Monday, December 26, 2016

[Sonoma County] Reasons to be Optimistic

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

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