Thursday, May 31, 2018
[Marin County] Editorial: Grand jury asks a good question — is Marin ready for its aging demographic?
The 2017-18 Marin County Civil Grand Jury is not the first civil panel to shine a public spotlight on the need to improve services for Marin’s growing senior population.
Its recommendation that the county create an emergency shelter for seniors is worth consideration, but there are likely many ways other than establishing a brick-and-mortar year-round shelter to address that need.
The grand jury report asks an important question in its title, “Marin is Aging: Are We Ready?” This question has been asked and addressed before, but the need continues to grow faster than our response.
By 2030, according to population trends cited in the report, more than one-third of Marin’s population will be over 60. Today, that number stands at about 27 percent and Marin, by far, has the oldest population in the state.
That raises numerous issues, many of which Marin has worked to address, including effective outreach and care for seniors still living in their homes; the addition of senior housing, especially housing that’s affordable to older households living on fixed incomes; and transportation for seniors who need convenient ways to get around our county.
And certainly, this demographic trend puts pressure on the local job market, from the need to fill jobs that provide services to this population to filling jobs of local retirees. But it’s in an area lacking the same access to affordable housing that those seniors saw when they started their careers.
The results of that demographic dynamic can be seen every day in Marin’s commute-hour jam. Local employers face a steep challenge recruiting and retaining those workers.
But while those challenges need to be a focus of the county and Marin cities, the grand jury report rightly takes the issue a step further. For example, encouraging officials to take a more active role in securing state funding for treatment of seniors with mental illness and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
To Marin’s credit, the report says this county “goes beyond” state and federal requirements for senior programs.
But there is room for improvement and the report recommends Marin look into a program in Sacramento that provides emergency shelter — a “safe house” — for at-risk seniors, those who need to get away from situations of physical and verbal abuse, financial exploitation or neglect.
County officials question whether there is enough demand for a year-round permanent shelter, but in its review of the grand jury’s report and recommendations, they should provide facts and figures and possible effective alternatives instead of the cursory dismissal often found in agencies’ responses to grand jury reports.
The grand jury is asking a valid question, one that needs to be addressed and answered by the county and every city. Only by raising and asking this question — “Are We Ready?” — can we be better prepared for changes and challenges.
May 30, 2018
Marin Independent Journal
FAIRFIELD — There is a “lack of trust” and a “lack of transparency” between local government officials and Humane Animal Services, the company contracted to handle some the county’s animal control services, according to a Solano County Grand Jury report issued Tuesday.
The report states that officials with local police departments have “trepidation” about the financial side of the contract that Humane Animal Services has with local agencies and concerns about whether the nonprofit company is using taxpayer dollars appropriately.
The report recommends dumping Humane Animal Services to find an agency that provides “appropriate fiscal information” or alternatively to “review, renegotiate and rethink” the current contract.
The report also faults local government agencies for not complying with state laws requiring the licensing of dogs and certifying their rabies vaccinations.
“(T)he required licensing earned very little attention from enforcement entities and is currently dependent on pet owners’ voluntary compliance with the law.” Police and Sheriff’s officials responsible for enforcing those laws admit that the percentage of licensed dogs in the county is “very low” the report states.
The report claimed local law enforcement agencies have “a lack of interest to the point that pet owners were sometimes turned away when they tried to get their animals licensed.”
Dog licenses can be obtained at Petdata.com. Petdata is a Texas-based company. The county pays Petdata $100,000 annually for dog license processing services as part of a three-year contract. Pet owners submit a rabies vaccination certificate or Solano County renewal notice if the rabies vaccinations are still current.
May 30, 2018
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Jess Sullivan
Mendocino County grand jury suggests improvements on In-Home Supportive Services program for seniors
The Mendocino County grand jury found in a 2017-2018 report that more needs to be done by the county to make sure that the In-Home Supportive Services program effectively operates for the growing aging population in Mendocino County.
The In-Home Supportive Services program is designed to help elderly and disabled individuals stay safely in their own homes with the assistance of a caregiver and is expected to increase in importance in the future as Mendocino County’s aging population increases.
To be eligible for the program, people must be Medi-Cal eligible and have a statement of need from a physician. The program’s ability to keep 1,774 people in their homes in 2015-2016, according to the report, shows how important the program can be to the county.
Despite its importance, there were problems with some of the details of the program. The report stated that the public is generally unaware of the function and benefits of the In-Home Supportive Services program due to a lack of easily accessible information online.
Some of the talking points and directions to find a caregiver are vague or not available on the website. The grand jury looked for an application form online and didn’t see any links available on the county website. The jury found a listing on the state website, but the link from the state to the county didn’t have a phone number or other contact information.
The report found that the Mendocino County’s IHSS program was rated last of the 58 counties in 2016 for failure to timely file state-required reports. In 2017, Mendocino County improved to 97 percent compliant in meeting the reporting standards due in part to an increase in some staffing.
Under the current system, recipients of IHHS hire and fire caregivers, sign caregivers’ timecards, monitor activity and give instructions. Those incapable of monitoring may designate a guardian to take on those responsibilities.
The 1,557 caregivers in Mendocino County, the majority of whom are family, take care of personal and domestic tasks like laundry, cleaning and shopping. The caregiver base pay rate in Mendocino County is currently $11 an hour.
Other people involved in the program are social workers, home care coordinators and nurse case managers. Social workers assess the recipient’s needs and visit annually to make sure problems are not appearing. The Home Care Coordinator/Social Worker Assistant makes a home visit two weeks after the program starts and then monthly after that.
The Nurse Case Manager is a crucial position that coordinates lists with social workers. They also evaluate clients, review current files, create nursing files, complete various documents, update treatment plans, and consult with officials of other agencies. However, the grand jury found that many of these positions in the county are still not filled.
The report stated that “As of the date of this report, there are no nurse case managers in IHSS. It is not clear that all or any of these tasks are being completed in the absence of nurse case managers. According to Mendocino County Human Resources, the nurse case manager in Ukiah left the position on July 29, 2017. This position has not been filled and, as of August 1, 2017, the request to fill the position was withdrawn and replaced by a Social Worker III position. The Fort Bragg incumbent left the position on November 18, 2017. The Fort Bragg position was requested to be filled on December 18, 2017. As of the date of this report, the position has not been filled.”
In total, the grand jury found that:
1. The continuous vacancies within all levels of IHSS impairs the ability of this department to function as intended and required.
2. The non-competitive salaries are a major factor in the vacancies.
3. The public is generally unaware of the function and benefits of this program.
4. Caregivers may choose from a variety of helping tasks and may exclude tasks they are not comfortable performing, which is helpful in recruitment.
5. Currently, IHSS staff expends the effort needed to cover vacant positions.
6. The lack of an IHSS nurse case manager causes deficiencies in the services offered by the program.
7. The website does not provide adequate information, which is a barrier to anyone trying to access the program.
The report recommended that:
1. All IHSS vacancies at the county level be filled in order to implement and manage this program effectively.
2. Adjust salaries to be competitive with other rural counties.
3. Increase public awareness of the IHSS program through marketing strategies.
4. Emphasize flexibility in choosing tasks when recruiting for providers.
5. Change the website to include all pertinent contact information, forms, and complaint procedures and phone numbers.
May 29, 2018
Ukiah Daily Journal
By Curtis Driscoll
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
A new Ventura County Grand Jury report says people served by a coastal community services district are being overcharged.
The Grand Jury examined the funding for the Seabridge Community Facilities District #4, which serves some 500 property owners in Oxnard’s Mandalay Beach area. The district is intended to help pay for essential but unfunded services for the 150 acre area.
The report concludes the City of Oxnard underbudgeted for Ventura County operated Channel Islands Harbor Patrol services, as well as some maintenance costs, and used some of the district’s reserves to deal with the shortfalls.
It also says tax increases levied over the years on the property owners often exceeded the two percent permitted under the district’s bylaws. The Grand Jury is calling on the city to stop tapping into the district’s reserves, and for the special district to stick to the two percent cap on annual increases.
May 29, 2018
By Lance Orozco
The Ventura County Grand Jury has called for independent oversight to make sure Ventura County Medical Center complies with federal rules for a discounted drug program.
The Ventura-based hospital and other healthcare facilities serving needy patients buy the drugs at significant discounts. Medicare and private insurers reimburse the institutions at higher rates, allowing the providers to keep the difference and pay for expanded patient services, officials said.
But recent federal audits showed VCMC and other providers had violated rules for the 340B program, resulting in repayments to the drug companies.
In a 2015 audit, the medical center was faulted for issues related to purchasing rules, dispensing of the outpatient drugs to ineligible patients and inventory control. Drug manufacturers may also have issued discounts both to VCMC and the Medi-Cal insurance program for low-income and disabled patients, resulting in duplicate discounts, county officials said.
The grand jury said total duplicative discounts exceeded $3 million, a figure VCMC Pharmacy Director Jason Arimura says is actually no higher than $2.1 million. But he agreed with the grand jury’s recommendation that a knowledgeable outside specialist shoud be brought in to help supervise VCMC’s internal corrections plan.
County officials had already decided to do that before the grand jury’s report was issued in late April, he said.
“I think it’s reasonable,” he said. “We are in the process of seeing what vendors are out there to provide those services.”
The debt has been a moving target over the years. Arimura said the liability was originally estimated at close to $15 million to $19 million, based on all drugs purchased through the program. Negotiations with drug makers, analysis by consultants and repayment of $861,000 have reduced the outstanding amount to about $1.4 million, he said.
May 29, 2018
Ventura County Star
By Kathleen Wilson
Inmate populations exceed capacity, and several adult facilities lack outdoor rec areas, the grand jury said after touring several jails
SAN DIEGO COUNTY, CA – The Sheriff's Department should work to bring the population at adult detention facilities into compliance with state-rated capacity figures, the San Diego County grand jury recommended Tuesday.
The grand jurors found the inmate population at several jails exceeded the Board of State Community Corrections-rated capacity when they visited the facilities.
The grand jury toured seven adult facilities operated by the Sheriff's Department and four juvenile detention facilities operated by the county Probation Department in preparation for its annual report on the condition and management of county detention facilities.
Grand jury members observed no outdoor recreation areas in several adult detention facilities and recommended that the Sheriff's Department consider developing an incentive-based physical education program tied to inmates' personal goals.
The Sheriff's Department should also improve the way it assesses recidivism to permit evaluation of the success of re-entry programs, the grand jury said in its report.
The grand jury also recommended that the Probation Department improve programs aimed at reducing violence in the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. There were nearly 100 violent incidents in that facility last year, mostly triggered by gang affiliation, the report said.
In general, the grand jury found the detention facilities were clean and in good condition, adequately staffed, following established procedures and providing inmates access to medical, dental and mental health care.
May 29, 2018
Imperial Beach Patch
By California News Wire Service
[San Luis Obispo County] SLO County only has 16 beds for thousands of mentally ill residents. That's not OK
Roughly 5,000 residents of San Luis Obispo County have severe mental illnesses. But the county’s psychiatric health facility has only 16 beds. Now, that’s crazy.
I read those numbers in the May 16 issue of The Tribune. They were in a front-page story under the headline “Grand jury: Mental health services fall short.” So the question now is: Will the county supervisors do what’s right to relieve the otherwise inevitable suffering?
The figure of 5,000 mentally ill residents is obviously an estimate, and some of them probably have medical insurance. Others may get financial help or care from relatives. But it seems safe to guess that far more than 16 of them are unable to pay for their needed psychiatric hospitalization.
And “suffering” is not too strong a word to use when we remember 36-year-old Andrew Holland of Atascadero.
He‘d had schizophrenia since his early 20s. Last year he was in county jail for battery, resisting an officer and probation violations. On Jan. 20, 2017, he was strapped into a restraint chair.
After 46 continuous hours in that chair, he was returned to a cell where he died an hour later from a blood clot in a lung. His parents received $5 million from the county.
If the county had an adequate psychiatric health facility, Andrew Holland might have been in it, getting treated for his mental illness instead of being sent to jail, where he just sank deeper into his illness. With proper treatment, he might still be alive today.
Mental illness comes in many forms, some treatable and some maybe not. And mental illness may be more common than we think.
My late wife, Mamie, battled bouts of depression for years. They stopped, but during her final 10 years she sank slowly into the delusions and frights of Alzheimer’s disease.
Mamie still had three years to live when, in August 2014, my thinking became disorganized. I had developed slow internal bleeding on my brain after bumping my head. It required immediate surgery, followed by several weeks of therapy. During that period, she and I both lived in the same nursing home.
I became aware of mental illness in my boyhood. Back in about 1940, I was 10 years old and we lived in rural New York State.
At dinner one Sunday, we noticed a woman was walking and trotting around and around our house. She lived in the next house down the road.
My mother went out and brought her in. The neighbor was very upset. She believed the family doctor was trying to steal her baby. She also believed there were dead bodies in the woods across the road. She was soon committed to a state hospital.
But at least she was admitted to that mental hospital and got treatment. Our county supervisors should listen to the grand jury and provide a proper mental hospital.
May 29, 2018
San Luis Obispo Tribune
Over the Hill column by Phil Dirkx
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Blog note: this opinion piece notes that the 2017-18 grand jury endorsed the strategy.
Growing community consensus behind the “Housing First” strategy for effectively responding to Marin’s homeless problem is promising.
The Marin Organizing Committee, longtime advocates for creating another year-round emergency shelter, has endorsed the program, which places homeless people in longer-term, county-subsidized apartments.
The committee, which grew from a coalition of Marin parishes, has provided sites and volunteers for Marin’s Rotating Emergency Shelter Team program that has provided a safe night-time respite to homeless men and women during cold and wet months.
Recently, the 2017-18 Marin County Civil Grand Jury’s report endorsed the “Housing First” strategy, but also stressed the county needs to come up with a replacement for REST, which was started as an emergency stop-gap nearly 10 years ago while the county came up with a better plan.
The Marin Organizing Committee for many years promoted the creation of another year-round shelter. We supported its vision, but sadly finding a politically acceptable location proved difficult.
The committee’s decision to discontinue the REST program is understandable. So is its trust in the “Housing First” model, which has garnered support from the county, cities and many nonprofits involved in providing services to help the homeless.
Since the start of the county’s program in October, 32 men and women, considered chronically homeless, have found housing. That’s an impressive start.
The goal is to within four years make a difference in getting people off the streets.
It is an ambitious plan and one that is going to take strong community support, especially for programs that provide individual help, counseling, health care and support. The county calls it “whole person care,” a premise that housing can reduce costly problems such as interaction with law enforcement, trips in emergency rooms and a cyclical dependence on social services.
But “Housing First” relies on finding housing, which is no easy feat in our high-priced county and will likely require the county and cities to support construction — which also is not easy around here.
The building of a community consensus in support of this initiative is a positive sign in the county’s dealing with a growing issue, one that people complain about because it has become so visible, but one that is far larger than what we can see.
Still, a sign of effective solutions will be a reduction in the number of homeless people found in our downtowns and parklands, in our jails and in our hospital emergency rooms.
May 28, 2018
Marin Independent Journal
Sunday, May 27, 2018
A county grand jury report raised issues about safety at the California's Men's Colony this week.
The prison is separated into a high-security area (the east facility) and a lower-security area (the west facility). The higher-security side is where inmates are locked in cells and generally controlled most of the day.
As required by law, CMC goes through an annual inspection. This year, the grand jury found deficiencies says it's concerned about fire and safety standards in the higher-security area, which has aging buildings.
"The staff and inmates are aware of this hazard and take appropriate precautions," the report said.
However, the grand jury did not make any recommendations on changes that need to be made.
The report also mentioned positive findings, such as adequate incentives for prisoners to participate in programming classes and sessions; sufficient time for programs to be effective prior to prisoner eligibility for release; and a new kitchen is under construction in the west facility.
May 26, 2018
KSBY San Luis Obispo News
By Kayla Cash
FAIRFIELD — The Solano County Grand Jury issued a report Thursday faulting a “small number of commercial property owners” who exploit the property valuation appeals process to put off paying taxes, in some cases for nearly a decade.
The report does not identify the commercial property owners who have paid what they claim is the proper amount of taxes, sometimes half or even a quarter of what the county assessor’s office deems is the correct market value of the properties.
State law mandates counties’ property tax rate appeals process must not take more than two years.
Grand Jury members found appeals still unresolved dating as far as 2009 and 43 appeals dating to 2015 and beyond. The total amount of property taxes in dispute, revenue the county has not received, is more than $3.8 billion. The assessor values the disputed properties at nearly $6.2 billion while the property owners claim the accurate value is only about $2.3 billion. Property owners do not need an appraisal or any supporting evidence to justify their estimate of their land’s value.
In some instances, a few property owners dispute the assessor’s valuation year after year, sometimes on parcels of vacant land.
The Grand Jury raised concern that the risk of procedural error, missed deadlines or pursing litigation involving the assessment appeals process could cost the county tens of millions of dollars.
The report recommended the Board of Supervisors and county lawyers take “all available measures” to end the “regular pattern or repeated, prolonged appeals that expose Solano County to unnecessary risk and potential financial loss.”
May 26, 2018
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Jess Sullivan
FAIRFIELD — The Solano County Grand Jury issued a report Thursday blasting the county’s Department of Health and Social Services and it’s management and oversight of its In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program.”
Labeling management of the program as “seriously deficient,” the Grand Jury goes on to say, “the (d)epartment has progressively failed to meet minimum state-required quality assurance standards and had made little effort to mitigate fraud or collect overpayments.”
The county’s IHSS program pays caregivers hired by functionally impaired elderly, blind and disabled residents with the goal of helping them remain living in their homes. In Solano County, more than half the caregivers are family members. The county pays them $11.50 per hour and their hours are reported by the service recipient.
IHSS is overseen by three social workers whose jobs are supposed to include annual reviews, unannounced home visits, regular directed mailings, reassessments of need and anti-fraud measures.
The Grand Jury’s criticisms included quoting from a 2017 internal control audit of the IHSS program that found among other things:
• Case workers did not complete the minimum required amount of file reviews and home visits during the two previous fiscal years.
• Required annual reassessments were not performed in a timely manner.
• No required unannounced home visits were done during the previous fiscal year.
• Reports of fraud were not investigated in a timely manner.
• Overpayments exceeding more than $500 were not forwarded to legal authorities for investigation.
• Quarterly reports to the state contained errors, omissions and apparent misrepresentations of program data.
The Grand Jury report compared IHSS quality with programs in four other counties for fiscal years 2013 through 2015. The other counties’ IHSS staff maintained 100 percent of required home visits while Solano County’s went from 100 percent down to zero. Required file reviews were kept at 100 percent in the other counties while Solano County’s fell from 80 percent to 25 percent.
The Grand Jury reported that since 2012 there have been no referrals to the local District Attorney’s office for IHSS fraud, that potential fraud cases referred to state authorities have been returned to local authorities for prosecution and no caregivers have been suspended or removed because of program fraud.
The Grand Jury said the IHSS program managers have a “prevailing practice of regulatory non-compliance as an operational team.” The Grand Jury recommended the Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Birgitta E. Corsello hold Health and Social Services management accountable.
May 26, 2018
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Jess Sullivan
Looked at operations and facilities
MONTEREY, Calif. - The Monterey County Civil Grand Jury has wrapped up a report looking at the Monterey Police Department’s operations and facilities.
It originally planned to inquire into the jails, prisons and places of incarceration throughout the county. However, one conversation led to another and eventually the report changed focus to look at safety concerns and staffing.
Police Chief Dave Hober took KION on a "behind the scenes" tour of the building, which was originally opened in 1962 for a police force of about 30. Today, there are 53 sworn officers and 19 professional positions.
Like other law enforcement agencies, Monterey Police has a staffing shortage. The jury found the department needs another 12 officers to get to the state standard of 2.32 officers per 1,000 residents.
"Police officers are very expensive,” Hober said. “The city council has added two officers last fiscal year, and I think there's some consideration for the future and that helps us as well because we're always about 10-20 percent down in what I call our "street ready" officer and that is because when we're in the process of trying to hire, we are never fully up to where we need to be."
There’s a small holding facility where up to ten people can stay for up to 72 hours. Hober said it saves time from having to bring people to the main jail in Salinas.
“We're 40 minutes from Salinas, or an hour or more if there's traffic,” Hober said. “It's very beneficial for us to have a jail facility because then we can hold people here for less than the 72 hours, which then means I have those limited police officers that are not spending the two hours traveling back and forth to Salinas. They're actually here serving the community in Monterey so it's a great help to us to have our own city jail."
The report also addressed some concerns with the actual police department building. The jury found the facility was clean and well-maintained, noting staff had worked to rehab and maintain the facility through staff projects which were performed on their own time.
However it noted the locker rooms were inadequate to meet the need of the officers, saying the passageway between the rows of lockers were barely wide enough for an officer to pass through.
It also voiced concerns of the absence of a “sally port,” which is described as a “secure area where arrestees can be safely transferred from police cars to the booking area and temporary holding cells.”
The report recommended securing the parking lot area with a chain link fence with razor wire, as well as an electronically controlled gate, to make sure patrol cars and officers’ personal cars were safe.
PD has tried to mitigate the public from roaming around by adding signage and restricting parking.
The grand jury recommended a new public safety facility for the police department, but also admitted that funding is a major factor.
“The city council has to figure out what's best for the city to serve the citizens, so, while all that stuff is great and the police department certainly appreciates having more police officers or a new public safety building, at the same time it's understandable that we need to do other things like for the fire department, for the library, for the streets and all of those kinds of things," Hober said.
May 25, 2018
By Mariana Hicks
Saturday, May 26, 2018
Following a second incident in just a few years over “handshake agreements,” the city of Banning is preparing an official policy to address the use of public resources involving city labor and equipment when it comes to providing services to private parties.
The Riverside County Grand Jury’s April 30 report determined that a city council member verbally directed the city manager to assist a local auto dealership by trimming brush along Interstate 10 that was obscuring visual access to the property, a project that was completed in 2017.
Councilman Art Welch explained at the May 22 council meeting that he was approached by an employee at Diamond Hills Chevrolet Buick GMC seeking advice as to whether the city could do anything about the overgrown shrubbery along the freeway, and he recommended that they inquire with the city manager at the time.
According to Welch, that was the extent of his involvement in the case.
In the report it is noted that city council directed the Finance Department to recover the costs of staff and equipment; through a few invoices, the city received $3,459.64 from Diamond Hills auto center.
No application to the city or Caltrans was ever filled out and reviewed for approval as an expense by city council prior to the brush removal.
That lack of a paper trail and the perception of a handshake agreement caused issues for the Banning, San Gorgonio Pass Area Chamber of Commerce, which relied on a verbal agreement from years past allowing the chamber to pay just a $1 lease per year, and was not billed utilities for more than a decade.
That grand jury report from 2016 suggested to the city that it stop doing handshake agreements.
Once again, a grand jury report is issuing a similar recommendation among its findings: “The City immediately discontinue and prohibit the use of undocumented and informal ‘handshake’ agreements” and “adopt strict policies for formalizing agreements with private parties,” which would be reviewed by the city manager and evaluated by the city attorney.
Councilwoman Daniela Andrade pointed out, “Since the grand jury report says that we need to establish a policy, I think that’s what we need to start doing.” She made the motion on the floor to direct staff to prepare an ordinance and to restrict directives specifically through the city manager.
The motion passed 5-0.
Other recommendations from the grand jury calls on the city manager to review all contracts and agreements to ensure terms affecting liabilities that might be borne by the city; establish a policy to review and update city policies and procedures on a regular basis, which should be made public and possibly placed on the city’s Web site; the city should review and revise hiring and recruitment processes and procedures, and incorporate and outline expectations and performance measures into the recruitment process for the city manager (city councilmembers must comply with the city ordinance and work with city administrative services exclusively through the city manager (which is what councilmember Welch did in regards to a member of the public requesting the city’s help to benefit a private business); the city must establish a policy for training, including ethics in government, code of conduct, proper chain of command, transparency in government, Brown Act obligations); and conduct a biennial review of the financial burden to the city of any tax-sharing agreements that are more than five years-old.
According to the staff report, several components were already in the works prior to receiving the latest grand jury report.
According to the city’s staff report: the former practice of “handshake” agreements has been discontinued and staff is developing a policy”; the city manager already reviews all contracts and agreements; the staff has been developing a policy regarding agreements with governmental and nongovernmental parties; the city went through a review of policies in 2017 with the city’s insurance firm, which determined that the best course of action is to hire a human resources firm to update employee and human resource-related policies, and is preparing a request for proposal to proceed; and, in regards to establishing a policy for training of new councilmembers, “The city staff attempted to provide all of the referenced training after the last election; however, the council postponed the training due to a request for the training to include International City Manager Association code of ethics for city managers,” for which the city manager would develop a policy for the council to approve.
That last component was reflected in a statement for the Record Gazette by councilwoman Debbie Franklin after the meeting.
When asked why the city did not have an ordinance in place after the 2016 grand jury recommended one, she said, “A challenge has been that every time someone leaves, we’re back to square one again,” in reference to turnover with staff and city managers — the latest being interim city manager Alex Diaz.
May 25, 2018
By David James Heiss
Every year, 19 citizens come together to address the public’s concerns regarding the operations of local government entities. This group, known as the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury, is appointed by the presiding judge of the superior court and commits to serving one year investigating governmental activities.
According to current foreman Ward Downs, the grand jury takes up investigations three ways. The first is through citizen complaints. The jury receives at least 30 complaints or more a year from the public, Downs said.
“We can’t take every complaint. Some of them are not valid. Some have not exhausted all of their alternatives,” Downs said. “Before they come to the grand jury they should check with an agency that should have jurisdiction over whatever their problem is.”
The jury will also take up investigations if the previous year’s grand jury was unable to complete an investigation.
“If a complaint comes in to us in May, there’s just not enough time because you have to interview people and get information,” Downs said. “A previous grand jury may suggest the next grand jury takes a look at it, but that grand jury has total say as to whether they want to go through with it or not.”
Another way the jury takes up an investigation is if one of the grand jury members have concerns.
The grand jury prioritizes the complaints, jury member concerns and incomplete investigations from the previous year and chooses which ones they would like to look into.
Then they spend the year investigating these concerns by conducting interviews, gathering documents and collecting data. By then end of the year grand jury members typically have conducted more than 100 interviews.
The jury also has subpoenaing power, and by law anyone summoned must appear before the jury or face a charge of contempt of court.
Through investigations the jury examines all aspects of county government, including schools districts, special assessment districts and detention facilities. They also investigate the administration and affairs of any city within the county.
From the investigation jury members develop a set of facts from interviews, documents and data collected. In order for information to become a fact, Downs said the grand jury has to get three sources to confirm it.
“If somebody says this guy is misusing the county car, well that’s not enough. We need two other forms of verification,” Downs said.
Once the facts have been determined the jury is able to identify the findings. According to Downs, identifying a finding s when the grand jury takes the set of facts and makes a judgment on them.
For any of the negative findings, the grand jury makes recommendations for addressing the issues. The findings and recommendations are laid out in a report released to the public after the investigation is completed.
The reports are reviewed by several committees within the grand jury, and must be approved by 12 out of 19 jury members before being released. The report must be sent to the agency under investigation at least two days before it is released to the public.
The number of investigations conducted by the grand jury varies. Last year, the jury conducted six investigations. Since 1999, the grand jury has conducted more than 115 investigations. Downs noted a memorable investigation the grand jury conducted in 2012-13. After investigating six of the county’s 21 group home operators who ran 28 of the 44 group homes in the county, the grand jury found that due to a lack of inspections by state and county agencies some of the operators had skirted state law and placed the youth at risk. As result of the investigation, the state devoted more money for inspectors.
Through its investigations the grand jury works very closely with the district attorney and the courts. Sometimes they jury may come across criminal activity in its investigations and when that happens, the jury forwards the matter to the district attorney.
In addition to conducting investigations, the grand jury is able to request presentations from various county agencies and visit agency facilities. Recently, jury members were able to participate in the public testing of the ballot scanners to ensure accuracy in the June 5 primary election.
According to Downs and grand jury vice forewoman Ruth Brown, becoming a part of the grand jury is a great learning experience and an opportunity to give back to the community.
“It’s been great getting to know everyone, meeting with everyone every week and doing what we can to help San Joaquin County,” Brown said.
Both agreed that being a juror is a huge time commitment that sometimes requires working up to 25 hours a week. Jury members are paid a modest salary of $15 per day for their efforts. The service also requires a lot of reading and writing as well.
“Grand jurors are like reporters in some way, or like teachers as well, but I’ve found in my years serving that almost all grand jurors share certain characteristics,” Downs said. “One is that they are curious. It’s a great way to learn about your community, and they want to give back. They care about the community and making it better.”
Downs and Brown said there is currently a need for diversity on the grand jury, noting that Asians and Hispanics are not well represented.
After going through several applications and conducting a series of interviews and background checks, the presiding judge of the superior court selects a pool of candidates. In June, a random drawing of nominated candidates is held in open court and the new grand jury is selected to begin its year of service on July 1.
In order to become a member of the civil grand jury one must be a citizen of the U.S,, be at least 18 years or older, be a resident of San Joaquin County for at least a year, possess intelligence, sound judgment and good character and have sufficient knowledge of the English language.
Those serving as a trial juror or grand juror in any court in California within the previous year are not eligible to join the civil grand jury.
Those serving as an elected official or who’ve been convicted of malfeasance in office or any other high crimes are also ineligible. Individuals can serve on the jury multiple times.
May 25, 2018
By Danielle Vaughn
Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report and the responses to it.
SANTA CRUZ >> The poorly punctuated threat was written in small, red letters on a Pajaro Valley High School bathroom wall this week.
“There will be a shooting in PV Friday 2:30 warning don’t come to school,” Sgt. Mish Radich said, reciting graffiti that ended with a smiling face — all drawn in permanent marker.
A Watsonville police school-resource officer, who works at the school full-time, started to investigate the threat Tuesday. Additional police officers were assigned to the campus at 500 Harkins Slough Road the rest of the week, Radich said.
“Due to the way the threat was written and how specific it was, we didn’t believe it to be credible,” Radich said. “Also, there was some writing around it that led us to believe it was not credible.”
Schools occasionally receive threats near the academic year’s end, Radich said.
“They happen. People try to stop final exams from happening,” Radich said.
Wednesday, Principal Matthew Levy in a memo to student families said an image of the graffiti appeared on social media. The student who posted that image was interviewed, Levy said.
“This investigation continues today, but at this point, no students or staff have been in danger,” Levy wrote Wednesday.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Alicia Jiménez said increased security is scheduled on campus Friday.
“The school investigated the threat and they are not going to be closing the school,” Jiménez said. “It’s going to be business as usual with the extra security on campus.”
PLANS IN CHECK
The graffiti was investigated just before the release Thursday of Santa Cruz County Office of Education and Sheriff’s Office responses to the Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury report, “Threat Assessment In Our Public Schools.”
The grand jury has legal authority to examine special districts, and city and county governments; its findings are meant to improve government operations.
The report, issued in April, recommended continued collaboration between the Office of Education and Sheriff’s Office to maintain timely resources and training in threat response.
In June 2017, the grand jury first reported on the topic — “Is Enough Being Done?” — and alleged inconsistencies in communication and assessment plans, response teams and training at schools in Santa Cruz County.
As a result of the 2017 report, a countywide threat-assessment plan was created in December.
Santa Cruz County Superintendent Michael Watkins, responding to the April report, said Santa Cruz County’s chiefs of police and superintendents have been meeting since August, forming the School Safety Partnership supporting the threat-assessment plan and training guides to ensure student safety.
Watkins said county program and school district staff trainings were scheduled this month to implement threat-assessment protocol.
The grand jury’s April findings calls for plans to rehearse threat-assessment methods.
“We have modified the threat assessment protocol in two areas to included rehearsing the threat assessment protocol in non-threat situations,” Watkins said. “We are confident that our schools have systems in place to effectively prepare for and implement the threat assessment protocol.”
Sheriff Jim Hart said such prevention tactics helped to resolve multiple reported threats of school violence in Santa Cruz County.
The Sheriff’s Office and other law-enforcement partners offer site-specific, threat-response training to schools throughout the county, Hart said.
“We continue to meet quarterly as part of an expanded school safety task force with law enforcement agencies, school districts and now, fire agencies from throughout the county to facilitate ongoing relationships, cross-training and pre-planning activities for response to school safety issues, including the threat of school violence,” Hart said.
May 24, 2018
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Michael Todd
Friday, May 25, 2018
[Stanislaus County] Fire district run amok: Grand jury finds shoddy records, a shouting board and worse
When the Stanislaus County civil grand jury turned over some stones at Burbank-Paradise Fire District, it found the district had employed a chief who was married to a board member.
Twice last year, sheriff's deputies were called to board meetings in the fire station to settle fierce arguments between members of the board.
It found disregard for conflict-of-interest rules, sloppy record-keeping and a $600,000 station remodel that was approved without the board considering more than one bid.
And then there was the sale of an old fire truck.
In a report on the investigation, released this week, the grand jury concluded the fire district is dysfunctional and should be dissolved if reforms recommended in the report are not implemented. District officials attributed the problems to prior management and said they have worked to improve matters.
Burbank-Paradise, founded in 1942, is a small district based in west Modesto that protects a 3-square-mile area with two paid firefighters and 26 volunteers.
Last July, attention was drawn to the fire district when Chief Mike Hillar was fired after being placed on unpaid leave the previous month. In his 26 years with the district, Hillar had a history of friction with the Stanislaus Regional 911 dispatch center and the Modesto Fire Department, but the reasons for his termination were not disclosed.
The grand jury investigated a Sept. 30 complaint alleging Brown Act violations and financial irregularities by the Burbank-Paradise board.
The watchdog agency received no response to its requests for documents other than an abusive call from a board member, the report says.
During the investigation, grand jurors visited the fire station on Beverly Drive to collect documents. They attended board meetings and conducted interviews with the complainant and 10 other people.
The investigation concluded the board was dysfunctional; its elected members lacked training, leadership skills and the ability to communicate.
The report detailed a dozen other findings from a lack of conflict-of-interest policies and bylaws to not providing agendas and minutes for board meetings, failing to provide financial statements and audits and a need for employee job descriptions and grievance procedures.
The husband-and-wife team of Mike Hillar and Pam Hillar, a board member who finally resigned in February, created acrimony and discord among district leaders, the grand jury found.
Witnesses testified that Mike Hillar's spouse did not recuse herself from a closed-door discussion on the chief's termination last year. Under conflict of interest laws for public entities, a board member with a financial interest in a decision should not participate in the discussion or the vote.
Board meetings attended by grand jurors were "loud and argumentative", with directors interrupting each other and holding side conversations. During one closed-door session, board members yelled so loud that grand jurors standing outside the fire station could hear the angry exchanges.
Often, a board member took minutes by jotting notes on his copy of the agenda and claimed the papers were his personal copies. Other board members claimed they recorded the minutes for their personal use.
Disputes over the details of board decisions led to the use of a voice recorder at meetings. A clerk transcribed the recordings word for word and some of the minutes were stored on a home computer. The grand jury concluded that the district's "meeting minutes failed to meet the minimum requirement for conducting public business."
In other findings:
The grand jury never got to the bottom of the sale of a surplus fire truck for $1,900. Witnesses testified that a buyer paid cash for the vehicle. The money was put in an envelope and placed in former Chief Hillar's desk. "No record is available authorizing the sale or verifying the disposition of the funds received," the report says.
Board Chairman Curtis King said Thursday there's no evidence the $1,900 was deposited in a district account. “It would not have been reported missing if we knew where it was at,” King said. Efforts to reach Hillar were not successful.
The chairman said he could not respond to other findings in the report without talking with fellow board members.
The Modesto Bee asked the district for more specifics on any revisions to policies for credit card use and an explanation for the station remodel project. District officials said they've been advised it’s not illegal for married couple Rudy Caro and Dianne Culwell-Caro to serve on the board. Both were first appointed and then elected in November.
The grand jury's portrayal of a fire district in turmoil comes more than two years after Burbank-Paradise voters approved a special tax of $75 a year for owner-occupied homes, a $27 increase for homeowners. The fire station remodel was a stated reason for the increase as well as costs of emergency services.
Peter Golling, the current fire chief, said the board has made a lot of changes to comply with public meeting laws and correct other problems in response to the investigation. He said the board will respond to the grand jury report.
"I would say this report comes almost a year later,” Golling said. "I would say 90 percent of the issues have been resolved since last year.”
County Supervisor Terry Withrow, who is running for re-election, agreed the district has been dysfunctional in the past. He disagreed with the recommendation to consider dissolving the fire district, however.
"At this point, I want to give them a chance to get back on their feet," said Withrow, who expressed confidence in the new chief. "Leadership is everything. They serve a purpose for (the residents and property owners) in the district."
Sara Lytle-Pinhey, executive officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees local government boundaries, said Thursday she did not know if the commission would consider dissolving the district without first reading the report. “If there is a dissolution, someone else would have to take over the services,” she said. “We would look at how the services would be provided and how it would be financed.”
The grand jury established deadlines for implementing its recommendations between August 1 of this year and Jan. 1, 2019, which suggests it could follow up on the report. It recommends that LAFCo consider elimination of the district and consolidation with another fire department by June 30, 2019.
May 24, 2018
The Modesto Bee
By Ken Carlson