Monday, August 7, 2017

[Calaveras County] Angels Camp Council bashes Grand Jury

Calls report ‘politically motivated’ and ‘biased’

Angels Camp City Council members this week lashed out at a Grand Jury Report calling for the city to be dissolved, branding the recommendation politically motivated and biased.
The council Tuesday night said the jury’s bias was evidenced by the cover of the report, featuring a cartoon showing people reacting to the recommendation.
Representatives from the city also questioned the credibility of Grand Jury members. City Administrator Mary Kelly said she received a call in advance of the report from jury representatives who said the report was “no big deal” and “they were just checking in because it had been 10 years between audits.”
Vice Mayor Amanda Folendorf called the Grand Jury audit a “half-assed” report. She asserted that jurors did not interview the correct people. Later, Kelly said the jury placed inquiries with former Mayor Wes Kulm and Bert Sobon, who are no longer associated with the council.
Of the eight “findings” listed within the report that foreman Robert Macias signed off on, none was more controversial than the recommendation to dissolve the incorporated status of the city.
Reasons for the suggestion: Fiscal problems incurred by the city, a lack of interest by the public to fill elected positions and alleged misuse of public funds.
The discussion came as the city officials considered their response to the Grand Jury report. As part of the process, agencies included within the yearly report have 90 days to respond to the claims.
The City Council finalized its response Tuesday.
Angels Camp officials say the city is in much better financial shape now than before the jury review because they removed a high-compensation employee without reducing services. They said there’s plenty of interest by residents to help Angels Camp thrive despite the fact they had three open positions on the council last year and only two successful applicants. They agreed that public funds were used in questionable fashion.
The council’s tone regarding dissolution was hostile. Mayor Scott Behiel seemed offended in his reading of the response that implied the Grand Jury’s findings were emotional because they wrote “This Grand Jury’s greatest strength was its emotional connection to the county.”
“Emotion rather than rational, informed thought guided this Grand Jury,” he said.
Because the Grand Jury did not make an “intelligent” case to warrant efforts to dissolve, the suggestion was not warranted or reasonable, Behiel said.
Beyond the Grand Jury discussion, council members addressed implications that former City Administrator Michael McHatten allegedly violated the city handbook, set his own policies and may have improperly used up to $29,000 in administrative leave
Lacking action by law enforcement, though, it appears there’s nothing the city can do to address what McHatten, now with Solano County, may have done improperly.
“To the extent further issues need to be examined concerning this employee, the city believes that those issues may only property be evaluated by law enforcement agencies,” Behiel said.
City officials have taken steps toward eliminating the problem in the future. In July, Angels Camp rescinded a 2015 policy that authorized payment advances for employees. Stricter enforcement on the handbook and policies have also begun.
August 3, 2017
Calaveras Enterprise
By Jason Cowan

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