Wednesday, September 21, 2016

More time for Harbor District: San Mateo County to delay, possibly suspend analysis of dissolution of special tax district

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors has agreed to give the Harbor District at least two years to get its finances in order before deciding whether to conduct an analysis into dissolving the special tax district.

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury has urged supervisors to conduct an analysis into dissolution almost immediately but Tuesday the board amended its response letter to the grand jury indicating that an analysis “may” rather than “will” be implemented after fiscal year 2017-18, according to the Harbor District’s General Manager Steve McGrath.

McGrath and Tom Mattusch, president of the Harbor District Board of Commissioners, attended Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting and asked that the response letter be pulled from the consent agenda to allow for public comment.

The board allowed it and ultimately softened its response by amending a few lines in the letter indicating that a county analysis of the Harbor District is a possibility rather than a certainty in about two years.

“The county is recognizing the district’s near-term performance improvements. They have noticed the progress. In the meantime, we will continue to work and improve the district,” McGrath said.

The agency for the first time has separated its budget into how its enterprise and non-enterprise revenue are spent.

The county, in its response, said the district should be given at least two more years “until an accurate fiscal accounting of enterprise and non-enterprise activities can be conducted.”

“They’ve done better. There is a focus now on capital improvement projects and I credit the general manager for the progress and Mattusch has shown good leadership,” said Supervisor Don Horsley, whose District 3 covers the coast.

The district relies on about $5 million in property taxes and raises the rest of its money by renting boat slips and from other leases at Oyster Point Marina/Park in South San Francisco and Pillar Point Harbor on the coast. The district owns Pillar Point Harbor and operates the marina at Oyster Point under a joint powers agreement with South San Francisco.

The grand jury released a report in June titled “The San Mateo County Harbor District: The Price of Dysfunction is Rising.”

It notes that County Manager John Maltbie stated that the county would “undertake a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of the district” if dissolution was recommended by the Local Agency Formation Commission.

LAFCo recommended last year that the Harbor District be dissolved. A previous grand jury in 2014 reported that the Harbor District should also be dissolved.

The latest grand jury report indicates the county has made no moves to analyze whether the district should be dissolved and taken over by another agency.

“The grand jury recommends that the Board of Supervisors look beyond any attempts by the Harbor District to improve operations and calls for the county to commence by Sept. 30, 2016, its promised analysis of dissolving the district. Such analysis should be completed within six months and be presented to the public at a regular board meeting,” the grand jury reported in June.

But that analysis was pushed back at least two years Tuesday and may never take place, according to the board’s response letter.

“It should be noted that the district has paid off all debt, identified adequate reserves and developed a five-year capital improvement plan for maintenance of and improvements to district facilities. Given the ... improvements, the county believes, at a minimum, that compiling two years of accurate fiscal data is necessary to adequately review district operations, efficiencies and cost allocations,” according to the response letter to the grand jury.

Grand jury recommendations must be responded to but are not mandates and do not have to be followed.

September 21, 2016
By Bill Silverfarb, Daily Journal


Friday, September 16, 2016

Supervisor: [Riverside County] Grand Jury Report on Code Investigations 'Very Good'

Still, it failed to recognize that "you have to work with people who are sort of the victims in all of this," supervisor says.

A Riverside County Grand Jury report spotlighting shortcomings in how the Department of Code Enforcement handles cases will be used to improve the agency, but not all of the recommendations are relevant, a county official told the Board of Supervisors this week.

"The grand jury has acknowledged a number of areas that need to be addressed," Transportation & Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez said. "One caveat: code cases can be very specific and involve very complex issues. So we cannot apply a one-size-fits-all approach."

Perez was called to the board dais to answer supervisors' questions regarding TLMA's response to the jury's findings, published earlier this summer.

Among the key concerns contained in the 19-member grand jury's report, and answered by TLMA, was the amount of time routinely required to resolve code issues, which can range from rubbish piles on private property to unusable vehicles left parked outside a home for extended periods.

Jurors recommended that the county establish a timeline of 12-18 months to resolve code disputes, for the sake of efficiency and to save money.

"We agree with the general target guidelines," Perez said. "But some cases may take longer than others. Some cases may take less time."

Past board meetings have been tied up with appeals from residents facing tax liens and hefty penalties related to alleged code violations. The grand jury report suggested "improper patronage" may be at work when supervisors take actions on behalf of constituents that conflict with what code enforcement officers are recommending. Board members have the authority to delay proceedings in order to give residents additional time to clean up a site or take other remedial action.

Supervisors Marion Ashley and Kevin Jeffries objected to the implication that efforts to assist constituents smacked of impropriety.

"Elected officials can step in and say, 'We need fairness,"' Jeffries said. "Code fines can reach $1,000 a day. For homeowners, that can be devastating. Residents are seeking a little compassion, and it's our job to make sure government policy is fair and equal. That will continue in our office. We won't stand in the way of code doing its job, but we're going to show compassion."

Ashley agreed, saying that while he found the grand jury report "very good," it failed to recognize that "you have to work with people who are sort of the victims in all of this."

"There are some real strange cases out there," the supervisor said. "We're trying to respond to constituents and do the right thing. There are all kinds of situations, and people are usually making their best efforts."

The grand jury said its investigation uncovered instances in which residents had no means by which to file a formal complaint against a code enforcement officer. Perez said his staff was developing a process for taking complaints that will include making complaint cards available in county offices.

Jurors additionally pointed to the need for a "policy or procedure to return fines previously paid when a property owner is exonerated."

Perez said that would be one of several issues addressed when TLMA drafts a revised procedure manual. The TLMA director also indicated that efforts are underway to disburden code enforcement supervisors, who are sometimes carrying high caseloads, so they can be more readily available to respond to residents' concerns and scrutinize line officers' actions.

Supervisor John Tavaglione noted that code cases have become more complicated, in part because the agency has been downsized as a result of county budget cuts, leaving fewer personnel to manage larger numbers of complaints.

"We want to help people get into compliance," Tavaglione said. "We're going to have to take (the jury's recommendations) slowly."

The code violation appeals process entails three hearings in front of TLMA officials, after which an alleged violator can take his or her case to the board for resolution. Barring satisfaction there, a resident can always seek relief through the judicial process.

"We look forward to resolving issues that may arise so that code is as efficient as possible," County Counsel Greg Priamos said.

September 15, 2016
– By City News Service.
By Patch CA (Patch Staff)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Why Riverside County says supervisors aren't meddling with code enforcement

Riverside County officials say it’s OK for supervisors to inquire about cases on constituents’ behalf.

Riverside County’s official response to a grand jury report on code enforcement agreed on the need for improvements, but took issue with the panel’s finding that county supervisors may have interfered with code violation cases.The official response is on the Board of Supervisors agenda for Tuesday, Sept. 13, more than two months after the grand jury issued a report critical of the county’s code enforcement department, which is responsible for enforcing building codes and related rules in unincorporated communities and the city of Perris.The panel found fault with how long it took code enforcement cases to reach a hearing date – 4.3 years on average, according to the report. Unsupported and inaccurate billing of property owners is common and there’s no procedure in place for property owners to get refunded for fines when those owners are exonerated, the grand jury reported.The panel also questioned whether the county’s five elected supervisors “interjected themselves into active code cases, causing delays and sometimes abandonment of those cases.”It brought up a 2010 matrix, or list, of code violations in Temecula Valley Wine Country presented at an unnamed supervisor’s request.
“Witnesses stated that code enforcement was given the ‘go ahead’ or ‘stand down’ by supervisor/staff regarding 10 wine country cases on that particular (list),” the jury reported. “Similar meetings were held every month with updated (lists) for an unknown period of time.”
State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, who was wine country’s supervisor in 2010, later said there were many code enforcement issues prior to the passage of a wine country master plan and that he asked for the list of active citations in that region.
“I wanted to meet with code officers monthly to ensure we were making timely progress in eliminating the code issues that were seemingly slow at getting solved,” Stone wrote in a letter to The Press-Enterprise.“If those cited were working with the county to cure their issues, we were supportive. If they ignored the county (only a few cases), we put pressure on to get them to comply. It’s disappointing that some code enforcement officers would object to my oversight, but frankly ... it is what the taxpayers expected of me when they elected me.The county’s formal response echoed Stone’s assertion that it is proper for supervisors to respond to constituents’ concerns.
“Some code enforcement cases are complex in nature,” the response read. “Achieving compliance in those cases may require coordination and discussions between multiple departments and it is not inappropriate to involve (supervisors’) staff in those discussions so that ... staff is aware of the status of the case and board staff can also inform county departments of information received from their constituent.”According to the response, the county is easing supervising code enforcement officers’ workloads so they can resolve cases quicker and review cases “before ... invoices are set out to remove any abatement costs charges that may not be appropriate.”
September 12, 2016
The Press Enterprise
By Jeff Horseman

Merced [County] Mysteries & Minutiae: Supervisors don’t vote on their own raises

Blog note: this article references a 2007 ordinance enacted by the Board of Supervisors on supervisor compensation that followed a grand jury report recommending changes.
Supervisor pay is sort of wacky.
It’s a good salary, but the mechanics behind the salary are a bit complicated.
It’s also something that’s not really discussed during public meetings.
Q: Did the Board of Supervisors give themselves another raise recently?
A: No.
Though the board did receive a raise in July, the beginning of the new fiscal year, supervisors do not vote on their salaries.
In Merced County, supervisor pay is linked to the pay rate for judges. Supervisors receive 54.2 percent of what judges earn.
The system was established in 2007 through an ordinance after the Merced County grand jury suggested changes in how supervisors were paid.
The grand jury in its report said the supervisors’ pay should be higher to attract more quality candidates and to provide equal opportunity for potential candidates who could not afford to quit their jobs to take on the position.
The board at that time was made up of District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo, District 2 Supervisor Kathleen M. Crookham, District 3 Supervisor Mike Nelson, District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey and District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion.
The board was presented four options to choose from that included various methods of determining a base salary and options to sell back sick leave and vacation time.
The board voted for the option that gave them a higher percentage of the judges’ salary and the option of taking all or nothing when it came to sick leave sellback at retirement.
The decision eliminated the board’s position to set its salary or raises.
The board members receive their raises automatically beginning in the new fiscal year after the raises have gone into effect for the judges.
Kelsey was the only one who voted “no.”
In July, a pay increase kicked in for supervisors, bumping their annual salary by about $2,000. Their pay went from $100,000 to $102,400.
Supervisors Hub Walsh, Daron McDaniel and O’Banion each accepted the raises. Kelsey and Pedrozo didn’t return phone calls to confirm whether they did, but so far no supervisor has reported declining the raise.
In the past, individual supervisors have declined raises or voluntarily taken reductions.
The county supervisors were not subject to a 5 percent salary reduction that hit county employees in 2012, but all voluntarily took the decrease. The concession expired Dec. 15, 2013, along with the end of employee furloughs, Merced Sun-Star archives show.
In 2014, Pedrozo and Walsh declined the raises. Last year, McDaniel declined the raise because he’d only been on the board for about six months, he said.
This year, the supervisors felt more comfortable accepting the raises since other county employee groups have received raises and the county is in a better financial position than in the past, they said.
“The general climate is better,” Walsh, the board chairman, said. “We’re not furloughing folks anymore. The circumstances are better. We’ve actually negotiated some raises.”
McDaniel said this time around, he feels he’s earned the raise. McDaniel estimates he works 60 to 70 hours a week as a supervisor. Most of that time is spent reading and studying, he said. Meeting constituents, returning phone calls, attending breakfast meetings and dinner events make for long days, he said.
“When we get paid as we do, every day we need to consider that and work our worth,” he said. “I do everything on behalf of my constituents. I have 50,000 bosses.”
In the past, Kelsey has expressed a critical opinion of how much supervisors earn and said she would support a 15 percent pay cut.
Supervisors have received three raises since 2008, said Mike North, a spokesman for the county. The raises came in 2014, 2015 and in July. Each of the raises followed raises for judges.
Supervisors’ salaries come from the county’s general fund.
September 11, 2016
Merced Sun-Star
By Brianna Calix

Marin [County] focuses on monitoring concussions of student athletes

Blog note: this article references a February 2016 grand jury report on the subject.
A group of representatives from local hospitals, county government, the Marin County Office of Education, Marin Athletic Foundation and others is seeking ways to prevent Marin student athletes who sustain concussions from suffering permanent harm.
“We’ve been meeting for over a year now as this collaborative,” said Lara Trahan, director of education services at the Marin County Office of Education. “The focus of the group is to approach brain safety as one entity instead of little pockets.”
The effort has already begun to pay dividends. In the fall of 2015, both Marin General Hospital and Novato Community Hospital began providing athletic trainers to schools in their areas.
Marin General is providing athletic trainers who work with students at San Rafael, Terra Linda and Tomales high schools, and the hospital is in the process of hiring a third trainer to assist with those schools. Novato Community is in its second year of providing two athletic trainers for Novato Unified School District — one at Novato High School and one at San Marin High School.
“The athletic trainers do concussion baseline testing of all student athletes at no charge to the parents or the school district,” said Novato Community spokeswoman Mary Strebig.
Marin General’s arrangement with schools is somewhat different.
“All of our athletic trainer services, including baseline testing, are provided to the schools at below our cost, and we do not make a profit on the program within our contracts with the school districts,” said Terese O’Malley, Marin General’s manager of wellness programs.
Athletes involved in contact sports at all these schools are required to undergo baseline testing.
Baseline neurocognitive tests provide a snapshot of a healthy athlete’s decision-making ability, reaction time, attention and memory. If an athlete suffers a concussion, the test is readministered and helps doctors know when it is safe for the student to return to competition.
232 concussions
Trahan said that during the 2015-16 school year, Marin County high school athletes suffered an estimated 232 concussions. During that same period, San Rafael High School’s 500 student athletes alone suffered 47 concussions, said Shana McKeever, the athletic trainer dealing with concussions at San Rafael High.
San Rafael High received a $5,000 community service grant from county supervisors in June to expand its use of electronic head impact monitors, which it began using in 2015. The sensors are being used at San Rafael High for soccer, football and lacrosse, and the school is looking to extend the program to water polo and other sports.
The devices, worn in headbands or skullcaps, record head impacts and transmit data from the playing field to a smartphone or computer tablet on the sideline.
The Marin Athletic Foundation also received a $5,000 community service grant from supervisors to underwrite baseline testing at high schools and expanded use of impact monitors.
Testing urged
In February 2016, the grand jury issued a report, “Head Injuries and Concussions: Are Our High Schools Keeping Our Children Safe?” The grand jury’s report included several recommendations.
One recommendation was that each Marin school district require and pay for baseline neurocognitive testing of all high school athletes and mandatory re-testing after an injury. Another was that each school district pay for the hiring of certified athletic trainers at each of its high schools, who would attend high-risk sporting events.
Trahan said she wasn’t sure which schools in Marin have hired athletic trainers to monitor concussions, although she believes most have.
Another grand jury recommendation was that each school adopt protocols for reporting head injuries and for determining how long injured players should wait before returning to school and athletic activities. The grand jury said that each district should provide mandatory concussion education for student athletes. And it recommended that the Marin County Office of Education collect head injury data and compile the data in a centralized database.
Trahan said the collaborative is in the early stages of discussing how to meet most of these goals.
Getting needed care
Dr. Srinivas Ganesh, a sports medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael, said, “We’ve had a set of protocols that we’ve created to make sure our Kaiser athletes are able to get the care they need. We want to work with the community to make sure that best practices are shared and standardization is noted across Marin for student athletes.”
Kit Holsten, the athletic trainer monitoring concussions at Terra Linda and Tomales high schools, said if it is suspected that an athlete has suffered a concussion during a game or practice, they are removed from play and a standardized medical questionnaire is administered.
Steve DeHart, the athletic trainer at Novato High School, said the assessment he does also includes a cranial nerve test along with balance testing.
If there is evidence of trauma, the athlete could be taken to an emergency room; otherwise they would be required to visit their personal physician for further evaluation.
“Does every one of these kids go to the doctor immediately? No,” DeHart said. “One of the challenges is the consistency of treatment.”
DeHart said emergency room doctors are often reluctant to diagnose a concussion. If a concussion is confirmed by a doctor, under state law the athlete is required to complete a graduated return-to-play protocol of no less than seven days in duration under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.
September 10, 2016
Marin Independent Journal
By Richard Halstead

Yolo County Supervisors stand behind the Yolo Habitat Conservancy

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors are standing behind the Yolo Habitat Conservancy despite a scathing Grand Jury report issued earlier this year.
Recently the Grand Jury — an independent watchdog convened to review the operations of city and county government as well as other tax supported agencies — released the report, “Yolo Habitat Conservancy : A Never Ending Story.” The document detailed the agency’s allegedly checkered past, recent efforts to implement safeguards, the state of its current operations, and recommendations for improvement.
The Conservancy is a Joint Powers Agency that was formed in 2002 to prepare the Yolo Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan and the Yolo Local Conservation Plan. These policies are intended to establish a framework to protect, enhance, and restore natural resources across the county while allowing for continued rural and urban development.
The Grand Jury’s recent report argued that the agency’s performance does not justify the time and money spent as a final conservation plan has not been approved despite county efforts that can be traced back to the 1990s. In the YHC’s response, they noted that they have only been in charge of the plan’s formation since 2002 and that similar plans in other counties have taken over a decade to complete. They further stated that the plan is estimated to cost $10.3 million, which is similar to the cost of plans in other counties such as Placer County which has cost $10.5 million over the past 15 years. Yolo Supervisors agreed with the Conservancy’s position and asked that the Grand Jury refer to the Conservancy’s response for explanation.
To get the Conservancy back on track, the Grand Jury recommended that the YHC submit a final plan by April 30, 2017 and receive annual performance audits to measure progress towards this goal. Supervisors agreed with the recommended deadline, as the Conservancy had already adopted a similar timeframe prior to the Grand Jury’s investigation.
Regarding the performance audits, the Conservancy responded that this would be unnecessary. They argued that the YHC’s Board of Directors already evaluates the agency’s budget and schedule each year. They did note, however, that to enhance agency oversight they would consider implementing performance audits or reviews once the plan is in effect which would likely begin in 2018 or developing performance measures around organizational and budget goals adopted by their Board of Directors to be reviewed every six months.
Yolo supervisors also supported the Conservancy on this recommendation and added that the Department of Financial Services had provided input to the YHC in their initial response to the Grand Jury and that the department will continue to be available to the Conservancy as a resource going forward.
County Counsel Phil Pogledich noted after the report was released, “Having been involved as legal adviser to the Conservancy for a decade, the last four years is a night and day difference from the prior several years.”
He went on to say, “From my perspective, the report simply isn’t credible. The report’s major conclusion is that the habitat planning effort isn’t worth the time or the money, but it doesn’t explain why,” he continued. “Nor does it reflect an honest effort by the Grand Jury to understand the complexity of a countywide habitat planning effort covering numerous species. The Grand Jury does not appear to have considered just how much a completed plan will streamline the permitting for public works projects and private development. Put simply, I don’t think the Grand Jury did its homework.”
The Board’s response will be formally approved when they convene on Tuesday and will then be sent along to Judge Paul Richardson and the Yolo County Grand Jury, closing the door on this chapter of the Conservancy’s history and allowing them to focus on the final conservation plan.
The plan’s current draft covers 12 endangered and threatened species and 15 natural communities. The final plan will provide for the conservation of these species in the county, as well as 50-year permits for development activities.
September 10, 2016
Daily Democrat
By Lauren King

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

[San Francisco County] Scourge of car burglaries leveling out, but still an issue in SF

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
He broke into cars from the Marina to the Mission. In one case, he stole a visiting New Zealand couple’s passports from their car.
Twenty-three-year-old Eric Jones is one of the serial car burglars in San Francisco who, authorities say, are responsible for much of what a recent Civil Grand Jury report called the “scourge” of car break-ins that has plagued The City for the past several years.
Jones’ arrest and conviction is part of a coordinated strategy that is reportedly slowing down the trend.
“Our focus on serial offenders coupled with the SFPD’s increased enforcement effort is continuing to yield measurable results,” said District Attorney George Gascon after Jones was recently convicted of seven felonies and four misdemeanors for his crimes. And if the numbers are any indication, their efforts may be working.
Car burglaries citywide were down 18 percent year to date at the end of July, according to Cmdr. Greg McEachern, who oversees the San Francisco Police Department’s investigation bureau. By the end of July 2015, there had been 16,588 car burglaries across The City. This year, there had only been 13,640 by the end of July.
Last week, McEachern was one of a handful of department officers reporting to a Board of Supervisors committee in response to the Civil Grand Jury’s report on the problem.
“This has been a tough nut to crack,” admitted Acting Chief Toney Chaplin at the Government Oversight and Audit Committee hearing on Thursday.
The largest effort has been the eight-officer Patrol Bureau Task Force, which has been focusing surveillance efforts in districts most plagued by car break-ins like the Central and the Northern. Station captains have also focused on property crimes such as car break-ins.
These efforts have been coupled with renewed tactics and techniques that not only help catch criminals but also convict them, according to the DA’s Office. For instance, the collection of video surveillance and the use of fingerprints on cars have aided investigative efforts.
Because victims of break-ins are often tourists who leave town by the time a case reaches a courtroom, it has been hard to use testimony to convict car burglars, the DA’s office said. But simple reminders to officers, such as checking to see if the doors of the car were locked, which indicates forced entry, can make all the difference.
“Our numbers have gotten a lot better this year,” said McEachern, who noted that 10 people have been charged with 92 offenses in recent cases.
But Public Defender Jeff Adachi warned against connecting a drop in crime with any specific efforts.
“While it’s great auto burglaries are down, trying to answer the question of why is about as productive as gazing into a crystal ball. That’s because crime trends tend to defy simple cause-and-effect explanations,” Adachi said. “However, this certainly pokes a big hole in the argument of Prop. 47 opponents who claimed that the law reducing felony thefts to misdemeanors was the culprit.”
But car break-ins have yet to drop back to the lower levels of recent years, and Supervisor Aaron Peskin said as much at the hearing.
Peskin’s district, which encompasses the heavily touristed Chinatown and North Beach neighborhoods, has been one of the centers of the car break-in wave. And while the numbers have been in decline, they haven’t dropped far enough.
“We still have a long way to go,” Peskin said.
September 7, 2016
San Francisco Examiner
By Jonah Owen Lamb

OUR VIEW: We ask Kern County grand jurors to investigate KHSD

We’ve heard this before: “Trust us, we’re from the government.” And we don’t believe it.
Kern High School District administrators and elected board members have stretched their credibility to the public’s snapping point. The list of recent credibility-damaging episodes – ranging from their bizarre handling of a lawsuit involving a former student who was injured during a pep rally to contracting accusations and allowing guns on campus – have basically used up the district’s credibility points.
So it’s no surprise that the public now says, “Yeah, right!” to the district’s claims that it will investigate itself as a new scandal unfolds over the improper use of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, a confidential law enforcement database known as CLETS.
Enough already! The district now has hired a Chicago-based “police consulting” firm at an estimated cost of $78,100 to investigate itself. But wait, it gets worse. It also has hired a Sacramento-based investigative law firm, with reportedly no set cost-ceiling, to investigate itself.
It seems the intent is two-fold – to head off any real outside investigation and to keep the public from learning about district officials improperly (some say, illegally) using a strictly confidential database limited to police investigations to spy on students, employees and who knows who else.
Telegraphing the cover-up goal is the Chicago firm’s recommendation that the district “treat our invoices as confidential and safeguard them appropriately,” meaning block the public’s attempts to request to see them through the California Public Records Act.
We also are blocked by the district from knowing who the district was spying on because the database is “confidential” and to tell us the names would, ah yes, be a breach of confidence.
Are you getting the picture now? District officials seemed to care little that non-police people were breaching a confidential database to improperly target people not under police investigation. But when it comes to telling the public who was being targeted, suddenly there is a feigned respect for “confidentiality.”
When Joe Lopeteguy, a retired veteran Kern County sheriff’s officer, was recently brought in to head the Kern High School District’s police force, he correctly smelled a rat. He asked his officers to investigate and forwarded the findings to the Kern County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff’s officials concluded the database was being illegally used. They asked the Kern County district attorney to charge two district administrators with misdemeanors. The DA declined, claiming there was insufficient evidence and a statue of limitations had expired.
Reports are now surfacing that the improper (illegal) use of the confidential database may have been going on for years and may have involved many more present and former district staff.
Normally you could turn to the state Attorney General’s office to investigate. After all, the California Department of Justice is supposed to assure the system’s legal use. But Attorney General Kamala Harris has many more fish to fry. By comparison, this is just a minnow. And, Harris has other things on her mind, like running for U.S. Senate.
So that leaves us – the people of Kern County, the people paying the salaries of these administrators, and the people who elect the KHSD school board members – to act.
While district officials would like us to believe we have no choice other than to trust them because they are from the government, we do have an alternative. And it’s a good one.
We are formally asking – actually begging – the Kern County grand jury to investigate, publicly report their findings, and make recommendations to clean up this mess.
Grand jurors are everyday people appointed by the court to serve as government watchdogs. Their eyes can be sharp and penetrating.
It’s time they turned their gaze toward the KHSD.
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September 6, 2016
The Bakersfield Californian

Napa County responds to critical grand jury report on jail

In its response to the Napa County grand jury report on the jail and Department of Corrections, the county executive officer complains that the grand jury didn’t get the whole picture.
The grand jury failed to interview the jail’s director, Lenard Vare, said County Executive Officer Leanne Link. The interview “could have provided information that would have led to a more accurate and balanced report,” Link said.
The grand jury found that the jail was operating understaffed and with inadequate facilities. The grand jury said that the jail had a breakdown in management that has caused low morale among employees and that the jail is a dangerous environment for the people who work there and its inmates.
Although Link and the Board of Supervisors agreed with some of the jury’s findings, they said that most of the jury’s recommendations were already being adequately dealt with, including employee dissatisfaction and staffing issues.
“While instances of employee dissatisfaction have arisen during the past year resulting from a variety of factors, actions have been taken by the director to address and resolve these issues on an ongoing basis,” Link said. Although employees do work in a difficult work environment, the Corrections Department acknowledges its responsibility to create a positive and productive work environment, according to the response.
The grand jury recommended that staffing become a top priority for the jail and, in response, Link says that having sufficient staffing is already, and always is, a top priority. The county executive officer said that the jail works closely with the human relations department to advertise correctional officer positions in other states and to recruit. Challenges to recruitment and retention of jail employees are the high cost of living in Napa, changes in retirement formulas and the stressful work environment, Link says.
The jail has been consistently understaffed for at least three years and each shift operates with about half the employees that it should, according to the grand jury.
In response, Link said that some employees have left the department for jobs offering higher pay and enhanced benefits in the private sector and to accept similar positions at other law enforcement agencies. Other staff members retired after reaching 20 years of employment, she said. The department of corrections has filled vacancies and hired 35 new employees in the last three fiscal years; however, in that time, 37 employees left.
Of those new hires, 24 of them were correctional officers, according to the county’s response.
To help with recruitment and retention, the grand jury recommended that compensation and benefits for correctional officers be analyzed to determine a more effective incentive package.
According to the county’s response, a study was already conducted in April 2015 by Ralph Anderson & Associates. The county came to the conclusion that compensation for correctional officers was in line with the “board’s philosophy” to be within five percent of the median of wages paid by comparable agencies – meaning that compensation stays as is.
The jury also found that many of the correctional officers had less than five years in service. The county executive officer explained that as additional and upgraded positions were made available in recent years, the number of staff with less experience has increased. Retirement has also created additional vacancies, Link said.
Although the grand jury found that some jail policies and procedures aren’t always followed or are inconsistently applied, Link said that, while that does happen, it is being addressed.
“Often changes in procedures result from enactment of new laws and new case law,” she said. “At times, there may be delays in adoption and implementation of the changes across all teams. Frequent meetings between managers and supervisors are held to ensure that the department is consistent in how it applies changes in policies across the department.”
Due to the number of Spanish-speaking inmates who may need support services, the grand jury recommended that the jail hire a bilingual forensic mental health counselor. However, the county executive officer said that the department had a bilingual forensic mental health counselor until a few months ago when the position became vacant. In the interim, she said, when there has been a need for a bilingual mental health professional on site, the Napa County Health and Human Services Agency’s Mental Health Division has provided staff.
Link said that the full-time forensic mental health counselor position has been filled, but did not say whether or not the person in the role is bilingual. There is also an vacant half-time position available, she said.
The grand jury said that rehab programs have been discontinued to the detriment of the inmate population and the public at large.
The county executive officer agreed with the grand jury’s assessment. Because of damage to that building that occurred in the South Napa earthquake, Link said that programs had to be stopped while the facility remained in “yellow-flag” status. During this time, crews were working on repairs and “it was difficult to both supervise work crews and manage inmate movement,” she said.
Programming was available through electronic tablets and some one-on-one visits were possible, but the amount of people who could enter the jail was limited, Link said.
Napa County inmates being housed in Solano County were given full access to programs available. The removal of the jail’s yellow-tag status has been approved and steps are being take to reintegrate programs into the jail, according to the county’s response.
The county executive officer disagreed with both the jury’s recommendation to have more oversight from the Board of Supervisors as well as the recommendation that a multi-year citizen’s oversight committee be established. The Board of Supervisors agreed with Link that they already have oversight over the jail and that the jail has periodic inspections by the state.
All are in agreement that a new jail is needed, but Measure Y – the proposal to increase the sales tax by ¼ cent – was voted down at the June election. The county is now looking at alternative ways to pay for a new jail on Highway 221, south of the city of Napa.
September 6, 2016
Napa Valley Register
By Maria Sestito

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Napa County, reclamation district address grand jury flood report

Both the Napa River Reclamation District (NRRD) and Napa County Board of Supervisors are taking the hard edge off grand jury criticisms over south county flood protection, though they don’t deny that flood threats exist.
The area in question is Edgerly Island and Ingersol Tract about five miles south of the city of Napa. About 135 homes in a line for 1.5 miles along the east side of Milton Road depend on an aging levee for Napa River flood protection.
This is an area of Napa County where wetlands are more prominent than vineyards. But, though out of the spotlight, it caught the attention of the 2015-16 grand jury in an era when sea level rise is predicted.
“NRRD is not now performing, and has never performed, the essential levee control and maintenance responsibilities for which it was created,” the June 6 Napa County grand jury report said.
County taxpayers could be on the hook if a flood happens, the grand jury said. State and federal agencies might not pay for flood damages because local authorities failed to make sure that the NRRD was empowered and funded to take the necessary precautions.
The grand jury wants the Board of Supervisors to direct county counsel to write and make public an opinion on the potential liabilities of the county and NRRD. Its report said the NRRD’s county-assigned counsel refused to answer basic questions.
So is the NRRD failing to perform the levee maintenance responsibilities for which it was created in 1974, as the grand jury asserts?
In its recently issued response, the NRRD Board of Directors questioned the use of the word “responsibilities.” Sections of the levee are privately owned by each homeowner, except for about 50 feet that is owned by the NRRD.
“Without and until securing additional property rights, NRRD has no authority, let alone responsibility, to maintain those levees,” the response said.
The district receives only $20,000 to $25,000 annually that it could use to secure property rights and construct reclamation projects, the response said. It has worked on achievable goals, such as buying flood pumps and educating property owners on levee maintenance.
“Thanks in part to NRRD’s efforts and the work of many responsible members of our community that have improved their portion of the levee, the existing levees have kept the community dry for over three decades,” the response said.
But the district agreed that, if sea level rise and land subsidence predictions come true, the existing levee can’t protect Milton Road. The district’s latest effort involves trying to team up with the Napa Flood Control and Water Conservation District to do an engineering study looking at long-term flood protection needs, solutions and costs.
“The buy-in and support of our community on Milton Road over the years to come is vital” to addressing subsidence and sea level rise challenges, the response said.
And would Napa County taxpayers have to pay for Milton Road flood damages, as the grand jury fears?
Napa County has no legal authority to compel the NRRD to take action on levee maintenance, said a response approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors. The law indicates that the county cannot be held liable for the failure of private levees.
The county didn’t speculate whether state and federal agencies might balk at making flood damage money available. Instead, it called flood recovery funding “a very complicated subject which would depend on many factors,” including unknown factors.
The Board of Supervisors declined the grand jury’s request to direct county counsel to write and make public an opinion on the liabilities and responsibilities of the NRRD and the county, citing attorney-client privilege.
“It is not County Counsel’s role to provide legal advice to the public at large,” the response stated.
September 4, 2016
Napa Valley Register
By Barry Eberling

[San Diego County] Police respond to report on city’s jail efficacy

The city of Chula Vista sent two separate letters to the San Diego County Grand Jury in response to their findings that the Chula Vista jail was a financial drain to the city, and that the police department needed a citizen oversight board of police behavior.
Operating the Chula Vista jail costs the city about $1.62 million per year and generates about $1.5 million in revenue per year. The city provides use of the jail in the basement of the police headquarters to the U.S. Marshals Service at a cost of $110 per inmate per day.
The city disputes the claim that the 48-bed jail used by the U.S. Marshals to house pretrial female detainees is a financial burden to the city.
Because of the financial loss to the city, the grand jury recommended the city revise contract rates, increase the number of inmates or terminate its contract with the U.S. Marshals.
Chula Vista Police Capt. Vern Sallee said the grand jury only reported on the financial aspect of the jail, not the public benefit.
“The grand jury looks at the jail purely from a profit-loss standpoint, which is not the right approach,” he said.
The letter states that the city’s overarching objective of operating a jail is not to make a profit. Instead the city’s “overall objective is to provide enhanced and genuinely more efficient public services to the community of Chula Vista.”
The city said in the letter that this objective appears to be lost in the grand jury’s limited cost-to-revenue analysis.
In a second letter the city says a citizen oversight board as recommended by the grand jury is not needed because the department already has a system in place for monitoring police behavior.
According to the grand jury’s report, an unspecified number and type of complaints on police conduct from citizens in unspecified cities “who felt there was inadequate resolution of their grievances, suggested the current process needs improvement.
Accordingly, the grand jury recommended that seven cities in the county — including Chula Vista—with their own police departments each establish a citizen oversight board or form Joint Powers Agreements to set up regional review boards.
Sallee said the Chula Vista Police Department has had a 10-member Community Advisory Committee since 2001 that is committee that looks over police policies and procedures.
The department also has a professional standards unit that conducts investigations into allegations  into police misconduct. Salle said this has proven to be a robust and satisfactory system for fully investigating  such allegations as well as imposing appropriate discipline in cases where they determine there is misconduct and that includes termination.
The professional standards unit does internal affairs investigations and also reports statistics to citizens advisory committee.
Sallee said ultimately the Chula Vista City Council has the most oversight when it comes to holding the department accountable for their actions.
September 3, 2016
The Star News
By Robert Moreno

Saturday, September 3, 2016

[San Mateo] County defends its teen mental health responses: Officials issue reaction to civil grand jury report on helping minors in crisis

San Mateo County officials differed with most of the findings and recommendations in a recent civil grand jury report suggesting more should be done to help local teens suffering a mental health crisis.
The county Board of Supervisors is slated to approve during a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 6, a response to the report “Teens in Mental Health Crisis: From 911 to the Emergency Room Door,” issued in June by the grand jury.
Much of the response from the office of County Manager John Maltbie is dedicated to defending the processes associated with offering urgent aid to teens and minors experiencing mental health trauma, as the county administers many of the area’s available emergency support services.
The initial report called for more collaboration, training, resources and education to improve care, but the county’s response agrees with only two of the grand jury’s eight findings and does not recognize any of the six recommendations as new ideas to be implemented.
County initiatives such as the Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, administered through the Sheriff’s Office, and the health system’s San Mateo County Mental Health and Assessment Team, or SMART, program are recognized by the grand jury as useful in offering appropriate care to vulnerable teens.
The county’s response doubles down on such a position, acknowledging the programs are crucial to offering adequate emergency support and disputing claims that record keeping and training should be beefed up to improve the initiatives.
All county law enforcement officers are subject to eight hours of CIT training as part of their police academy education, according to the county’s report, in response to the grand jury’s finding that 20 percent of all law enforcement officers are educated in specialized response to mental health emergencies.
Police showing up to the scene of a teen or minor experiencing a mental health crisis in a discreet fashion is preferable to a response featuring sirens and lights, as it decreases the chance of further traumatizing a person already struggling, according to the grand jury report.
Such a technique is the type of lesson administered during CIT training, which the grand jury recommended should be amended to include more instruction specific to teens.
The county response indicated such a suggestion has already been implemented though, as the most recent CIT training included an expanded session including local school officials who offered guidance regarding best practices for dispatches to campus incidents.
CIT training is also an ideal opportunity for relationship building and idea exchange between law enforcement, education, mental health and other officials who can contribute to ensuring local teens are offered the best care possible, according to the grand jury report.
The county agreed with such a finding, and said in its report the Sheriff’s Office plans to further expand outreach to school officials and personnel from public agencies who may interact with a minor experiencing a mental health crisis, to build the network established through CIT training.
Another important component of ensuring vulnerable young people are not overwhelmed by the response to a mental health emergency is the SMART team, which dispatches trained professionals in a specialized van different from a police cruiser or ambulance to the scene of a crisis in an unassuming fashion, according to the grand jury.
Availability of SMART team services should be enhanced and response times should be tracked better to look for opportunities for service improvements, according to the grand jury, but both efforts are already underway according the county, though room for improvement exists.
“The current system to collect SMART response data provides sufficient information to determine the effectiveness of SMART, patterns of demand, geographic breakdown of where calls are generated from and demographic data,” according to the county’s report. “There is a need to improve data collection related to calls for assistance that emanate from school campuses.”
The county is not obligated to implement any of the grand jury’s recommendations and the response fulfills the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to acknowledge the initial report.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, 400 County Center in Redwood City.
September 2, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Austin Walsh

Yuba County says jail staffing grand jury recommends isn’t needed

A need for increased medical services for inmates in the Yuba County Jail was again a topic of a grand jury report, which cited two attempted suicides by inmates within the facility.
Jurors recommended in their 2015-2016 report that the sheriff apply to the Board of Supervisors to fund a full-time psychiatrist to work on mental health treatment and care plans and a full-time medical doctor to decrease the time it takes for inmates to be seen by a doctor or a nurse.
Supervisors and Sheriff Steven Durfor said the additional positions are not needed.
Jurors who investigated the jail found mental health care being provided to inmates and the number and quality of its medical personnel had considerably improved. Grand juries in the previous two years had recommended increased medical staff at the jail.
The need for more services was realized after the jail population increased and the average length of inmates' stays lengthened as a result of public safety realignment, which leaves some lower-offense felony convicts in county jails, instead of going into the state prison system.
Two crisis counselors, one part-time and one full-time; two part-time psychiatrists - one of whom is available through teleconference; and a full-time forensic mental health therapist are available to inmates, providing about 100 hours of non-emergency mental health care, the report says. Correctional officers now receive training in suicide prevention and a mental health first aid course. In addition, the county was awarded a $20 million grant for a building that will include room for additional counseling and medical beds.
Based on national estimates that 64 percent of jail inmates have mental health problems, that means the about 200 inmates suffering with mental health illness have access to less than 30 minutes of non-emergency one-on-one counseling or treatment.
Jurors learned that two inmates attempted to hang themselves and were interrupted by other inmates. Both people who made the attempts had allegedly asked for mental therapy, yet none was offered.
The Yuba County Sheriff's Department confirmed that two attempted hangings occurred and that inmates intervened, one in October 2014 and the other in January 2015. However, the department stated that allegations that the inmates had asked for mental therapy and were denied are "not accurate" and the department "disagree(s) with that statement."
Grand jurors learned that the doctor in the jail tried to see an inmate within 48 hours of an inmates' request. The doctor and nurse combined see 60-80 patients a week, and "it can be difficult for an inmate to get an appointment with the doctor which could cause a delay in treatment," the report says.
They also interviewed an ex-inmate who said they were misdiagnosed.
In his response to the grand jury, Durfor said their recommendations for increased medical staff will not be implemented because the department's internal and external reviews do not suggest the need for a full-time psychiatrist or full-time physician.
Supervisors responded that they are aware through discussions with the sheriff and Yuba-Sutter Behavioral Health that services are provided to inmates "at an appropriate level through their partnership and collaborative approach."
August 31, 2016
By Monica Vaughan

Thursday, September 1, 2016

[Orange County] Newport-Mesa schools won't adopt grand jury recommendations on asbestos

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District says it does not plan to implement recommendations in an Orange County grand jury report on how area school districts can improve hazardous-materials management and communication with school communities about campus construction projects.
The grand jury's report, released in June, focused on how asbestos concerns in area districts are handled. The report was prompted by an incident in the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach in 2014-15 in which three schools were closed temporarily because of concerns about the potentially hazardous mineral fiber and millions of dollars in extra spending was dedicated to abating the material.
The jurors recommended that each district:
• Create a plan for how issues regarding hazardous materials will be communicated to parents and others;
• Maintain a computerized database listing all district buildings and their characteristics;
• Budget for asbestos inspections every three years and share inspection data with prospective construction bidders;
• Request that the Orange County Department of Education use one or more of its monthly "all districts" meetings to discuss the handing of hazardous materials and that representatives from each district attend.
But Newport-Mesa will not implement the recommendations, saying they are "not warranted and not reasonable."
At least four other districts told Orange County Superior Court Judge Charles Margines that they won't adopt the suggestions.
In Newport-Mesa's response this month, the district said its practice of making inspection reports accessible at its office and school sites, as required by the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, is "sufficient" and that the grand jury suggestion of a computerized database would require additional funding or the transfer of funds from educational programs.
Under AHERA regulations, schools are required to perform inspections to determine whether asbestos-containing materials are present and to maintain an asbestos management plan.
Newport-Mesa schools are inspected twice a year, according to district spokeswoman Annette Franco.
Newport-Mesa wrote that the county Department of Education frequently distributes information to districts on a "wide range of subjects" and that the meetings that were recommended are unnecessary.
The district also noted that the grand jury's recommendations to budget for asbestos inspections and share the data with bidders are already in place in Newport-Mesa.
The grand jury report found that all but one of Orange County's 28 school districts have asbestos present in at least one of their schools.
While the jury noted that asbestos contained in walls or ceilings does not present an immediate hazard, any disturbance that releases the fibers into the air can pose a hazard to anyone exposed to a significant amount.
Ocean View School District staff has already presented an asbestos-management plan to the district board of trustees and made it available to the public this summer. Maintenance and custodial staff has been trained in asbestos safety, according to Supt. Carol Hansen.
Of the three Ocean View campuses that closed because of asbestos concerns, two — Hope View and Oak View elementary schools — reopened in September 2015 after construction crews removed small amounts of the material and completed upgrades in the buildings.
The other school, Lake View Elementary, will reopen Sept. 7.
August 30, 2016
Daily Pilot
By Alex Chan