Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Jail Break…Squid can’t believe summer is already over, partly because summer seems to begin in Monterey County in the fall. But the Squidlets have already gone back to school, the days are getting shorter, and the Monterey County Board of Supervisors comes back Tuesday, Aug. 29 from summer recess.
One item on the board’s agenda tomorrow includes filing responses to the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury’s reports, released June 26, knocking the Monterey County Jail and Monterey County Sheriff’s Office for understaffing and lack of adequate services. (In the report titled, “Monterey County Jail, Insufficient Number of Deputies: Car 54, Where Are You?” Squid’s search for any mention of Car 54 took Squid to a 1960s sitcom of that name, which struck Squid as a strange moment of comic relief for an otherwise unfunny Grand Jury.)
Monterey County’s grand jury doesn’t wield enforcement powers; they operate by investigating issues, writing reports on their findings and then hoping agencies they’ve investigated actually do something. In the case of the jail, the gist of the county supes’ and the sheriff’s reply is: Thanks, but no thanks.
The grand jury’s report on the jail, titled “Monterey County Jail Crisis: Our De Facto Mental Health Facility,” captured one of the profound challenges of crime and incarceration: the correlation with mental illness.
“The jail, with approximately 45 percent of its 900 inmates dealing with mental illness is, by default, serving as a de facto mental health facility,” the grand jury wrote.
The reply, from Sheriff Steve Bernal: “The sheriff’s office disagrees with this finding. Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions, which affect behavior in a wide range of ways…The county jail is not a licensed psychiatric health facility. The county jail is not designed, staffed or equipped to function as a mental health facility.”
That’s exactly the idea—it’s designed, staffed and equipped to be a jail, not a psychiatric hospital, and therein lies the challenge.
The grand jury’s offers up some recommendations on things to consider doing about the issues. “The Board of Supervisors should fund the building of a new mental health care facility,” they wrote, even pointing out a few potential properties.
Bernal’s response: “This recommendation requires further study.”
The grand jury also recommends the county study models of integrating mental health services into a jail, citing Los Angeles and Santa Clara County as examples.
Again, the response: “This recommendation requires further study.”
So, to recap: the grand jury recommends the Sheriff's Office study bringing mental health services to the jail, and the Sheriff's Office responds by saying it needs to study whether or not to do a study.
Squid will be studying the situation closely.
August 28, 2017
Monterey County Weekly
The County of San Diego disagreed with some findings from a June grand jury report on the lack of data to measure foster care outcomes, and it said it would need to further analyze recommendations before agreeing to make changes, according to its official reply.
County officials responded in a letter this month to findings and recommendations from several reports released earlier in the year by the grand jury, a civil watchdog group. Included in the letter was the county’s response to a June 5 report questioning its lack of data to measure the effectiveness of taxpayer’s $200-million annual investment in child welfare services.
The grand jury concluded in its June 5 report that the county had no way to know how much foster care alumni cost taxpayers in adulthood because it doesn’t track how many go on to rely on social welfare as adults. It also found the lack of data limited the county’s ability to study and fine-tune programs to save money while helping more children succeed.
The county disagreed with the grand jury’s finding that there is “no relationship between the county’s child welfare programs and policies and taxpayer’s contributions to the long-term success of county foster care alumni,” according to its letter of response. The county contended that “the exact linkage between foster care investment and results achieved by San Diego foster care alumni is unknown.”
County officials partially disagreed with the grand jury’s second finding, that the county “has no data to determine if delivery of services by (Child Welfare Services) results in lower/higher dependence on general welfare programs by former county foster care youth,” according to the letter.
County officials said they have the data — they just don’t analyze it themselves because of privacy, legal and logistical constraints, according to the letter. The county said it contributes data to other some state and national studies intended to measure certain foster care outcomes.
The county went on to agree with the grand jury’s third finding, that “data from longitudinal studies of foster care alumni has resulted in improvement and understanding of the foster care program and policies.”
County officials said in their response letter that they would conduct legal and fiscal analysis to see if they could act on the grand jury’s two recommendations: that the county compare existing databases to see how many foster care alumni end up in jail or receive welfare as adults, and that the county partner with a university to study foster care policies and outcomes. The county said it expects to finish the analysis by the end of the year.
August 28, 2017
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By Morgan Cook
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Napa County Juvenile Hall finally has a complete, working security camera system, according to county officials.
The juvenile hall has been reprimanded by four consecutive grand juries, including the 2016-2017 Napa County Grand Jury, for delays in the completion of the project. Last year, the juvenile hall agreed to update technology used for surveillance by Dec. 31, 2016, but, according to the grand jury, that work was only 75 percent finished when the jury completed its report in June.
Cameras at the facility on Old Sonoma Road had been outdated and not strategically positioned for more than two years, the grand jury said.
“The last three Grand Juries recommended replacing outdated video surveillance cameras, which they found produced poor quality video and unacceptable imaging capability,” the report reads. “These recommendations were agreed upon and accepted each year by Juvenile Hall without implementation until 2017.”
In a response approved by the Napa County Board of Supervisors last week, the county’s Chief Probation Officer, Mary Butler, acknowledged that the project has taken a long time to complete, but also said that the 2014 earthquake “pulled many resources in other directions.” In the middle of the project, she said, there was a problem with storage of the video system that needed to be resolved.
This year’s grand jury gave the juvenile hall until Oct. 1 to complete the full installation of video cameras and ancillary equipment. The storage issue has been resolved and that work has been completed, Butler said in her response.
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.
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.
Butler and the Board of Supervisors agreed with the grand jury’s finding and said that they appreciate the grand jury for recognizing staff efforts.
August 25, 2017
Napa Valley Register
By Maria Sestito
Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report.
The controversial 3-to-2 vote by Escondido’s City Council Wednesday night to pursue a plan to outsource the public library’s operations leads some to think the possibility of building a new library is dead.
The council, led by Mayor Sam Abed, voted to pursue a contract with Library Services & Systems Inc (LS&S), a private for-profit company that says it will save the city $4 million over 10 years in operational costs, and far more than that in pension payouts.
Councilmen John Masson and Ed Gallo supported the plan while Councilwoman Olga Diaz, at times crying while she spoke, said she thinks supporting outsourcing will doom any chance the city might have had next year of passing a $50 million bond measure to build a new library in Grape Day Park.
Mike Morasco also voted against outsourcing the library operations, saying his brain was telling him it was a good fiscal move but his heart and gut wasn’t so sure.
“It’s not that I’m against outsourcing,” Morasco said minutes after the vote, which came at the end of a passion-filled 4-½ hour meeting which included testimony from nearly 90 speakers, all but handful of them opposed to the plan.
“I’m a big fan of outsourcing,” Morasco said. “I think in this particular case I was surprised that we didn’t have an actual contract that had already been vetted. That concerns me. In the long run it could very well be something I’ll fully support. I just thought tonight was not the time to make the final decision.”
Diaz said that only once in her nine years on the council has she felt truly inspired. That was when last year Masson proposed going to the public for a bond to construct a new state-of-the art library. She said she decided to run for reelection last year mainly to see that happen. But now that the community has been disillusioned by the council’s outsourcing action she thinks there’s no chance there will be enough support to pass an expensive bond measure which would require a two-thirds vote.
“One moment of inspiration is going to be completely washed away by a moment of false frugality and a misinformed purpose,” she said.
“If we move forward (with the outsourcing) our community is not going to trust that we have their best interest at heart and the core constituency that we need to help us promote, support, vote for and pay for that new library vision — we’re losing them. That to me is the biggest travesty.”
She concluded by saying that if the council voted to outsource library services she can’t support a library bond in the future.
In a staff report prepared for the council, City Manager Jeff Epp called the threat by members of the public to not support a new library if management is outsourced, “ironic.”
“These same dedicated community members and experienced volunteers claim they will now abandon efforts to build a much-needed new facility and help these same needy patrons simply in protest of this proposed decision. Whether these sentiments will resonate among all current and potential volunteers remains to be seen,” Epp wrote.
Masson called threats not to support a bond “insanity.”
“Why would you go against a library bond to build a new bitchin’ library of the future just because we have a private company operating it? I just don’t understand the mentality,” he said.
Near the start of the meeting retired Escondido attorney Roy Garrett, who has successfully challenged other city council actions over the years in court, suggested that state law forbids them from doing what they are proposing and implied that litigation could well follow such a decision.
Karen Tatge, the president of the employee union that represents many of the library staff of about 40, also submitted a letter from the union’s attorney that implied litigation could be forthcoming.
Escondido City Attorney Michael McGuinness said all legal issues will be vetted prior to the council being asked to sign a contract. He said upon an initial review he didn’t think Garrett’s assertions would hold legal water.
All the council members except Diaz expressed dismay at the tone of many of the emails and comments they have received from residents in the past few months. Morasco said Diaz had “hijacked” the process by suggesting the council was trying to sneak something by the public.
While Gallo was speaking, he was interrupted by shouts from the gallery.
“I’ve spent over three hours listening to over 90 speakers and I never said a word. I never grunted. I never frowned. I never did anything,” he said. “I would expect at least half that respect from you guys toward me. I’m tired of this crap.”
Technically, the council voted only to authorize city staff to begin negotiations with LS&S, to begin talks with the labor unions that represent library employees, and then to come back for a final vote to approve the contract.
During the council discussions, Abed emphasized that something must be done about a looming unfunded pension liability crisis threatening the city. But he said he wouldn’t be in favor of outsourcing if it was just about money. He said he believes LS&S will improve library services and expand the library’s hours. He referenced a recent County Grand Jury report that concluded the city’s needs were not being met by the library as it now exists.
He urged people to give outsourcing a chance and said if LS&S isn’t living up to the contract it could be canceled in the future.
“Rest assured that the Escondido Public Library will remain the Escondido Public Library ... and we are going to make it a better library,” he said.
August 24, 2017
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By J. Harry Jones
In June, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury released two reports related to the outcomes of at-risk youth in our county child welfare system. The reports, "Child Welfare In Humboldt: Getting the Door Open" and "Responding in Time to Help Our 'At Risk' Children,'" allege that the three agencies most responsible for protecting local children, the Humboldt County Office of Education, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Health and Human Services, are not working efficiently together. Much of the blame fell on DHHS's Child Welfare Services which — due to a number of factors — has allegedly failed to respond to and follow up on complaints from mandated reporters.
In its response to the Grand Jury Report, presented at the Aug. 15 Board of Supervisor's meeting, the HCSO said it agreed with the grand jury's findings that some officers "do not file reports on cases they investigated," violate state law by disclosing the identity of mandated reporters and "need more training on how to handle the complicated and serious cases
they are assigned to investigate."
The response, authored by Sheriff William Honsal, says the agency is in the process of implementing the grand jury's recommendation for better training of deputies. The sheriff agreed to "hold accountable" deputies who violated the confidentiality of mandated reporters. More comprehensive reporting and better oversight of existing cases has also been prioritized.
"With assistance and input from the California Attorney General, the Sheriff has been
working with Child Welfare Services (CWS) to upgrade the child abuse cross-reporting
system to make it easier to track prior reports as well as ongoing investigations from
other jurisdictions," the report reads.
The response from DHHS, authored by director Connie Beck, only concedes six of the 11 findings by the grand jury, agreeing that the hiring process for social workers has been "long and cumbersome," that recently hired social workers need better mentoring and that reporting and collaborating with law enforcement is "not always timely."
DHHS either disagreed or partially disagreed on several findings, saying that CWS had changed its response to calls in February of 2017 by having screeners and social workers answer hotline calls, eliminating the previous practice of triaging calls after a non-social worker gathered information.
This change in policy did not go unremarked upon by the grand jury, which said in its initial report that CWS "abruptly made notable changes to their policies and procedures at intake" after twice denying the grand jury access to intake process data. And while moving skilled social workers to the phone lines may have amended the issue with timely responses, it has compounded issues with a dearth of skilled workers physically in the field.
"It is understandable that these issues generated mistrust of DHHS-CWS among some of our system partners and community members," the report says, referring to complaints about response time.
DHHS agreed that there is a problem with training, retaining and recruiting a sufficient amount of staff, blaming in part a lack of qualified applicants. The agency says it will push forward with improving training and that it is strengthening training and improving recruitment methods.
The agency partially disagreed with the finding that there is an "urgent need to improve how it addresses the needs of our American Indian 'at risk' children." Native American children represent approximately 38 percent of those in foster care despite comprising only 7 percent of all children in Humboldt County. The response says that DHHS-CWS, which recently contracted with the National Indian Child Welfare Association, is "in the process of implementing NICWA's recommendations" as well as contracting with tribal service providers for culturally appropriate interventions.
It appears as though an investigation by the California Attorney General has yielded some additional changes, as the DHHS says that rather than working with the University of California Davis to improve services, it has received the A.G.'s approval and oversight to contract with NICWA and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency instead.
August 24, 2017
North Coast Journal
By Linda Stansberry
Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report.
State investigators are looking into allegations that a former Angels Camp city administrator may have stolen public funds.
A 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.
“Due to the nature of the allegations, and lack of local investigative resources, the decision was made to seek outside, independent investigative assistance,” said a news release from the Angels Camp Police Department.
A 2015-16 audit report of Angels Camp financial records alleges former city administrator Michael McHatten may have received more payouts for administrative leave than he had available from 2014-15.
The report estimated it may have cost the city approximately $29,000. A Grand Jury citing the same document said McHatten allegedly received payouts for 533 hours but only had 332.6 hours available when confronted. He was only allowed to receive 240 hours maximum in payouts per year.
McHatten, now the city manager for the city of Soledad in Monterey County, did not respond to numerous requests for comment on the issue.
The alleged misappropriation may not be as significant as projected, said Angels Camp Mayor Scott Behiel. Though he did not have an exact estimate, he believed the amount taken could be half of the estimated $29,000 amount.
The city elected against contracting an independent forensic auditor because the situation was under investigation by the attorney general and the city’s insurer, Behiel said.
“We have employee dishonesty coverage,” Behiel said. “If there’s a loss and it is proven that the employee was dishonest, we would have coverage.”
Even with the allegations, Behiel said McHatten has expressed the city owed him money after he left his position with Angels Camp in December of 2016.
“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.”
Also listed in the financial audit were other discrepancies associated with McHatten.
It noted several questionable inconsistencies with city-issued credit card statements. 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.
Accounting abnormalities were also documented. McHatten allegedly received two payroll advances for two separate pay 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.
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 disparity.
He said McHatten was well-liked and respected.
“He was doing a good job,” Behiel said.
McHatten’s departure to Soledad came as a surprise to officials with Angels Camp, Behiel said. Soledad leaders did not contact the city 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 24, 2017
By Jason Cowan
After years of foot-dragging, the San Juan Capistrano City Council voted 4-1 to support the widening of a 0.9-mile stretch of the Ortega Highway. The reversal on Aug. 15 came two months after an Orange County Grand Jury report blasted the city for its resistance to expanding the two-lane segment of highway. At the very least, we are glad that most council members have finally come around.
“I think it’s not a bad idea at this point,” said Mayor Kerry Ferguson, who, the Register noted, voted in 2016 to cancel the project.
With at least 43,500 vehicles using the highway every day, and more expected with growing populations and thousands of homes added with the Rancho Mission Viejo development, it has been obvious for a long time that the segment of the Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano needed to be widened.
In 2011, an agreement was reached between the California Department of Transportation, the city and the Hunt Club Community Association explicitly laying out the aesthetics and the scope of the widening. Caltrans permitted the city to assume the role of lead agency, which proved to be a mistake, as the city proceeded to complicate matters.
After securing millions of dollars in grants from the Orange County Transportation Authority, as well as funding from developers, the council reversed itself in 2014 and sought to oppose the project, pandering to the interests of a few who didn’t want to make it easier to drive through the city. Further reversals followed, prompting the county Board of Supervisors to designate O.C. Public Works as the lead agency in 2016.
This series of events, according to the grand jury, caused an unnecessary delay in the project, held up millions of county funds that could have been used elsewhere, and drove up the estimated costs of the project from between $25 million and $30 million in 2011 to $52 million today.
Alas, despite finally realizing the futility of opposing the inevitable widening, the council disputes the idea that “the delay was unnecessary or that it cost the county millions of dollars” in its official response to the grand jury.
We think the record of the project speaks for itself, and speaks to the folly and high cost of catering to NIMBYs for political convenience.
August 24, 2017
The Orange County Register
By Orange County Register Editorial Board
[Monterey County] English learners in all Salinas elementary school districts struggle to reach state goals.
For three years in the row, the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury has found English learners in Salinas elementary schools are failing to reach statewide averages for math and English. While grand jury investigations usually focus on a single school district – for 2014-15, it was just Salinas City Elementary – this time around, the grand jury looked at all three elementary school districts: Santa Rita Union, Salinas City and Alisal Union school districts.
The report, released June 26, did not mince words: “The three elementary school districts in Salinas are not meeting statewide averages for English and math test scores,” according to one of 11 findings.
Rather than push back against the grand jury slamming them, all three school districts agree. They cite funding challenges and a large number of foreign-language speakers as their main obstacles.
“Teaching in Salinas is unique,” Santa Rita Union Superintendent Shelly Morr says. “For the last couple of years, we’ve been enrolling more English learners.”
The number of English learners, or students who are studying English as a second language, fluctuates somewhat during the school year, but the grand jury reports some averages: 43.3 percent of students in Santa Rita Union, 52.9 percent in Salinas City Elementary and 71 percent in Alisal Union are English learners. By comparison, 40 percent of all students in Monterey County and 21 percent of students in California are English learners.
One concern among administrators is that if elementary students fall behind, it gets harder to recover ground once they begin seventh grade. It’s around that age when academic language and concepts become more nuanced, Morr says: “This is why we need to catch them early, before they fall.”
In written responses to the grand jury (approved in the recent weeks by all three boards) and in interviews, officials from all three districts lay out the challenges to achieving better success. They say learning a second language is a five – to eight-year process. That’s especially difficult for students whose families don’t speak English at home, or for students who are highly mobile; Monterey County has the highest concentration of migrant students in Northern California.
“It’s a consistency challenge,” Morr says. To tackle that challenge, Santa Rita schools have been encouraging parents to enroll their kids in preschool. Those schools run year-round, including summer. Morr’s thinking: The younger kids are when they’re exposed to English, the better they’ll do in the long run.
“We’re [also] asking ourselves, ‘How do we make sure they’re not losing what they gain?’” Morr says.
Morr adds that schools are also trying to contextualize language with “real-world experiences.” To that end, Santa Rita administrators plan on spending more on field trips, apps and computer programs, hoping to increase the chances students have to interact with their second language.
“It’s like being in another country,” Morr says. “The more time spent being immersed in a different culture and language, the faster someone learns.”
Another challenge is for teachers, who find themselves balancing varying English proficiencies (including native speakers) in the classroom – all at once.
“We’re trying to focus our curriculum for students entering at different levels,” Salinas City Elementary School District Superintendent Martha Martinez says. “It’s possible to have a kindergarten class with several English learners, reading and writing at different levels.”
The grand jury’s investigation also identified several other possible contributing factors to low test scores. They found that average K-3 classrooms were larger than 20 students. Both Santa Rita and Salinas City Elementary agreed, noting in their written responses the K-3 Class Size Reduction Program, which monetarily rewarded schools for reducing class sizes, ended in the 2012-13 school year.
The investigation also found that all three districts are underfunded in a high-cost area, which presents challenges for finding and retaining new teachers, especially those who are specifically trained to work with English learners.
Nearby Carmel Unified budgets an average of $19,695 per student. That’s more than twice Alisal Union’s average of $9,492 per student.
August 24, 2017
Monterey County Weekly
Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report.
Despite the protests of hundreds of angry residents, the Escondido City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday night to begin the process of outsourcing the city’s library service to a private company.
An overflow crowd of more than 250, almost all opposed to the plan, packed the City Council chambers and for hours pleaded with the council not to move forward with signing a contract with Maryland-based Library Systems and Services Inc.
But Mayor Sam Abed joined by councilmen Ed Gallo and John Masson, voted to pursue the arrangement with the for-profit company in order to save $4 million in the next ten years in operational costs and more than that in future pension payouts.
“This is an opportunity to make the library better,” Abed said, citing a recent County Grand Jury report that was critical of the services the library provides the community.
“If LS&S doesn’t make it better I will break the contract after one year.”
Casting an emotional “no” vote was Councilwoman Olga Diaz who called the library the “heart and soul and core” of the city.
Diaz said during her more than eight years on the council she’s been inspired only once — when John Masson laid out a vision to build a new library near Grape Day Park. She said she decided to run for reelection last year just to see that project happen.
But with the outsourcing vote and the library being treated by the rest of the council as just another city service, she said she now feels she has wasted her time “all for a moment of false frugality.”
Councilman Mike Morasco also voted against the plan saying he has been torn over the issue for months.
August 23, 2017
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By J. Harry Jones
Blog note: this article references a June grand jury report that recommended canceling a contract on the subject.
Orange County District Attorney officials say a report on a year-long review of reforms intended to prevent misuse of informants and ensure proper disclosure of evidence is expected in the next few weeks.
Attorney Stephen G. Larson was hired a year ago as an “independent monitor” to review implementation of January 2016 recommendations from an expert panel on how to prevent misuse of informants. The recommendations were the result of an ongoing scandal in which jailhouse informants were illegally used and relevant evidence was not provided to defense attorneys.
At least six convictions for murder and other serious crimes have been overturned because of alleged misconduct related to informants, known as the “jailhouse snitch scandal.”
Larson was tasked in his contract with providing “regularly scheduled reports” to the DA regarding implementation of the informant practices committee’s recommendations to prevent future misconduct.
After he was hired one year ago, Larson provided one introductory report, in Sept. 2016, and no written reports since then, according to DA officials.
“He’s only written one report,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki said during Tuesday’s meeting of the county Board of Supervisors.
Larson’s firm has conducted a lot of interviews, and DA officials think his next report will be the byproduct of “a substantive, sustained review,” Tanizaki added.
In June, an Orange County Grand Jury report recommended county supervisors cancel Larson’s $575 per-hour contract, saying it was a waste of taxpayer money.
Later that month, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told county supervisors it wouldn’t be necessary to cancel the contract because he expects Larson will finish his work within 60 days of the grand jury report’s June 13 release, which would have been Aug. 12.
During that public discussion, Supervisor Todd Spitzer also referred to a letter he said Larson sent the DA last year indicating Larson would issue a report in August 2017.
The next report from Larson is expected in the next couple of weeks, District Attorney spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said Tuesday.
If that is indeed the final report, as Rackauckas suggested, it would mean Larson produced two written reports under the contract – an introductory report and a final report – despite the contract requiring him to “provide regularly scheduled reports to the District Attorney.”
Asked what the schedule was for the reports, Van Der Linden wrote in an email: “There is no schedule as to the frequency of the Larson reports.”
She didn’t answer follow-up questions about whether Larson ever told the DA’s office when he would be filing his reports.
Larson has been in court for most of the last year as a defense attorney in a high-profile corruption trial, known as the Colonies bribery case, which involves three San Bernardo County officials.
The trial began in January, and Larson presented his closing arguments this week.
The expert panel on informants had recommended Rackauckas hire a former judge to oversee the implementation of the panel’s recommendations.
Rackauckas picked Larson, a former federal judge who now works alongside Rackauckas’ ex-wife’s law firm.
Larson is co-counsel with the law partner of Rackauckas’ ex-wife, Kay Anderle, for the same defendant in the Colonies trial, developer Jeff Burum.
Prosecutors allege Burum paid $100,000 in bribes each to three San Bernardino County officials in order to get a $102 million legal settlement from the county. In his closing arguments, Larson said prosecutors failed to prove their claims.
Larson served as a federal judge from 2003 until 2006, when he resigned and entered private practice.
Rackauckas commissioned the panel of experts, known as the Informant Policies & Practices Evaluation Committee (IPPEC), to review the DA’s use of informants.
But at the end of its review, the committee found what it described as a problematic “win at all costs mentality” at the DA’s office, and that “a lack of leadership” there “appears to have contributed to the jailhouse informant controversy.”
It issued a series of recommendations, including creating a committee with a retired criminal defense attorney or retired judge to oversee and approve the use of informants.
The DA’s office has said it’s implemented almost all of the recommendations, and Larson was hired as the “independent monitor” to ensure the implementation happens.
But it’s unclear if the public will find out Larson’s findings. DA officials say his reports are confidential under attorney-client privilege.
August 23, 2017
Voice of OC
By Nick Gerda
But the city disagreed with some of the jury’s findings
ANTIOCH — Animal welfare advocates are predicting that having a manager at Antioch’s animal shelter will sustain the progress reflected in the city’s response to a recent grand jury report.
Council members on Tuesday approved a letter commenting on the 2016-17 Contra Costa County Grand Jury’s investigation into shelter operations and the subsequent summary this government watchdog group presented in June of its findings and recommendations.
The city agreed with most of the 13 conclusions that jurors came to after interviewing city officials, shelter workers and rescue groups as well as doing other research into the facility’s conditions and practices.
The report noted the improvements Antioch Animal Services has made since it agreed last fall to accept help from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, a Walnut Creek nonprofit with a reputation for excellence in shelter management.
“I’m very confident that the course that has been charted … is going to get Antioch the shelter it deserves,” said Antioch resident Jeffrey Klingler, who commended the council for embracing change.
In particular, he praised the city for recently creating a manager’s position for the shelter; one of the grand jury’s findings was that the shelter needed someone in this role.
“I think that’s an extremely important (role) to get Animal Services moving forward, and hopefully bring in outside talent … that will have us leaving in the rear view mirror the issues that got us here in the first place,” he said.
In two instances, however, the city took issue with the report, which asserted that the shelter lacked a rescue and volunteer coordinator and didn’t have written policies and procedures governing animal care.
Although there is no paid coordinator’s position, two volunteers perform that role, the city noted in its response. In addition, ARF has helped the shelter come up with written protocols that are considered industry best practices.
As for the grand jury’s recommendations that the shelter stay open one evening a week and hire a volunteer/rescue coordinator, the city indicated that lack of money is preventing it from adopting them immediately.
In several instances, it rejected the grand jury’s advice.
Instead of posting shelter residents’ photos on Antioch Animal Services’ website, the city uses Pet Finder and Shelter Me, two other online directories.
Accepting animals from throughout East County is impossible for the already full shelter, even if county shelter workers subsequently picked up those cats and dogs that didn’t originate in Antioch, the city responded.
And Antioch Police Chief Tammany Brooks, whose department oversees the shelter, nixed the suggestion that a group of residents monitor shelter conditions and serve as advisers.
“There are a number of people in our community involved in animal welfare who are passionate about what they do. However, I would offer that none of them (is) truly expert in shelter operations or shelter medicine,” he said.
Brooks also noted that neither the county, Hayward or Oakland has a community advisory group for its animal shelter.
August 23, 2017
East Bay Times
By Rowena Coetsee
The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees last week acknowledged that it has taken steps to fulfill a Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury’s request that it make it easier for seniors to apply for parcel-tax exemptions.
The grand jury report, released in May, investigated the Los Altos School District and 21 other districts in the county that offer parcel-tax exceptions. While not naming any district in particular, the report revealed that some made exemptions difficult to secure. Reasons included unclear deadlines, the availability of exceptions and an arduous application process, among other factors.
At their Aug. 14 board meeting, Los Altos School District trustees reported that the district has responded with a letter outlining how it has already implemented some of the grand jury’s recommendations, including allowing seniors to apply by mail or by proxy if applying in person is unreasonable, making it clear on the district’s Measure GG web page that parcel-tax exemptions are available for seniors and making applications available year-round.
The district also has elected to switch to automatically renewing parcel exemptions, replacing its previous practice of sending a renewal form and return envelope by mail. The only grand jury recommendation the district did not implement was creating an online application system, due to the potential cost.
Ten other districts in the county, including the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, do not assess parcel taxes.
To read the grand jury report and the Los Altos School District’s reply, visit lasdschools.org and type “grand jury” in the search bar.
August 23, 2017
Los Altos Town Crier
By Town Crier Staff
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Sonora, CA — The Board of Supervisors in Tuolumne County held a special meeting this morning to finalize its response to the 2016-17 Grand Jury report.
We reported in July that the report looked into areas like the library, IT, dispatch, etc.
CAO Craig Pedro noted that the county had already begun acting on many of the concerns brought up in the report. For example, the Grand Jury noted that a lack of a full-time Library Director has created a “vague chain of command” and resulted in a lack of grant applications submitted for additional library revenue. Pedro noted that the 2016-17 budget, to be finalized next month, sets aside money for the hiring of a director.
Additional funding is also going to address several security risks and concerns related to the Information Technology department.
Concerns related to the degrading Tuolumne County Jail will be non-existent once a new facility is constructed, with work expected to begin around November, and construction lasting 18 months.
The Grand Jury requested a response about the legality, and whether there is a conflict of interest, in utilizing CAL Fire’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit Chief Josh White in the dual role of the Tuolumne County Fire Marshall. Pedro added, “County Counsel has opined that there is no legal conflict and county administrative staff cannot recall a time where a clear conflict has surfaced and potentially disadvantaged Tuolumne County Fire. To the contrary, the relationship has resulted in many advantages to the county.”
Pedro went on to say that many other cities and counties in California have similar agreements with CAL Fire.
An item that still needs to be resolved is pay increases for Tuolumne County Supervisors. The county had sought outside direction on whether salaries were comparable with other counties after the supervisors had declined several pay increases. The board had cited the negative political implications of giving oneself a raise. Recommendations included giving pay increases equal to those being negotiated with county bargaining groups, that the supervisors still continue to approve any increase, and the county consider hiring assistants to reduce the workload. The county will review options and potentially make a decision regarding the issue around December.
August 23, 2017
By B.J. Hansen
Blog note: this article references a 2017 grand jury report on the jail.
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - In front of a packed house, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson made a public presentation on what happened to Andrew Holland, the San Luis Obispo County inmate who died in a restraint chair.
This situation is one Parkinson says put the jail between a rock and a hard place, telling the supervisors: "If custody staff had chosen to remove Andrew at that time, it would have been against the medical and mental health staff advice and if he had injured or more significantly killed himself, we would certainly be negligent putting staff in a catch 22."
Parkinson admitted that staff left Holland in the chair for too long, but were trying to follow guidelines that they believed were safe.
He argues that the staff is not trained to make medical or mental health decisions.
"Staff must rely on professionally trained direction on mental health and medical experts to decide what is best for the patient as I stated earlier, our staff are not trained in either field to an extent to make a medical or mental health decision," Parkinson explains.
This is something that was echoed by some of the numerous people that signed up to give public comment to the supervisors.
"The sheriff is the sheriff - he's a great sheriff but he's not a doctor, he's not a dentist, he's not a psychiatrist," says commenter John Hackleman.
That's not enough for people like the Holland family. His cousin, J. Tavener Holland tells us: "If the sheriff really wanted to promote his position, which has been that they followed appropriate policies and procedures and no laws were broken - then there should be no impediment - it should be in his interest to advocate for the release of the video."
But Sheriff Parkinson made no mention of the video at all.
Among some of the changes Sheriff Parkinson did announce included: during cases like Andrew's they will admit inmates into a mental health facility more quickly -- whether that be in the county or elsewhere.
The restraint chair has been permanently banned and placing inmate in restraints for longer than two hours requires approval.
The sheriff is also restricting the amount of time in a safety cell, after 48 hours the time in the cell can only be extended after a psychiatrist approves of it.
A recent grand jury examination of the jail found the following:
- F1. There is inadequate physical space to conduct programming for male inmates. This lack of space restricts the amount of programming offered, as well as inmate participation.
- F2. There is no single official at the County Jail level that has true oversight and responsibility over all aspects of an inmate’s well-being.
- F3. Other counties sometimes contract correctional health care services to an outside provider giving the custodial side direct responsibility over all aspects of an inmate’s well-being.
- F4. Violations noted in the biennial BSCC report, issued September 7, 2016 involve health and safety issues that are largely managed by the County Health Agency.
- F5. Recent deaths of inmates at the County Jail and violations noted in the most recent BSCC report have raised public concern over the adequacy of health and safety procedures and policies related to the current population.
The Sheriff and the County Health Agency are expected to make a report on how they have fixed these findings by the end of the year.
Ultimately, the county board decided to have their staff make a presentation outlining private companies they can hire that can help with the medical, mental health and dental services in the jail.
August 22, 2017
By Melissa Newman
Board responds to grand jury report
Although the Santa Barbara County grand jury would like to see the county's Water Agency become the lead organization for implementing water policy throughout the region, such a move isn't feasible.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to submit required responses to a recent grand jury report titled "Managing Regional Water Supplies, Are There Better Solutions?," which included informing jurors the county won't be designating its Water Agency the permanent lead agency for implementation of policy to ensure reliability of supplies.
While each water purveyor throughout the county has authority over the sources they own and control, there are other sources more regionally operated, which hampers moving forward with the recommendation. One example is state water, which is controlled by Sacramento but delivered to participants by a local entity, the Central Coast Water Authority.
"The recommendation will not be implemented," the supervisors penned in an Aug. 22 letter to the jury's presiding judge. "Organizationally, the county Water Agency has no statutory authority over the different water purveyors in the county, unless and until the authority were to change, this recommendation is not feasible."
The 2016-17 grand jury investigated "the serious problem of drought within the county," making nine findings and nine recommendations related to its report released in mid-June. The Board of Supervisors was named as a responder to three of the findings and three of the recommendations, all discussed Tuesday.
The 28-page report looked at the adequacy and reliability of the present water delivery system in the county; what steps can be taken to provide additional sources of supply; and, if there is a better way to manage a regional supply system.
"I think the issues brought up in the report are extremely important and need to be taken seriously," said 1st District Supervisor Das Williams. "We have methods at our disposal regionally to provide us with more water ... the difficulty, of course, is regional cooperation."
Among the findings the board was required to respond to included utilizing desalination, specifically exploring use of Diablo Canyon's desal plant with neighboring San Luis Obispo County, and recycled water as an additional water supply.
Deputy Director of Water Resources Tom Fayram told the supervisors the county has had discussions with San Luis Obispo County about the Pacific Gas and Electric Co.-owned desal plant at Diablo Canyon and isn't sitting on the sidelines when it comes to water-involvement issues.
San Luis Obispo County initiated a project to look at constructing a pipeline from Diablo to the Five Cities to pump desal water from Diablo to the water-strapped area. However, PG&E plans to shutter Diablo in 2025, leaving the future of the desal plant up in the air.
"It leaves the question of the desal plant in limbo," Fayram said, adding it's probably still worth looking into the small plant as a potential additional water supply for the region.
The facility has the potential to produce up to 1.5 million gallons of fresh water a day, with Diablo using about 40 percent of what is generated. Fifth District Supervisor Peter Adam questioned whether the desal facility had the capacity to produce enough water for Santa Barbara County's needs.
"The plumbing isn't enough to get a whole lot through," Adam said.
August 22, 2017
Santa Ynez Valley News
By April Charlton
[Santa Cruz County] PVUSD pushes back against grand jury report on transparency of use of Measure L funds
SANTA CRUZ >> The Pajaro Valley Unified School District pushed back against a highly critical grand jury report deriding the district’s transparency with its use of Measure L funds in a response released Friday.
The June report described the Citizen’s Oversight Committee, tasked with overseeing the district’s use of the $150 million bond funding, as “mostly ineffective.” It placed blame on the district for providing the seven-member volunteer committee with what it called inadequate information and training.
The district’s board of trustees objected to those findings in the required response released by the grand jury on Friday, insisting oversight committee members receives clear and detailed information about bond expenditures.
The only point on which the two parties agreed was the grand jury’s finding that bond reporting could be greatly improved with the planned implementation of new accounting and business software. The district concurred, adding that the new software was fully implemented in April.
The grand jury report also detailed a list of 10 recommendations related to the district’s reporting processes. The district indicated it has implemented eight of the 10, rejecting the grand jury’s recommendation to discuss cost reduction recommendations with the oversight, writing that the committee is “informed of, but not vested with the authority to approve, cost savings engineering for any project.”
The head of the Citizen’s Oversight Committee also took issue with the report, calling it out of date and a “whitewash.”
“What the grand jury found was true two years ago,” committee chairman Bill Beecher said, echoing similar comments in June. “What the grand jury did not report on were all of the changes that have been made since then.”
Rocco Chappie, then foreman of the civil grand jury, had insisted that the report was based entirely on an investigation conducted over the previous year and that the report reflected the most up-to-date information.
Beecher further critiqued the process by which the grand jury gathered information in an op-ed in the Sentinel. “The grand jury process needs improving,” he said. “We were summoned to appear with no identification of the subject matter. ... They wanted details and expected us to respond from the top of our heads. This is difficult when there are so many projects being done.”
Beecher said he has since filed a complaint about the grand jury process with the district attorney.
Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez attributed the gulf between the grand jury’s findings and the district’s internal assessment to what she said was a flawed process.
“We believe they didn’t ask all the questions they needed to ask,” she said, adding that she also believes the district provided the grand jury with information that it omitted from its report.
But Rodriguez said one thing she is taking away from the process is an emphasis on the need to clearly communicate with the public. The district is now considering hiring a public information officer to do exactly that, an item that will be discussed at Wednesday’s board meeting.
“More than anything, from the grand jury report we saw that we are moving the right direction,” Rodriguez said. “Many of the things they were finding were things we had also found.”
Measure L, a school bond overwhelmingly approved by district voters in 2012, authorized the district to issue $150 million in bonds to improve facilities, classrooms, technology and student safety across its 32 schools.
The Santa Cruz County civil grand jury, composed of 19 residents, is tasked with investigating all aspects of city and county government and publishing its findings and recommendations for improvement.
Grand jury forewoman Lauren Tobin did not respond to requests for comment.
August 22, 2017
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Nicholas Ibarra