Saturday, February 4, 2017
Editorial: Ventura County grand jury needs your help
We hope that in the future we don’t look back on this week as the beginning of the “alternative facts” era, fueled by the Trump administration’s dubious claims about the size of his inauguration audience. Champions of good, old-fashioned, plain facts will need to remain vigilant to beat back this latest form of government doublespeak.
That’s one reason why we, as a news organization, feel a special kinship with the Ventura County civil grand jury. The jury’s core mission involves discerning and communicating facts about how our local governments operate.
The panel has earned its share of criticism over the decades, including some from us, but its role as a public watchdog remains as important as ever. And now it’s the time of year when you can apply to be a part of that. The 2017-18 Ventura County civil grand jury began accepting applications for members this month and will continue through April 7.
Don’t confuse this panel with the criminal grand jury, which investigates crimes and hands down indictments. The 19 volunteers on the civil grand jury investigate local government issues and make recommendations on how to improve things. The investigations usually begin with a citizen complaint.
The 2015-16 grand jury, for example, investigated county government policies and practices on administrative leave and overtime exemptions, the condition of county and city detention facilities, oversight of local crude oil pipelines in the wake of the Refugio spill, and invasive vegetation in our rivers, among other issues. It made useful recommendations such as having the county compile an annual report on the status of local oil pipelines, and devise a long-term plan and budget to eradicate arundo from our rivers.
In years past, some have accused the grand jury of conducting superficial, unfair investigations. Not surprisingly, those critics were usually the ones being investigated. Supporters note that jurors often tackle complicated issues, work long hours (15 to 35 hours a week) and get little pay ($25 a day and a mileage allowance for driving to the Ventura jury chambers and elsewhere).
To apply for the one-year position, you need to be a U.S. citizen, 18 or older, a Ventura County resident for at least a year, and “of ordinary intelligence, sound judgment and good character.” You’ll need to understand English well enough to conduct and report grand jury business, and not have any felony convictions.
Then you’ll undergo a background check and be interviewed by outgoing jurors. A committee of judges will choose 30 finalists, and then the open positions (up to 10 jurors can serve for an additional, second year) will be filled by a random drawing around July 1.
If you have the time and interest to fill this challenging, important role in our community, we encourage you to learn more and apply at ventura.org/grand-jury.
January 25, 2017
Ventura County Star