Wednesday, September 7, 2016

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

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