal action to be taken pursuant to the Grand Jury's findings and recommendations, nothing has come forward as of yet. District Attorney Todd Riebe said, "Our review of the Grand Jury report into the HHS Building has been hindered by our inability to procure evidence from the Grand Jury, despite our request. Hopefully, that hurdle can be scaled and we can complete our review." Two other prior Grand Jury reports focused on irregularities surrounding the same set of issues had been released in the two consecutive years before 2016, but no litigation was ever executed in response to those reports.
August 24, 2016
Amador Ledger Dispatch
By Eric Winslow
The Inyo County Grand Jury Report takes aim at both the Northern Inyo Hospital Board of Directors as well as Inyo County and the C.J. Roxane water bottling plant in Cartago, specifically arsenic seeping into the groundwater.
While more pages were devoted to Inyo’s Office of Education and the former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Terry McAteer, both came out much better than NIH and the arsenic issues.
The report on NIH is critical of former Chief Executive Officer Victoria Alexander-Lane but seems to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the district’s board. “The Board had little control over their CEO and would not consider concerns of NIH staff or medical doctors. In addition, the BOD was unresponsive to citizen concerns and unprepared for dealing with issues at the hospital,” the report states.
The Grand Jury slammed the board for lack of training and an “understanding as to their role and responsibility.” Alexander-Lane was criticized for handling staff and citizen concerns, “as well as them personally in a very unprofessional manner and with distain.” The document describes the CEO’s style “when dealing with people and their concerns was to use intimidation and fear.”
The Jury attributes staff turnover, four-times greater during the former CEO’s 18-month tenure than the previous five years, to both the board and Alexander-Lane.
Dr. Kevin Flanigan went from acting to interim to official CEO of the district from fall 2015 to February 2016. It is unclear the actual dates of the report’s series of recommendations. Those recommendations stress training for the board members, more fair, appropriate and responsive relationships between the administration and staff, greater transparency, improved communication with employees and the community and a plan to improve morale within the hospital.
The report’s most scathing indictment of the board came in the final statement on community involvement which states “the community should strongly encourage candidates to run for the NIH board who understand the role the hospital plays as a community based institution.”
Next under the microscope—what the report describes as the county staff’s inaction and CG Roxane’s actions regarding a seeping arsenic pond on its Cartago bottling plant site.
The issue was fully discussed at a public meeting initiated by Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley last March. When arsenic levels in the bottling company’s wells exceeded acceptable levels, the company began to filter out the arsenic and discharging it into the Arsenic Pond. The pond’s liner leaked sending arsenic into the groundwater. Consultants Geosyntec and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board were brought in two years ago and began the process of determining the extent of the seepage and identifying mitigation and remediation. The arsenic is now trucked out of the area for disposal.
In 2011, according to the report, the Cartago Mutual Water Company “brought the arsenic issue to Inyo County staff.” The report goes on to state the county was not responsive to the company. Cartago sued CG Roxane; CG Roxane countersued.
The County was faulted for not initiating a California Environmental Quality Act/Environmental Impact Report when CG Roxane applied for and was given a grading permit for the discharge ponds in 1980. According to Environmental Health Director Marvin Moskowitz at the March meeting, his department should have received a transmittal slip from Public Works to make sure all the bases were covered. Moskowitz did a file review back to 1980 and found no transmittal slip.
According to the report, the County should have required an environmental impact study and been more responsive to community concerns prior to Lahontan’s involvement in the issue. The Grand Jury Report outlines all the things CG Roxane should have done, including obtaining a Hazardous Waste Discharge permit and developing a plan for water quality monitoring, required by Lahontan.
Basically, the Grand Jury recommends the County needs to never mess up the permitting process when potential impacts are apparent every again. The report also recommends the County assist “Cartago MWC in its lawsuit against CG Roxane.” The water bottling company also needs to be “held accountable for its actions,” according to the report.
All the entities including in the Grand Jury Report are asked to respond within 60 to 90 days.
August 24, 2016
By Deb Murphy
Think Escondido should have a citizen’s review board for its police department.
Escondido officials this week rejected the recommendation of the San Diego Grand Jury to establish a citizen’s police review board.
Following investigation into “several citizen complaints regarding police behavior in local jurisdictions,” the Grand Jury called on Escondido along with El Cajon, La Mesa, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Chula Vista and Coronado to establish a citizen review board or commission or combine in regional review boards to investigate complaints against law enforcement officers.
The Grand Jury suggested Escondido go it alone with a citizens review board or combine with Oceanside and Carlsbad in a North County regional board to oversee complaints about police actions. It gave these cities until Aug. 23 to respond to the recommendation.
“The openness and transparency of the complaint process, including citizen oversight and the prompt resolution of complaints, are essential to maintaining citizen trust in law enforcement,” the Grand Jury said in its report filed May 25.
Escondido officials just said no.
On behalf of the Mayor and City Council, city manager Graham Mitchell sent a letter to Grand Jury Presiding Judge Jeffrey Barton that said: “The Escondido Police Department has a documented history of resolving complaints regarding police behavior through existing channels and procedures.
“The Escondido Police Department will continue to review and evaluate its current citizen complaint policy to ensure compliance with state laws and the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, and attention to community feedback,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the city “already employs a comprehensive, formal complaint procedure and provides several public outlets for voicing police-related complaints,” adding, that all formal complaints “are vigorously and thoroughly investigated by a fill-time sergeant specifically dedicated to this task. The Department has a robust history of imposing appropriate discipline when an investigation reveals it is warranted.”
Carlsbad’s response had not been revealed as of press time. Oceanside officials rejected the suggestion, saying its complaint and review procedures were fine. Mayor Jim Wood said in an Aug. 10 letter to the Grand Jury that citizen’s review board recommendations were “currently not warranted, nor reasonable given the city’s fiscal status.”
Most of San Diego’s 18 cities have citizens review boards. Dating to 1990, San Marcos, Vista, Santee, Lemon Grove, Poway, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Imperial Beach are covered by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office and the San Diego County Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board. The City of San Diego Citizens Review Board dates to the early 1980s. The National City Community and Police Relations commission dates to 2003.
The San Diego County Grand Jury investigates government operations with a new Grand Jury chosen each year by July 1 based on nominations by San diego county Superior court Judges. Jurors serve for one year only. They are charged with representing county citizens by investigating, evaluating and reporting the actions of local governments and special districts.
August 24, 2016
Thursday, August 25, 2016
The Santa Barbara County Probation Department will evaluate whether adding girls to Los Prietos Boys Camp and Academy would work to increase use of the all-boys residential, correctional and treatment facility.
"We don't want to discard anything that may be used to facilitate that need," Chief Probation Officer Lupe Rabago told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday about his department wanting to look at all options for increasing use of the camp.
Los Prietos now only accommodates 13- to 18-year-old boys.
The camp is located approximately 20 miles north of Santa Barbara on 17 acres in the Los Padres National Forest, and there are two dormitory-style buildings on the grounds. One building is used to house boys at the camp, while the other vacant building could potentially be used for housing females, Rabago said.
After visiting the camp earlier this year, the grand jury concluded the facility, which has capacity for 96 youths but on average only operates with about 40 boys housed at the site at any given time, was a major community asset but that it is underutilized.
In a report released in June, the grand jury recommended the Board of Supervisors direct the Probation Department to evaluate whether adding female juvenile offenders to the Los Prietos Boys Camp program would increase its use.
Female juvenile offenders now are housed at Santa Maria Juvenile Hall or out of the county for treatment.
"I don't have a problem changing over to female if that's where you get your biggest bang for your buck," said board Chairman Peter Adam, but noted he believes there would be inherent problems mixing boys and girls together at the camp.
While no one openly necessarily disagreed with Adam, his fellow supervisors said his concerns were premature since the direction to staff only was to evaluate if opening the camp to female offenders is feasible and will increase the facility's use.
"The issue is just a recommendation for a female-specific program," said 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf. "It doesn't have to be at the camp. It could be at juvenile hall ... separate areas. If the camp is the best location, then let's use it."
Rabago was directed unanimously to come back within six months with a report that looks at how adding female juvenile offenders to Los Prietos would affect its utilization.
He said the opportunity will allow his staff time to study the continuum of services it offers young girls and how the department can develop a commensurate program.
"There are so many things that we can look at," Rabago said.
He also said a staff report released last week for Tuesday's hearing on the grand jury's recommendation that his department didn't support evaluating the addition to females at Los Prietos was an error.
August 24, 2016
By April Charlton
FAIRFIELD — A five-year countywide strategic plan to deal with the varied and complex issues of homelessness is expected to be completed before the end of the year.
The $75,000 plan, of which the public outreach portion is being conducted now, is a collaborative effort among the county and the seven cities.
In practical terms, the strategic plan is also the centerpiece to Solano County’s response to the 2015-16 grand jury report, which was critical of county leadership and what it described as a disconnected effort between regional and local efforts.
Without comment, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a mixed response to the grand jury report. The board disputes the report’s contentions about the lack of leadership and critique that little is being done. However, the county agrees that more is needed to be accomplished.
Gerald Huber, director of the county Department of Health and Social Services, said in a phone interview Monday that he believes efforts are being made to address the issues, and disagrees with the tenor of the grand jury report that those efforts would be served better under a single agency or a single administrator.
“We don’t agree necessarily that a different agency is needed,” Huber said. “I think that it is exactly the opposite.”
The county’s response to the grand jury largely points out the county’s efforts to support other programs such as shelters, transitional housing and support for substance abuse and mental illness programs, as well as support for elderly care.
The county responded to the eight findings and related recommendations directed specifically at the county efforts. The report has 20 findings in all, the others largely to be addressed by the various cities.
Huber emphasized the need to attack the problem from a preventive strategy, if only to keep more people from becoming chronically homeless. He also said the key to solving the largest share of the problem is to develop affordable permanent housing. If that can be accomplished, he said the population would be more stable and critical health and other services can be delivered more effectively.
The strategic plan, being compiled by HomeBase of San Francisco, is funded by the county and the cities. The county put up $37,500, while the cities chipped in amounts based on population with Vallejo paying about $10,953. The next largest share comes from Fairfield at $10,123, followed by Vacaville at $8,732, Suisun City at $2,665, Benicia at $2,544, Dixon at $1,746 and Rio Vista at $735.
August 24, 2016
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Todd R. Hansen
[Los Angeles County] L.A. County says thanks but no thanks to grand jury recommendations on governance structure
Los Angeles County supervisors said they won't act on civil grand jury recommendations that they put measures before voters to increase the size of the county governing board and switch from an appointed to an elected executive.
Last year, the supervisors approved sweeping changes in the county’s governance structure, weakening the role of the county chief executive and giving themselves direct control over department heads.
The restructuring reversed changes the board had made in 2007 that gave the chief executive more power over the day-to-day operations of departments, including the authority to hire and fire department heads with board approval.
A recent report issued by the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury was critical of the return to greater board control, saying it has led to micro-managing by the supervisors that could create difficulties in attracting high-quality candidates for administrative positions.
The grand jury wrote that the board “intended that the direct communication between it and county departments would lead to more efficient conduct of public business.” But under the new structure, board “motions proliferate … and departments find it difficult to adjust to [supervisors’] constantly changing priorities,” the panel wrote.
The report added that the supervisors’ “direct decision making approach is not limited at the management level, but in some cases reaches down to the lowest levels of county operations.”
The panel recommended that the supervisors prepare to place measures before voters on the 2020 ballot that would amend the county charter to change the chief executive position from an appointed to an elected one, and expand the number of seats on the board from five to 11.
The switch to an elected chief executive has been proposed before, most recently by former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavky. The board has also fended off several attempts over the years to expand the number of seats. Each of the five supervisors represents a district of about 2 million people.
In a formal response to the grand jury report approved by the supervisors Tuesday without discussion, they said they will not act on either of the recommendations.
The question of an elected vs. appointed chief executive is a “policy decision for the Board of Supervisors,” who chose to stick with an appointed executive after “consideration and deliberation,” they said.
The response added that the board had found that the stronger-chief-executive system “had negative consequences, the main one being, it created distance between Department Heads and the Board of Supervisors, thereby impeding communication and the ability to address some of the County's most complex challenges.”
“The governance structure adopted last year has reduced bureaucracy, eliminated the distance between the Board and Department Heads, and has already shown signs of significant improvement in the effectiveness of communication between the Board and Department Heads,” the response said.
County officials cited the creation of a comprehensive plan to address homelessness, the merger of three county health departments, and a multi-department response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak as examples of the new system at work.
In their response to the recommendation to expand the number of seats on the board, the supervisors noted that there is a bill pending in the state Legislature that would expand the number of governing board seats in certain counties, including Los Angeles, from five to seven.
“As such, there does not appear to be a need to place a separate measure before the electorate,” they wrote. “However, even if there was a need, support for this proposal seems to be lacking both within the county and throughout the state given that similar proposals have been rejected (both in the County and Statewide) on at least five separate occasions.”
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said in a statement afterward that “bigger government does not mean better government. If bigger government was the answer, then the City of Los Angeles, with its extra council members, would be the most efficient, responsive and cost-effective municipality in the county.” The L.A. City Council has 15 members.
The most recent legislative effort to expand the board was introduced by State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), who said it would help expand minority representation on the board, but the bill has stalled for at least the rest of the year.
August 23, 2016
Los Angeles Times
By Abby Sewell
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
[San Mateo County] Community college officials defend safety policy: Grand jury response designed to illustrate district’s commitment to campus security
San Mateo County Community College District officials claimed they are examining ways to beef up security policies and ensure those on district campuses are as safe as possible, according to a recent report.
Officials expressed the position as part of a formal reaction to a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report issued last month identifying alleged shortcomings of the district’s security policy.
The district Board of Trustees approved during a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 17, the response addressing perceived flaws identified by the grand jury such as unreliable communications to local law enforcement agencies and inadequate training for addressing campus emergencies.
Chancellor Ron Galatolo said as officials eye emergency response protocol, maintaining the health and wellness of those who frequent district campuses is a primary focus.
“First and foremost, the safety of faculty, students and the visiting community is paramount to us,” he said.
The district maintains its own private security team of unarmed personnel at the College of San Mateo as well as Cañada and Skyline Colleges who must contact local law enforcement agencies should an emergency occur.
To connect with the police, district security guards must depend on either cellphones or radios which the grand jury claims occasionally suffer spotty and unreliable coverage.
Though the district is the midst of expanding cellphone and radio coverage on their campuses, officials believe the alliance with local law enforcement agencies is largely satisfactory, according to the response.
“The current district security director and his predecessor have both worked to develop excellent relationships between our public safety department and state and local law enforcement, fire departments, emergency medical service providers and emergency managers countywide,” according to the report. “We embrace these open and constructive relationships. In addition, we support the improvement of cellular communications provider systems as they benefit emergency notifications to the first responder community through mobile phones on district properties.”
The district is in the process of authoring its own public safety report due at the end of the year and officials expect many concerns raised by the grand jury will be addressed in the forthcoming document, according to the response.
To protect against the threat of an active shooter at a school site, the grand jury recommended more trainings be available to faculty and students ensuring everyone on district campuses are adequately prepared to survive a potentially tragic scenario.
The district offers a variety of suggestions on its website regarding best practices for conduct during an emergency, according to the response, and officials plan to work with the admissions office in coming semesters to ensure all incoming students are informed regarding the existing protocol.
Beyond the information available online, the district hosts training seminars such as campus crisis workshops open to staff, faculty and students in which attendees are able to discuss proper responses to earthquakes, shelter in place scenarios and other similar situations.
The most recent training held on a district campus addressed severe weather emergencies and natural disasters, according to the response, and included expert contributions from San Bruno first responders, the San Mateo Police Department, California Highway Patrol, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and more.
Ultimately, the response indicates the district’s forthcoming safety study will comprehensively address many of the potential security shortfalls identified in the grand jury report.
“We believe that the in-progress public safety study that is underway will gather research and lead us toward additional best practices in campus safety, while reviewing structure, policies, and procedures on campus,” according to the report. “We believe that the public safety study will address mitigation strategies including the use of current technology, and the direct and indirect liabilities associated with such mitigation strategies.”
August 22, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Austin Walsh
Monday, August 22, 2016
Blog note: this article references a 2006 grand jury report. Some grand jury reports have a long life.
SAN JOSE -- The 12-year marriage of Santa Clara County's sheriff's and medical examiner-coroner offices appears to be headed for splitsville.
County officials had merged the offices in 2004 after controversies sullied the medical examiner's office, independent since 1962.
A 2006 civil grand jury report concluded that the union seemed "successful from an administrative perspective." But a medical examiner testified at a June budget meeting that the relationship with their sheriff overseers has been rocky. And the death a year ago of a jail inmate allegedly at the hands of correctional deputies now charged with his murder has revived conflict-of-interest concerns in death investigations.
County Executive Jeff Smith said that the medical examiner merger with the sheriff had aimed "to improve management and oversight," but "that was a different time and place."
"We need to rethink it," Smith said. "It's better to have a separate, free-standing entity responsible for finding and holding evidence, in order to avoid the possibility of contamination or the impression that there's some kind of impact being made on decision making."
Sheriff Laurie Smith, no relation to the county executive, seems to be on board with the suggested separation. She said that while the county executive has commended our management of the medical examiner-coroner's office, "the philosophy of the county has changed to have an independent coroner's office."
The county Finance and Government Operations Committee considered the suggestion last week and is expected to continue the discussion in October to hear more information about how the new structure would work and recommendations from national medical examiner groups.
The county put the medical examiner's office under the sheriff's office after years of concerns about its management. A 1997 civil grand jury had called for the chief medical examiner-coroner to retire "as soon as a qualified replacement can be found" and recommended additional training. But although some key personnel were either fired or resigned voluntarily, problems continued.
The 2004 move to put the office under the sheriff's department came after the medical examiner at the time faced accusations from a former employer of stealing books from the office. It was noted then that although a handful of large counties had moved to the independent medical examiner model, in most California counties, the sheriff's office also doubled as the coroner.
"There was a feeling at that time that some of the management of the office was not as tight and responsible as it should be," county executive Smith said.
The change in Santa Clara County was more of a hybrid, however. The three medical examiners conduct death investigations and perform autopsies while the office is administered by a sheriff's captain, lieutenant and sergeant.
While it would cost the county $825,000 to make the change due to necessary new administrative positions, the sheriff's office would benefit from a captain, lieutenant and sergeant returning to law enforcement duties. The medical examiner's office would also be freed to seek accreditation as its own entity.
"Accreditation has the explicit purpose of improving the quality of forensic investigations of death," said Deputy County Executive Martha Wapenski, "and these standards aid in a higher caliber of death investigations for the community."
County officials also want to bolster the perception of the office's independence from law enforcement. A county report on the proposed split said that "the medical examiner must be able to complete an independent and impartial assessment of all officer-involved deaths without the perception of bias or undue influence by the medical examiner conducting the investigation."
At the June budget meeting, Dr. Michelle Jorden, the medical examiner, said the "conflict posed by the current operating structure is well known," and she alleged that the sheriff's office has since at least 2012 "impeded the examiners from receiving evidence necessary for the determination of cause and manner of death."
Sheriff Smith did not comment on that assertion. Jorden and the county report both said that it's timely to make a change in light of high-profile in-custody and officer-involved deaths.
The county executive said that Jorden's allegations are being investigated, but in the meantime administration and the sheriff's office staff have met to discuss the matter of separation.
"We more clearly elucidated what it will mean in terms of staffing and changes in responsibilities," he said, "and really all came to the conclusion that it's the best approach for a number of reasons."
August 21, 2016
The Mercury News
By Eric Kurhi
[Santa Barbara County] Grand jury says Los Prietos Boys Camp underutilized; supervisors to discuss Tuesday
After members of the Santa Barbara County grand jury visited the Los Prietos Boys Camp and Academy earlier this year, jurors concluded the facility was a well-run, major community asset that's underutilized and recommended the county look at ways to increase its use.
However, when the Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday, the elected officials aren't expected to adopt the majority of recommendations the grand jury laid out in its June report titled "Los Prietos Boys Camp Effective, But Underutilized" following its investigation of the county-run facility.
Los Prietos is a 96-bed, residential, correctional and treatment facility for 13- to 18-year-old boys that's located approximately 20 miles north of Santa Barbara on 17 acres in the Los Padres National Forest. The facility is not open to females, which the grand jury believes should be evaluated to potentially increase camp utilization.
During 2015, an average of 37 young men were held in custody at Los Prietos at any given time, which translates into about 70 percent of one dormitory's possible holding capacity, according to the report.
Another possible way to increase use of the existing facilities would be to offer programs of shorter duration, from 120 days and 180 days to 90 days and/or 60 days, while also re-evaluating its acceptance criteria and process to increase the number of youth ordered to the camp, according to the report.
However, in its required response to the grand jury — a five-page letter penned by the supervisors to Presiding Judge James Herman — which is expected to be approved by the board Tuesday, the supervisors balk at the recommendations.
"Placing low-risk youth in programming intended for the higher-risk population often has a negative impact on such youth and could cause an increase in recidivism and is not recommended," the letter reads.
"Further, changing the eligibility requirement may result in youth being ordered to the programs with needs that exceed the programs' capability, most notably in situations where youth have distinct mental health needs and/or learning disabilities."
The letter goes on to state that evaluating the possibility of decreasing the lengths of the programs offered at Los Prietos to accommodate more youth at the camp also won't be implemented as recommended by the grand jury.
"Probation does not agree that a further decrease in the duration of a program to accommodate more youth (that are not appropriate for this program) would be in the best interest of youth," the letter reads. "There is a core length of time needed to facilitate lasting change in this population."
The letter also says the board won't direct the county Probation Department to evaluate adding female juvenile offenders to the Los Prietos Boys Camp program because it's not warranted or reasonable.
Supervisors are backing grand jury recommendations to encourage the establishment of a post-incarceration mentorship program in the North County — presently such programs only are available to youth who live in the South County — as well as a single calculation methodology for juvenile recidivism and utilize it in all future reporting.
There's no standard calculation methodology in the county for measuring juvenile recidivism.
August 21, 2016
By April Charlton
The Marysville Joint Unified School District blames a former employee for the air-conditioning failure that left students, teachers and staff sweltering at Lindhurst High School last year.
The district also acknowledged a work order for air-conditioning repairs at Lindhurst was never acted on before the 2015 problems.
MJUSD trustees on Tuesday will consider approving their response to the 2015-16 Yuba County grand jury, which faulted the district in a report released in June. "The board agrees with the finding that the HVAC system at Lindhurst was not properly maintained in the past under the previous department director," the proposed response said.
"According to district staff, the district has not found documentation indicating the existence of a formal preventative maintenance plan for the HVAC system, including chiller water treatment, at Lindhurst High School prior to April of 2015."
HVAC stands for heating, ventilating and air conditioning.
The grand jury cited lack of adequate water treatment and poor maintenance by the district.
Lack of water treatment and maintenance "has led to the water lines becoming corroded and blocked, reducing the efficiency of the system and putting pressure on the central plant," the grand jury said in its report.
Chillers at the school failed prematurely after eight years of operation, "and the grand jury's research showed that, with proper maintenance, they have a life expectancy of around 20 to 30 years," the panel said.
In its proposed response, the district said, "It is likely that the chillers failed prematurely, at least in part, due to improper maintenance."
The response also acknowledged "a lack of water treatment and maintenance likely contributed blockage and corrosion of water lines to the chillers."
In its draft response, the district said it "does not believe that a maintenance log was kept prior" to April 2015.
The district's HVAC technician, who was not named in the response, "was previously informed that the chillers at Lindhurst High School were on a preventative maintenance plan with an outside vendor, American Chiller."
But the district "has been unable to locate documentation of the maintenance work performed by American Chiller or any other outside vendor," the response said.
"When the previous department director left the district, no such documentation was provided to district management," the response said, without naming the former "department director" or explaining why the employee left.
A search of the Maintenance Department failed to find "any of these records that should have been maintained by the previous department director," according to the response.
The district also acknowledged it "failed to act on a work order indicating a problem with the HVAC system at Lindhurst High School under the previous department director" and was unable "to locate a physical copy of this work order as records prior to April of 2015 cannot be located. For unknown reasons, this work order was not acted upon."
Since May 2015 "when new department leadership was brought in ... all documentation and records have been maintained on HVAC systems at Lindhurst High School," according to the response.
The district said it now has a "preventative maintenance plan" for all HVAC units in the district, and "records are now being kept and maintained of all maintenance and repairs performed."
The district has also hired a second HVAC technician "with a certified, journey-level skill set for commercial HVAC units."
August 20, 2016
By Harold Kruger
Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans, the Marin-based pension reformers calling for properly funded public employee pensions, is relentless.
Witness its follow-up on the Marin grand jury’s 2015 investigative report, “Pension Enhancements: A Case of Government Code Violations and a Lack of Transparency.”
The Marin jurors concluded that some of the members of the Marin County Employees Retirement Association — the county, the city of San Rafael, Novato Fire District and Southern Marin Fire Protection District — possibly violated state law when enhancing their members’ retirements. On 38 separate occasions between 2000 and 2006 they did so ignoring public notice mandates and failing to provide proper actuarial evaluations of the enhancements’ future cost, the report concluded.
When called on the violations, MCERA and its member agencies essentially blew off the grand jury, the taxpayers’ sole protector when it comes to reviewing semi-autonomous agencies such as MCERA. Those pension enhancements along with riskier investments needed to produce MCERA’s optimistic goal of a 7.5 percent return on principal amplified by the 2008 crash, led to increasing the pension agency’s unfunded liability from a surplus of $26.5 million in 2000 to a deficit of $536.8 million in 2013.
Marin’s Board of Supervisors formally denied every allegation, saying MCERA and its bargaining units “essentially complied” with the law.
If the tax collector ever questions your property tax payment, try explaining that you “essentially complied” with tax law and see how far that gets you.
The reaction to CSPP’s call for an investigation from MCERA board chair David Shore was basically “thank you for sharing.” When Shore explained that as the request was raised at public open time, it couldn’t be discussed at that session, an audience member asked the logical follow-up.
“When will the issue be agendized?” The silence from the nine board members was deafening.
MCERA board members have zero desire or incentive to revisit their predecessors’ transgressions. Even if such a look-see verifies past errors and pinpoints their costs, undoing improperly granted pension enhancements would be a legal nightmare understandably outraging rank-and-file impacted employees.
Board attorney Ashley Dunning had previously opined that MCERA’s board was prohibited from investigating the grand jury’s charge. According to CSPP, the legal citations provided by Dunning were either “misleading or outright wrong.”
It’s hard to criticize Dunning for giving her client, MCERA’s board, what they wanted, because she made it clear she doesn’t represent the public; she only represents the board.
Legal niceties aside, fundamentally MCERA and its member agencies failed to do their moral duty owed to pension beneficiaries and Marin taxpayers when they approved multi-million-dollar pension enhancements that had violated state transparency laws.
Retirement Administrator Jeff Wickman said it’s the duty of the county, San Rafael and the two fire districts, and not that of MCERA, to call for any investigation.
That’s a run-around. The four agencies already strove to belittle the grand jury report, essentially calling it a tempest in a teapot.
If so, it’s a multimillion-dollar tempest that will inhibit each MCERA constituent agency from delivering the full level of public services that Marin residents could have enjoyed absent ruinous pension deficits.
Despite the tarnish to MCERA’s reputation, it’s clear the retirement system and its member agencies will never conduct a truly independent investigation.
The only good news is that this fiasco provides a lesson on how not to boost pensions in the future.
While county supervisors and MCERA understandably want their past mistakes forgotten, taxpayers can thank the diligent grand jurors for their report and be grateful that the volunteer pension reformers are like a dog with a bone. They won’t give up.
August 20, 2016
Marin Independent Journal
By Dick Spotswood