Tuesday, August 14, 2018
[Los Angeles County] Pasadena Police Agree to County Grand Jury Recommendations on Citizen Complaints
Following a Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury investigation into law enforcement at 11 local cities, the Pasadena Police Department has agreed to immediately institute six of seven of the resulting recommendations.
The Grand Jury recommendations focus on how the Department handles complaints from citizens, according to a City staff report to be presented to the Public Safety Committee this week.
In a final report, “Policing the Police: The Citizen Complaint Process and Internal Affairs Function,” the Civil Grand Jury wrote, “Sworn police officers hold incredible power. They can remove a person’s freedom and use deadly force, but they must operate within the confines of the law and adhere to departmental policies and procedures,” emphasizing the need to follow complaint procedures carefully.
The Grand Jury report also noted that “the absence of civilian oversight in 44 of 46 police departments in LA County is a problem that should be of great concern.”
Only two cities in LA County—Los Angeles and Long Beach—have such a police oversight committee.
Eleven other cities were also investigated by the Grand Jury—Bell Gardens. Burbank, Culver City, El Monte, Glendale, Inglewood, Pomona, San Fernando, South Gate, Torrance, and West Covina.
The first Grand Jury complaint directed at the Pasadena Police Department required clearer signage in multiple languages “indicating the location of complaint forms at police stations reflecting the community served by the department.” The City agreed to implement that change, and has already posted signs in Spanish and English in the front lobby of the Police Department building.
The second complaint called for the City to develop a means to file citizen complaints online. The City agreed with the recommendation, but countered that complaints forms, were in fact available online. The City agreed, however, that online forms could be labeled “differently or more clearly,” according to the staff report. The City has since re-labeled the forms as “compliment/complaint forms” online.
The City also agreed to the Grand Jury’s recommendation to “remove warnings that may intimidate or discourage persons from making a civil complaint.”It had begun printing new forms. The process was to have been completed by August 6.
The Grand Jury recommended that the City provide a written disposition response to citizen complaints within 30 days of a complainant’s filing, which the City also agreed to. The City has recently implemented a new software—IA Pro—for the task.
While the Grand Jury recommended that the City log and accept all complaints “regardless of their initial assessment of the seriousness of the complaint,” the City said it would take that recommendation “under advisement” and would “require time to announce a completion date.”
Pasadena also agreed to fulfill a recommendation to “provide detailed and ongoing education and training in all aspects of the citizen complaint process.”
Finally, the Grand Jury recommended that the City “consider developing an appeal process to be initiated when a complainant is dissatisfied with the results of an investigation or disposition.
The City responded that it would take the recommendation “under consideration and review,” and return to the Grand Jury with a determination no later than December 2018.
August 13, 2018
Pasadena News Now
By Eddie Rivera, Community Editor
Monday, August 13, 2018
Blog note: this article references Tuolumne County grand jury reports on the lack of volunteer firefighters.
Dick Brown isn’t sure how much longer he will be a volunteer firefighter. At 66 years old, he doesn’t douse flames much anymore, instead driving the water tender to blazes in rural Calaveras County.
But he’s worried about who will replace him. And who will replace thousands of volunteer firefighters in local departments across the state in the coming years as the number of residents willing to do the job dwindles and fires burn at record-breaking pace.
Hard numbers charting the decline of the volunteer firefighting force in California are hard to come by. But in rural county after rural county — including those hit hard by this summer’s wildfires — local officials are sounding the alarm.
They say current volunteers are aging out of the job, and that with extensive training requirements having been put in place in recent years, fewer recruits are stepping up. That puts residents at risk in counties where there isn’t enough money in the budget for a large, full-time force.
“Typically, volunteer fire departments exist because there isn’t money for a paid one,” said Brown, who is the California director for the National Volunteer Fire Council, an industry group representing nonpaid firefighters.
One-third of the 28,000 firefighters in California are volunteers, most of them in rural areas. Across the country, where 70 percent of firefighters are volunteers, departments say they are struggling to recruit new people for a dangerous job. The number of volunteer firefighters in the United States fell by 10 percent over the past three decades, even as the number of emergency calls tripled, according to the National Fire Protection Association, an industry trade group whose figures are often cited by the federal government.
“It’s becoming more difficult to recruit and retain volunteers because it’s a huge demand on your time,” Brown said. “People are busier. They commute longer, work more. Their kids are in sports.
“But, if not for volunteers, who will do it?” Brown said.
That’s the question fire officials are asking as deadly fires rage from one end of California to the other, with 17 states and Australia sending crews to help.
There were 17 major wildfires burning in California at the end of last week, including the Mendocino Complex, which at more than 300,000 acres is the largest wildfire in state history. Five firefighters have died battling the blazes, making it the most lethal year for firefighters in the state since 2008.
“The new normal is we are busier than we’ve ever been,” said Cliff Allen, president of Cal Fire Local 2881, the union that represents paid firefighters with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Demand is higher and staffing levels aren’t meeting those needs.”
Allen advocates for paid union firefighting jobs. But he said that in rural parts of the state, volunteers fill a critical need.
“It’s a necessary evil, so to speak,” he said.
Every minute counts after a fire breaks out — a quick response can be the difference between a small brushfire and a blaze that burns for weeks. That means a rural community with a depleted volunteer firefighting force is at greater risk, said Fire Chief Kim Zagaris of the state Office of Emergency Services.
“We have hired more paid people, but we have less people in rural areas stepping up,” Zagaris said.
In Tuolumne County, impacted by the Ferguson Fire that has been raging for nearly a month, county officials and grand juries have been warning for years about the dwindling number of volunteer firefighters. The county contracts with Cal Fire for some services, but its local departments are primarily staffed with volunteers.
The fire warden for Tuolumne County told a grand jury last year that 250 to 300 volunteers are needed for stations to be adequately staffed. There were just 36 volunteer firefighters before an aggressive marketing campaign brought the total to 70 last year.
Under state law, volunteer firefighters have to undergo the same certification training as paid firefighters. Depending on their responsibilities, volunteers may have a long list of qualifications to satisfy.
“We just don’t have the number of people interested in doing it,” said Tuolumne County Supervisor John Gray. “I’m 70. When I was a young man, you could show up and help put out a fire. Now you have to be trained and certified. In a rural county like Tuolumne, the majority of our population is over 50, and you can’t find people who can do the physical tasks.”
Departments around the state offer various incentives to join, such as a nominal stipend to help defray out-of-pocket costs. Some provide a retirement account depending on how long a person volunteers. In some cases, a retiree can receive $1,200 a month for life if they volunteered for 20 years.
The National Fire Protection Association says that nationwide, there were 1.2 million firefighters in 2015. Of those, 815,000 were volunteers, down from 897,750 in 1984.
There has been an uptick since 2011, when the ranks of volunteers bottomed out at 756,000. But the number isn’t keeping up with the increased demand, said Curt Floyd of the fire protection association.
“This is a trend that is a concern,” Floyd said. “Some communities have had to hire (paid firefighters). There is a cost involved, and some communities can’t bear that weight.”
Nearly every fire department in Lake County, center of the Mendocino Complex fire, and Shasta County, which has been devastated by the Carr Fire, is feeling the strain.
The Lake County Fire Protection District in Clearlake considers its volunteer roster filled when it has 55 volunteers. Lately the total has been around 20. The Lakeport Fire Department also has 20 volunteers, about 15 short of the ideal.
The Shasta County Fire Department is authorized to deploy 385 volunteers. Last month, when the Carr Fire burned into Redding, destroying more than 1,000 homes, the department had 149 volunteers. Among the homes burned were those of several volunteer firefighters, who continued to work, said Julia Haven, a staff services analyst for Cal Fire/Shasta County Fire.
Lakeport Fire Chief Doug Hutchison said his department’s force has dwindled as training standards became more rigorous and the economy improved.
“People just don’t have the time to volunteer like they used to,” he said. “We’re actually pretty fortunate — we’ve had 10 new volunteers in the last year.”
He added, “We did some outreach at high schools, to seniors, to get people interested in this as a career. Volunteering is a first step to it.”
Mandi Huff, office clerk for South Lake County Fire Protection in Middletown, said the agency has about 30 volunteers on the books, but only about 16 show up consistently.
Huff said volunteer staffing plummeted after the 2015 Valley Fire. The blaze charred more than 76,000 acres, killed four people and destroyed more than 1,200 homes.
People who were volunteer firefighters “had to focus on themselves” and moved away to start over, Huff said. “We’ve been trying to rebuild the number ever since.”
Some local officials brought their concerns to Sacramento this year, to push for a bill that would have offered volunteer firefighters a tax credit of up to $1,500 a year for expenses they incur.
The measure, AB2727, would have cost the state up to $30 million a year in lost revenue, according to the bill’s analysis. It stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“This isn’t a partisan issue — this is a save-my-house issue,” said Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh, who testified before a legislative committee. “We have a need for this everywhere.”
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Heath Flora, R-Ripon (San Joaquin County), said he will introduce another incentive bill in January in hopes of drawing more interest in volunteer firefighting. Flora, who became a volunteer firefighter in Modesto in 2000, said he’s watched as some agencies struggled to recruit new people.
“That’s a public safety issue,” he said. “People call 911 and they expect someone to show up and help them in their time of need.”
It was a 911 call that originally sparked Brown’s interest in volunteering in western Calaveras County. He said he called for help 29 years ago when his 10-year-old daughter was kicked in the face by her horse at their Valley Springs home.
Two dozen firefighters showed up to help. Each one was a volunteer. He still feels he owes the fire department that helped treat his daughter’s broken nose and concussion.
“When I get to the point where I feel I paid my debt, I will retire,” Brown said.
August 11, 2018
San Francisco Chronicle
By Melody Gutierrez and Megan Cassidy
While the purpose of Assembly Bill 109, passed in 2011, was to close a revolving door of inmates cycling through the state prison system, the 2017-2018 report by the Del Norte Grand Jury says it has, in part, opened a revolving door for inmates of the county jail.
The report said while the state has provided money to offset costs of AB109, the jail was not meant to hold long-term inmates and its implementation has led to many bunks being tied up at the jail.
“The result leads to a near constant release cycle as inmates are released from the local jail to make room for incoming inmates,” the report reads.
According to a 2011 information sheet by the California Department of Corrections, AB109 was implemented to “close the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons.”
The report notes a complicated series of legislative actions, from SB678 in 2009, to AB109 in 2011, to Prop 47 in 2014 and 2016. The actions aimed to reduce recidivism in prisons, reduce prison populations, downgraded some drug felonies to misdemeanors and making early release and parole possible, respectively.
“Offenders who would have previously have been housed in state prison for the duration of their sentence and then monitored by state parole officers were now serving their sentence in local jails and being supervised by local probation officers after the completion of their sentence,” the Grand Jury’s report reads. “The sentences they are serving are shorter due to mandatory sentencing reductions and changes to split sentencing. The offender is given a shorter in-custody sentence and mandatory probation upon their release.”
Sheriff Erik Apperson said inmates aren’t released without careful consideration, and staff works to foster other options such as home detention. In most releases, inmates are given a date to appear in court.
Apperson said the entire jail is outdated and needs regular maintenance.
“We keep it clean and painted and repaired, but it’s old,” he said, adding that with the trends in legislation, the jail cannot accommodate the goals of AB109. “This jail was built to be a temporary facility but it’s evolved, or de-evolved, into a prison,” Apperson said.
The jail currently houses some inmates Apperson said he felt should be doing long-term sentences in prison. He said than when the jail reaches its limit of long term inmates, staff must then decide who to release.
“It’s a matter of space,” Apperson said, “We get a certain budget and it only provides for so many.”
Apperson said the purpose of AB109 was to reduce prison populations, which it did.
“The collateral damage is the county jail’s overpopulated,” he said. “The general public doesn’t realize that (those who commit) property crimes are being released when they’d like to see them in jail. It’s frustrating, and I’m frustrated, too. I’ve been a victim of crimes. I want people to face consequences.”
Apperson returned to the issues of AB109, saying more effort should have been made to give the state prisons more resources to reduce recidivism and make more space there.
“All that came out of this was more criminal behavior at the county level and a higher burden on the counties,” Apperson said. “Sure, we got the prison population down, but it didn’t fix any problems. How about we look for a plan that treats the root problems instead of the symptoms?”
Budget, not bunks
“As overcrowding occurs, the daily decision of who is to be released early frequently falls on the Sheriff’s Department,” according to the Grand Jury report. “The Sheriff’s Department has to decide who should be released back into the community regardless of the time remaining on their sentence.”
While it may seem the jail cannot hold any more inmates, it can but simply cannot afford to. Sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven is in charge of the jail’s operations, and said it’s actually “very infrequent” that short-term inmates are transferred out for lack of space.
Steven said while the jail has about 150 useable bunks, it’s currently only using about 90 of them. The Grand Jury’s report makes no mention of that.
“In a week, that could change,” Steven said, noting jail population fluctuates regularly. However, even if it were to surge, the jail would still be unable to fill all of its bunks, due to a 105-inmate cap.
Steven said the jail does not have the staff or funding to safely operate the facility at that population. He said the jail is divided into 10 dorms. Each time a new inmate is brought in, staff must carefully consider where to place that inmate to avoid potential conflict with others. He said many local offenders are familiar with each other, and many do not get along.
“We were trying to maintain 120 (inmates) at one time, and there was blood on the floor almost every day,” Steven said, noting attacks were occurring against both inmates and jail staff. “We just want it to be safe. Unless we get more money for more staff, we’re going to have to keep the cap at 105.”
Steven said he told Grand Jury members the answers to the issues of additional prisoners was to add staff and money.
“If I had more staff, that would be great, and if we had more money, it would be great,” he said, “but if we add more people with only 10 dorms, we’re going to be back to the same compatibility issues.”
According to the report, a Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) committee of county stakeholders and agency representatives was established to oversee and advise the Chief Probation Officer on strategies to implement the reforms of AB109.
“The funds allocated to Del Norte County are approximately $1.3 million dollars annually,” the Grand Jury report states, later saying the jail runs yearly deficits that are offset by the county’s general fund.
County CAO Jay Sarina said the county has applied for renovation funding over the years in anticipation of increased costs of Propositions 47 and 54, which decriminalized certain offenses and lowered penalties for them.
“That resulted in shorter stays,” Sarina said. “We book them and let them go.”
Sarina noted funding applications were denied three times for renovation money, which was not for additional space, but for programs and implementation. He said some counties applied for money to build new jails, and money was given to some of the larger counties or those whose jails were less prepared to handle increased inmate numbers.
However, more funding goes more to inmates than to the jail itself, because once inside, inmates rack up costs in food, medical expenses and supervision.
“It’s a huge general fund expense,” Sarina said.
Asked if those costs can be directly traced back to AB109, Sarina said there is no concrete data which does so.
“We have inmates who qualify for AB109 reimbursements, who would otherwise be in prison,” he said, noting some are then released into community supervision. “Those become the responsibility of probation.”
Probation role, response
“The Probation Department has opted to spend portions of its allocated funding on weapons and armor, rather than funding more extensive evidence-based programs and trainings as part of the mandate to reduce recidivism,” the Grand Jury report says. “Spending amounts on armament and equipment is necessary in order to ensure that Probation Officers have an acceptable level of safety and security while out in the field. However, many of those interviewed expressed concerns that Probation is overly focused on law enforcement to the detriment of programs.”
Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman said he is formulating an official response to the Grand Jury, but said the amount spent on weapons and protective equipment makes up a small percentage of his budget.
Regarding assertions the money was being spent on weapons rather than on programs, Reyman said. “I have to disagree with the Grand Jury.”
He said his department currently spends a significant amount of money on supervision of probationary inmates, along with education, parenting programs and other services.
“When you look at what we’re doing versus what we’re spending on weapons, there’s no comparison, in my mind,” Reyman said.
As for the weapons, Reyman said he would be negligent to send his officers into dangerous situations unprotected.
“The reality is that some of the people we are supervising are dangerous individuals. We supervise them and send some back to prison for doing the things that landed them in prison,” he said. “We’ve pulled guns and weapons off people with very violent histories.”
Although the report states the probation department has made no effort to implement a Day Reporting Center, Reyman said the concept has been mulled several times at committee meetings and continues to be discussed.
“Establishing a DRC as a single location for reporting, programs, and monitoring would help to promote a greater level of success for clients, as opposed to reporting to multiple locations,” the report states.
The Grand Jury made several other recommendations, including that a comprehensive plan should be made to guide the implementation of AB109, the sheriff’s department should create a formal policy for the release of inmates, and that the CCP committee share regular reports with the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors.
“An example of the type of programs that the Grand Jury feels are worth promoting and developing is the Del Norte Integrated Treatment Court (ITC),” the report states. “ITC was established to integrate mental health and substance abuse treatment with judicial supervision for the promotion of public safety, individual responsibility, ongoing recovery and reduction of recidivism.”
Such a program has been in place in Del Norte Superior Court under Judge William Follett since the beginning of the year.
“The Probation Department and partner agencies: Sheriff, Courts, Health and Human Services, etc., are without a holistic long term strategy for reducing the recidivism rate,” the report states. “Each agency is left to decide for itself the most effective way to serve the population affected by AB109 and the community at large.”
The report closed by recognizing Steven and Follett for their work in the jail and the Integrated Treatment Court.
August 11, 2018
Del Norte Triplicate
By Tony Reed
YUBA CITY — The Sutter County Board of Supervisors last week signed a letter asking the California attorney general to look into the resignations of all grand jury members from the last term.
Chairman Dan Flores and vice-chairman Mat Conant wrote that the purpose of the letter was to make Attorney General Xavier Becerra aware of the issues raised by concerned citizens and, if appropriate, asks for a review of the 2017-18 Sutter County grand jury process.
“The Board of Supervisors has been apprised by the Sutter County Superior Court that the Grand Jury process and the report are confidential. Consequently, the Board is unable to respond to the requests for information,” the letter states. “The Board is unaware of any wrongdoing by the court, grand jurors, county staff, or anyone else associated with this process.”
In a June 25 letter addressed to judges Brian Aronson and Sarah Heckman, the jurors wrote that they resigned in protest “as we were prevented from fulfilling our duty as watchdog for Sutter County.” The letter was provided to the Appeal-Democrat from the Sutter County Superior Court.
No members of the 2017-18 grand jury attended the June 29 empanelment of the new grand jury, and Judge Heckman said they elected to not publish a report this year. The Board of Supervisors, the city of Yuba City and other affected departments received portions of a preliminary report, but they are prohibited by the penal code from releasing its contents.
Sutter County spokesman Chuck Smith said the letter from supervisors reflects the frustration expressed by all board members about their inability to respond to constituent questions about the issue.
Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican from Yuba City, also weighed in by penning a letter to the attorney general.
“It is in the public interest to ensure that there was no improper influence of the decision to not publish the report or make redactions,” Gallagher wrote. “The Sutter County Grand Jury has published a report every year since 2001, and if a report is not published, the community deserves to know the circumstances that (led) to this decision and whether or not the legal process was followed accordingly.”
Gallagher also included four questions he believes should be addressed and answered publicly:
• Why was the 2017-18 grand jury report not published?
• Did the supervising judge require redactions and, if so, did the required redactions comply with Penal Code 929?
• What, if any, communications were made by outside parties to the grand jury prior to its decision to not publish the report, and were any of these communications unlawful or improper?
• Was a preliminary report distributed to affected Sutter County agencies pursuant to Penal Code 933.05(f)? If so, is it required for this preliminary report to be made available to the public?
Yuba City is also drafting a letter to the attorney general, which the City Council will consider at its Aug. 21 meeting. The city received portions of a draft report directly related to city operations, which the city manager reviewed and implemented actions as recommended, said city spokesman Darin Gale.
On Monday, Sacramento attorney representing the county denied an Appeal-Democrat Public Records Act request for emails from County Counsel Jean Jordan pertaining to the grand jury, stating the documents are protected from disclosure by “attorney-client privilege, attorney work product doctrine, deliberative process and official information privileges.”
In a letter last month, local private attorneys Jesse Santana and Chris Carlos requested a copy of the unpublished report, saying they believe it contains material pertinent to clients they represent.
August 11, 2018
By Rachel Rosenbaum, Marysville Appeal-Democrat
Sunday, August 12, 2018
The 2017-18 Sutter County grand jury’s failure to publish a report is problematic by just about anyone’s definition.
At that, there are some folks in the community surfing the waves of indignity and blaming the county, wholesale. That’s unfortunate because as far as we can tell, the Board of Supervisors had nothing to do with the decision to pull the report and publish nothing. From the contents of a letter they directed to the state’s attorney general, they’re as flummoxed about the whole deal as much as anyone, except, perhaps, the actual jury members who, it’s been revealed, all resigned their posts just before the end of their tenure.
What happened? Was there some legal/libel problem in the report? Did it compromise the confidentiality of some protected matter? No one knows except the supervising judge and the jury members themselves (as far as we know).
Portions of the report that were intended to be published went out to officials – county and city – whose departments would have been impacted in some manner, good or bad, by the findings of the jury. They were enjoined to maintain confidentiality, since the report was actually not published.
We might be able to understand, were it explained to some extent, why the entire report could not be published. Was just a part of it bad, or all of it? Did jury members object to making changes as advised by their counsel and supervising judge? Is there a reason some of the report could not have been published?
We know that some county officials planned on making formal replies to the report. We don’t know if that meant they felt they were slighted in the findings or were simply clarifying or acknowledging some problem.
We just don’t know anything about what happened, other than rumors; and we don’t know why we don’t know anything.
The court system, as it should, gets very wide latitude in what is allowed into or kept out of the public eye. Courts can seal up information if they’ve a will to, until compelled to do otherwise. The Sutter County court system has even decided recently to limit access to the building’s hallways by journalists with cameras and to, evidently, prevent journalists and citizens from photographing public information made available via computers even when there’s no cost to the courts (whole other story, perhaps).
The point is, in this case, a grand jury whose findings we all look forward to year after year – a watchdog group we all rely on, bothersome or not for officials – should not be shut down without some explanation ...
We hope California Attorney General Xavier Becerra takes notice of the letters, sent by supervisors and our state assemblyman, asking him to look into the matter and we hope he ... or someone ... is able to negotiate some sort of explanation about what happened.
Citizens really do deserve to know something about what happened.
Our View editorials represent the opinion of the Appeal-Democrat and its editorial board and are edited by the publisher and/or editor. Members of the editorial board include: Publisher Glenn Stifflemire, Editor Steve Miller and Assistant Editor Andrew Cummins.
August 11, 2018
[Contra Costa County] Contra Costa supervisors to consider censuring county assessor over sexual harassment allegations
Blog note: this article references the civil grand jury.
MARTINEZ — Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer is facing a possible censure by the Board of Supervisors and an investigation by a civil grand jury stemming from allegations that he sexually harassed two female employees in his department.
The supervisors on Tuesday are scheduled to consider censuring Kramer and calling in the grand jury following an independent investigator’s finding that Kramer likely sexually harassed the two women — not the first time he has been hit with harassment complaints.
“The board felt it is important to hold all department heads to the highest standards and protect employees from being victims of sexual harassment,” Supervisor John Gioia said of the decision to put a resolution calling for the censure on the agenda. Although the supervisors cannot directly discipline Kramer because he also is an elected official, they can shame him through a censure resolution by forcing him to listen to their criticism.
“This is not a happy thing this board is having to consider, but we felt compelled given the nature of the matter,” Supervisor Karen Mitchoff added in a phone interview Friday. “Since he’s an elected official, this is the only avenue open to the board to take.”
Kramer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But he had an attorney’s letter sent to the county administrator asking that the supervisors hold off from taking any action until after the meeting so he can obtain legal representation.
An agenda item listing the proposed censure states that Kramer engaged in “behavior that is inconsistent with the County’s policy of providing a workplace free from sexual harassment.”
The board’s decision comes after this news organization published a report last week about the recent probe into complaints against Kramer.
On June 18, County Administrator David Twa sent a letter to associate appraiser Margaret Eychner — one of the two accusers — stating that the county-commissioned investigator determined it was “more likely than not” the assessor “made comments that were not appropriate in a workplace environment and that made you feel uncomfortable” on several occasions in 2014 and 2015, according to county records. He wrote a similar letter to another female employee who had filed complaints about inappropriate comments she had said Kramer made in 2008, 2013 and 2015.
Gioia said the findings of that investigation were presented to the board in a closed session Tuesday.
If the grand jury steps in, it would have to make a specific finding that there is “willful or corrupt misconduct” to issue a formal accusation against Kramer, Supervisor Candace Andersen said in a phone interview Friday. An accusation could lead the county district attorney’s office or the state attorney general’s office to prosecute Kramer for misconduct, with the specific charges depending on the findings.
“Given the information we have received, I believe censure and referring the charges to the Grand Jury is the appropriate course of action for the Board,” Supervisor Diane Burgis said in a statement emailed to this news organization by her staff. “No one should feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the workplace.”
According to county records obtained by the Bay Area News Group through a public records request, the assessor texted Eychner, his subordinate, that he wanted to “have you all to myself.” He also shared stories of encounters with other women and told her of giving a sex toy as a gift to another (noncounty employee) woman.
The proposed resolution says there also was sufficient evidence to indicate Kramer made comments and told stories to the other woman on separate occasions in 2008 and 2013 that she found inappropriate and offensive, and that in 2015 he made a remark she believed “was intended to be sexually suggestive and considered inappropriate, offensive and unwelcome.”
Eychner previously told this news organization she filed a formal complaint in January 2018 after receiving an email sent to all county employees from Supervisor Federal Glover — then the board chairman — and Twa, encouraging them, in light of the #MeToo movement, to report misconduct. She also had learned Kramer was planning to run for re-election.
Records from the county show that Eychner and the second employee originally brought the complaints in 2015. Assistant Assessor Sara Holman advised Eychner that she had handled the complaint informally.
The investigator did not find evidence of either harassment or complaints after 2015, and according to the supervisors’ resolution, the evidence “did not show that Kramer retaliated against either employee or take action to negatively impact their careers,” as the women had alleged.
It’s not the first time Kramer has been accused of inappropriate behavior at work. In 2009, the county paid out $1 million to settle a complaint by an employee in the assessor’s office, Bernice Peoples, who accused Kramer of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and retaliation. A jury had rejected 11 of her 12 claims but found that Kramer retaliated against her after she filed a sexual harassment claim in 2000. She alleged then that Kramer offered her a motel room key.
Kramer has served as assessor since 1994 and recently was elected to another four-year term.
“It’s frustrating to me that this is happening again with the same elected official,” said Andersen, who was not on the board in 2009 during the earlier investigation. “In our county, under no circumstances should sexual harassment be tolerated.”
August 10, 2018
The Mercury News
By Annie Sciacca
Saturday, August 11, 2018
Lawyer: Report could help client
A local attorney filed motions requesting Sutter County Superior Court release the original 2017-18 grand jury report, which went unpublished, and to allow him access to its contents – primarily materials and findings pertaining to what he said was an investigation into the District Attorney’s Office for “willful or corrupt misconduct and other wrongdoing” in the handling and prosecuting of cases.
Attorney Jesse Santana – who represents Danelle Stylos, a former director of development services for the county who was arrested last February on suspicion of felony voter fraud, perjury and other offenses – filed the two motions Friday morning.
He said the information included in that original report will “provide the defense with evidence and information that will exonerate Ms. Stylos, cast doubt on the pending criminal charges and politically motivated prosecution of Ms. Stylos, and assist Ms. Stylos in preparing for her defense.”
Sutter County District Attorney Amanda Hopper said she is prohibited from discussing anything pertaining to grand jury proceedings due to confidentiality mandates.
“However, I have no knowledge of any willful or corrupt misconduct or other wrongdoing in the handling and prosecuting of cases by current Sutter County DA staff,” she said.
Sutter County Superior Court Executive Officer Stephanie Hansel said the court will process any filed motions consistent with its usual business practices.
“The court does not ever comment on pending cases,” Hansel said.
Stylos and Santana will return to the courthouse later this month to try to compel the court to act on the motions ahead of preliminary hearings scheduled for late September.
In the first motion, Santana asserted “on information and belief” that part of the grand jury’s investigation focused on misconduct in the District Attorney’s Office in the handling and prosecuting of cases, including his client’s.
He said that information was included in an original report submitted to the court. However, the court did not file that report, he asserted, but he should still have access to the report because it included information pertaining to his client’s case.
“Moreover, the Court should order the disclosure of relevant and admissible testimony of witnesses who were examined before the grand jury regarding Ms. Stylos’ case for the purpose of ascertaining whether their testimony is consistent with that given by the witnesses before the court,” Santana wrote in the motion.
Santana said the grand jury is required to file a final report of its findings and recommendations, and while the Superior Court has limited authority to refuse to file a report, the court has no authority to impose its own views on the grand jury or suppress a report.
“Therefore, the Sutter County Superior Court must respect the grand jury’s ‘watchdog’ function and independence of judgment and file the original 2017-2018 Sutter County Grand Jury report,” the motion stated.
According to the Sutter County Grand Jury website, the grand jury elected to not publish a report this year.
In the second motion, Santana said he has reason to believe that the District Attorney’s Office is in possession of the original report that wasn’t published.
He stated due process requires that a prosecutor disclose to the defendant evidence favorable to the accused. He said that the prosecution’s duty to disclose that type of information extends to all evidence that reasonably appears favorable to the accused, not just evidence that appears likely to affect a verdict, citing a state appellate court decision from 1995.
“This motion is made on the grounds that the Sutter County District Attorney’s Office has not provided the discovery required by law and has failed to provide exculpatory evidence and impeachment evidence,” according to the motion.
Hopper disputed the claim, saying her office has complied with all discovery requirements.
“It is a criminal offense (see California Penal Code Section 933.05) to disclose a grand jury report that has not been published. Mr. Santana is asking this office to commit a crime,” Hopper said.
August 11, 2018
By Jake Abbott
In its required response to the findings of the 2018 Tuolumne County Grand Jury, Sierra Conservation Center officials say recording temperatures in parts of the prison during summer months is not warranted and will not be implemented.
Warden Hunter Anglea said in the written report that where and when temperatures are recorded has been adjudicated in the courts, and the prison complies with the settlement of that lawsuit.
The grand jury said in its report released at the end of June that inmates estimated the temperature in the non-air-conditioned facility was 110 to 120 degrees during the summer of 2017. The jury said in the areas where temperatures were recorded, the temperature never went over 100 but recommended more monitoring.
Anglea also pushed back on the grand jury's finding that its investigation was compromised because the management did not abide by confidentiality requirements and administrators sat in on every interview members conducted.
“This resulted in the inmates’ interviews taking substantially longer than necessary to complete, as SCC management offered their own explanations and opinions in response to inmates’ statements,” the grand jury report stated.
The grand jury also said employees did not sign a form telling them to refrain from talking about the investigation.
Anglea said he needed to analyze the recommendation further but noted grand jury members visited the prison three times and never brought up signing the form.
“At no time was it the intent of any SCC staff member to hinder or impede the Grand Jury's investigation,” he wrote.
He said he has asked attorneys for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for more information on proper procedures.
Anglea also said the mold problem in a shower has been reported to prison headquarters and he is awaiting approval and funding to repair all of the showers in that building, but the soap dispenser in the hazardous materials/motor pool area has been installed, as recommended.
Anglea could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, agreed with both recommendations from the grand jury.
Sheriff Bill Pooley said in his response that the policy on transgender inmates has been updated according to the California Values Act.
The sheriff also said his office has updated its policy on releasing information on inmates to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He said such information is given in serious felony charges or convictions and noted that all release information is available to the public.
“If ICE requests this information, we will release it to them as we would to anyone who inquires, as this is public information,” he said.
Agencies that still must respond to the grand jury are Tuolumne County on deteriorating roads; Tuolumne County, City of Sonora and Tuolumne County Economic Development Governing Board on transparency and oversight of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority; Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Center; and Groveland Community Services District.
August 11, 2018
The Union Democrat
By Lyn Riddle
[Alameda County] Oakland Unified may eliminate nearly 340 positions in one year to stay fiscally solvent
Layoff decisions must be made by Feb. 28. Possible cuts include classroom teachers.
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
As it grapples with how to deal with its ongoing budget difficulties, one of the state’s more financially troubled districts Wednesday considered a plan that could result in hundreds of staff, including many teachers, being laid off.
Oakland Unified, which is still digging its way out of state receivership imposed on it 15 years ago, is facing continued financial challenges. This is despite getting a major infusion of state funds in recent years intended to help educate low income and other high needs children through the Local Control Funding Formula. The district has also lost a significant number of students to charter schools and has been criticized for budget mismanagement by independent and county officials.
As a result, the district anticipates deficits of $20.3 million in 2019-20 and $59 million in 2020-21 if it doesn’t make $30 million in ongoing cuts a year from now.
In the next few months, Oakland Unified officials will meet with employee unions to identify up to 340 positions that could be eliminated in 2019-20 to balance the district’s budget.
The Oakland school board on Wednesday unanimously agreed to revise the district’s three-year budget to reflect these possible upcoming cuts after the Alameda County Office of Education rejected the budget adopted by the board in June. That budget showed nearly $30 million in budget reductions in books and supplies in 2019-20 and 2020-21, resulting in negative balances of $10 million in those categories for two years in a row.
The county nixed that plan, saying it was not acceptable because it did not comply with the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, which requires Oakland Unified to provide adequate books and materials to students and teachers. To remedy the problem, the district decided to spread the $30 million per year over two years across salaries, benefits, supplies and contracts, based on a separate “commitment to fiscal solvency” resolution the board unanimously approved Wednesday.
It says the district projects it will have negative fund balances of $20.3 million and $59 million respectively each of those two years, so it should consider eliminating at least 234 certificated positions which include teachers and principals and 104 classified, management and confidential positions beginning in 2019-20 to save about $26.4 million. The job cuts must be identified by Feb. 28, along with $400,000 in cuts to books and supplies and $3.5 million in cuts to services and operating expenses. The resolution also requires the board to increase the district’s reserve from the minimum 2 percent to 3 percent “given the district’s history of budget and fiscal miscalculations,” to address “unforeseen budgetary increases.”
Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said during the meeting that the county required more detail from the district because of its past failure to implement needed cuts.
“This is truly the county and the state leaning in more, saying, ‘We expect you to make these reductions as a district that you haven’t in the past,’” she said. “In the past, just saying, ‘We’re going to make the reductions’ would have been good enough. Now, the county is saying, ‘You need to be more prescriptive over where you may make these reductions, so we as a county have more comfort that you are going to make these reductions.’”
The resolution is tentative because the board has not yet identified the specific cuts it will implement to eliminate its deficit, said Marcus Battle, the district’s recently-hired chief business official. It intends to work with unions to identify possible alternatives to layoffs by Jan. 31, according to the resolution. The cuts suggested in the resolution were an example of what the district needs to do if it doesn’t identify other expense reductions or new revenue sources, he said. Battle also noted that the county required the district to identify its cuts by February, in time for layoff notices to be mailed out in March.
Although no union representatives addressed the resolution or revised budget, one teacher noted later in the meeting that the union is at impasse and there is talk of a strike. Although school starts Monday, the district is still trying to fill 29 teacher vacancies, including 19 in special education, Johnson-Trammell said.
Oakland has a history of miscalculating its budget and spending money without proper internal controls, which has been documented in several independent reports by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance organization, or FCMAT, as well as the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury. It is currently paying back a $100 million state loan due to past fiscal distress and is working to address the issues raised by FCMAT and the grand jury.
Johnson-Trammel said this will include “learning from the past,” and changing district culture so that policy changes are implemented effectively.
“We’ve created new policies in the past,” she said. “But sometimes they aren’t always implemented. We need to focus on training.”
The Wednesday board action was required after the county rejected the district’s budget for the 2019-20 school year. “Previously, we did not have to state the details,” Battle said. “We just said the reductions could come from salary, benefits, books, supplies, other line items of expense. But the county requested more specificity.”
Board member Shanthi Gonzales expressed concerns that the resolution “does definitely signal that we expect to be reducing staffing next year.”
She also asked how the majority of reductions ended up in books and supplies, which she had not seen in the budget when the board adopted it in June. Battle struggled to explain this, saying the district’s computer system should have flagged large negative balances in that expense category as an “error.”
“This particular error should have been caught, to be honest with you,” he said, adding that the district’s finance department is being restructured, but currently lacks proper checks and balances to catch such problems.
Gonzalez asked that future budget presentations show three-year trends so board members can see the shifts they are approving.
“Yes,” Battle said. “We are going to get the type of information you want to see early so you can see the trends.”
Two district residents said the budget process lacks transparency.
Mohammed Mordecai, a citizen watchdog who routinely comments on agenda items, said the resolution passed by the board on Wednesday night gives the appearance of a commitment, but was “written in such a way that there is no commitment.”
Mike Hutchinson, who graduated from Oakland public schools and ran unsuccessfully for the school board two years ago, said it was premature for the district to focus on staff cuts.
“It seems all these cuts are going to fall right on the backs of our employees, when we don’t have the minimum staff to run the district,” he said, adding that he believed contracts with outside consultants should be cut. “The problem was, when you voted on the last budget, there were no budget breakdowns at all…We have to do business a different way, otherwise this is going to keep happening.”
Board President Aimee Eng said the board has created a special committee to identify budget reductions that will begin meeting later this month.
The board also learned that the governor’s final budget will force Oakland Unified to cut another $2.2 million from its 2018-19 budget, due to lower-than-anticipated one-time funds. Although the governor’s budget increased the cost of living adjustment for school districts from 3 percent to 3.71 percent, it reduced one-time funding from $344 per student to $184 per student, resulting in a net loss of $2.2 million for the district, said Ofelia Roxas, the district’s newly-hired chief financial officer. This change will be reflected in the board’s September budget presentation.
Several board members called the budget picture “sobering,” but a few pointed out that the district is also exploring options for selling or leasing surplus property, which could help ease its fiscal stress.
“We’re sitting on the most sought-after asset in Oakland, which is land,” said board member Roseann Torres.
August 9, 2018
By Theresa Harrington
The Santa Maria City Council responded to a Santa Barbara Barbara County grand jury report on Aug. 7. The city's answer included two recommendations, which Santa Maria officials say the city has already implemented, as well as several findings that the city partially disagreed with and noted in its letter, sent by Mayor Alice Patino.
The council met after the Sun's press time but was expected to ratify the letter's contents unanimously, according to city staff.
In all, the city partially disputed several findings, including its state Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) plan's solvency, which the jury said was at high risk.
While the city agreed with the jury that its funding ratios were lower than it "would like," officials argued that the funding ratios identified by the jury were "not a predictor of a plan's solvency." Instead, a lower ratio is "a signal that action may need to be taken to improve the ratio over the long term."
The grand jury noted in one of its findings that Santa Maria faced greater pension risk because of its relatively low general fund revenue per capita, which currently is less than 50 percent of Santa Barbara's and less than 67 percent when compared to Lompoc.
"Santa Maria has taken steps to end employer contributions in lieu of employee contributions in its pension plans," the jury stated. "This step moves some of the burden of repaying its unfunded pension liabilities from the city to its active employees."
For the most part, the city agreed with this finding from the jury but took exception to two key points. Spokespersons for Santa Maria argued that the grand jury did not take all factors into account when it came to the general fund.
"For example the grand jury's analysis does not take into account that Santa Maria has (both currently and historically) a much lower number of employee-to-population ratio than Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Lompoc," the city said in its response. "In fact, Santa Maria's employee-to-population ratio at 4.76 (per 1,000 residents) is almost half that of Santa Barbara's ratio of 9.26, San Luis Obispo's 8.93, and Lompoc's 8.14."
Another factor the city noted was that not all pension costs are funded by general fund revenues and that the grand jury did not take into account new or significant changes in the city's revenues. One example listed was the retail development at Enos Ranch, which Santa Maria officials say will provide a steady revenue stream and increase city tax revenue.
The letter is scheduled to be sent to the grand jury following the Aug. 7 City Council meeting.
August 8, 2018
Santa Maria Sun
By Spencer Cole
[Tuolumne County] Business owners rally around Tuolumne County Economic Development executive director
Local business owners came to the defense of the Tuolumne Economic Development Authority’s executive director at a special meeting Wednesday night that was called by the agency’s governing board to address a scathing Grand Jury report for the first time.
At least 90 people attended the meeting that was held in the county Board of Supervisors chambers, as opposed to a much smaller conference room at the TCEDA’s headquarters where meetings are typically held.
The move was in anticipation of a larger turnout than normal because of the controversy surrounding the agency since the jury’s report was released in June.
The report’s findings painted a picture of an agency that, among other things, lacked effective oversight and wasn’t being managed in a way typical of entities that are funded by taxpayer dollars.
Fifteen people relayed their personal experiences with Larry Cope, who has headed the agency since its inception in 2008, and effusively praised him for the ways in which he has provided assistance to their business or nonprofit.
Julia Rhodes, a former teacher who owns a company in the county that manufactures dry-erase products, said she was struggling to understand the ins and outs of business before the agency was created.
Rhodes said after the meeting that she and other business owners would likely leave the county if they no longer had an advocate like Cope.
David Morgan, of Sonora, found the testimonials about Cope to be a distraction from the purpose of the meeting — to look at the apparent issues that were reported by the jury.
“It seems there is kind of a cult of personality here about Larry Cope,” he said. “I’m hoping we can focus on the TCEDA and not the person, because he might not always be there.”
Ten other people who spoke at the meeting were also critical of the agency based on what the jury reported and demanded the board take action to correct the issues.
Sonora activist Elizabeth Harper referred to the agency’s $460,000 annual budget, 77 percent of which is funded by the county and 23 percent by the city, as “lavish” compared to other departments in the county that have suffered cutbacks for years.
Harper concluded her statements calling for the agency to be disbanded.
Prior to asking for public comment, the TCEDA board went over the proposed responses to the jury’s findings and recommendations that were presented by Deputy County Counsel Carlyn Drivdahl, who serves as the agency’s legal adviser.
The responses were still in the draft stage and won’t be formally approved until the TCEDA board members have time to provide any changes at their next meeting, which is currently scheduled for Sept. 14.
According to the proposed responses, the board would agree that businesses have an inconsistent awareness of the agency’s existence and that its policy on entertaining clients is loosely interpreted beyond the original intent.
The jury reported that more than half of the meals purchased using the agency’s entertainment budget, which is intended for prospective clients, appeared to have been spent on wining and dining public officials and members of the TCEDA board themselves.
“The TCEDA Board fully agrees that it can and should better define terms it uses, such as partners, prospects and clients so it is clear to all when establishing goals and reporting on the same,” the proposed response stated.
Most of the other proposed responses agreed or disagreed only in part with the jury’s findings, including that TCEDA board members and Cope appear to be in conflict of interest because they serve on multiple interrelated boards.
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer, an alternate on the TCEDA board who stood in for District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan because she couldn’t attend, said he assumed that all of the board members had been vetted for conflicts of interest and asked Drivdahl if that was true.
Drivdahl replied she was looking into that as part of a wider review of the agency.
One of the more talked about findings from those critical of the TCEDA was that Cope’s vacation policy allowed him to cash out 720 hours of vacation time and used a total of 120 hours from 2015 to 2017.
According to the TCEDA board’s proposed response, Cope belongs to the labor union representing county executives that has an agreement allowing for its members to cash out up to 200 hours of leave each year as long as the member would have at least 80 hours remaining, with the exception of “extraordinary circumstances” that must be approved by the TCEDA approved.
The proposed response stated that prior approval for the cash-out in excess of 200 hours was sought and granted in Cope’s case.
Larry Beil, a retired county employee, pointed out that the agreement also requires the employee to have used at least 80 hours within the last year in order to be approved for a cash-out and argued that Cope should have to pay the county back because he only used 120 hours over a three-year period.
The jury also reported that Cope had been in England from Sept. 11, 2017, to Oct. 9, 2017, but only listed four of the days as vacation and the rest as comp time or remote working.
While the proposed response to the finding acknowledged the listing of comp time was an “inadvertent error,” it also listed 21 tasks Cope had performed while out of the country that included corresponding with clients, updating the website, and working on other projects related to economic development.
“I believe it is important that, when possible, everyone takes a vacation and some time off,” said District 4 Supervisor John Gray, who serves as chairman of TCEDA board. “As you can see from Ms. Drivdahl’s response, Mr. Cope has a difficult task that doesn’t stop because he’s not there.”
Matt Hawkins, a Sonora City Councilman who recently replaced Councilwoman Connie Williams on the TCEDA board, asked Cope how many hours he works per week.
Cope said he worked “probably 80 hours a week” during the 2013 Rim Fire and while simultaneously running the Central Sierra Economic Development District, though he currently is working “somewhere around 75 hours a week” because his former office assistant recently quit.
The proposed responses stated that the jury’s recommendation for the TCEDA to obtain certification from the California Joint Powers Association will not be implemented because doing so would require an annual independent audit that could cost as much as $10,000 per year. It also stated the county Auditor-Controller’s Office already conducts an annual audit of the agency.
Auditor-Controller Debi Bautista, however, clarified that her office does an audit of all transactions that occur throughout the entire county government but has never conducted a “full-fledged independent audit” of the TCEDA’s books.
Several people supported the idea of investing in an annual independent audit of the agency to improve the public’s perception of it. Rodefer recommended discussing the issue further at a strategic planning session that the board is planning to hold at a still yet-to-be-determined date.
One of the proposed responses disagreed with the jury’s finding that the TCEDA’s refusal to disclose information on interactions with private businesses could be a violation of the Brown Act, the state law guaranteeing access to meetings of local governing bodies.
The jury reported that the agency wouldn’t disclose information to support claims that it was involved with nearly $400 million in capital investment projects that would create more than 2,000 jobs at an average wage of $20 an hour.
Gary Dambacher, a local attorney, said he’s referred clients to Cope over the years and has found that his clients want their information to remain confidential.
“In my view, confidentiality is the cornerstone of economic development and that’s why confidentiality is so crucial to the work that Larry does,” he said, before praising Cope’s performance.
Marvin Keshner, of Sonora, said he understood the need for keeping clients’ future plans under wraps, but he believed there shouldn’t be a reason to withhold information about assistance that has already been provided.
Keshner worked as an executive at tech-industry giant Hewlett-Packard for 25 years and said his former company would have been “delighted” to disclose how many jobs they were creating in a given area.
The issue over the agency’s refusal to disclose detailed information about the work it has completed over the years is at the center of a pending lawsuit filed by Sonora resident Ken Perkins, who spoke at the meeting on Wednesday.
Perkins said the county should not conduct an audit until his lawsuit is over and vowed that he wouldn’t settle unless the county provides the information he requested, or acknowledged that it doesn’t exist.
The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in Tuolumne County Superior Court on Nov. 16.
Earlier in the meeting, the board also voted 6-0-1 to approve a plan for giving away the remaining equipment at the TCEDA’s InnovationLab that’s scheduled to close later this month four years after it opened.
Rodefer recused himself from the discussion because his wife, Jo Rodefer, serves on the governing board for Columbia Union School District, which requested the equipment because it plans to open a technology lab that would be open to the public at certain times.
August 8, 2018
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean