Friday, August 18, 2017

[Calaveras County] Mayor: Misappropriations may not be as bad as projected

Angels Camp covered if ‘dishonesty’ is proven


Blog note: this article references a 2016-17 Grand Jury report on the issues.
The mayor does not think the potential misappropriation of public monies in Angels Camp is as bad as projected.
The potential losses could be closer to half of the $29,000 figure former city administrator Michael McHatten allegedly took from the city, said Angels Camp Mayor Scott Behiel Thursday morning.
The Angels Camp Police Department confirmed Wednesday that the California Attorney General’s Office is probing allegations McHatten took money from the city by cashing in administrative leave time he did not have from 2014-15.
McHatten, now the city manager for Soledad in Monterey County, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Behiel declined to comment on the investigation. He said the city is not “in the loop” with specifics of the investigation.
A news release from the police department said Wednesday that city staff was cooperating fully with the investigation and providing assistance when requested to expedite the probe.
The total amount McHatten may have taken is not known, Behiel said. It could range anywhere between $0 and $29,000. The city elected not to hire a forensic auditor because the situation is being investigated by the attorney general and the city’s insurer.
“We have employee dishonesty coverage,” Behiel said. “If there’s a loss and it is proven that the employee was dishonest, we would be covered.”
In McHatten’s mind, he does not owe anything to the city, Behiel said. If anything, the city owes him money, Behiel added.
“He said he did the calculations and said we owe him $1,200,” Behiel said. “His honest opinion is we’re square. If anything, the city owes him a few bucks. But he said he would not sweat it.”
It was from a 2015-16 audit report of city finances that the alleged $29,000 amount emerged. A Grand Jury report citing the same document said McHatten may have received payouts for 533 hours of administrative leave and only had 332.6 hours available, leaving a negative balance. He was only allowed to receive 240 hours maximum in payouts per year.
Also noted in the audit were reports that McHatten used a city-issued credit card for personal expenses as well as receiving two payment advances for two separate pay periods in a span of five days in September of 2015.
The latter two instances were resolved. Behiel said McHatten typically paid back credit card charges before the bills came due and the city had the paycheck returned as soon as officials noticed the discrepancy.
As for why McHatten was not dismissed from his position as city administrator before his departure in December, Behiel declined to answer. He did say McHatten was liked and respected.
“He was doing a good job,” Behiel said.
Representatives from the city of Soledad did not contact Angels Camp when vetting McHatten for the position, but it is not known whether it would have uncovered anything.
Behiel said the Grand Jury investigation into the city did not open by the time McHatten would have accepted the position in Soledad around October. The city would not have revealed financial irregularities even if they had discovered them.
“It was a personnel matter that we would not have disclosed,” Behiel said.
August 17, 2017
Calaveras Enterprise
By Jason Cowan


Napa [County] Supervisors reject grand jury recommendation for a regional jail

Napa County supervisors disagree with a 2016-17 grand jury recommendation that the county should explore teaming up with Solano County to establish a regional jail.
The county is exploring plans to replace its downtown jail with a $128 million, 304-bed jail along Highway 221 near the Syar quarry. It is building a $16 million, 72-bed reentry facility for low-level offenders at the same site.
But these are all-Napa County efforts, not the Napa-Solano team approach that the grand jury advocates.
There’s precedent for the partnership, the grand jury said. For three years, Napa County sent some of its inmates to the Solano jail while the local jail underwent repairs from the South Napa earthquake and was remodeled. Solano County has three jails and extra capacity and is building an inmate vocational education facility.
“The concept behind regional jails is that the cost of construction and operation of individual jail facilities doesn’t make economic sense for small counties like Napa,” the grand jury said.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved responses to this and other issues brought up by the grand jury.
Napa County will receive $23 million from the state to help build a new jail. Under state law, any jail the county builds with this state funding can house only Napa County inmates for 10 years, the Board of Supervisors response said.
Similarly, Solano County opened an $89 million jail in late 2014 using state funding and faces the same restrictions. Napa County inmates kept in Solano County must stay in the older jail, not the new facility.
No regional jail facilities exist in California, making it hard to gauge the potential cost-savings from this approach, the response said.
Finally, non-sentenced inmates who make up most of the local jail population under state law must be housed in neighboring counties. Napa County would face difficulties if it relied on Solano County to house most of its inmates and Solano County didn’t have enough space, the response said.
Supervisors and the grand jury had other disagreements.
“The employees and inmates of Napa County are at risk of physical injury due to understaffing and overcrowding at the Napa County jail,” the grand jury said.
Overcrowding and understaffing can create stress in a jail, the Board of Supervisors responded. But attributing these factors directly to increased risks of physical injury oversimplifies the issue, it said.
More violent and mentally ill inmates are also factors that can affect safety, the response said. Staff is trained to address mentally ill offenders. The county relies on overtime to ensure appropriate staffing levels and relies on court-ordered releases to prevent crowding.
The grand jury said that correctional officer retention is a chronic problem, resulting in high turnover and higher costs and risks. Napa County as of April 1 had 72 allocated correction officer positions and 54 filled, for a vacancy rate of 25 percent, the grand jury said.
The Board of Supervisors said the county has dealt with retirement losses for a few years, but that this should change as replacement correctional officers begin their careers locally. It also said recruitment and retention problems for law enforcement and corrections aren’t limited to Napa County.
“Many agencies are faced with similar issues as younger people are more attracted to work environments that are lower in stress and carry fewer risks,” the Board response said.
Still, the Board said, the county recently recruited eight correctional officers. Recent pay increases of 5 percent and benefit changes should reduce retention problems.
Napa County’s jail is run by the Department of Corrections. The grand jury recommended that the Sheriff’s Office run the jail, as is done in most state counties.
The Board of Supervisors disagreed. Napa County has one of two Department of Corrections in the state where the agency head reports directly to the Board, it said.
“Absent some compelling issue – which has not been identified – there is no compelling reason to consider a change in management structure at this time,” the Board said.
August 17, 2017
Napa Valley Register
By Barry Eberling


[San Mateo County] Schools retire use of tire products on fields

Moratorium in effect until results of health impact released


Cabrillo Unified School District has agreed to a moratorium on the use of crumb rubber in constructing its athletic fields until more conclusive results are available regarding the material’s impact on health.
Three district fields have the material, but, going forward, district officials have no intention of using it until they know more.
“If we do anything in the future, until this evidence is in, we won’t use crumb rubber,” Superintendent Jane Yuster said.
While the district’s official declaration is in response to a San Mateo County civil grand jury report’s recommendations, school officials said they’ve historically strived to put student safety first, particularly with the installation of its newest field at Half Moon Bay High School. There they’ve opted to use organic matter, as opposed to chopped up tires, as infill.
“We made (that) decision with the best safety interest of the students in mind, so that’s why there’s a cork field,” Yuster said.
In recent years, artificial materials — including crumb rubber — have become increasingly popular on school playgrounds and fields across the country.
At first, it seemed to present a win-win situation. Crumb rubber added traction to slippery, artificial surfaces for kids to play on, was often more affordable than natural grass, and recycled tires that might have otherwise led to an annual dump of 4 million tons of waste.
However, there’s growing concern that the material may be toxic. An increasing number of young athletes have gotten cancer after playing on artificial fields.
In 2008, California Gov. Jerry Brown filed suit against several artificial turf companies for using materials that contained hazardous levels of lead.
“Lead is a stunningly toxic chemical that has no place in playing fields for children,” Center for Environmental Health CEO Michael Green warned in a 2009 statement.
As the debate continues about the hazards imposed by tire products, a civil grand jury report recommends that districts consider community involvement and feedback when new fields are up for installation, evaluate current studies, and consider the uncertainty associated with tire products and their effects on health.
“We’re actually ahead of this grand jury report,” Yuster said.
District officials said that they look forward to study results from federal health agencies, though it’s not known when those will be completed.
August 17, 2017
Half Moon Bay Review
By Sara Hayden


[San Diego County] Two North County School Districts Will Provide Training to Improve Administration

In May, the San Diego County Grand Jury issued a report that recommended four school districts provide training to superintendents and school board members in various aspects of running a public agency.
Three of the four districts contacted were in North County: Poway, Carlsbad and San Dieguito, covering Encinitas to Del Mar (Santee rounded out the list). Specifically the grand jury found the districts should implement training in governance, finance, bylaws, the Brown Act and other areas.
Poway responded saying it would require new board members to go through an orientation and attend trainings in their first term. Carlsbad also accepted the recommendations, and will require the board president and vice president attend courses offered through the California School Board Association.
San Dieguito, meanwhile, said that the recommendations have already been a part of the training for its superintendents. Its response also said the Grand Jury lacked any evidence of specific shortcomings in the boards’ training, so the board assumed its voluntary programs were good enough.
August 16, 2017
Voice of San Diego
By Ruarri Serpa

[Calaveras County] State to probe claims against former Angels Camp city administrator

Blog note: this article references a 2016-17 Grand Jury report about Angels Camp governance.
State investigators are probing allegations that a former Angels Camp city administrator may have stolen public funds.
The decision to seek investigative assistance from the California Attorney General’s Office was mutually agreed upon by the Angels Camp Police Department and the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office, a news release from the police department reported Wednesday.
“Due to the nature of the allegations, and lack of local investigative resources, the decision was made to seek outside, independent investigative assistance,” the release said.
A 2015-16 audit report of Angels Camp financial records alleges a former city administrator, identified as Michael McHatten by current City Administrator Mary Kelly, may have received more payouts for administrative leave than he had available from 2014-16.
The financial report estimated the city may have lost at least $29,000 in public monies through the process. A Grand Jury report citing the same document said McHatten allegedly received payouts for 533 hours but only had 332.6 hours of leave available throughout the span.
McHatten could not be reached for immediate comment regarding the allegations and the investigation Wednesday.
Several inconsistencies were also detailed in credit card statements, per the financial audit. Five purchases were for personal items. In some instances, handwritten excerpts of the purchase were proven false when receipts were provided.
Among some suspicious purchases were about $45 total for a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red and another of Ironstone’s Obsession Symphony varietal after he said he spent $150 for deli trays and drinks purchased for a League of California Cities meeting in 2016.
The audit also noted a few suspected accounting abnormalities with McHatten’s paychecks. He allegedly received two payroll advances for two separate periods within the span of a week in September of 2015. The city was reimbursed a few months later after the payments were discovered by the finance director.
He left his job as city administrator in Angels Camp last December. He is currently the city manager in Soledad in Monterey County.
Earlier this month, the Angels Camp City Council responded to the allegations, many of which were included in a Grand Jury audit of the city.
The council agreed a staffer was taking more administrative time than earned, but they did not think the city accrued a $29,000 loss.
It agreed that the former city administrator was violating the city’s handbook in independently crafting policies rather than implementing and following standards set by the council.
The members disagreed that the payroll advance policy was abused because all alleged instances occurred at a time when no procedures existed. A written policy put in place by the council in 2015 regulating the practice of salary advances was revoked in July.
A news release from the Angels Camp Police Department said Angels Camp staff was cooperating fully with the investigation.
Representatives from the California Attorney General's Office could not be reached for immediate comment Wednesday.
August 16, 2017
Calaveras Enterprise
By Jason Cowan


[Sonoma County] Grand Jury: Coordinate on sales tax measures

As Sonoma County and other jurisdictions including Petaluma consider asking voters to raise sales taxes to shore up lean budgets, officials worry that voters may be inundated with a cornucopia of ballot measures and decide to cast a blanket “no” vote on all of them.
Additionally, as the county nears a state sales tax cap, observers have encouraged jurisdictions to increase coordination to both avoid voter fatigue and maximize what little room is left for raising revenue for unfunded priorities such as road paving, park construction and pension liabilities.
The Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury, in a recent report, urged the county, cities and other governmental bodies with taxing authority to communicate their plans to avoid having three or more tax measures on the same ballot.
The problem is more acute at the county level, where the board of supervisors is hamstrung by a sales tax cap of 2 percent above the state level of 7.25 percent. Sales tax in the city of Cotati is 9.125 percent, meaning that if the board of supervisors wishes to raise sales taxes countywide, there is only .125 percent, or one eighth-cent of room to increase the tax before the cap is reached.
Such a tax increase would raise about $10 million per year for the county, well short of the $150 million per year in new revenue that the board of supervisors needs to fund its priorities, according to the grand jury report.
Petaluma with a sales tax of 8.125, is among the lowest in the county. City officials have unsuccessfully tried several times in recent years to increase the sales tax, but are not considering asking voters for an increase in the near future.
“No countywide sales taxes may be proposed once any jurisdiction in the county reaches the 2 percent cap,” the grand jury report says. “That does not preclude individual cities from submitting additional local sales taxes to their voters, but it does preclude the board of supervisors or any other entity from proposing countywide sales tax measures. That makes Cotati, with a 1.875 percent local sales tax rate, the tail that wags the dog.”
The report says that the board of supervisors should “develop a formal process to work with cities, independent special districts and joint powers authorities to coordinate future sales tax measures to ensure sales tax revenues are maximized across all jurisdictions.”
It also recommends asking a state legislator to introduce a bill that would waive the state sales tax cap, a rare procedure that has been used in three other counties in the state.
The county could propose two sales tax measures on the ballot in 2018. A sales tax dedicated to Sonoma County Regional Parks, which was narrowly defeated at the ballot last year, could be back before voters. Also, transportation officials are looking to extend Measure M, a quarter-cent sales tax for road maintenance, and are thinking about increasing that tax to a half-cent.
Supervisor David Rabbitt agreed with the grand jury and said that the county should coordinate with other jurisdictions.
“Everything we’ve done at the county, we’ve tried to let other jurisdictions know,” he said. “I believe we need to coordinate and not look at things in a vacuum.”
Petaluma last asked voters to increase the sales tax in 2014 with Measure Q, which was defeated. An early attempt last year to raise the sales tax never made it to the ballot after polling showed it did not have the support to pass.
August 16, 2017
Petaluma Argus-Courier
By Matt Brown


[San Francisco City and County] From well-funded pensions to basket case, San Francisco’s voters are to blame

Blog note: this article references a June 2017 Grand jury report on the subject.
Pension reformers had for years pointed to the irony that big-spending, liberal San Francisco ran one of the best-funded major pension systems in the state, while fiscally conservative Orange and San Diego counties had systems that were underfunded and the subject of controversy. The reason dates back more than a century, to a city charter that requires voters to approve any increases in pension payments for San Francisco’s public employees.
“A decade ago the San Francisco public pension system was known for being well-funded, winning good management awards and going eight years with no annual payments from the city,” explained reporter Ed Mendel, in a July article on the CalPensions website.
But that’s all history. A civil grand jury in June released a troubling report about the current dire condition of the city’s pension fund. Because of the staggering pension liability, San Francisco will need to increase contributions to its retirement system by 36 percent over the next five years – five times faster than its projected increase in revenues.
What happened?
The same rule that had strengthened the city’s pension system has, in the last decade, been its undoing. San Franciscans have repeatedly votedto expand pay and benefits for local government workers. Voters approved retroactive pension increases 10 times between 1996 and 2008, thus leaving the San Francisco Retirement System underfunded and a drain on the operating budget.
The city and county of San Francisco owes the retirement system a massive $5.8 billion – more than half the city’s entire general-fund budget, according to the grand jury report. The report points to various reasons for the increased debt, including investment losses, an unfavorable court decision on cost-of-living adjustments, and changes in demographic assumptions.
But according to the report, “the principal underlying cause is the estimated $3.5 billion in retroactive retirement benefit increases implemented by voter-approved propositions.” Pension increases usually are touted as a way to retain valuable employees, but retroactive rewards do nothing to keep employees from leaving. Those retroactive increases amounted to “very expensive gifts to employees and retirees from taxpayers, paid for with money borrowed at a high interest rate from the retirement system and paid back over 20 years by taxpayers,” the report notes.
While voters ultimately are to blame for the city’s current predicament, city officials also played a large role. The grand jury found that voter information pamphlets for the various pension initiatives did not provide complete estimates of pension costs, thus leading voters to believe the increases would have few negative effects on the city budget.
The report pointed to specific voter information that was provided by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for several of the pension-hiking initiatives. In 2000, voters approved Proposition C, increasing retirement benefits for the city’s “miscellaneous” employees hired after 1976. The official voter information explained, “Even with this proposal, the city does not have to make a contribution to the retirement system for at least the next 15 years.”
Then in 2002, the board placed on the ballot a measure that boosted the retirement formula for police and firefighters. The city controller’s statement predicted no employer contributions to the retirement system for at least 10 years and promised the “the city will negotiate a cost-sharing agreement with police and firefighters to cover all or part of the cost of providing additional retirement benefits through employee contributions.”
But as the report noted, “the city had to commence contributions to the retirement system in 2005, and for FY 2016 the city had to make a $526.8 million contribution, $377.1 million of which was payment towards the unfunded pension liability.”
This situation brings to mind the 1999 passage of Senate Bill 400, in which state officials – including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) – promised Californians that the 50 percent retroactive pension increase for California Highway Patrol officers would not cost taxpayers a dime because investment earnings would pay for all the additional costs.
“They were off – by billions of dollars – and taxpayers will bear the consequences for decades to come,” reported the Los Angeles Times in a 2016 article about the debacle. The S.B. 400 pension increases were mirrored in public agencies across the state, which quickly adopted these new formulas for public safety officials. Taxpayers last year paid “more than 30 times what the state paid for retirement benefits in 2000 before the effects of the new pension law … had kicked in,” the Times added.
As a result, the state’s main pension fund went from a well-funded system to one that’s funded at only around 68 percent today. Likewise, these voter-approved pension increases took San Francisco’s system from a model for the state to one that’s now only 78 percent funded, according to the number provided by the grand jury report.
But state and San Francisco officials don’t appear to have gotten the message. Only weeks after the grand jury report release, and without any apparent irony, the San Francisco civil service commission gave massive salary bumps to seven of the city’s highest-paid officials. Mayor Ed Lee, already the highest-paid mayor in California, got a $24,000 raise, to $326,000 a year. Those seven officials now are paid a combined $1.76 million a year, which will cost the pension system $1.45 million a year when they retire. That’s a drop in the bucket for the system, but it shows how tone deaf officials are to the pension problem.
And the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross reported that “the cost of city salaries and pensions … has grown by 33 percent over the past decade – and it’s expected to keep up that pace for at least five more years.” The columnist noted that increase “will add another $698 million to the public tab.”
The grand jury recommends that, among other things, “the mayor and board of supervisors fully disclose the financial details of any future retirement benefit increases or decreases to the public.” That’s reasonable, as far as it goes. But we need to realize the obvious: Requirements for voter approval of pension hikes, sometimes sought by those trying to control pension obligations, are only as reliable as a city’s voters. It’s long past time to consider more far-reaching solutions.
August 15, 2017
R Street
By Steven Greenhut, California Policy Center; co-authored by David Schwartzman, a policy research fellow at the California Policy Center and a senior at Hillsdale College


[Tehama County] Council to respond to grand jury report on homeless population

Red Bluff >> One of the action items during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting is the response from council on the Tehama County grand jury report regarding the homeless population within city limits and Tehama County.
The grand jury requested a response within 60 days of the release of the report back on June 27. By law the council has 90 days to submit a final report.
Earlier this year, the grand jury found many services available to assist the homeless population, but there could be better collaboration between organizations and city officials, the report stated.
In addition, it was recommended a task force be developed as a way to better unite the groups that support the homeless.
According to the grand jury report, one of the centralized priorities of the task force should be to establish a permanent shelter in Red Bluff.
August 14, 2017
Red Bluff Daily News
By Jeff Larson


[Shasta County] Redding rejects most of critical grand jury report on code enforcement

Redding isn’t committing to the Shasta County Grand Jury’s recommendation to move city code enforcement wholly under the supervision of the Redding Police Department.
The city also won’t implement three of the jury’s other four recommendations and disagrees with nearly all of the panel’s findings casting a critical eye on code enforcement.
The City Council on Tuesday could approve a letter from Mayor Brent Weaver responding to the grand jury’s report recommending the city rethink its efforts.
The grand jury in its June report recommended shifting code enforcement to the police department, end short-term “enhanced code enforcement” special funding in favor of long-term solutions, cross train all city employees working in code enforcement, prioritize checks on a list of homes occupied but without power and that police and code enforcement work together to develop a formal process to prioritize workloads including case files, unlawful camps and problem motels.
The grand jury found that not prioritizing workloads can mean abatement cases that are left open and don’t get resolved in a timely manner.
The city rejected all but the last recommendation, according to Weaver’s letter.
“The City Council reserves its right to prioritize programs and fund them as it deems appropriate,” the letter reads in response to the funding recommendation.
The grand jury wanted Redding to analyze shifting all of code enforcement to police supervision but the city is still in the hiring process for a new police chief, who will have input on the process, the response reads. Officials have said they expect a new chief will be hired by the fall. 
Weaver and City Manager Barry Tippin have also said they’re open to the idea but it needs to be discussed.
Redding agreed with only three of the jury’s 10 findings about code enforcement: the city is using short-term “enhanced code enforcement” to address long-term problems; city employees working the Development Services Department often respond to code violations affecting public safety; and code enforcers may have a difficult time managing follow-up and tackling backlogs because of limited resources and current workloads.
But the city disagreed with other findings, including that code enforcement lacks comprehensive planning, supervision, communication and follow-up because it’s spread across three departments.
“While responsibilities and funding for code enforcement duties are shared by multiple departments within the city, the efforts are coordinated and effective,” Weaver said in the letter.
The city also took issue with the grand jury’s claim that code enforcement workers have no formal procedure for prioritizing duties or assignments.
“While a thorough prioritization plan does not exist in writing, staff responds immediately to complaints relating to substandard living conditions and life safety concerns,” the response reads.
Grand jury members interviewed City Council members, city administrators, the development services department and police.
The latest response is the third from Redding to the grand jury.
The city last month disputed much of a highly critical report on the so-far vacant Stillwater Business Park and separately responded to a report warning of severe financial problems in the face of massive pension debt.
August 10, 2017
Redding Record Searchlight
By Sean Longoria


Friday, August 11, 2017

[San Diego County] City Of San Diego: Trash Bins Are Old, Trucks Not To Blame For Broken Bins

The perception among many San Diego residents is the city’s aging fleet of trash collection trucks is breaking or damaging their trash bins.
According to a March 2017 Grand Jury report titled "Broken Garbage Cans, City Apathy, Free Cans For A Few – What A Mess," "aging collection trucks, and poorly maintained lift arms" have contributed to the rapid rise of damaged bins. The same report recommended the damaged trash bins be "replaced and delivered at no charge."
The City of San Diego and Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office have now formally responded to that report. In its response, the city maintains, the trash bins are not breaking because of the collection trucks, they’re breaking because the bins only have a 10-year useful life span.
According to the Mayor’s response to the report, the average age of in-service trash bins is 13-years old and "of the approximately 343,600 refuse containers in use, 233,700, or 68-percent, are beyond their industry standard 10-year useful life."
That means the number of trash bins that need to be replaced will continue to increase as it has the last three years.
According to the Grand Jury report, in the fiscal year 2014, 6,483 black refuse bins were replaced at the homeowner’s expense. That number increased to 7,387 in 2015. Last year, 11,925 trash bins were replaced.
The replacement trash bins used to be free, but in 2008, citing declining tax revenue, the city amended the municipal code.
The city pays $53.22 for each new bin. It charges residents $70 for a replacement bin. For an additional $25, the bins can be delivered.
The city insists it doesn't profit from the sales - the money goes to cover overhead costs, it told NBC 7 Investigates. Damaged trash bins less than 10-years old, are pro-rated. (Green and blue bins used for landscape and recycling can be replaced free of charge).
According to the city, replacing the bins for free would be a costly proposition.
"If the city were to replace them all, that’s about a $16 million dollar impact to the general fund, so no, the city is currently not considering taking on that responsibility," said Mario Sierra, Director of the City Environmental Services Department.
Here’s how you can tell if your black trash bin is beyond its 10-year useful life span.
• If the bin has a number that starts with a "03" "09", "06", the 10-year warranty has expired. If the bin is damaged, it is your responsibility to purchase a replacement.
• If the number starts with "T92" or "T64”, your can's warranty could have expired.
To find out the exact age of your trash bin, you can call the city Department of Environmental Services at 858-694-7000, or email the department at trash@sandiego.gov.
For more information on how to obtain a container click here. 
Recently, Rachel Hunter of Normal Heights went to the city’s Collection Services yard to pick up a new trash bin. She assumed the bin would be replaced for free.
"It’s upsetting, that’s 70 bucks that I can’t afford, but need my trash taken. And so I’m kind of helpless and stuck in the system," said Hunter.
The city Environmental Services Department director concedes, the city needs to do a better job informing residents of their responsibilities, which is explained on the city’s web site.
"We need to do a better job of communicated and providing this information and educating the public," said Sierra.
August 9, 2017
NBC 7 San Diego
By Artie Ojeda


[Solano County] School district says doubled homeless youth count in grand jury report is correct

FAIRFIELD — Homeless youth are accurately counted, the Fairfield-Suisun School District says in a draft response to the 2016-17 Solano County grand jury report that stated the number of homeless students in the district nearly doubled in one year when almost 500 more youths were identified.
School district trustees meeting Thursday take up the draft response by Superintendent Kris Corey.
The grand jury, in its report released June 16, said school districts in the county presented conflicting statistics in reporting the number of homeless youth and recommended all data be verifiable.
Corey’s draft response to Robert Fracchia, president judge of the Solano County Superior Court, also agrees with the grand jury report that teacher training in identifying and reporting homeless students is a low priority. However, she said administrative and staff training in that effort is a higher priority.
As a result, the district identified nearly 500 additional homeless students during the 2015-16 school year, Corey said.
The 950 homeless students in the Fairfield-Suisun School District was nearly double the 492 for the 2014-15 school year.
The Vacaville School District reported 237 homeless students in the 2015-16 school year and 138 the previous year. The Vallejo City School District said 295 homeless youth were identified, compared to 139 in 2014-15.
Travis School District said the number of homeless youth declined by eight students to 264 in 2015-16.
The Fairfield-Suisun numbers were higher because the district better captures counts of homeless youths up to 3 years old due to Family Resource Centers at some schools, the grand jury report noted.
Training in reporting homeless youth is mostly for principals and registrars and varies by district, the grand jury report also said.
“Their success in identifying homeless youth lies in their questioning skills and identifying addresses that should send up read flags – hotels, shared lodging,” the report stated.
“Local districts have grown in their ability to identify homeless students in the area,” the grand jury said.
An amendment expanded the federal law defining homeless to go beyond individuals who lacked a fixed nighttime residence to include those who share housing to include students living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or campgrounds due to lack of alternative accommodations, the grand jury added.
No across-the-board system exists for identifying homeless youth but sites the grand jury toured tended to use proof of residency documents, anecdotal information and home visits, the grand jury said.
Fairfield-Suisun School District officials are putting in place a grand jury recommendation for teachers to receive intensive training in identifying homeless students.
The school district will not follow a grand jury recommendation for Solano County to provide emergency housing for homeless teenage students.
Such housing is a service school districts do not provide, Corey stated in her draft response.
The district will continue to work with the Solano County Office of Education, city administrators and local nonprofits to identify resources for homeless teenage students, the superintendent said.
Emergency housing is now limited to pregnant teens, the grand jury said.
August 9, 2017
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Ryan McCarthy


[Calaveras County] Angels City Management Disputes Parts Of Grand Jury Report

Angels Camp, CA – Acknowledging a grand jury’s report of mismanagement among Angels Camp City administrators, its council and staff are disputing several of the findings to the presiding judge.
At last week’s city council meeting, the City of Angels City Council approved issuing a formal letter to Calaveras County Superior Court Judge Grant V. Barrett, responding to several negative findings made against city management by the 2016-17 County Grand Jury in its final report issued in June, as reported here.
A footnote within the letter explained that, as some of the findings and recommendations within the report requested responses from the City Administrator, Mary Kelly, and City Attorney, Derek Cole, the letter’s content comprises those as part of the City’s official consensus response.
The Grand Jury shared that while looking into an actual complaint of mismanagement by the City of Angels Camp, it discovered that its administration had not been reviewed in over a decade. While delving through its subsequent investigation the jury members conducted council member, staff and independent third-party auditor interviews; review of procedural, meeting and financial documents; employment contracts and evaluations; election filings and results. Through the process the Grand Jury tagged what they called several areas of mismanagement.
In its conclusion the members made eight findings under which they also made recommendations. While the council partially concurs with criticisms of a former city manager’s actions, it vigorously calls out the jury for the finding stating that the council has sufficient reasons for proposing a dissolution of the city.
Provided below is the City’s formal response to the Grand Jury’s conclusions…
Finding #1: There is a lack of public interest in filling the elected positions of the City of Angels Camp.
The City disagrees with this finding. The 2016 election to replace three seats on the City Council attracted only two people who successfully filed their paperwork. However, this is not indicative of a lack of support in the community for continuing local governance.
There is also a strong volunteer base that includes business owners and other interested citizens. Destination Angels Camp, Angels Camp Business Association and the Museum are just a few examples where citizens and business owners contribute substantial time, effort and money to make the City a better place to live and work.
Recommendation #1: The City Council should reinforce the need for greater public involvement at every opportunity.
The City agrees with the intent of this recommendation but disagrees with the recommendation to the extent it suggests the City has not attempted to do what is recommended. While all legal requirements for notifications are in compliance, improvements through the use of technology should be considered. Email notifications for routine and critical City business will be considered for implementation through links in the City website. In addition, the City will explore the potential for improved communications through social media.
Recommendation #2: The City Council should create a public awareness program for the purpose of gaining greater involvement in local government.
The City Council disagrees with this recommendation for reasons stated above and because much effort is already dedicated to this end. The City has recently updated its website and a City official sits on many committees. The City publicizes all openings in the local government. Putting more resources to this end would require taking time and money from other areas and our resources are better utilized elsewhere.
Finding #2: The current City Council and staff are looking into reorganizing the structure of government options.
While a response to this finding was not requested, the City notes it is a sign of prudent management to always seek improvement in operations.
Finding #3: A former city administrator was acting in violation of the city handbook by independently crafting policies and procedures rather than implementing the policies as set by the Council
The City agrees with this finding.
Recommendation: The City Council, City Administrator and City Staff should follow the established policies and procedures in accordance with the city handbook and set by the Council.
As the Grand Jury Report notes, the City Council approved a written policy in 2015 governing the practice of employees taking salary advances. For approximately the next two years, a formal policy governing the practice was in place. In July 2017, the City Council adopted a resolution rescinding the right of employees to take salary advances. On this and other subjects, the City is strictly enforcing employment policies and procedures state in its employee handbook and in other sources.
Finding #4: The at-will performance evaluation form is inadequate.
The City disagrees that the performance evaluation form it has used in the past is inadequate.
Recommendation #1: The evaluation form should be modified to ensure number ratings are more aligned with behaviors, roles, responsibilities, and performance of at-will employees.
Despite the City’s disagreement with the finding on this subject, the City agrees that there is always room for improvement of the evaluation forms. The current form has a numbered rating system and it also has room for a narrative evaluation to allow for comment where the numbered rating system falls short. This more generic form allows the flexibility for it to cover the various positions and responsibilities that the at-will employees represent. This recommendation will be taken under consideration.
Recommendation #2: Performance areas needing improvement should have action plans and timelines.
This recommendation requires further analysis and consideration. The City Council will consider this subject in advance of the next regularly scheduled cycle of City employee evaluations.
Finding #5: It was determined that city staff were aware misuse of public funds occurred.
The City agrees in part and disagrees in part with this finding. The finding is vague as to when it asserts City staff were “aware” of the misuse of public funds. City staff did become aware of the potential misuse of public funds in association with the preparation of the Fiscal Year 2015-16 audit. But City staff were not aware of the misuse of public funds prior to that time.
Recommendation #1: The City should hire a forensic accountant to review the City’s financial records.
The recommendation has been implemented. The City has properly identified the scope of inappropriate behavior in which the former management employee engaged. The City has also enacted measures to assure the behavior does not happen again. The affected employee is no longer employed with the City. To the extent further issues need to be examined concerning this employee, the City believes that those issues may only properly be evaluated by law enforcement agencies.
Finding #6: The City of Angels Camp has a payroll advance policy that has been abused and mismanaged.
The City disagrees with this finding as written. As noted in response to Finding #4, the abuse of payroll advances occurred before any policy was put in place. The problem thus was not the abuse, but the absence, of a policy. The City agrees that the practice of payroll advances was abused before this policy was put into place.
Recommendation: Remove the payroll advance policy.
The City Council has implemented this recommendation effective July 2017 with the City Council’s adoption of a resolution rescinding its former policy.
Finding #7: Administrative staff was taking more administrative leave than was accrued, resulting in a loss to the city of at least $29,000.
The City agrees with this finding, but does not necessarily agree with the amount of excess leave paid as stated.
Recommendation: The city should hire a forensic accountant to determine the full extent of over-payments.
This recommendation is not warranted. As noted in response to Finding #5, the City has taken measures necessary to prevent against the misuse of administrative leave and public funds. The affected employee is no longer employed by the City. To the extent any further action may be taken to evaluate the actions of this employee, only law enforcement agencies would have the appropriate capability to conduct such analysis.
Finding #8: The City of Angels Camp has reasons for proposing dissolution of a city.
The City disagrees with this finding. After one hundred and five years as an incorporated city, it seems quite clear that the citizens of the community have valued local governance over one provided by the County for a substantial period of time. Rural governments almost everywhere struggle with economic viability. The financial constraints faced by the City, while severe, can be solved. Given the issues that exist in the county today, This City Council does not believe that County services would match or exceed those currently provided by the City of Angels to its citizens.
The City notes that it was able to reorganize part of its administration by distributing and reassigning responsibilities among the staff. The end result was the elimination of a high paying position at a significant savings to the City with no change in service. This was an improvement and arguably eliminated years of top heavy waste caused by administrations dating back 10 years or more. This was a good thing, not a reason for dissolution. In fact, pending budget action before the Council will likely result in an overall improvement in the City’s budget reserve position.
This City Council feels that this recommendation to consider dissolution was the subjective, politically motivated and biased opinion of the Grand Jury and not a recommendation based on actual merit. The motivations of the Grand Jury should be investigated. Evidence of their bias can be seen not only in this unwarranted recommendation, but also on the cover of the report and in the foreperson’s initial letter to Judge Healy. While it was a Calaveras County Grand Jury Report, not only did they have the nerve to put a cartoon on the cover, it clearly emphasized the City of Angels.
In the foreperson’s letter, instead of an unbiased investigation to find the truth, he clearly states that they took action ” … to properly represent the perspective and feelings of those that submitted complaints.” Further, he states that “This Grand Jury’s greatest strength was its emotional connection to the County … “. Emotion rather than rational, informed thought guided this Grand Jury. Finally, he likens this process to playing a game. This is not a game and the Grand Jury’s opinion has consequences.
Recommendation #1: The City Council and staff should review and discuss Government Code § 56668.
The City Council will not implement this recommendation as it is not warranted for the reasons stated in response to Finding #8.
Recommendation #2: The City Council should hold an open meeting to discuss with the public if dissolution is the right choice.
The public is within its right to ask for this agenda item. However, since the Grand Jury did not make an intelligent case to warrant the City initiating this meeting, this recommendation is not warranted or reasonable. The City is a viable entity and it provides vital services to the community. The focus should be its continued improvement in operations so that it can better serve its citizens.
August 8, 2017
myMotherLode.com
By Tori James

[Napa County] Napa will study cracking down on motorists who try to beat downtown parking limits

Napa will modernize its parking enforcement equipment and look into a ban on evading time limits on downtown vehicle spaces, officials announced in response to a county grand jury report calling on the city to garner more money from its downtown parking.
Over the next year, the city parking enforcement division will replace obsolete camera equipment it uses to detect parking violations, and the City Council will weigh a possible ban on “re-parking” cars from space to space to avoid caps of two to three hours on busy streets.
The changes would be part of a streamlining that also includes hiring a parking manager to oversee all aspects of vehicle management in Napa’s core.
Police Chief Steve Potter and Community Development Director Rick Tooker announced the upcoming changes last week in Napa’s official reply to county grand jurors, which the City Council endorsed Tuesday.
Published in June, the grand jury’s 14-page statement suggested Napa was missing out on revenue because of understaffing and old equipment in its two-person parking enforcement team. Authors also advised the city to make more efficient use of its vehicle spaces on streets, surface lots and garages, and to head off what they called a mounting shortage in the Oxbow district east of downtown.
The city’s response made no immediate promise of additional staff to catch parking scofflaws, saying such decisions will lie with the new parking manager. However, it did support discussion of a re-parking ordinance that would ban those moving their cars from a city block from parking on the same block for at least four hours – a step supporters say would turn over scarce curbside slots more quickly.
Although the grand jury had warned that lax enforcement is encouraging business owners and workers to “beat the system” and overstay two- and three-hour parking limits, Napa replied that too little information exists to measure the extent of the problem.
Napa’s response letter agreed with the grand jury’s verdict that overall parking supplies are sufficient, although marked by underused space in some garages.
But the city disagreed that the Oxbow area as a whole suffers from a scarcity of space, saying that pockets of high demand are concentrated on curbsides along First, McKinstry, Vernon and Water streets.
Although build-outs of vacant properties like the Napa County corporation yard on Water Street and land owned by the Wine Train could drive more traffic into the Oxbow, city officials said such projects all will be required to accommodate vehicles on the premises.
Only developments inside a special downtown district are exempt from on-site parking requirements; builders within that zone instead pay into the city’s fund for a future multistory garage near Pearl Street, estimated to cost at least $12 million.
August 7, 2017
Napa Valley Register
By Howard Yune


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

[San Bernardino County] Apple Valley Unified limits district police’s jurisdiction after Grand Jury report

The Apple Valley Unified School District sharply curtailed district police power Thursday night, five weeks after a San Bernardino County Grand Jury report that raised questions about towing practices conducted on behalf of the district.
The school board approved a memorandum of understanding between the district and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department at Thursday night’s school board meeting. The new rules mostly limit the school police to enforcing the law at school campuses and at school-related activities off campus.
The agreement states that the school police have “full police powers” and should investigate nearly all criminal activity on school property related to school activities. But the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is in charge of investigations in cases of murder, kidnapping, child abuse, rape, arson, possession or explosion of a destructive device, grand theft auto, felony hit and run, and felony DUI. School police are also responsible for investigating all misdemeanors on school grounds, or when the district is responsible for students.
The school police do have some limited authority to deal with criminal activities involving students outside of school property, according to the agreement, when the district is providing transportation for a pupil to and from school premises, during off-campus school-sponsored activities, or other times when the district has legal responsibility or liability for the students during the course of the normal school day.
After-hours investigations, even for burglary calls on campus, are to be the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Department. The grand jury report specifically mentioned school police had previously conducted traffic stops leading to vehicles being towed outside the jurisdiction of the AVUSD Police Department or after hours.
School board president Wilson So read out a brief statement after the board emerged from behind closed doors at Thursday night’s school board meeting, the first since the grand jury report was issued.
“The board has read and considered the grand jury’s June 28, 2017 report on the AVUSD School Police Department,” he said. “In closed session, the board gave direction to the superintendent and counsel to continue preparing the district’s response for filing with the presiding judge of the Superior Court by Sept. 28.”
The school district has 90 days from the time of the release of the grand jury report on June 30 to respond.
“The board directed the superintendent and the district chief of police to continue their examination and upgrading of school police procedures and practices in consideration of the primary mission of school police to assure student and staff safety at school and at school activities, and to protect district property,” So continued. “School police will be patrolling schools and school zones as school begins on Aug. 9. We encourage everyone to be mindful of student safety as they drive near district schools.”
In a statement issued by the district’s law firm on Friday, the district clarified that its response to the grand jury report would be publicly available.
The 727 vehicles towed on behalf of the district cited in the grand jury’s report are two-and-a-half times the amount towed by San Bernardino City Unified, a district almost four times the size of Apple Valley Unified, and four times more than the vehicles towed by Fontana Unified, a district more than twice Apple Valley Unified’s size.
Until recently, Big Apple Automotive, which has two locations in Apple Valley and one in Victorville, was the lone towing service employed by Apple Valley Unified. The company is owned by former Apple Valley Town Councilman Jack Collingsworth. He served one term on the Council, from 1988 through 1992.
And what happened to almost one third of the cars towed by Big Apple Automotive on behalf of the school district is a mystery. The company could not account for roughly 30 percent -- 510 of the towed vehicles -- when asked by the grand jury to produce records.
An unknown number of the vehicles were sold by the company to cover fees and towing charges. Only drivers of bank-owned vehicles still being financed received notices, informing them of their right to a hearing to determine the legality of the impound.
The grand jury also determined that, as the number of vehicles towed by AVUSD police steadily increased from 2014 through 2016, police interaction with students declined.
And in May 2015, the school board approved an increase of vehicle release fees for vehicles towed by district police from $95 to $120, which the grand jury said was illegal. State law only allows for a city, county or state agency to authorize vehicle release fee increases, according to the grand jury, noting the AVUSD Police Department is a special district.
August 4, 2017
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
By Beau Yarbrough