Sunday, July 29, 2018
Taxpayers in San Mateo County owe the county’s civil grand jury a hearty thank-you for its latest report on the ever-increasing impact of public employee pensions on municipal budgets throughout the Peninsula.
According to the report issued last week, on average, nearly 14 percent of the general fund budgets of the county’s 20 cities goes toward financing pensions of current and retired workers. That represents about $1 of every $7 spent by those towns.
But it gets worse as we head into the future. The report notes that those pension responsibilities will double within seven years unless steps are taken to address this. In other words, $2 of every $7 spent will be allocated to pensions, crowding out spending on such basics as street repairs, parks, recreation programs, public safety, etc.
The grand jury’s analysis provides a detailed look at the budgets of several cities, including Redwood City, which is facing what has been termed an “unsustainable” fiscal future without fresh dollars or major program reductions (even in pension payouts) or a combination of the two to stabilize the situation.
This is occurring even as the community experiences a much-ballyhooed boom in economic (revenue-rich) development and recent healthy budget surpluses.
The report notes that, in the prior fiscal year, Redwood City spent 26 percent of its nonsafety employee payroll on pension costs. Without significant changes, that figure will rise to 42 percent within eight years, the document ominously predicts.
But that’s just for starters. The payroll share of public safety employee pension costs is expected to rise from 43 percent to 66 percent during that same period. Something has to give — and soon. No wonder there are worries aplenty in Redwood City.
Not surprisingly, Redwood City officials are looking to their taxpayers for relief.
In the past, the Grand Jury points out, cities have been less than up-front and clear about the lurking budgetary dangers of rising (and under-funded) pension requirements. And asking voters to approve a tax increase to bail out a pension funding problem is seen as a formula likely to induce failure at the ballot box.
Typically, the standard yes-vote line in such matters is to stress the need to preserve important city functions and services. The underlying issue of under-financed and mandated pensions is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any specific way and, if it is, it’s noted in passing.
Redwood City voters will be asked to boost their sales tax on the November ballot. Let’s see how straightforward the language on that ballot measure will be.
July 27, 2018
The Mercury News
By John Horgan
Hey look, progressive grassroots activism actually works
Blog note: this article references a 2016 grand jury report.
Activists gathered in a downtown cathedral last week to discuss an old-fashioned storming of City Hall—at least of its podium. Longtime homeless advocates had recently learned that city leaders plan to declare a homeless shelter crisis. That’s something those who work on behalf of the homeless have been demanding—and it was one of two recent developments in Sacramento that showed that determined advocacy can indirectly pay off at the policy level:
The shelter crisis announcement occurred at roughly the same time news broke that Mayor Darrell Steinberg was meeting with tenant and housing advocates to discuss a potential rent-stabilization ordinance. By all accounts, Steinberg was brought to the bargaining table only after progressive housing and labor groups made a credible threat to circumvent his administration at the ballot box.
For more than a year, the City Council heard from working-class renters who are being priced out of their homes or targeted for no-cause evictions. Until now, council leaders refused to enact the modest rent-control measures at their disposal under California law. But a hard-charging effort to bypass politicians and place a rent-control measure on November’s ballot compelled Steinberg to negotiate with the very factions that give him the most grief during City Council meetings.
Whether this is a sign of things to come or a more nuanced example of money’s influence on politics, progressive activists say they’re just getting warmed up.
It was a two-year march to this moment. Local homeless advocates have been pressing public officials to declare a homeless-related emergency to free up state and federal resources since at least 2016, when the Sacramento County Grand Jury made the recommendation in its annual report. Eye on Sacramento, an advocacy group that focuses on the use of public finances, joined the call in February 2017.
Declaring a homeless emergency or a shelter crisis—there are subtle differences between the designations—isn’t foreign to California cities. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Santa Rosa have all announced one or the other. Elected officials in Sacramento County balked at the prospect, however, until now.
“So many things we’ve done in the past has fallen on deaf ears and created these undignified moments in public,” said Kimberly Church, a Sacramento City College faculty member who runs a weekly space for young homeless adults. “No one can figure out why Sacramento hasn’t [declared a crisis] already. … The more we look at it, the more we see that it’s not complicated, even if it’s politically dicey.”
So why the change of heart now? The governor’s office recently enacted the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, or HEAP, which offers one-time funds to large cities and counties that declare “a shelter crisis.” For the city of Sacramento, that declaration could mean an additional $5.6 million for homeless services, with the potential to steer another $12.7 million to Sacramento Steps Forward, the lead agency for facilitating homelessness-related resources. It’s money that officials would have far more flexibility to spend on shelters, emergency beds and housing than the much-publicized $64 million Whole Person Care grant.
But just because officials will have more discretion with the money doesn’t mean advocates trust them to spend it wisely.
Church has teamed with members of Eye on Sacramento, the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee and the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness to form a new working group called the Alliance to Address the Shelter Crisis. The alliance sees momentum in the city’s sudden willingness to declare a shelter crisis, but wants to keep the pressure on—specifically, the pressure to finally get the city to repeal an anti-camping ordinance that makes it illegal for homeless people to sleep outdoors.
Civil rights attorney Mark Merin, who unsuccessfully challenged the ordinance last year, has made it known he intends to sue the city over the outdoor camping ban if it declares a shelter emergency.
An overnight census last winter estimated homelessness had increased 30 percent to approximately 3,600 people in Sacramento County. In May 2017, SN&R reported that 13,362 county residents identified as homeless while enrolling in a special CalFresh program, dwarfing the official tally.
At the alliance’s July 18 meeting inside Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, member Richard Wade said the group needs to combat what he views as the council’s “politics of incrementalism.”
Church says she and other alliance members are also concerned that the city’s bumpy launch of a temporary shelter in North Sacramento last December foretells a process by which city officials will designate emergency shelters without transparency or meaningful community input.
And while it’s the promise of government cash that prompted the expected crisis declaration, Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, believes that nonstop activism has helped nudge local leaders to this moment.
“I’d like to think the constant pressure from the coalition and other groups has laid the groundwork and the framework for declaring an emergency,” he told SN&R.
Meanwhile, tenant rights advocates are still fanning across the city, discussing skyrocketing rents and gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to stem the tide. The mayor isn’t hiding the fact that this makes him nervous.
Steinberg, who’s running his own campaign to get voters to double the temporary Measure U sales tax and make it permanent, has until recently been against any form of rent control, despite Sacramento suffering some of the highest year-to-year rent increases in the nation. He and the council have instead echoed a common refrain from developers and the building industry—among their top campaign donors—that enacting rent control would stall investment in creating new housing units.
Tenants Together, a statewide renters’ advocacy group, maintains that there’s no data to back that up.
For nearly two years, the City Council has heard from hundreds of people who have been displaced by escalating rents. Some have been single mothers with tears in their eyes. Some have been seniors on fixed incomes who fear becoming homeless. Some have been severely disabled, a few needing their caregivers to speak for them.
None of the public testimony appeared to move the political needle.
The stagnation caused several groups—including Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Public Advocates, Organize Sacramento and Democratic Socialists of America—to team up with local labor leaders to form Housing 4 Sacramento. The group says it’s collected more than enough signatures to put before city voters a ballot initiative that would limit rent increases to a yearly percentage tied to the consumer price index. It would also bar evictions without cause and establish an elected rental board to mediate disputes between tenants and landlords.
Now that there’s a solid chance voters could get their say in a city beset by rent increases and a lack of affordable housing, Steinberg has agreed to come to the bargaining table. Michelle Pariset, an attorney working with the Housing 4 Sacramento campaign, says her side is waiting to hear whether the council will offer up a strong rent stabilization ordinance. But, contrary to some early reports, Pariset didn’t say Housing 4 Sacramento is willing to take the rent control initiative off the table just yet.
“There are negotiations happening,” Pariset confirmed. “Basically, we’re looking for the fastest relief for tenants. But if we can’t find a solution that serves tenants—and not just landlords and developers—we’re absolutely ready to go to the ballot box.”
Pariset isn’t sure if a ballot showdown can be avoided, but she is sure that the scores of people flocking to City Hall to demand relief made a difference.
“None of this would be happening were it not for community pressure,” she added. “Unless you’re a developer, the city is complaint-driven when it comes to responding to the community, so that means community members have to keep up the pressure.”
In some ways, the people on the front lines of the shelter and rent-control debates can feel bolstered by the changes police reformers successfully pushed for in recent years. Groups such as Black Lives Matter Sacramento, the Law Enforcement Accountability Directive and Sacramento Area Congregations Together mustered enough collective energy to prompt the creation of a police oversight panel, a mandatory video-release policy and more deescalation training for officers. The groups who fought for those changes aren’t resting on their laurels.
In June, numerous community and faith leaders participated in a campaign called “Eight Shots, Eight Days,” meant to draw national attention to the police shooting of Stephon Clark, as well as the recent in-custody death of Brandon Smith. Richard Owen, co-chair of Law Enforcement Accountability Directive, said that all of the police reform groups that he works with want to know why it’s taking so long for authorities to issue reports on the deaths of young men like Clark and Smith.
“The time it’s taking to finish these reports is absolutely brutal on the families,” Owen said. “How is it that we’re a year-and-a-half out from some of these incidents and still don’t have a report?”
Owen said he shares BLM’s concerns about the Facebook page SPD Underground, which opposes law enforcement oversight and trolls some of the activists calling for it.
“It produces some things that are very frightening,” he noted.
As for the future, Owens has no doubt that residents will continue to demand real consequences for officers who engage in brutality or reckless killings. Too many people in the African-American community understand, he says, how easily that can happen.
“If you’re a black parent in this city, and your son just goes out to the movies with his friends, you don’t go to sleep until he gets home,” Owen said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re in law school or medical school, you don’t go to sleep—you can’t sleep.”
July 26, 2018
Sacramento News & Review
By Scott Thomas Anderson
With his client facing “willful or corrupt misconduct charges” following a Napa County Grand Jury investigation, Assessor John Tuteur’s attorney is blaming a grand jury foreperson for leading his colleagues down the wrong path.
“This entire misadventure, at the hands of an overzealous foreperson of the grand jury, has been a waste of judicial and public resources, to satisfy the whim of one person,” stated legal papers filed with Napa County Superior Court.
But the grand jury hasn’t backed off charges such as failure to pay back property taxes. An attorney on its behalf released a written statement Tuesday saying that the grand jury carefully considered the evidence and made findings based on that evidence.
In March, the 2017-18 Napa County Grand Jury accused Tuteur of four counts of wrongdoing and called for his removal from the elected office. The state Attorney General’s Office filed the grand jury’s case with Napa County Superior Court.
Tuteur, who has been assessor since 1987, plans to appear in court to request that the court dismiss all charges. He said Tuesday that the rescheduled date is Sept. 14.
Papers filed by Tuteur’s attorney with the court reveal Tuteur’s defense strategies. Grand jury foreperson Alan Charles Dell’Ario, who is a local attorney, is described as being the prime mover behind the accusations.
Dell’Ario “became enchanted” by complaints by a disgruntled Assessor’s Office employee, the court papers said. During grand jury hearings, he questioned all witnesses, presented documents that he selected as evidence and instructed his grand jury peers on the legal test for Tuteur’s removal, the papers said.
He gave the grand jury superficial legal instructions on conflict-of-interest and other matters, the papers said.
“The incomplete instructions by Mr. Dell’Ario served the sole purpose of leading his fellow grand jurors, who had no knowledge of the law otherwise, like lemmings to the sea,” the papers said.
Dell’Ario in “his zeal to ‘take down’ Mr. Tuteur” unfortunately “stumbled into legal and factual minefields,” the papers said. They describe Tuteur as being a long-serving public employee highly regarded by his constituents and the state’s assessor community.
When contacted by the Napa Valley Register, Dell’Ario didn’t respond directly. Rather, attorney Steven Piser, who has represented the grand jury, released a statement saying the grand jury cannot discuss its deliberations and investigative sessions.
“It is not unusual for one whose conduct has been evaluated by an impartial body to lash out at those who evaluated and criticized that conduct,” the statement said.
The grand jury accuses Tuteur of four counts involving behavior that, if true, ranges from sloppy to self-serving. Papers filed in Napa County Superior Court by attorney Thomas Barth on Tuteur’s behalf refute each count.
One charge involves whether Tuteur skirted paying back property taxes on grazing land his family leases out for a cell tower, to the total of about $20,000 in taxes over eight years. Money from the cell tower lease must be factored into the appraisal for the property tax bill.
The grand jury accusation said Tuteur in 2008 performed an assessment of his income stream from the lease. That is a conflict of interest, given he shouldn’t be determining his own property taxes.
In addition, Tuteur made a mistake that resulted in too low of a property tax bill. His employees in 2016 discovered and corrected the error, the accusation said.
Tuteur hasn’t paid back taxes for 2008 through 2015, as he should, and owes the county about $20,000. He should be removed from office, the grand jury concluded.
But the Tuteur legal filing claimed Tuteur didn’t perform his own assessment involving the cell tower income.
The grand jury had as evidence a 2008 spreadsheet for the property. An Assessor’s Office employee told grand jurors that Tuteur’s name on the front page indicated he created the spread sheet.
But Tuteur’s defense said the Assessor’s Office in 2008 used this spread sheet for Tuteur’s property as an example for its vendor. Tuteur never touched the spread sheet and is not an expert in calculations for the value of a cell tower.
Tuteur would have assumed his property tax work would be reviewed by the chief appraiser. He didn’t know why the assessed value on the cell tower property rose by $170,000 in 2016 and didn’t think to ask, the defense filing said.
In an attached declaration, Chief Appraiser Richard Anderson said he told Tuteur in 2016 of the assessment error and that he was overseeing any corrections. Extra property taxes for a $170,000 value rise would be about $1,800.
“He (Tuteur) told me, nearly verbatim, ‘Do what you have to do, because it is passed on to my tenant,’” Anderson said in his declaration.
Anderson consulted with other counties and state Board of Equalization as he researched how to calculate value for cell tower leases, the filing said. Since appearing before the grand jury on Feb. 21 of this year, he arrived at the final appraisal for the Tuteur property.
Anderson in his declaration said he discovered small overassessments at two other radio repeater sites on the Tuteur family’s property, in addition to the cell tower underassessment. The combined corrections resulted in a value increase of $135,707.
California law allows for four years of property roll corrections. When all of the underpayments and overpayments are considered, Tuteur owes a total of $1,453 in back taxes, not the $20,000 speculated by the grand jury, Tuteur’s court filing said.
“The investigation of the issues concerning (this accusation) was incomplete and yielded no credible evidence to support the outrageous allegation that Mr. Tuteur violated his obligation not to value and assess his own property,” the filing said.
The grand jury also looked at how Tuteur handles Williamson Act contracts that give tax breaks to farmers in return for 10-year guarantees to keep their land as agricultural. Tuteur owns grazing land under a contract.
Tuteur has failed to determine the actual value of grazing lands based on up-to-date grazing income, but has instead assessed them using a minimum-value formula adopted by the county in 1969 and never revised, the grand jury said. That’s a conflict of interest, given that if the minimum values rose, so would Tuteur’s own property taxes, it said.
In Tuteur’s defense, his attorney wrote that Tuteur still considers the minimum value to be valid and that rents for grazing land have been stable over several decades. Changes to the minimum-value formula are made by the county Board of Supervisors, not the assessor.
Another accusation noted Tuteur on Jan. 25, 2011 appeared before the Board of Supervisors and urged supervisors not to adopt changes to Williamson Act contracts. This was a conflict of interest, given the changes would have resulted in contract holders – including Tuteur—paying higher taxes.
In response, Tuteur’s attorney wrote that Tuteur told the Board of Supervisors at that meeting that he has a Williamson Act contract. Plus, given the 69,000 acres of county land with Williamson Act contracts, Tuteur’s financial interest was indistinguishable from that of the public generally under California conflict-of-interest law.
Finally, the grand jury accused Tuteur of not making certain Williamson Act property owners return required questionnaires with financial information used to help calculate property value. In 2016, about 80 percent of vineyard owners didn’t return Tuteur’s questionnaires or returned incomplete questionnaires and 40 percent of grazing land owners didn’t return questionnaires, the accusation stated.
Tuteur failed to force compliance or to tell the county Planning Department, Board of Supervisors or District Attorney of the situation, the accusation said.
The Tuteur defense said Tuteur informed other county divisions about non-responding owners. Non-response is a problem statewide. The assessor doesn’t have a statutory duty to enforce Williamson Act contracts.
July 25, 2018
Napa Valley Register
By Barry Eberling
Saturday, July 28, 2018
With this edition of the Napa Valley Register, readers will find the Consolidated Report of the 2017-2018 Napa County Grand Jury. It represents a yearlong collaborative effort of 25 jurors and alternates together with our advisors—County Counsel, District Attorney, Attorney General and the Superior Court. Those who wished to serve applied to the court in the spring 2017. The judges selected the final applicants who became the 19 jurors and their alternates. The court appointed the foreperson.
The workings of the grand jury are often misunderstood because of the strict confidentiality provisions the Legislature has placed on them. By law, grand jurors cannot ever reveal matters discussed in deliberations or investigative sessions. Likewise, grand jurors may not be questioned about anything jurors may have said or done relative to a matter pending before the jury.
The California grand jury has three basic functions: to weigh criminal charges and determine whether indictments should be returned; to weigh allegations of misconduct against public officials and determine whether to present formal accusations requesting their removal from office; and to act as the public's “watchdog” by investigating and reporting upon the affairs of local government. This latter function comprises the vast majority of the jury’s work as reflected in our Consolidated Report published today.
The grand jury has no fixed set of investigations it must conduct but it must limit itself to local affairs at the county and city level. Each successive jury selects its topics. Citizen complaints often trigger an investigation and the jury must at least inquire as to all credible allegations of official misconduct.
A grand jury investigation and subsequent report is serious business. Governing statutes prohibit jurors from acting alone and require jurors to verify the information that forms the basis of a report. Jurors must sort through what often are conflicting accounts and documentary evidence to arrive at a finding or recommendation. Sometimes this means according credibility to one source of information while discounting another source.
In its investigative role, the grand jury seeks to provide “sunshine” on the workings of local government for the public benefit. As do this year’s, grand jury reports may take issue with actions of the agency or officials under investigation. Grand jury findings and recommendations are the product of the jury’s independent analysis. The jury is not influenced by the “agendas” of other groups or persons. Each grand jury finding, recommendation or other formal action requires the concurrence of at least twelve jurors. Before release, grand jury reports must be reviewed by County Counsel and approved by the supervising Superior Court judge.
Since California’s statehood, the grand jury has served as an integral part of the court system. The legislative provisions for the jury’s “watchdog” function have existed since 1880. This year’s jury has strived to honor that tradition. We hope the public finds our reports informative and agents for change.
July 25, 2018
Napa Valley Register
By Charles Dell’Ario, 2017-18 foreperson
Almost two months since the Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury released its findings about the San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD) board of directors, the public still remains critical of the response from the directors.
The board met at Spring Lakes Park, a mobile home park in Scotts Valley, on Thursday July 19. This was the first meeting of the board at this location. According to SLVWD District Manager Brian Lee, several months ago the board voted to host their meetings in a variety of places the district serves, in an effort to expand opportunities for the public to attend meetings.
However, in the instance of last week’s meeting a clerical error was made. The closed session was listed on the meeting’s agenda as 3:30 p.m. and open session was listed to start at 6:30 p.m. While the open session should have been held earlier, due to the Brown Act since the time was already listed as 6:30 p.m. it had to stay consistent with what had been released to the public. But in an effort to fill the time between the end of closed session and the start of open session, SLVWD staff held a question and answer session for members of the public that were present, addressing any issues or pressing questions.
Once open session started at 6:30 p.m., the first item the directors addressed was awarding District Manager Lee a merit increase, which has been a part of his contract since January 2016.
According to Lee’s contract, at the discretion of the Board, the manager will also be eligible for up to a yearly five percent merit increase based on performance. This comes as an addition to an annual cost of living adjustment.
The board held a performance evaluation of Lee during a closed session in June. At the July meeting, the board voted in closed session, 3-1 (with 1 abstaining) to award Lee with a 2.5 percent merit increase, in addition to an already given increase of 3.6 percent given to management, supervisory and confidential employees at the start of the year for a cost of living adjustment.
There was some opposition to the news of the merit increase awarded to Lee from ratepayer Bruce Holloway, who is currently involved with two lawsuits involving the district.
“Brian Lee called me a liar and a thief; he deserves zero. He is not serving the district,” said Holloway to the board of directors.
In response, board of director Gene Ratcliffe stated, “There are a very large number of different duties the general manager performs and we had some extremely good outcomes last year. There is more to the district manager’s job than might be apparent.”
In an interview with the Press Banner on the Monday after the board meeting, Lee explained his performance evaluation is done in closed session with the board of directors.
“The board gave me an honest discussion on my negatives and my strengths,” Lee said.
The directors were asked by members of the public at the Thursday meeting how much of a raise was given to Lee. No board member responded to the question with the answer. However, the total amount that could possibly be given with the merit increase was listed on the agenda, which could have been used to find what 2.5 percent would be. Lee explained on Monday to the Press Banner why no answer was given from the board, “I cannot speak for the board.” The 2.5 percent merit increase is equivalent to an additional $4,887.5 yearly in compensation.
According to Holly Hossack, District Secretary, Lee’s annual salary is $200,500 after the 2.5 merit increase awarded and the yearly cost of living adjustment. Performance evaluations for the district manager are not available for public record.
The next item on the board’s agenda was presenting a draft response to the grand jury findings. The SLVWD board of directors in June established an ad-hoc committee established with board chair Chuck Baughman and newly appointed director John Hayes to prepare a draft response.
In the draft response, the board either agreed or partially agreed with all the findings from the grand jury report. In each finding, the board provided a detailed response to what was agreed with and laid groundwork on how to address the issue.
“I read the draft response; this is your second grand jury report in four years,” said ratepayer Lois Henry of Lompico. “I find this a joke.”
“I think there is a lot of meat in here,” director Hayes said at the meeting. “We strongly agree with the findings and we are taking what they said to heart and going beyond in addressing the issues they point out.”
Director Bill Smallman responded critically of the draft response presented to the board and the public.
“We work for you (the public), you are the boss. You can take us out with your vote. We want to encourage more public involvement,” Smallman said. “This district has seemed to forget this.”
In response, director Ratcliffe stated that since the previous grand jury report was released and transparency was brought up as an issue, the district has worked to address it, citing the filming of meetings as one example.
“When I look at this process I get very sad,” said Bob Fultz. “When actual changes happen is only when you get a lawsuit or a grand jury report, not from the feedback from the public. It is sad, you could have done a lot better.”
While some members of the public were not in favor of the draft response, a few came to its defense.
Jennifer Gomez, of Felton, who is on the environmental committee, said “I thought the response was professional and well written. I hope we can be more issue and project focused.”
After hearing the public comments to the draft response, it is now up to the ad-hoc committee to prepare a final draft response which will be presented at the August 16 regular board of directors meeting. The Board’s final response to the Grand Jury report is due by August 29.
“It is hard to make edits with skepticism,” Hayes said. “The proof will be in the pudding as we move forward with the recommendations.”
July 25, 2018
By Libby Leyden
Blog note: this article references a June 2018 grand jury report.
A heated hearing on Monday ended with a deadlock vote on charges of misconduct against El Dorado Irrigation District board member Greg Prada.
At issue was whether or not to send a letter to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, El Dorado County Grand Jury, El Dorado County District Attorney and the Placerville Police Department to undertake an investigation of Prada.
The source of the misconduct charge dates back to Prada’s refusal to turn over emails and other communications having to do with EID business per a recent court decision regarding public records requests.
The documents were requested by attorney Tom Cumpston who was EID’s general counsel before retiring.
When Prada refused to do so, Cumpston asked the El Dorado County Grand Jury to investigate.
The Grand Jury’s report, issued June 8, directed Prada to comply with the court ruling.
Following issuance of the grand jury report, on June 19 Prada contacted EID’s General Counsel Brian Poulsen by phone saying he wanted an outside attorney to advise him on what he considered to be Cumpston’s “overbroad and unconstitutional requests” for copies of the emails.
According to Poulsen’s account of the conversation, Prada asked him to advocate with the board to provide him with outside legal counsel as he thought Poulsen couldn’t because of his supposed allegiance to Cumpston. He also said that unless Poulsen helped him, he would file a complaint with the California Bar Association alleging Poulsen had violated the rules of professional conduct by not recusing himself.
Poulsen responded by telling Prada he considered that threat to be an attempt to blackmail him. After the call he sent a complaint against Prada to EID General Manager Jim Abercrombie, members of the board and to EID’s human resource manager, discussing what had transpired.
In response to the complaint, Prada said he did not ask Poulsen to advocate for him or plead his case to the board for outside counsel. Instead Prada claimed Poulsen misrepresented what he said during their phone conversation and later asked that the item requesting funding outside legal help be withdrawn from the board agenda.
At the board meeting, the agenda item stimulated discussion among the board members as well as generated input from many in the audience.
Director George Osborne called it a very serious accusation and said while such complaints are usually handled internally, because it involves an elected official, it had to be done in a public forum. He went on to say that because EID is not an investigative body, a different organization needed to investigate the charges.
Director Alan Day argued the opposite, saying the complaint could have been sent to the appropriate authority and that making it public “stinks of political theater.”
Director Dale Coco countered by pointing out that the problems Prada was having were of his own making and if he had complied with the court ruling from the beginning, “none of this would have happened.”
Those in the audience agreed and disagreed with the board.
Harry Norris, who previously served on the board, said the facts were not in dispute but there was a need to determine who was right. George Wheeldon, who like Norris previously served on EID’s board, suggested Prada needed to be replaced.
However a large contingent of people from the Save the Canal group were in the audience and they spoke in support of Prada.
This is a politically motivated witch hunt before an election, claimed Pollock Pines resident Jeff Leddy. Others in the group agreed with him, with attorney Joe Baer saying Prada had every right to bounce ideas off Poulson.
However Cumpston said he believed it would be better to have an outside group sort through the facts. At the same time he asserted that when it comes to integrity, he would choose Poulsen over Prada.
In the end, the board was deadlocked in voting on the issue of whether to ask for an investigation with Prada recusing himself; President Mike Raffety and Director Osborne voting for the motion and Directors Day and Coco voting against.
However that was not the end of it as Abercrombie informed the board he had already referred the complaint to the four agencies in question.
After the meeting, Abercrombie issued the following statement: “Based on my analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that this incident occurred and referral to independent agencies to investigate is warranted. No employee should be subjected to threats or intimidation—or perceived threats—by a board member or any employee.”
July 25, 2018
By Dawn Hodson
Re: your story July 23, "T.O. defends wild animal practices":
I found the Ventura County Grand Jury’s report on exotic animal policies in Thousand Oaks, which concluded there is a lack of adequate enforcement of regulations regarding wild animals kept within the city limits, to be of extreme importance.
It is important to note that “dangerous” animals, such as alligators and cobras, are only threatening because individuals are attempting to keep as “pets” creatures that belong in the wild. It is cruel to confine animals that are biologically adapted to vastly different climates and habitats. These animals are being treated as objects solely for human entertainment and amusement.
I urge Thousand Oaks officials to heed the Grand Jury’s advice and to more aggressively enforce welfare standards for exotic animals. I would also urge Thousand Oaks citizens to reconsider keeping such animals as pets and to recognize that wild animals are individuals with their own lives and needs, and they deserve to live in their natural habitats.
July 24, 2018
Ventura County Star
By Veronica Rice, Goleta
The following remarks do not necessarily reflect the views of the Trinidad City Council as a whole, and are intended only to exercise my First Amendment right to voice my personal opinions.
The Humboldt County grand jury report states that it had determined that an investigation into the Trinidad Short Term Rental Ordinance was warranted after consideration of “points raised by Trinidad residents.” While not named in the report, it can be surmised from a local blog post on July 1 and an email sent to the city manager and members of the City Council on July 12 that the “Trinidad residents” who requested the investigation were members of a citizen group called “Save Trinidad Neighborhoods.” I urge readers to take a look at the entire grand jury report at https://bit.ly/2NBb7wu and the “Save Trinidad Neighborhoods” comment (14th comment from the top) which follows it. This comment is representative of emails received on a regular basis by City Council members and staff.
I have spent six years on the City Council. Prior to moving to Trinidad I had served on the Southern Humboldt Unified School District Board of Trustees for a dozen years. I am proud to have had the privilege of serving my communities in these capacities, as do thousands of California citizens each year. I take my job of representing all the citizens of Trinidad, including every member of “Save our Trinidad Neighborhoods,” seriously.
To state the obvious, each council member has only one vote. The only real power an individual council member has is the capacity to influence the votes of the other members through persuasion and debate in open session. Similarly, whatever power the collective council possesses is dependent upon maintaining the continued trust and confidence of the majority of its constituents. The ultimate measure of this confidence (or lack thereof) is expressed by citizens at the ballot box. There is an upcoming election on Nov. 6. The last day to apply as a candidate for one of the three seats available on the Trinidad City Council is Aug. 10.
I challenge “Save Trinidad Neighborhoods” to put forward three resident members of its group to run for those seats. If there is, in fact, the citizen support of their platform that they claim, they will have a majority vote on the council and will immediately be able to begin the implementation of everything they have been advocating for. I doubt that they will do so, since it would also mean that they might actually have to govern rather than simply cast aspersions and innuendo. I hope I will be proven wrong.
As far as a critique of the grand jury report itself, I offer the following data and observations:
1) The title of the report, “A Tale of Two Cities,” does not reflect the reality of life in Trinidad if the implication is that there is widespread discontent among Trinidad citizens over the STR issue. Trinidad’s 2016 population was 359 permanent residents. “Save our Trinidad Neighborhoods” routinely lists no more than eight residents in its correspondence. That is 2.2 percent of the total population. To be charitable, it is 3.1 percent of the total number of registered voters (255) in the city, still hardly an indication of a Trinidad replay of the French Revolution.
2) Current data indicates that the STR ordinance is accomplishing its goals. There were three fewer STR licenses issued this year than in the first year of the ordinance implementation. The number of allowable guests in residential zones has been reduced by 26 due to property sales and lower allowable occupancy rates.
3) A year ago, council member Jack West and I offered to independently investigate, as an ad hoc council subcommittee, the issues which “Save our Trinidad Neighborhoods” had documented through their public records requests. We met with members of the group several times and issued our report to the council and the public at the March 14, 2018 council meeting. Despite the fact that our report offered more detailed criticisms and suggestions for improvements in the ongoing implementation of the STR ordinance than did the grand jury report, it was apparently completely ignored by the grand jury during its “investigation.” I would appreciate an explanation of why that occurred and why no City Council members were included in the secret interview process undertaken by the grand jury.
July 24, 2018
Eureka Times Standard
By Jim Baker, member of the Trinidad City Council
Grand jury report, Atherton fiscal review part of chief's report
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District's board will discuss the agenda for a strategic planning study session when it meets on Tuesday, July 24, at 7 p.m. in the classroom at the 300 Middlefield Road fire station. The open meeting will follow a two-hour closed session discussion of the contract with the firefighters' union.
The lack of a strategic study was criticized in a recent civil grand jury report on the district.
While neither the grand jury report nor Atherton's review of how property taxes generated in the town are spent by the district are on the agenda for discussion, they are mentioned in a report from district Chief Harold Schapelhouman. The fire board will be allowed to briefly discuss both items, but not to take any action on them.
The chief's report says that he, fire board President Chuck Bernstein and board member Virginia Chang Kiraly - the district's liaison to Atherton - attended the meeting at which the Atherton council discussed what the town could do about the disparity between the amount of property taxes generated in the town that go to the fire district and the amount the district spends providing services in Atherton.
That report discusses the steps Atherton would need to take to detach from the fire district or reallocate property taxes generated in the town.
The town has asked the fire board to schedule a joint meeting in December to discuss the report and a prior report on the revenue/spending disparity.
A Tuesday agenda item that could affect the talks between Atherton and the fire district is a request by board member Peter Carpenter to agendize discussion of a resolution stating that the "board shall not enter into agreements to share fire district tax revenues with other agencies unless approved by two-thirds of voters within the district."
The chief's report also mentions the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report released on July 12.
The district has 90 days, or until Oct. 9, to respond to 10 recommendations in the report, including two that have to do with the district dropping negotiations with Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and San Mateo County to adopt impact fees that would be charged to developers to help pay any costs of development to the district. The district has instead been negotiating directly with developers, something the grand jury report says "raises ethical issues."
July 23, 2018
By Barbara Wood
For the third time this year the City is writing to respond to yet another Grand Jury report. As has been the case with the two prior reports, there is little more than unsupported and/or attributed allegations that form the basis of the report. Nonetheless we are fulfilling our obligation to respond.
F 1. Disagree. There have been no verified reports of any harassment or retaliation against any interviewees. Any city document that an interviewee provided to the Grand Jury is available to the public and city officials.No City Officials would have the need to “demand” that City documents be turned over to said officials. They have access to these documents whenever needed.
F 2. Agree.
F 3. Disagree. At the time of this report the City had two fire engines that were operable. In the past it was necessary to borrow an engine from Edwards Air Force Base.
F 4. Agree. It is standard practice for fire departments the size of CCFD to assign multiple duties to various staff. The Fire Marshall will continue to manage these functions until the department grows to the size where additional personnel would be added and the work load justified allocating some of these functions to another officer.
F 5. Partially Agree. The cannabis industry does present potential health and safety hazards. Actual experience shows that these hazards are well within the capacity of a normally trained fire department. The CCFD has a five-person Hazardous Materials Team, comprised of two HAZMAT Specialists and three HAZMAT Technicians. Their ongoing hazardous materials training includes any issues unique to the cannabis to their training schedule.
F 6. Disagree. Overtime is a basic element of any public safety operation. No agencies can afford to budget for staffing to ensure adequate staff will be available to answer every potential incident without calling back off-duty staff on overtime. The City has a grant from the State to manage the OHV areas surrounding the City. This grant provides the payment of overtime to those officers who choose to work at OHV. The schedule for OHV work is posted and all officers can sign up for the shifts they would like to work. A secondary benefit of the OHV project is that in emergencies officers working OHV can be called upon to respond to calls in the City. The City is examining using only part-time retired law enforcement officers in the next grant cycle.
F 7. Disagree. All issues involving the receipting and handling of cash at OHV were addressed in 2017 and continue to be managed correctly.
F 8. Agree.
F 9. Partially Agree. Yes, that is what was reported. However, the information about the proposed parcel tax is partially incorrect. The proposed ballot measure would impose a parcel tax at a rate of up to 50 cents per day. But if it is approved by the voters, the city council has the discretion to impose the tax at a lower rate.
R 1. To this date the City has no evidence that the purported harassment or retaliation has occurred. Nevertheless, the City has begun an investigation into these allegations and will take the appropriate steps once this investigation is completed.
R 2. The City will continue to train its firefighters in all skills needed to respond to calls for service which includes the proper handling of hazardous materials.
R 3. As noted in the response to F 6, the OHV grant is written expressly to pay overtime to those CCPD and CCFD personnel who choose to work at OHV. If some officers, choose not work available shifts then others will step up to work those shifts. The current process used to staff the OHV area already includes the opportunity for all appropriately certified CCPD and CCFD personnel to work.
R 4. The City implemented a secure method for handling OHV fees and depositing cash on weekends back in 2017. That process is still being used.
R 5. The City Council has already done this by scheduling a special election for July 31, 2018 to consider the adoption of a Special Police and Fire Parcel Tax to be used only for police and fire operations. This is the only tax available to California City that would be able to generate sufficient revenue to fund current and future police and fire operations.
This report, “Code Red” has been based on incorrect facts, on unsubstantiated allegations and on innuendo. It is a mystery how the City is expected to investigate any of the issues raised in the report without talking to all the employees with knowledge of the areas of concern or examining the purported documents supporting the allegation, without violating the non-disclosure agreement required by the Grand Jury, which clearly restricts the confronting of employees who have been interviewed by the Grand Jury Committees.
In many cases there are only one or two employees who would have the knowledge of the alleged incidents and it is likely that any investigation would entail talking to each employee. Hiring outside investigators for the allegations made in the three Grand Jury Reports is beyond the City’s capacity to reasonably fund at this time. We will continue to encourage our citizens and employees to bring their concerns to our attention so we may respond quickly and start finding solutions.
Regards, Robert Stockwell, City Manager
July 23, 2018
Mojave Desert News
This letter is the formal response of the City of California City to the April 18, 2018 Kern County Grand Jury report entitled City of California City “A Tale of a City”. After reviewing the Findings and Recommendations it is apparent that they are based mostly upon unattributed statements and there was no apparent attempt to ascertain a factual basis for the findings or the basis of the recommendations. One is hard pressed to respond, given the limitation of asking those who were bound to silence about anything said or provided to the Grand Jury. Nonetheless, the following is offered for your consideration.
F 1. Disagree. The Mayor and Council visit City Hall as needed in their official capacity at varying times. The table detailing frequency of visits is only partially accurate. The Mayor likely does put in 40 plus hours per week in performing her duties but only a very small portion of this time is spent at City Hall. The Mayor represents the City and the City Council in a broad range of local boards, regional boards and commissions. Given the requirement of the Mayor as the signatory on many official documents and co-signer on checks she is at City Hall several times each week.
The other members of the Council visit City Hall on an irregular basis. Some visit a few times each week others a few times each month. The variation is based upon specific Council assignments to represent the City.
F 2. Disagree. This finding asserts that Council Members meeting with the City Manager weekly could be a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act (California Government Code Section 54950 et seq.) if the same discussion is shared among the other Council Members. In the normal course of conducting the City’s business the City Manager is free to meet with anyone desiring to do so, whether the public or Council Members. Unless the purpose of meeting with the Council Members is to divide them into non-quorum sized groups to “poll them” on an issue they would be deciding on, there is no violation of the Brown Act. There is no indication that the former City Manager “polled” the Council at any of the meetings where they would “discuss issues and answer agenda questions”. The current City Manager has not seen the reported level of involvement from Council members and has not in any way violated the Brown act as the Grand Jury warns of. It seems to have escaped the Grand Jury that a well-informed Council Member would take full advantage in gaining insights to the decisions that would come their way by gathering all available information before a Council meeting. Talking with the City Manager would be one effective way of preparing themselves to make the best possible decisions for the City.
F 3. Agree.
F 4. Agree.
F 5. Agree.
F 6. Agree.
F 7. Disagree. Since the Grand Jury provides no attributable statements it is difficult to put this matter into perspective. The reality is that the portion of the building that was the subject of the red tag is the subject of litigation between a former tenant and the owner. The former tenant has waged a campaign to use the city code enforcement resources to bolster his claims in the litigation. He has produced a myriad of photos and his attendant notes. This ongoing civil tort action has never involved the City as a party. The interior space that is not occupied may have various code violations, as do many unoccupied buildings in the City. When such violations do not present an imminent hazard, no action will be taken until the space is to be occupied. The unattributed statements in the report contain partial truths and many errors. Since portions of the building are being used as church, it is not surprising that on the visits by the Grand Jury Committee, people and vehicular activity were observed. Due to the ongoing litigation and the past efforts of the prior tenant to use the City as a tool to harass the owner, code enforcement officers have been directed to only respond to complaints that would indicate a real danger. Management must at all times balance the demands for service - with the financial and operational capacity of any city operation in allocating time and resources. Consequently, it is sometimes necessary to place complaints on a hierarchy of response.
F 8. Agree.
F 9. Agree.
F 10. Disagree. We can find no record of any individual or business owning, managing or controlling 7,000 parcels in the City. Again, without attribution the claims of the Grand Jury cannot be corroborated.
F 11. Agree.
F 12. Disagree. The City Clerk is hired by and reports to the City Manager. The stated duties are correct.
F 13. Disagree. At the time of the Grand Jury investigation there was a backlog of City Council meeting minutes. This backlog has been reduced and progress continues. Minutes of Council Meetings are always set on the Consent Calendar and any member of the Council, citizens, or staff may request to have an item removed from consent for discussion before a vote is considered.
F 14. Agree.
F 15. Agree.
F 16. Agree.
F 17. Disagree. How could someone report on the results of the Council’s actions being 3-2-0, or 2-2-1 if they could not access the minutes?
F 18. Agree.
F 19. Disagree. We cannot find any indication that emails have been removed from the City servers. None of the employees who manage the email servers or the contractor who diagnoses and repairs the City management information system has heard of this issue or are aware of any deletion of emails as described in the report. Again, without a time, place, or person to contact to verify which email accounts were affected there is no way to investigate and resolve any concerns.
F 20. Agree.
F 21. Disagree. There have been no instances where an employee has been written up after interviewing with the Grand Jury. No employees have filed complaints of harassment after interviewing with the Grand Jury or providing documents to the Grand Jury.
F 22. Disagree. The fee structure for the Cannabis permits is clearly stated and has been implemented as drafted. The city uses a central point of collecting fees and payments. This ensures funds are properly receipted and accounted for. There are no indications that funds for Cannabis permits have not been accounted for correctly. The Committee spoke to individuals away from the workspace and expected each to have a detailed memory of the questions which were asked of them. There does not appear to be any effort on the part of the Grand Jury Committee to conduct even a cursory check on the statements they use to make a finding. All people in the chain of collecting funds from Cannabis and other fees report that they understand the coding for receipting these funds.
F 23. Disagree. Account clerks are like all people. They make mistakes whether directly supervised or not. Staffing for the cashier area is adequate for the resources of the City and the margin of errors is well within any reasonable standard for similar operations.
F 24. Agree.
F 25. Disagree. The City Council only hires the City Attorney and City Manager. The City Clerk is hired by the City Manager. All other parts of this finding are correct. It is interesting to note the Grand Jury Committee in this finding can draw the conclusion that the Community’s perceptions about the Mayor are “unsubstantiated” while allowing many equally unsubstantiated comments and assertions throughout their report to go forward without the same conclusion.
F 26. Agree.
R 1. This recommendation runs counter to the statutory responsibilities of both the City Council and the City Manager. There is nothing the Ralph M. Brown Act that precludes or limits the individual Councilmembers and the Manager from meeting outside of City Council meetings. It would be unlikely that a Council member could do an adequate job of representing their constituents without meeting as needed with the City Manager to enquire about issues of concern to their constituents or in preparations for Council meetings.
R 2. The City Manager, with oversight by the City Council, is tasked with directing and managing all the operations of the City. In our City Municipal Code, Sec. 2-1.102., it clearly identifies that the City Council does not control or direct the actions of any city employee except for the City manager. Having said that, the City Manager has not directed any of the listed employees to take any actions based upon who the affected property owner may be.
R 3. The completion and posting of minutes by the City Clerk has been addressed and will continue to be monitored for timeliness and accuracy.
R 4. Updates to the City web site are ongoing and the goal of the City is to continue improving this tool to communicate with the citizens.
R 5. The security of the city’s email processing has been reviewed and found to be in line with records retention regulations.
R 6. The City Manager, department heads, and supervisors will continue to be trained in all aspects of effective supervision, conflict resolution, and harassment. There have been no reported instances of harassment or whistleblowing retaliation for sharing information with the Grand Jury.
R 7. The City’s most recent audits do not indicate any reasons for the costly forensic audits recommended. Indeed, the unattributed accusations, rumors, and inaccurate conclusions of the City’s finances and controls have been shared regularly with the State Auditor and District Attorney. Had there been any merit to these allegations, both would have initiated investigations and filed charges. Consequently, the City will not be ordering forensic audits of its financial transactions.
R 8. The responsibility to Complete the Correction Action Plan for the June 30, 2017 Financial audit is the responsibility of the City Manager (who is doing so) and not the City Council. Should the City Council assume these responsibilities they would be violating their own ordinance, State statutes on general law cities, and the basic role of the legislative body to oversee the financial management of the City by holding the City Manager accountable.
It is unfortunate that the Grand Jury has been used as a bludgeon by individuals and groups to air their unfounded grievances. The effect of cloaking these grievances in the secrecy required of the Grand Jury process simply adds fuel to the fire and does little to engender faith in either local government or the Grand Jury itself. We apologize for our citizens and critics (sometimes they are the same people) wasting your valuable time.
Sincerely, Robert Stockwell, City Manager
July 23, 2018
Mojave Desert News