Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lake County Grand Jury issues followup on annual report responses

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

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