Friday, June 30, 2017
The Alameda County Grand Jury is calling on supervisors to have more transparency and controls when it comes to the money that they transfer from their discretionary funds to non-profits in their district.
In the current practice, supervisors donate from their discretionary funds to non-profits that they want to help. The discretionary funds are savings from money supervisors did not spend on hiring more staff and other business expenses each year. The money goes into the Fiscal Management Rewards Program (FMRP). The reward for saving money is discretionary spending. All county departments have FMRP funds.
However, the Grand Jury in its June 1 report wants to see supervisors go out for bids on any donation amount over $3,000. It is something that the county’s Manual of Accounting Policies and Procedures (MAPP) requires of every county department. The Grand Jury sees this as better accountability with potentially better results for money spent. In effect, the change would open up bidding for other non-profits to submit proposals.
The report also suggests there should be signed contracts for any amount over $25,000, as spelled out in the MAPP. The report cites the board itself, in a 2003 vote, as saying that FMRP spending should be subject to the same procedures as other county spending.
Supervisors don’t spend all their FMRP savings in one year. The carryover totals $9.7 million in the latest report, or more than $1 million than they receive for a whole year of fresh FMRP funds. In fiscal 2016-17, they received $8.6 million.
Among individual supervisors, Nate Miley, who represents the 4th District, which includes Pleasanton, East Oakland, Castro Valley, and unincorporated urban areas near Hayward, was the lowest in carryover with $283,000 left in that fund in 2016-17.
First District Supervisor Scott Haggerty was second lowest at $796,000. Highest on the carryover list was 5th District Supervisor Keith Carson at $3.4 million. Third District Supervisor Wilma Chan had $2.8 million carried over, and 2nd District Supervisor Richard Valle $2.4 million.
MILEY PUTS MONEY TO USE
Miley told a reporter that he has a low carryover because he spends as much as he can, instead of letting it linger in reserve. He has given money to violence prevention projects in East Oakland and in the Cherryland and Ashland unincorporated areas.
Records from the Grand Jury show that Miley, who lives in Oakland, donated a total of $206,000 to the Urban Strategies Council between October 2014 and May 2015. The council works on violence prevention in East Oakland.
Miley donated $98,000 to Hill Communications between October 2014 and December 2015. The firm conducts public relations. Miley said he has used it to help gain recognition and facilitate meetings in the unincorporated Ashland-Cherryland area for another violence prevention program.
Miley’s interest in violence prevention was motivated by a county effort started a decade ago to deal with such problems, including domestic violence, elder abuse, and youth violence.
Miley has also given money to Pleasanton area projects, including $50,000 to the capital campaign of AXIS Health Center, and a donation to Tri-Valley Senior Support.
“We do get a lot of requests, a significant number. We look on how to support them with their goals, mission and agenda,” said Miley.
Haggerty did not respond to a request for a response in time for The Independent’s deadline. Haggerty lives in Dublin, and represents Dublin, Livermore, Fremont and Newark.
Grand Jury records for roughly a two-year period in 2014 and 2015 show that the biggest benefactor of Haggerty’s donations was the Las Positas 4-H Camp at $50,000. Other significant donations added up to $31,000 to the Livermore school district, $25,000 each to the Taylor Family Foundation and the Dublin Gael Boosters Club, $20,000 to the Livermore Rodeo Foundation, and $10.000 to the Fremont Symphony Orchestra.
Supervisors have not reviewed the Grand Jury report yet as a body. They have two to three months to reply.
Miley said he probably would like to see the board cap the carryover amounts, but he would not want the board to have any monies we are able to keep in reserve go out to county departments. "We are the heads of this $3 billion corporation. We are responsible enough to disburse those funds,” stated Miley.
June 29, 2017
By Ron McNicoll
Progress Has Been Made to Better Treat the Mentally Ill
Mental-health and medical conditions in the Santa Barbara County Jail have been so bad for so long that even modest gains — eked out over the past 18 months — have provided fodder for a special Grand Jury report, issued late last week. The report’s language was tentative and timid, yet still optimistic.
The decision to fire the jail’s previous health-care provider and hire a new one — California Forensic Medical Group — the Grand Jury concluded, “offers the possibilities for the change that the Sheriff’s Office has sought for many years.” With “an effective working relationship” between the sheriff and the new provider,” the Grand Jury suggested, “the promises of a new mental health and handicapped treatment can be fulfilled.”
Propelling this blandly stated hope are several recent changes born of long-festering pain and exasperation — expressed over the years by a cadre of mental-health advocates — coupled with the threat of a major lawsuit by Disability Rights California, a state-sanctioned nonprofit. Over the years, mental-health advocates regularly regaled county supervisors with horror stories of what happened to the mentally ill people incarcerated in County Jail, but very little happened.
Last February, Disability Rights issued a scathing report accusing the County Sheriff’s Office of stockpiling mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, putting them in safety cells that lacked beds, toilets, or sinks for excessive periods of time. Disability Rights also charged that inmates weren’t getting their medications in a timely fashion, if at all, and that the County Jail constituted an ongoing assault upon the Americans with Disabilities Act. This got the supervisors’ attention as well as Sheriff Bill Brown’s. No lawsuit has been filed, but Disability Rights has been negotiating operational changes at the jail almost ever since. Those negotiations remain ongoing.
“I was glad to see the Grand Jury looking at the same issues we’re looking at,” said Aaron Fischer, senior counsel with Disability Rights. “I hope the county sees it as an additional motivator.” Fischer said he was heartened by the job California Forensic Medical was doing but cautioned, “It’s still too soon to tell. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
California Forensic started only in April. But already, it’s expanded staffing levels for skilled psychiatric and medical case workers at the jail and significantly reduced the amount of time inmates spend in solitary safety cells by putting them in “step-down cells” instead, after they’ve become less acutely inflamed. In addition, California Forensic has adopted more rigorous inmate screening procedures to ensure they’re given the right medications and that they’re taking them.
Still, there have been a few hiccups. To date, no on-site psychiatrist has yet been hired per the terms of the contract. There’s an acute shortage of psychiatrists nationwide, and the search remains ongoing. One prospective hire reportedly failed a background test; another wanted to start work later in the day than the contract would allow. In the meantime, a psychiatrist is available via teleskyping for 24 hours a week, and twice monthly, the founder of the company — a psychiatrist — makes house calls at the County Jail. On top of that there are two full-time psychiatric nurses and four family therapists. Likewise, the jail remains without a nursing director since the one recently hired left after a day on the job, having not fully understood her job description. Her replacement is expected to start July 13.
Mental-health advocates with Families ACT — always on the alert for official doubletalk — are notably impressed by the initial changes. Alan Bagby, running the County Jail operations for California Forensic, meets regularly with them and is accessible; the exchange of information is good. “They’re really trying to improve things,” said Lynne Gibbs. “And the standards of care have been raised.”
Perversely, it doesn’t hurt California Forensics that its predecessor, Corizon Health, set the bar so low. Only after Corizon left was it discovered that the company had held onto 300 requests from inmates seeking medical or mental-health attention that were never acted upon. Also discovered were about 30 grievance letters that likewise never made it to Lt. Mark Mahurin, a 32-year veteran of the County Jail, who was appointed 16 months ago to serve as the jail’s grievance supervisor.
June 29, 2017
Santa Barbara Independent
By Nick Welsh
Blog note: just a funny exchange. Grand jurors and county supervisors can laugh together.
MARTINEZ — It was an unusual and erroneous way to refer to one’s “favorite politician,” and Jim Mellander got the attention of those in the room as the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors on June 23 discussed how to go about replacing District Attorney Mark Peterson.
Mellander, the foreperson of the 2016-17 panel of the Contra Costa Civil Grand Jury, spoke to the supervisors about the need to ensure the applicants to replace Peterson have the utmost integrity. Mellander told them it was the grand jury’s report in May recommending Peterson’s removal for improper use of campaign funds that set the wheels in motion for a broader investigation and, ultimately, Peterson’s June 14 resignation (hours before pleading no contest to one felony count of perjury).
There was a little mix-up with the names, though, on June 23. “It was my privilege,” Mellander said, “to serve as foreperson of the grand jury that brought the accusation forward against John Gioia …”
Gioia, on the dais in front of Mellander, reacted with surprise. “Wait — I’m your supervisor!”‘ said Gioia, feigning shock. Fellow Supervisor Candace Anderson jumped in: “And now we’re going to have it revealed!” she said in jest. “We’ve been waiting for this … ”
Of course, Mellander meant to say “Mark Peterson” instead of “John Gioia.”
“Freudian slip there, John,” Mellander said as the laughter died down. “(Gioia’s) probably my favorite politician.”
June 29, 2017
East Bay Times
By Sam Richards
[Santa Barbara County] Pushing city limits: Santa Maria mayor starts collaborative effort toward at-risk youth prevention program
In the past 20 years, the city of Santa Maria averaged between one and three murders per year until a wave of violence between December 2014 and January 2016 that included 21 homicides—most of which were gang related.
To begin addressing the issue, Mayor Alice Patino started to collaborate with 5th District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, the city, and local community organizations to create the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety.
After the task force’s first meeting in April, the group received critique from the Santa Barbara County grand jury.
The grand jury released a report titled “Youth Safety: Developing a New Strategy” stating that the task force doesn’t address youth violence at the county level, funding for the project, and the issue of a divided social class within the city.
While the task force’s website states the group “includes a technical resource committee made up of agencies that deal specifically with at-risk youth in the city of Santa Maria,” City Manager Rick Hayden said violence doesn’t have city limits.
“Our major concern is the city of Santa Maria itself, and after we address those issues, we then want to address those issues with our neighboring jurisdictions as well,” he said.
Hayden questioned the timing of the report, saying the investigation was conducted mere months after the task force was established.
He said he wouldn’t have an issue with the grand jury report if the review had been conducted at the end of the year when the task force had a product to present.
“To do a report in the very beginning stage of a process and to cast a shadow of doubt on the entire project, I think is really disingenuous,” he said.
The group has met a total of three times since April. During those meetings, a few issues have been settled, he said.
Santa Maria has set aside nearly a quarter of a million dollars within its budget in ongoing funding for the task force and the programs it will eventually create, Hayden said. This is just the start; he said that the task force will also look into grants and other sources of funding.
The group has hired an outreach coordinator, a police officer to work with gang enforcement, and a position in the city’s Recreation and Parks Department designed to create more programs for youth within the Santa Maria Valley.
At the county level, the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council meets to discuss initiatives and strategies that target youth crime, delinquency, juvenile offenders, and at-risk youth.
Brian Swanson, Santa Barbara County’s probation manager, said the council comes from a state grant called the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act, which funnels state money to the county to aid programs in prevention and services for at-risk youth.
At the last meeting on June 2, Swanson said the council got an update that showed a decrease in the number of juvenile felony arrests countywide—a total of 297 arrests in 2015. There was also a decline in juvenile petitions for felony offenses in 2015, but the number of juvenile violent offenses increased; petitions for misdemeanor violent offenses increased by 58 percent.
“Looking at the data, you’re seeing trends that have occurred over the course of five to six years. There was a decrease for a couple of years, and now we’re seeing a slight increase,” Swanson said. “It’s a change in direction that is being observed and talked about.”
In 2015, the juvenile violent crime rate increased by 43 percent. The next step, Swanson said, is to address the issue, but every community in the county is different, with varied services or programs that are available and missing.
“What communities need to realize, is to make an impact on juvenile delinquency, it requires a whole host of programs and services,” he said.
A proactive community lends more resources for services and programs that work toward gang prevention or re-entry programs for those who’ve served time in juvenile detention, Swanson said.
“We’re [the probation department] more of a broker, if you will. It’s actually programs that provide direct services to the kids,” Swanson said. “We rely heavily on wrap-around community services, and we supervise our kids.”
His advice for cities and communities is to assess where they have gaps in services and programs for youth and families.
“Understand the different parts in the community: What kind of pro-social programs are there, where do kids go, what recreational programs do they have available,” he said. “Make a really good assessment of the community and figure out what could be built on and what needs to be established to help each other out.”
The Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety is currently trying to identify and fill any gaps in programs and services for local youth. Teresa Reyburn, the recreation services manager for the task force, is currently meeting with different agencies and programs to assess what the city’s missing.
So far, she’s found that there isn’t a tattoo removal program for teens—which can be very significant if someone is trying to get out of a gang-related situation, Reyburn said.
Overall, Reyburn said she’s excited to see this kind of project come to life in the city because there’s synergy between not only public agencies but also a community that has a voice in this project as well. She pointed out that any community member or organization can help with the task force by coming to public meetings, volunteering, or by simply reaching out.
“When we get together, people say, ‘I can do this and that,’ there’s just so much help from all areas of the community and commitment to this project,” Reyburn said. “That’s the city we live in.”
June 28, 2017
Santa Maria Sun
By Karen Garcia
There is very little in the annals of government prose quite so incomprehensible as a discussion of public retirement benefits and just how to pay for our own largess, past and present. Consider this bit from a San Mateo County civil grand jury report that came out on Tuesday:
As the county and incorporated cities report NPLs one year later than SamCERA and CalPERS, low returns will be reflected in their Fiscal Year 2016-2017 NPLs. Planned decreases in SamCERA and CalPERS long-term assumed ROIs will have unfavorable impacts on calculated NPLs in future years …
And so on and so forth.
Nevertheless, the grand jury has done an important thing. It’s attempting to highlight what we can learn following the adoption of new accounting rules that force counties and cities to reflect unfunded retirement benefits on the balance sheet. (In the past, the true cost of public employees, including their retirement benefits, was hidden from public view.)
What did the grand jury find? There is not a single city in the county able to fully fund retirement for past and current employees without curtailing programs or raising taxes. The county can’t pay for retirement either. This isn’t a surprise. At the national level, the Federal Reserve Board has estimated the U.S. government has a $1.8 trillion obligation and can reasonably expect to pay less than half that total. It suggests state and local governments owe another $1.3 trillion with the ability to pay 75 percent of it.
In California, the Public Policy Institute of California suggests the two largest public retirement benefit organizations in the state — CalPERS and the California State Teachers Retirement System — together carried unfunded liabilities of more than $136 billion in 2013-2014, the last year for which figures could be compiled.
This rarely comes up when local governments seek to add employees, as Half Moon Bay is doing in the coming fiscal year. Unfunded pensions are someone else’s problem. Are you going to hold past City Council members responsible for pensions for a police force that no longer exists? How, exactly?
Yet, these unfunded liabilities have the power to cripple local government now and in the future. As the grand jury points out, “If invested plan assets prove to be insufficient to satisfy retirees’ guaranteed benefits, adverse consequences may include increased taxes and user fees, decreased funds available for local government services, and municipal bankruptcy and consequent default on municipal bonds.” It might also add the risk for former public employees who have every right to think the government will make good on past promises.
This is important stuff. Please put on a fresh pot of coffee and take a look at the grand jury report. It’s available at sanmateocourt.org, then click on “2016-2017 reports.”
June 28, 2017
Half Moon Bay Review
Opinion by Clay Lambert
Source: Santa Barbara County Grand Jury
The 2016-17 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury has completed its term and has submitted 15 reports. These include:
- Laguna County Sanitation District
- Veterans Stand Down
- Detention Facilities
- Body Cameras for Law Enforcement Officers
- Santa Maria High School
- Santa Barbara Police
- West Sana Ynez Annexation to Santa Ynez Community Services District
- Santa Barbara Main Jail
- Santa Barbara County Juvenile Justice
- Voter Registration in Santa Barbara County
- Managing Regional Water Supplies
- Youth Safety in Santa Maria
- Public Safety Radio Coverage
- Medical and Mental Health Care in the Main Jail
The full reports can be found on the Jury’s website at: www.sbcgj.org
County Grand Jurors serve for one year and is made up of 19 citizens from throughout the County. The Jury’s work is always confidential. It reviews complaints concerning County government, cities and special districts.
June 28, 2017
Edhat Santa Barbara
FAIRFIELD — Solano County officials said they have already implemented the principal part of the grand jury’s recommendation to establish a task force to oversee opioid-related issues in the county.
The Health and Social Services department “has engaged the Board of Supervisors and is participating in a workgroup being led by Partnership Health-Plan of California to consider the development of such a (task force),” the county’s response to the grand jury report states.
The grand jury recommended that the task force “monitor and investigate deaths, identify recurring risk factors and take positive steps to address the harm caused by opioids within our community.
Medical providers within the county are not utilizing available safeguards against patient misuse or abuse. The 2016-17 Solano County grand jury found no evidence of a coordinated local response to the evolving opioid epidemic by Solano County health and public safety agencies, the grand jury report states.
“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported that between 2009 and 2014, there were 50 opioid deaths in Solano County. Of these, 48 resulted from the misuse of prescription narcotic pain medications,” according to the report.
“The California Department of Public Health recorded 56 deaths of Solano County residents due to opioid poisoning or suicide during 2013, the most recent year for which data is available,” the grand jury reported.
It suggests the District Attorney’s and the Sheriff-Coroner’s offices, as well as the county Office of Education participate with the Behavioral Health and Public Health divisions.
The county indicated that the involvement of all the cited agencies is being considered.
In other action, the board:
- Approved the reduction of seats on the Solano Cemetery District board from seven to five. The vote came after a public hearing at which there was no public comment.
- Approved an application to the California Arts Council, by the Solano County Arts Council, requesting a 2017-18 State-Local Partnership Program grant for promoting art in the county.
- Approved the $3,650 4th District contributions to benefit Putah Creek Council ($200), American Legion Auxiliary Unit 165 Girls State ($200), Chabad of Solano County ($250), Vacaville Heritage Council ($200), The Vacaville Museum ($200), Play for All Park Vacaville ($200), Community Action North Bay ($1,800), Yolo Basin Foundation ($200), Center for Land Based Learning ($200) and Solano Land Trust ($200).
- Approved on a four-fifths vote as part of the consent agenda the transfer of $41,000 to over-appropriations for interest expenditure in the Pension Debt Service Fund. The increase is covered by additional revenue from increased collection from the courts.
- Approved on a four-fifths vote as part of the consent agenda $5,000 from the District Attorney’s Federal Asset Forfeiture account to benefit The Leaven neighborhood program center in Fairfield. It is offset by $5,000 from Federal Asset Forfeiture revenue.
June 28, 2017
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Todd R. Hansen
Grand jury examines unfunded debt; finds room for improvement remains
A majority of the cities in San Mateo County have funded at least 75 percent of their unfunded pension liabilities, according to a recent civil grand jury report.
More work should be done though to assure the retirement benefit plans are entirely addressed, said the report issued Tuesday, June 27, as cities across the state continue grappling with the large, looming debt obligation.
San Mateo County is the torch bearer in leading the charge to pay down its pension cost, as officials funded 87 percent of the county government’s post employment benefit fund, while Belmont, Daly City and Half Moon Bay are the only local cities with at least 80 percent of the cost set aside in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Almost every other city addressed at least 75 percent of its pension debt, except Redwood City, San Mateo, South San Francisco — all of which paid at least 70 percent of the fund — and San Carlos, which accounted for 67.4 percent.
The report also indicates some cities slowed their pension plan funding in 2015-16, causing the liabilities to tick up from the year prior, and the report expects the amounts to grow again in the next fiscal year. Meanwhile, the county has been so successful in paying down its debt, the report projects it is reasonable to expect full funding by 2024.
Addressing pension liabilities are vital, because if investment plans prove insufficient the outcome could result in increased taxes and fees, less money for government services or municipal bankruptcy, in the worst-case scenario.
The grand jury accumulated its data largely through surveying comprehensive annual financial reports released by cities or the county, which can be problematic for accessing the most recent information as there are reporting inconsistencies between each agency.
The purpose of the most recent report is not to call on agencies to reply or examine their liabilities, but rather to serve as a reference point for potential future investigations, said the report.
“The determination of the aforementioned baseline of data is intended to assist in examining funding progress for local government agency defined benefit plans and other post-employment benefits within the county in future years. Future grand juries, and others, may build upon the baseline if they choose to revisit benefit funding trends,” according to the report.
The information collected by the grand jury offers a baseline for the first two years of a new state standard for defining pension plans, and another similar method will soon go into effect next month.
June 28, 2017
The Daily Journal
By Austin Walsh
Thursday, June 29, 2017
When a report by the Alameda County civil grand jury was released last month, the revelation that the Oakland City Council disregarded open-government laws was the bombshell.
But that’s not all the report revealed.
It also found that Alameda County provided a $1 million bailout to a financially troubled East Oakland nonprofit. The grand jury found that the county Board of Supervisors gave preferential treatment to the nonprofit, Youth Uprising, over other community-based organizations.
Youth Uprising runs education, employment and wellness programs for at-risk children, and among its board members is county supervisor Nate Miley.
You’d think that would put the county in a pretty good position to know what was going on at the nonprofit, but the report says the county was clueless.
And it shouldn’t have been.
Testimony from witnesses, including county and Youth Uprising employees and an independent auditor helped the grand jury conclude that the county didn’t provide sufficient oversight to properly protect our tax dollars.
If the county, which provides nearly half of Youth Uprising’s revenue, was paying attention, a financial collapse should’ve been detected before it became imminent. Before it required a bailout.
The grand jury didn’t find evidence that Youth Uprising’s shortfalls affected the children it serves. Still, its findings serve as a warning of what happens when organizations funded with public money go unchecked.
It’s a reminder that it’s almost impossible to help the people who need it most when organizations designed to facilitate that help can’t manage themselves.
In the end, we all lose.
Among Youth Uprising’s board members is county supervisor Nate Miley.
Youth Uprising got stuck in the mud three years ago when it attempted to root itself in the education system that has served scores of students in the neighborhood around Castlemont High School, the community the organization primarily serves.
In August 2015, Youth Uprising opened two charter schools — Castlemont Primary and Castlemont Junior Academy. The schools were approved by Oakland Unified School District, which also approved a lease to rent classrooms at Castlemont High School for about $88,000 a year.
The schools were to operate under a separate nonprofit, Castlemont Community Transformation Schools, that emerged from a program started by Youth Uprising.
Instead, Youth Uprising’s financial well-being became entangled in the shaky health of Castlemont Community Transformation Schools. An investigation by the Alameda County civil grand jury found that in the 2014-2015 fiscal year more than $600,000 of Youth Uprising’s funding was used for school expenses.
Both schools didn’t enroll enough students.
Both schools ran out of money and closed within 18 months of opening.
Wait, there’s more.
As Youth Uprising was developing the plan for the charter schools, it received $2.5 million from the San Francisco Foundation for Castlemont Renaissance to develop an affordable housing project in the Castlemont community. But Castlemont Renaissance didn’t have its own bank account, so Youth Uprising acted as a fiscal agent and put the money into its account. For transparency reasons, the accounting should’ve been kept separate.
That raised eyebrows, just not at the county level.
Youth Uprising’s board members raised concerns about its relationship with Castlemont Renaissance, and there were disagreements on transparency from the leadership. The internal turmoil led to board and staff turnover.
Throughout the troubles, Olis Simmons, Youth Uprising’s CEO, remained in control. She also caught the attention of the grand jury, which found “irregularities” in her compensation. According to its report, Simmons stepped away from managing Youth Uprising for significant periods of time in the 2015-16 fiscal year, yet she billed the county for her usual pay of nearly $100,000 for that period.
The report noted that Youth Uprising also collected funds from the San Francisco Foundation for her salary. In total, her pay was more than $200,000 — far higher than the average pay of most heads of Oakland community organizations, the report found.
Still, in May 2016, all five supervisors approved the bailout without an adequate review of the organization they were saving.
And get this: In exchange for the bailout, Youth Uprising was required to provide an outline of how the money was going to be spent before a check was written. Nothing was filed, and the grand jury found “no evidence that the county has followed up on its $1 million bailout to ensure that corrective action has been taken at Youth Uprising.”
It was as good as a blank check, because, just three days after the money was delivered, the grand jury found a transfer of $820,614 from Youth Uprising’s account to a separate account for the affordable housing project.
After all of this, Miley made it clear that Youth Uprising retained his support.
“I think the work Youth Uprising has done is vitally important. I don’t think anything was done wrong,” he told me.
If anything, Miley thinks Simmons got overextended with the schools and housing project, endeavors that were supported by the Youth Uprising board.
“The dream was a big dream in terms of community transformation, but I just think she wasn’t able to achieve the dream,” Miley said.
I’m not as generous as Miley. To me, Youth Uprising lost focus of its core mission: helping children who have to crawl from the bottom with at least one arm tied behind their backs through programming that prepares them for a chance to succeed.
June 28, 2017
San Francisco Chronicle
By Otis R. Taylor Jr.
Blog note: this article references a 2017 grand jury report.
As the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office received a more than $1 million increase in appropriations Tuesday, public officials and community groups asked for more information as to how it totaled more than $6 million in overtime last year.
In considering the increase, Monterey County Board Supervisor Jane Parker stated that she feels the board and public deserve a presentation to explain how the costs got so far out of control and how it will be avoided next year.
In Tuesday’s board of supervisor’s meeting, the sheriff’s administration and enforcement operations received a $160,000 increase in appropriations, to be funded by the sheriff’s asset forfeiture fund, as well as a $850,000 appropriations increase funded by the “termination assignment, balance sheet account.” The board also approved the transfer of $850,000 between bureaus within the sheriff’s office.
The $1.1 appropriations shortage, added to a $1.9 million shortfall in projected revenues, a total estimated $3 million shortage for MCSO’s general fund contribution this year.
Reasons for these shortages include excessive overtime due to mandatory shift coverage; escorting and providing security for jail contractors addressing issues identified in the jail conditions litigation; staffing for disasters such as the large Soberanes and Chimney fires as well as winter storms; overtime at hospitals for high-risk in-custody inmates; unbudgeted termination payoffs; maintenance and repair costs for old and deteriorating facilities; various contracts related to recruitment efforts; uniforms and safety equipment costs; police academy tuitions; increased inmate medical bills and more, according to the agenda backup information.
In responding to Parker’s concerns, Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal said a lot of the overtime stemmed from increased staffing at the jail as required by a 2013 lawsuit.
In 2013, a $4.8 million class-action lawsuit was filed against the county on behalf of inmates and former inmates who claimed dangerous and illegal jail conditions. In May 2015, a settlement was reached, and the Monterey County Jail agreed to institute procedural and staffing changes.
To address staffing needs, the sheriff’s office currently has 32 recruits in the academy, Bernal said.
“Once we are fully staffed, we will see a noticeable difference in our overtime standing at the jail,” Bernal told the board Tuesday.
Also, instead of sending the academy graduates to a mandatory jail operations course, which takes up a lot of time, the sheriff’s office now offers the course in-house at the sheriff’s office. Bernal believes by doing so, it will cut down on costs of training.
“So barring any natural disasters or acts beyond our control … with all our positions covered this next fiscal year, we’re going to have better control over our overtime issues next year,” Bernal said.
Parker responded that while she appreciates the efforts to fill the positions, as well as staffing challenges caused by fires or flooding, she remains concerned that the issue wasn’t brought up sooner.
“It’s not that these things aren’t going to happen but there didn’t appear to be any control of it or bringing it to the attention of the county in a timely manner,” Parker said.
“The budget staff is very adept at helping department work through these kinds of challenges. They do happen, but to have it kind of dumped on us at the last minute is not reassuring in terms of budget management, and that’s part of the concern as well.”
The Monterey County Civil Grand Jury noted in its 2016-2017 final report that an unintended consequence of the jail lawsuit settlement’s staffing requirement was a shortage of deputies on patrol as well as overtime costs.
Shortly after the civil grand jury released its report, community groups Building Healthy Communities, Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA) and the Central Coast Community Reinvestment Coalition alleged mismanagement of funds and called for an audit of the Monterey County Jail.
“It doesn’t make sense for there to be so much overtime paid to Deputies who have been hired to go on patrol duty but who are being placed in the jail especially when the Sheriff is constantly going back to the board to ask for more money,” Rene Casas of MILPA wrote in a press statement. “I know that accruing significant overtime is often an indication of poor management, especially if the overtime is around a third of the salary of a new person.”
Between March 2016 and March 2017, overtime for deputies totaled $6.2 million, averaging $23,790 per deputy with some collecting much more than that average, according to the civil grand jury report. Starting annual salary upon graduation is $75,396.
The community organizations also point to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California that projects $3 million in savings for the Monterey County Jail as a result of Prop 47 and a decrease in inmates held on Prop-47 eligible offenses.
“As a county’s jail population decreases, the Sheriff’s Department’s costs for staffing the jails, providing food and clothing, and providing medical and mental health services and programming for inmates should decrease,” the Institute’s report reads. “When jail populations are reduced below certain thresholds, the population of people in jail may be consolidated into fewer jail housing units, providing opportunities for dramatic county costs savings of no longer operating certain jail housing units or entire facilities.”
The Institute further states that even with the local impacts of Assembly Bill 109, or realignment, there are savings “likely found in reductions in county patrol and bookings, county jail housing, and county probation supervision” with largest costs are those of operating the county jail.
MCSO spends about $97 to house each person per day at the Monterey County Jail, according to Fiscal Year 2010-2011 data cited in the report, equating to $35,405 per person per year.
Based on that data compared with a reduction of 87 people in the jail population, the Institute argues that Monterey County could reallocate at least $3 million away from jail operations into prevention and other community-based interventions.
However, MCSO Cmdr. Thornburg said that while the inmate population is slightly smaller, no part of the jail has been entirely shut down and those areas still require staffing and maintenance. The Prop 47 savings have not yet materialized, he said, despite how it looks on paper.
He also cited rising inmate medical costs associated with Assembly Bill 109, which required the jail to take on inmates formerly housed at a prison and serving much longer sentences than jails are historically accustomed to accommodating.
“There’s no mismanagement going on,” Thornburg said. “There’s more long-term inmates, staffing down, and other (issues) going on.”
The civil grand jury’s report advocates against any reduction in MCSO’s budget, stating that it would also mean a reduction in deputies for patrol and the jail, inability to comply with the settlement, continued severe lack of adequate patrol, and the cost of millions in overtime.
Among suggestions, the civil grand jury urges for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to budget for additional deputies, hire an outside personnel consulting firm to conduct a job analysis for the two assignments of jail and patrol, and investigate the use of corrections officers at the jail.
Representatives from the community groups intend to formally ask the board of supervisors to conduct the audit. Casas said that representatives of MILPA and BHS began asking the board and the sheriff’s office to provide a report on local Prop 47 savings last October but have received no response so far.
“We need to look into this,” said Israel Villa, also of MILPA. “I’m not comfortable with just ‘I believe you.’ That’s when we’ll be able to see if there’s savings, and if there’s savings, then that’s what I want to invest into the community.”
Casas said he would like to have a representative from the Public Policy Institute of California provide information to the board about how they calculated the projected savings as part of a Prop 47 informational session.
MILPA contends that the local savings could be best reinvested into mental health services, job training and other programs that support successful reentry for inmates released into the community.
“Just locking them up in our jail is doing nothing for them because they’re not afforded rehabilitation,” Villa said. “By providing job training for reentry, we’re addressing root causes, issues people might have and working on rehabilitation and helping our community.”
June 27, 2017
The Salinas Californian
By Chelcey Adami
A new Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report is trying to encourage efforts to deal with mental health issues in the county’s jail population.
For years, the jail system has by default been the largest mental health facility in the county. County Sheriff’s Office officials say nearly half of the system’s inmates have mental health issues. The new report blasted the company that had provided mental health services for inmates for the last few years. It was also critical of the Sheriff’s Office for what it calls a lack of oversight.
Corizon Health was replaced by a different provider this year, California Forensic Medical Group. The County also increased funding to attract, and keep qualified staff members, as well as to establish a better recordkeeping system.
The Grand Jury is calling on the Sheriff’s Office to conduct regular performance reviews to keep the program on track.
June 27, 2017
KCLU, NPR of the Central Coast
By Lance Orozco
The Napa County Juvenile Hall is clean, well-maintained, and adequately staffed, but its surveillance equipment still isn’t up to date despite recommendations made by three grand juries, according to a report recently released by the 2016-2017 Napa County Grand Jury.
The grand jury is required to physically inspect all jail and detention facilities in the county, including the juvenile hall, which removes young offenders from the community while also offering rehabilitation and educational services. In addition to inspecting the facilities, the grand jury interviewed management, staff and detainees.
Last year, the juvenile hall agreed to update technology used for surveillance by Dec. 31, 2016, the grand jury said. That work, however, is only 75 percent complete, the grand jury said.
Cameras at the facility on Old Sonoma Road have been outdated and not strategically positioned for more than two years, which is “unacceptable,” asserted the grand jury.
The grand jury recommended that in order to ensure safety and security at the juvenile hall, the full installation of video cameras and security surveillance equipment be completed by Oct. 1.
The failure to make changes related to video surveillance was the only criticism the juvenile hall received by the 2015-2016 Napa County Grand Jury.
The grand jury reported no other major problems at the facility and said that juvenile hall staff “strives to find appropriate rehabilitation options for mentally ill youth in lieu of incarceration.” The majority of youth entering Napa County Juvenile Hall have mental health problems and substance abuse issues, the grand jury said.
Napa County does not comment on grand jury reports until the Board of Supervisors has had a chance to review and respond within 90 days, said Napa County Public Information Officer Kristi Jourdan on Tuesday.
The juvenile hall, which was designed to accommodate up to 60 detainees and is staffed for 50, had a fluctuating population of between 16 to 24 youths a day ranging from age 14 to age 17, the grand jury said. The average length of incarceration is 25 days, but youths waiting for residential treatment placement stay at the facility for an average of 55 days, the jury said.
There were 14 boys and three girls in the facility during the last variable daily census count, according to the grand jury’s report.
During fiscal year 2015-2016, 88 percent of detainees received mental health services – a 6 percent increase compared to the 2014-2015 fiscal year, according to the grand jury report.
Detainees have access to mental health counseling and psychiatric services in addition to daily academic study and physical exercise, the jury said. At the time of the grand jury’s inspection of the juvenile hall, cells were clean, the interior of the building was clean and well-maintained, and all health and fire inspections were current.
The Napa County Juvenile Hall’s recidivism rate is 20 percent, the grand jury said, meaning that the majority of youth are not booked on new crimes while on probationary periods after release.
Some detainees, however, reported having as many as eight violation detentions, the grand jury said, creating a “merry-go-round” effect.
The grand jury requested responses from the Napa County Board of Supervisors and Chief Probation Officer Mary Butler.
June 27, 2017
Napa Valley Register
By Maria Sestito
The Mendocino County grand jury has determined the county’s Code Enforcement Division in the Planning and Building Services Department is lagging behind in addressing complaints and is not at all proactive, according to a report released on Friday.
The Code Enforcement Division “does not initiate investigations, but as a policy matter primarily responds to complaints,” the report states.
The report mentions a backlog of unresolved complaints stretching back more than one year, due to inadequate staffing and lack of direction from management.
The division apparently does not maintain a record of complaints, online or hard copy, but employees claimed complaints had been reduced from more than 2,000 to about 300 during that one-year period.
Since there is no record, the grand jury pointed out a number of concerns, like not knowing if a complaint has been addressed, if duplicate complaints have been filed or statistics collected for a performance assessment, let alone the matter of transparency. The reason that complaints are not stored in a public database is to keep the names of those who complain confidential, according to employees.
In responding to complaints, the report states Code Enforcement Division officers have “considerable discretion” as to whether to issue a fine, giving the impression that handing out fines is an “arbitrary” process.
The jury also discovered a number of potential code enforcement violations that could pose a health risk to visitors or employees in the County Administration Building and satellite buildings, mentioning mold and water damage.
According to the report, the Board of Supervisors back in November 2015 told the division to apply county ordinances to buildings maintained by the county, yet it apparently did not follow through.
“To date, it is obvious that the condition of the buildings have not significantly improved,” according to the report, and employees admitted the condition of the buildings is “poor.”
Statistics in a February report given by the Planning and Building Services Department to the Board of Supervisors on the status of departmental activity did not “balance,” according to the report.
The jury reported there is a lack of communication between the Planning and Building Services Department’s divisions. It also pointed out the high turnover rate in the department and three positions that remain vacant.
The jury said it is clear that the Code Enforcement Division is in need of new procedures and more employees, especially with the approaching caseload brought on by the cannabis ordinance. It also called for the creation of a public online database for complaints, omitting the names of those who submit them.
June 27, 2017
Ukiah Daily Journal
By Ashley Tressel
Sonoma County taxpayers might think it’s ‘good news’ that the county has “run out of runway” to increase any local sales taxes, but the newest Grand Jury report, released last week, also finds that the county has $750 million in unmet funding needs over the next five years.
That means the ‘bad news’ is further efforts to reduce the county’s unfunded pension liabilities, fix more roads, help the homeless or provide universal pre-school opportunities could be greatly curtailed.
A looming sales tax cap also could limit all incorporated cities from asking their voters to OK any city-specific tax as well.
Local jurisdictions under state law are allowed to raise any local sales tax by two percent over the current statewide rate of 7.25 percent. Most rates in the county and cities now stand at 8.125 percent, with Sebastopol (8.875) and Cotati (9.125) the highest.
The Town of Windsor has never levied a town-specific sales tax increase and the rate is currently set at 8.125 percent, the same as the county and most other cities.
About 28 percent ($4 million) of the town’s general fund comes from sales tax proceeds, said Camille Kazarian, assistant town manager. “Local cities only get about one percent of the sales tax that gets collected. In Windsor, we try to keep our taxes lower than most (other cities) and we try to keep our services high.”
Town leaders have not discussed any future sales tax increases and just completed a new balanced budget for the new fiscal year.
Local governments rely heavily on property and sales taxes to support their general funds. With property tax rates frozen by Prop. 13, county supervisors and city councils have asked voters over recent years to approve a series of sales or special tax increases.
Among these taxes now pushing the cap are Measure M county transportation levies, open space preservation, library support and SMART train funding.
A vote to add a half-cent to the county’s sales tax for parks operations was defeated last November while a 1/8th cent library tax was approved.
In their latest report, the Civil Grand Jury said, “without further revenues or large cuts to current expenditures, citizens and their elected officials will confront difficult choices between reallocating resources and deferring priorities indefinitely.”
The study of the sales tax limitations was one of eight investigations included in the grand jury’s annual report.
Other topics covered included the loss of the county’s composting services, a review of the new groundwater rules, inspections of county detention facilities and practices, available health services for children and maternal cases, Santa Rosa’s homelessness problems and two other more local reports.
In its own budget, the county’s Board of Supervisors listed $150 million in needed new funding for each of the next five years. This total includes reducing pension liabilities ($23 million), added road repairs ($24-31 million), deferred maintenance on county facilities ($23-32 million), expanded homelessness services ($11 million) and universal pre-school facilities ($29 million.)
Local counties may petition the state legislature to increase the local sales tax cap above the current two percent. (San Mateo and Monterey counties have done so.)
If Cotati, with the highest sales tax, or any other local jurisdiction won voter approval for a new sales tax at or above 1/8th of a cent, it would freeze all other jurisdiction’s sales tax limits under current state law.
In a key recommendation, the Grand Jury said “the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors (should) develop a formal process to work with cities, independent special districts and JPAs to coordinate future sales tax measures to ensure sales tax revenues are maximized across all jurisdictions.
June 27, 2017
The Windsor Times
By Rollie Atkinson