Wednesday, July 31, 2019

[Alameda County] Oakland Unified hires interim CFO to fix fiscal problems as it seeks a permanent financial chief

Consultant will receive $176,000 to serve as interim CFO through the end of December.

Oakland Unified has turned to a financial consultant to bring fiscal stability as the district attempts to deal with a recent grand jury report that criticized the district for “a broken administrative culture.”
At the same time, the district will continue its search for a new chief financial officer.
To help pave the way for a new fiscal leader, the school board on Tuesday agreed to hire a well-respected fiscal consultant at a cost of up to $176,000 through December as an interim CFO, who is expected to work alongside a permanent replacement the district hopes to hire in September. Luz Cazares, who founded Lucid Partnerships in nearby Alameda, a consulting organization that specializes in school budget and management issues, has worked as a financial analyst in Chicago Public Schools, a fiscal management supervisor in the Massachusetts Department of Education as well as a CFO in Alameda City Unified and a deputy superintendent for business services in Pleasanton Unified, both in Alameda County.
She is also experienced in “best practices” outlined by the Government Finance Officers Association, said chief systems service officer Preston Thomas, noting that her contract includes creating a budget development process that includes these. Thomas was recently promoted to his newly created position to replace the chief business officer position, which was eliminated as part of a central office reorganization amid budget cuts.
“One of the key criteria is to get operations in a place in which somebody would come in and take over and kind of lead from that place,” said Thomas, who signed the contract on behalf of the district. She will report to both Thomas and district Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.
The contract would allow Cazares to bring in additional help from other experts, Thomas said, noting that the district has had difficulty recruiting a new CFO since former CFO Ofelia Roxas resigned two months ago. Thomas told EdSource after the meeting that many districts are struggling to find chief business and fiscal officers because there is not a large pool from which to choose.
However he acknowledged that Oakland Unified has special challenges because it is still working to improve its systems and address criticisms raised in a recent Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report, which said the district wastes millions of dollars every year due to a “broken administrative culture.” 
Cazares was chosen from among eight candidates and three finalists based on her knowledge of California laws and school finance, Thomas said, adding that she is not interested in the permanent position. 
Board member James Harris asked about the transition after she leaves.
“What assurance do we have that that knowledge stays?” he asked, explaining that it is important for district staff to be able to continue to operate at her level.
Although the district hopes to hire a new CFO in September, Thomas said Cazares would stay during the transition, to avoid the kinds of “hard, abrupt stops” the district has dealt with when previous fiscal administrators left. Cazares will lay the groundwork for her successor, he said. 
The grand jury report criticized the district’s fiscal systems, saying they were inefficient and failed to maximize economies of scale in purchasing and contracts because the district entered into several contracts with the vendors for similar services instead of consolidating them for one negotiated price.
Thomas said he would work with Cazares to strengthen the district’s systems for payroll, purchasing and contracts.
“She’s an expert in all those areas,” he said, adding that Cazares could also help with recruiting her replacement and handing off the new systems she develops.
Thomas also pointed out that the Alameda County Office of Education has been providing internal fiscal support to the district, which is expected to continue at least through December. The county, he said, has been diagnosing problems in the district’s fiscal department, while introducing “best practices” and coaching staff. 
Harris said it’s important that all staff receive training to ensure that new systems can be well-implemented, especially in light of the central office reorganization that is just being rolled out.
“There’s a whole other cultural piece that needs to happen,” he said. “I want to be sure we are building some fertile ground for the next person to come in. I don’t want to say, ‘We’ve got this.’…It’s not about what’s at the top. It’s about the functionality of the whole organization working together.”
Board president Aimee Eng agreed, saying Cazares could provide a “bridge” in the fiscal department as Thomas works to ensure continuity.
“We have had significant turnover that has been difficult,” she said.
Last week, the board approved its $568.9 million 2019-20 budget although several board members said they were not confident in its accuracy, in part because the fiscal department was short-staffed after the CFO left two months ago. They asked the fiscal department to bring back more information to corroborate its projections in September, after it has time to analyze actual revenues and spending from the “closing of the books” as of June 30. 
Thomas said working with the district’s interim controller to ensure the accuracy of the budget would be one of Cazares’ primary and “absolutely critical” responsibilities. He also noted that the district will be undergoing some audits, which he expected Cazares to help facilitate. He said Cazares would also coach the interim controller and other staff members. 
District parent Michael Louden spoke against the contract, saying the district would in essence be paying for two CFOs through December after a permanent hire is made. He said it seemed like “a terribly rushed idea,” especially in light of the grand jury report, which pointed to overspending on consultant contracts. Instead, he said the district should have been able to handle the duties Cazares will take on in-house.
But board member Jody London said the district had to hire an interim CFO because it has had “extreme difficulty recruiting for this position.”
The board also approved a Tentative Agreement with its Service Employees International Union on the heels of its agreement with the teachers’ union, which will provide a one-time 3 percent bonus, a 3 percent raise retroactive to Jan. 1 and a 2 percent raise in 2019-20. The agreement is expected to cost nearly $3 million through 2020-21. This is the same as what the teachers’ union negotiated for 2018-2020, but does not include the additional 3.5 percent increase teachers are slated to receive Jan. 1, 2021 or the 2.5 percent raise teachers will get effective June 30, 2021. Instead, the district and SEIU have agreed to reopen salary negotiations for 2020-21.
Although the Alameda County Office of Education said it appeared that the district could afford the SEIU agreement, it noted that this is contingent on the district board’s commitment to cutting $10 million in 2020-21 and $10.5 million in 2021-22.
July 3, 2019
By Theresa Harrington

[Humboldt County] Grand Jury: No 'Silver Bullet' to Solving Homeless, Offers Strategies

The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury, a board of citizens impaneled for a year to look into governmental issues, released a report today making recommendations on how to address the region’s overwhelmingly high homeless rate.
The 38-page report looks back at the recommendations from the consulting group Focus Strategies that led the city of Eureka and the county of Humboldt to adopt resolutions supporting a Housing First approach to addressing homelessness in 2016.
The report states that it will take years for the affordable housing stock to catch up with the current demand and, in the interim, “our current and future unsheltered homeless will need somewhere legal to stay, both day and night.”
“While creating more usable shelter is necessary, speeding up the rate at which affordable housing is generated will go a long way to address our homeless crisis,” the summary states. “Local jurisdictions working on their Housing Elements are including creative and forward-thinking solutions to encourage production of affordable housing. Local government should incentivize implementing these solutions.”
While noting in a press release that there is no “silver bullet that will eradicate homelessness in Humboldt County,” the grand jury puts forward 10 recommendations that “if implemented, could significantly improve the quality of life for many of the County’s residents—both homeless and housed—while the affordable housing crisis persists.”
These recommendations include that the county board of supervisors revise the housing element to provide for shelter solutions and affordable housing, work to reduce barriers at existing shelters (like accommodating partners and significant others, providing space to store personal property) and find an ongoing funding source for the Housing Trust Fund. Additionally, the grand jury recommends expanding the role of the county’s Homeless Solutions Committee to include both looking at shelter projects and affordable housing, that the city and county work together to find suitable locations for both a homeless day center and a supervised safe parking program, that the county and city resume monthly meetings on shared issues related to homelessness and that they both work to develop plans to provide financial incentives for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units to house very-low income residents on their properties.
July 2, 2019
North Coast Journal
By Kimberly Wear

Riverside County jails unfair – and perhaps cruel – to some inmates, grand jury says

The panel says inmates restricted for security reasons should get the 30 minutes a day out of their cells they're entitled to, and have a better way to appeal their placement.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is unfair and perhaps cruel in how it treats inmates in some of the most restrictive parts of county jails, the grand jury has found.
Inmates placed in administrative segregation because they’re believed to pose a threat to other inmates or staff can’t appeal their placement the way inmates can protest other conditions, a policy the grand jury recommended changing.
In addition, while those inmates are supposed to get 30 minutes a day outside of their cells to do things like take a shower and call their family, they sometimes lose even that little amount of time, grand jurors wrote in a report released last week. Inmates shouldn’t lose access to rights and privileges like that, the panel said.
“Preventing, denying or curtailing the allotted time with no appropriate alternative to compensate for lost time, is not only unfair, but could be interpreted as cruel treatment,” the report states.
The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment. A spokesman said officials are still reviewing the report and crafting an official response, which is expected to be filed next week.
Riverside County’s civil grand jury provides oversight into county and city government operations, with the panel looking into a variety of issues during each one-year term and issuing reports with non-binding recommendations.
This year, grand jurors were prompted by a Press-Enterprise story on an inmate hunger strike at the county jail in Riverside to look into the issues raised by those inmates.
All 16 inmates in administrative segregation, or “ad-seg,” at the Robert Presley Detention Center participated in that five-day hunger strike in January. Ad-seg inmates also went on a 19-day hunger strike in spring 2017, and a local activist said then that there had been another hunger strike about six months previously. The grand jury said this suggested a pattern of problems not being addressed.
The main issue that prompted this year’s hunger strike, according to the grand jury, was how ad-seg placements are reviewed “and the lack of an equitable appeal process.”
Inmates who want to protest almost any condition of their confinement can file grievances. If they’re not happy with the outcome, they can appeal up the chain of command, all the way to the commander of the jail.
But inmates who take issue with being assigned to administrative segregation are allowed to file only informal grievances, the grand jury report says. Those complaints are reviewed by the same sergeant who placed the inmate there and who evaluates every 30 days whether they should stay or return to the general population. The inmates can’t attend that review and don’t have an option to appeal the result to higher ranks.
Another main frustration that led to the hunger strike was ad-seg inmates frequently losing their 30 minutes of time out of their cells, said Michelle Delahanty, whose husband, Brian, participated in the strike. Often it’s because the unit has to be locked down while an inmate is being transported in or out, she said in January. Someone whose time is cut short doesn’t get to make it up later.
Other conditions she said they were protesting was a lack of attention to medical issues — for example, she said her husband was diagnosed in jail with high blood pressure but wasn’t getting the medication he was told he needed — and a loss of access to hygiene items at the commissary. Additionally, ad-seg inmates without mental health issues wanted separate areas from those with mental health issues, who can be disruptive, she said.
The grand jury criticized the Sheriff’s Department for being “inconsistent and capricious” in giving inmates the time out of their cells they’re entitled to. It also said that while staff might make changes for a few weeks or months after inmates raised concerns, they would soon “revert back to their ‘old ways.’”
“All correctional policies must be enforced, especially in regards to privileges, in order to maintain stability and assure the inmate population that all policies will be consistently enforced and not be applied capriciously,” the report says. “Staff must not create a work culture of deliberate indifference or institutional complacency.”
Finally, the grand jury saw as a problem that the only way for inmates to raise concerns was through the grievance process, which it called “a reactive stance.”
It recommended that in addition to grievances, the Sheriff’s Department should develop a proactive process, such as a monthly discussion where inmates could raise concerns, which might allow staff to address issues before they escalate.
In 2015, experts in medical and mental health assessed Riverside County’s jails as part of the settlement process in a class-action lawsuit filed by the Prison Law Office. The experts’ detailed written reports didn’t contain much criticism of the administrative segregation units, although as part of the settlement, there are some enhanced policies to ensure ad-seg inmates are getting proper mental health care — an issue the grand jury didn’t address.
July 2, 2019
The Press-Enterprise
By Nikie Johnson

[Riverside County] Grand Jury: Riverside County employees forced out, retaliated against County Counsel office, other departments, accused of behavior that might violate labor law.

People working for Riverside County Counsel Greg Priamos, and employees in other county departments, face retaliation and unfair labor conditions at the hands of poor managers according to a new report from the Riverside Civil Grand Jury.
The 16-page report, which details allegations of workers being told to ignore the law and others who were fired or transferred, will be investigated by Supervisors Karen Spiegel and Jeff Hewitt, Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Jeffries announced Tuesday, July 2.
“The Grand Jury report has raised a number of concerning issues regarding internal practices and management supervision,” Jeffries wrote in an email. “(The managers in question) need to be promptly investigated and evaluated by the board.”
Priamos, who has worked for the county for five years, was not available for comment.
The county, which has until Oct. 1 to answer the grand jury, is likely to dispute at least some of the allegations. “The county looks forward to responding to the inaccuracies in the report,” said county spokeswoman Brooke Federico.
The report is the latest clash between the grand jury, a rotating group of 19 citizens impaneled annually by a judge to investigate public agencies’ inner workings, and Priamos, the county’s top in-house lawyer. The county counsel’s office has a total of 81 authorized positions.
In 2015, a different grand jury accused Priamos of interfering with its work. That year’s panel said Priamos unnecessarily asked for written requests for information and made sure lawyers from his office were present during interviews involving the grand jury and county workers. The 2015 jury eventually recommended that Priamos be dismissed.
Priamos said at the time that the grand jury didn’t understand its role, or his job. County supervisors stood by him.
A former county employee, Neal Kipnis, said he filed a complaint with the grand jury last year after being forced out of an almost 30-year career in the county counsel’s office.
In a 2018 letter to then-Supervisor John Tavaglione, Kipnis wrote he received no warning before he was put on a performance improvement plan that, he said, violated county procedures.
He wrote that Priamos put him on administrative leave and forbade him from communicating with county employees after complaining about his treatment to Tavaglione and County Executive officer George Johnson. The grand jury report does not mention Kipnis, but does describe an employee who was told to cease all communication with other employees after contacting a county supervisor “about his problems which were a matter of public concern.”
Kipnis wrote he did not plan to sue the county. In an email to The Press-Enterprise, Kipnis wrote that some former colleagues faced similar treatment.
“Priamos is a very powerful, imposing, unfriendly, mean and threatening figure – and most people just took retirement immediately as they did not want to face the extended (and obviously rigged and unfair) process that I went through to try to fight what was happening.”
“Above their duty”
The new report focuses on Priamos’ office and the human resources department. While the grand jury wrote that human resources has effective leadership, those leaders lack “the power base and support of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to enable them to perform their duties without interference from other managerial entities.”
The report also cited a charge by county Auditor Controller Paul Angulo’s, disputed by the county executive office, that Riverside County spends more to settle lawsuits against it than is spent by other counties of similar size. The grand jury said some managers worsen those costs by routinely ignoring advice they get from human resources.
“Certain county managers have set personal ego, arrogance, power and personal control above their duty to serve the people,” the jury wrote, without naming specific leaders. “These county managers, the CEO, and to some extent the prior (Board of Supervisors), have failed in their leadership to provide a positive, supportive environment.”
The report added: “Prolonged mistrust due to harsh personnel practices as well as unscrupulous tactics by some managers has created a climate of fear, intimidation and anxiety among county employees.”
“Employees know it is ‘go along to get along’ even if it is immoral, illegal, unethical or goes against policies and laws. One employee was told ‘You have to learn how to do things the county way.’”
The report cited examples of employees subjected to what the grand jury described as unfair treatment.
In one disciplinary case, in response to a request from a deputy county counsel, “a letter was provided by a senior HR analyst, detailing specific instructions” about how to fire a county lawyer. That request came, according to the grand jury, even though the attorney “had not received a (performance) evaluation in over five years, and no investigation had commenced.”
The grand jury also alleged that the subsequent investigation into that attorney’s performance was set with a pre-ordained outcome, a potential violation of state and federal law.
“A senior HR analyst assigned to investigate this case was removed and replaced by another HR analyst who determined there was cause to terminate the attorney,” the grand jury wrote. “Testimony revealed that the replacement analyst was assigned the case to ensure the employee was terminated.”
The grand jury also alleged that the county exhibited bias against older workers, another potential violation of labor law.
“Constructive discharge” or employer conduct that forces an employee to quit “was used to force out a significant number of individuals over the age of 40,” the grand jury wrote.
The report singled out an unnamed “high level manager” for applying “retaliatory and discriminatory action against employees, most of whom were over the age of 40.”
“Freeway therapy”
The grand jury described difficult work conditions for county lawyers and others.
“Employees who have displeased managers in the Office of County Counsel, as well as other departments, have found themselves the recipient of a number of ‘Special Treatments.’ Instead of being assisted, if performance issues are present, they are subject to various stressors,” the grand jury wrote.
Some workers, according to the grand jury, are “transferred to distant workplace locations for punitive reasons.” Such transfers, according to the grand jury, are common enough to have a nickname — “freeway therapy.”
The grand jury also described a workplace environment that discourages workers from speaking up about problems, even when the issue might save taxpayers some money.
The report described a county lawyer finding a legal problem when reviewing a lease agreement involving the county’s Economic Development Agency — a problem that could have led to a $1.5 million lien against the county. The report noted that the project previously was handled by a Deputy County Counsel. But when told of that problem, grand jury wrote, the Deputy County Council chastised the lawyer who spoke up about the problem, writing to the lawyer: “(You) had no business informing (the Economic Development Agency) of this matter,” and “you do not understand your role as a Government Attorney.”
The attorney was later fired, the grand jury found.
“This is a brutal example of how a subordinate was unjustly terminated for bringing to light negligence on the part of a supervisor,” the report read.
The grand jury suggested a number of reforms, including new policies “mandating adherence to following HR policies and procedures.”
“The current (Board of Supervisors) must address and stop all abuses of power in the Office of County Counsel,” the report read.
“The record of culpability is long and convincing.”
July 2, 2019
The Press-Enterprise
By Jeff Horseman

[Calaveras County] Grand Jury Report sparks controversy surrounding Animal Control

Animal Control Services (ACS) has been a hot topic in Calaveras County Grand Jury Reports for over 18 years, with juries demanding an updated facility nearly every year since 1999. This year, the ACS shelter in San Andreas was investigated not only by choice of the jury, but also due to a citizen’s complaint.
As a result of the ongoing shortfalls, the 2018-19 Grand Jury made some hefty recommendations, including either the funding for relocation or development of a new facility, or the elimination of Calaveras County ACS and outsourcing to other counties within the 2019-20 fiscal year. It was also recommended that the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office take over operations at the ACS shelter within that same time frame.
Current director of ACS, Evan Jacobs, says he “respectfully disagrees” with those recommendations.
Regarding the potential outsourcing of animal services in Calaveras County, Jacobs referenced the “unique challenges” in other counties such as ordinance variations and limited space. Additionally, he said, the lengthened transportation distance would increase costs for county residents.
Jacobs also disagrees with the potential transfer of ACS to law enforcement, citing increased euthanasia rates at the shelter while under the Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction.
In Calaveras County, ACS has been managed by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) since October of 2012, after previous Sheriff Gary Kuntz decided to let go of the department.
In 2015, the Grand Jury Report found that the shelter was run “more efficiently” under the Sheriff’s Office. This year’s report echoed that sentiment.
“Under the administration of the Sheriff’s Office, an ACS officer would command more respect and authority within the community, have the authority to issue citations, make arrests and enforce codes and licensing laws,” the report reads.
Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio agreed that the department had “better success” when it was run by the Sheriff’s Office.
“The problem was that they keep pulling funding from us, and I think that’s why Sheriff Kuntz gave it back,” DiBasilio told the Enterprise on Tuesday. “If they give us the funding for it, I’m OK with it, but if they don’t allow us to hire the Animal Services officers, then it does no good.”
In addition to laying out a number of initiatives addressing the funding and staffing shortages at the Sheriff’s Office, the 2018-19 Grand Jury Report recommended adequate funding for the Sheriff’s Office to take over ACS operations.
However, current management and volunteers at the county-run shelter have expressed concerns regarding the potential takeover.
In 2005, while operating under the Sheriff’s Office, the ACS total live-release rate was 37.5%, according to Jacobs, with roughly 27% of all dogs and 86% of all cats euthanized at the shelter within the fiscal year. Jacobs noted that it is undetermined if those figures include owner-requested euthanasias, which is a service that the shelter continues to provide.
In 2018 – not factoring in owner-requested euthanasias – the live release rate was 92.4%, with roughly 6% of dogs and 10% of cats euthanized.
Jacobs credits Friends of Calaveras Animal Services (FOCAS) and a change in the industry’s common practice with the significant drop in euthanasia rates, despite minimal improvements to the facility.
“The industry strives for a 90% live-release rate. In some instances, that is considered ‘no kill,’” said Jacobs, who held a similar position in Austin, Texas, prior to joining Calaveras ACS last year.
“My personal stance is, I don’t really believe in the ‘no kill’ movement,” Jacobs said. “I do believe in socially conscious animal sheltering. If an animal is truly aggressive, we will not adopt it out or potentially get it out to a rescue. Sick and injured animals will be taken care of as quickly as possible, whether going through FOCAS or a rescue … We will always strive for the highest live-release rate. It may fluctuate, but we always continue to make sure every available animal gets out and try not to euthanize for time and space.”
FOCAS Chairwoman Debby Beaufort has volunteered at the shelter under both Sheriff’s Office and EMA management. Although she observed a number of physical improvements to the shelter under the Sheriff’s Office, she maintains that ACS and law enforcement are not a “good mix.”
“What the shelter needs, and what they have currently in Evan, is an animal person,” Beaufort said. “To be very honest, I doubt the people on the grand jury are professional animal people. I don’t know that they have the wherewithal to make the suggestion that it goes to the Sheriff’s Office.”
Beaufort added, “(The Sheriff’s Office) didn’t want to deal with it anymore. It was too much. They have a lot on their plate.”
Beaufort and Jacobs both agree with past and present grand jury reports that ACS is underfunded, and that the current 60-year-old facility is “old, outdated and insufficient to care for and house animals.”
“The Board of Supervisors has to step up and pay attention,” Beaufort said. “I’m sure (the shelter is) out of compliance with a lot of state code. It’s such an antiquated system.”
Although Jacobs says he would like to see a new facility “sooner than later,” he recognizes the limitations of the county budget. In recent months, he said, the board has supported ACS with the approval of two new vehicles, with one already purchased and one pending the finalization of the county budget in September.
The addition of two vehicles addresses a recommendation made by this year’s grand jury for one new ACS vehicle. Jacobs says other recommendations are also currently being implemented, including the development of defined policies and procedures for staff.
The parties addressed in the 2018-19 Grand Jury Report, including DiBasilio, Jacobs and the Board of Supervisors, are required to respond to the jury’s findings within the next two months.
July 2, 2019
Calaveras Enterprise
By Dakota Morlan

[Butte County] Grand Jury finds alerts "inadequate" during Camp Fire

OROVILLE, Calif. — The Butte County Grand Jury is recommending a series of changes to be better prepared for devastating wildfires.
The new 74 page grand jury report examined several issues, including the Camp Fire in November of 2018.
The report highlights the need for improved evacuation plans and needed upgrades to emergency communication equipment. The grand jury also pointed out, improvements recommended by the grand jury after the 2008 Humboldt Fire had still not been made. "The 2008-2009 Grand Jury recommendation to widen the shoulders and turnouts along existing evacuation roads has not been funded."
But the grand jury also noted some improvements had been carried out and were helpful during the Camp Fire. The report reads "Following the 2008 Humboldt Fire, vegetation removal along the Skyway and Clark Road allowed those evacuation routes to remain passable during the Camp Fire."
Calli-Jane DeAnda, the executive director of the Butte Fire Safe Council, agreed while adding that more funding is needed to get the job done.
"We need support to remove dead trees that are along roads that may fall on roads in addition to brush that's growing directly next to roads," said DeAnda.
The report points out during the Camp Fire only 7,000 of the 52,000 foothill evacuees were alerted to the approaching wildfire. The grand jury said the phone notifications via the CodeRED system is “inadequate as a stand-alone emergency notification system due to vulnerable telephone and cellular service. “
Butte County District 1 supervisor Bill Connelly didn't quibble with the report's findings, but said these changes wouldn't have likely saved the town nor the 85 lives lost on November 8.
"Anyone can throws rocks at our notification system but this was an unprecedented fire in the history of California," said Connelly.
"The best notification system we have is neighbor on neighbor, know who your neighbors are and help them out," he said. "And that happened a great deal of the time up in Paradise."
The report goes on to say audible alarms must be included in the county’s emergency alert system to notify the most people in case of a wildfire.
It also called for the increased use of infrared-equipped drones to assist emergency responders.
The full list of recommendations are as follows:
1. The Public Works Departments of Butte County and the Town of Paradise should widen the shoulders along ridge and foothill community evacuation routes to aid in evacuation flow, prior to July 1, 2020.
2. The Public Works Departments of Butte County and the Town of Paradise should clear and maintain all flammable vegetation in fire-prone areas adjacent to evacuation roadways, prior to April 1, 2020.
3. The Butte County Department of Development Services should increase enforcement of current laws related to fuel reduction and defensible space, prior to January 1, 2020.
4. The Board of Supervisors should allocate additional funding to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office to expand the “Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program” for use in vegetation reduction along evacuation routes, prior to January 1, 2020.
5. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should amend evacuation route plans to include surrounding communities to address the influx of evacuating vehicles, prior to January 1, 2020.
6. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should establish additional assembly/refuge/greenbelt areas in fire-prone communities for use during evacuations, prior to January 1, 2020.
7. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should adopt assembly/refuge/greenbelt area signage that is easily identifiable by the general public and emergency personnel, prior to January 1, 2020.
8. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should establish an educational campaign for Special Needs Assistance Program for citizens requiring additional assistance during an evacuation, prior to January 1, 2020.
9. The Butte County Board of Supervisors should enact roadside vegetation clearance requirements that are enforceable throughout Butte County, prior to January 1, 2020.
10. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should update the 2013 Butte County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, prior to January 1, 2020.
11.. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should establish multi-platform emergency notification systems to augment the current CodeRED alert system, prior to January 1, 2020.
12. The Butte County Sheriff’s Office should acquire new fire-resistant outerwear for personnel in wildfire-prone areas, prior to January 1, 2020.
13. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should acquire infrared-equipped drones to aid in spotting fire locations, prior to January 1, 2020.
14.The Board of Supervisors should fund one temporary grant-writing position for the next fiscal year to take advantage of the fire-related monies now available.
July 2, 2019
By Kelli Saam and Jerry Olenyn

Calaveras County Grand Jury Submits Its 2018-2019 Report

San Andreas, CA…Dear Judge Healy, California Penal Code §933(a) states: “Each Grand Jury shall submit to the presiding judge of the superior court a final report of its findings and recommendations that pertain to county government matters during the fiscal or calendar year…” In conformance with the aforementioned Penal Code requirement, the 2018-2019 Calaveras County Grand Jury approves and respectfully submits this report to you, the Honorable Timothy S. Healy, Presiding Judge, Superior Court of California, Calaveras County. In our final report you will find nine (9) Civil Government and Special District investigations completed by the 2018-2019 Grand Jury.
The following reports were completed by mandated inspection, citizen complaint investigation, or through inquiry investigation.
Animal Control Services (1)
Continuity & Edit (1)
Jail/Law & Justice (1)
Government/Planning/Public Works (3)
Education & Libraries (1)
Audit & Finance (1)
Community College Districts (1)
To complete the reports, Grand Jurors took facility tours, observed operational activities, interviewed and heard testimony of present and past Elected Officials, many Department Heads and Staff Employees. The Grand Jurors and I would like to thank each of those individuals for their time and their expert testimony.
In addition, the Grand Jurors requested and studied an enormous amount of documents, enabling them to evaluate best practices, the lawfulness of such practices, and the efficiency of work processes. As a result, reports included findings with Grand Jury recommendations and in some cases, commendations.
The dedicated members of the 2018-2019 Grand Jury consisted of 19 Grand Jurors, 7 men and 12 women, diverse in age, life experiences, and expertise. I want to acknowledge the Grand Jury Officers and Committee Chairs for providing outstanding leadership in conducting business timely and thoroughly. I would like to thank all Grand Jury Members for their diligent dedication and timeless efforts in their service to Calaveras County. Our quality work, as an independent investigative body, consisted of prioritizing our efforts, facing unforeseen challenges, and spending long dedicated hours to fulfill our civic responsibility completely, thoroughly, and with professionalism. This Grand Jury worked exceptionally well as a team, demonstrating the highest respect for one another.
On behalf of the 2018-2019 Grand Jury, I would like to extend our sincere thank you and acknowledge Megan Stedtfeld, Calaveras County Counsel and Greg Wayland, Deputy Calaveras County Counsel, for their expertise, consultation, mentorship and time in support of the Calaveras Grand Jury. Anytime the Grand Jury called, they responded timely and without hesitation with the highest professionalism.
Also, on behalf of the 2018-2019 Grand Jury, I would like to extend our sincere thank you and acknowledge Christa Von Latta, Deputy CAO, for her guidance and assistance with the Grand Jury budget. Anytime I and Grand Juror Arleen Bailey, Grand Jury Treasurer, needed assistance or questions answered, Christa did not hesitate to step up to provide answers or meet with us. The collaboration was certainly appreciated by not only myself and Arleen, but by the entire Grand Jury.
In addition, on behalf of the 2018-2019 Grand Jury, I would like to acknowledge the California Grand Jurors’ Association for providing training, on-going guidance, and the working tools to be successful in the completion of our final report.
I am grateful, honored and humbled by your confidence, support and guidance, as well as the assistance provided by Calaveras Superior Court Administrative Support, Doreen Balletti, during this past year. The Grand Jury Foreperson experience has been challenging but rewarding.
Thank you for the privilege to serve this past year as Foreperson!
Carolyn Stinemates
2018-2019 Calaveras County Foreperson
[report link provided on the Pine Tree website]
July 2, 2019
The Pine Tree
Submitted by County Administration

[Santa Clara County] Letter to the editor: Giving Uber, Lyft vouchers cheaper than cost of VTA

Re: “County Civil Grand Jury hailed for calling out VTA” (Letter to the editor, June 27):
Letter-writer Jim Bob Davis made great points and provided good information on how out of control Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s inefficiency and wastefulness are.
I can’t imagine how taxpayers can stand spending almost $10 to subsidize the paid fare of each rider on each trip.
The sight of empty or near-empty buses or trains has become even more disturbing. To put this in perspective, it would likely be less expensive and more convenient for users to just give people vouchers for Uber or Lyft shared rides.
I know this likely will not be done for nothing other than political reasons, but it should provide a measuring stick VTA will need to use for comparison whenever it is spending more money to do anything.
July 2, 2019
The Mercury News
Letter from Carl Koo, San Jose

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

[Sonoma County] Civil Grand Jury report tackles health care in jail

The Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury tackled several big issues this year, including health treatment in the county jail, protecting local water systems against earthquakes, problems with the county’s mental health budget and the chronic neglect of county-owned properties. This week we’ll look at their discussion of health care in the county jail.
Positive report card on the county jail
As mandated by the California Penal Code, the Sonoma CountyCivil Grand Jury examines the local jails every year. This year it decided to investigate how the Main Adult Detention Facility (MADF) in Santa Rosa meets the medical, mental health, dental, substance abuse treatment and educational needs of inmates.
The MADF was built to hold short-term prisoners — those awaiting trial, those unable to make bail or those serving sentences of less than a year.
Since 2011, however, in order to reduce overcrowding in state penitentiaries, local jails like the MADF have been housing more serious criminals serving longer terms. According to the report, these felons now represent 19% of the jail population.
This, combined with the rise in arrests of the homeless, means that prisoners come into the jail in poorer health and with more serious mental health issues.
Main Findings
The report’s first finding struck a positive note, noting that “The Main Adult Detention Facility, through its contractors, is providing quality medical care, drug treatment, dental care, mental health treatment and adult educational opportunities to its inmates. The Sheriff’s Office is to be commended for its management of social services at MADF.”
It particularly praised the Sheriff’s Office for its “Jail-based Competency Restoration” program, which has significantly reduced the time needed to ready mentally ill inmates to stand trial — down from 10 months to just two-and-half months. The program relies on a combination of psychological testing, psychotherapy tailored to restoring legal competency and psychiatric medication (including petitioning the courts for involuntary use of psychiatric medication for patients suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).
This improvement has been so impressive that, according to the report, “Staff from other California jails now visit MADF to learn how the program is achieving such remarkable results.”
The Grand Jury did find some serious room for improvement, however. Some of their findings were procedural — insufficient nursing staff during evening and night shifts contributes to delays in the booking process — but others were health-related.
The report, for example, urges the jail to reexamine its practice of forcing addicts to go “cold turkey,” rather than having them use maintenance medications such as suboxone or methadone.
The report also suggested that the jail’s health contractor, Wellpath, do more comprehensive screening for tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, syphilis and other STDs. It also chastised Wellpath for switching inmates using certain HIV/AIDS medications to “alternative medications, which may not be as effective or well-tolerated.”
In addition, the Grand Jury called the lack of a comprehensive vaccination program at MADF “a missed opportunity,” noting that the jail could receive vaccines for free from the county if it had a medication refrigerator with a temperature alarm.
The report also suggested that the jail work more closely with local public health agencies to ensure that prisoners who are being released into the community in the middle of, say, a course of antibiotics for tuberculosis finish their mandated treatment protocols.
The Grand Jury’s final finding addressed the jail’s education system. Although the jail offers 50-plus courses for inmates and provides incentives for taking classes, including GED prep courses, the report noted MADF’s inability to award a GED certificate “is a weakness in the MADF education program.” They note, however, that the jail has already lined up a new program, called Five Keys, which will go into effect this fall and will remedy this shortcoming. 
July 2, 2019
The Healdsburg Tribune (Sonoma West)
By Laura Hagar Rush


Findings from the Butte County Grand Jury determined that the emergency planning used during the Camp Fire "saved lives."

Speech to Text for the Butte County Grand Jury releases its findings on the emergency planning measures used in Camp Fire
Below is the closed-captioning text associated with this video. Since this uses automated speech to text spelling and grammar may not be accurate.
pre-planning did save lives.. that's the finding tonight from the butte county grand jury.. good eveing. i'm alan marsden.. and i'm debbie cobb.. the grand jury.. comprised of some camp fire survivors. has released its review of evacuation routes and emergency planning during the camp fire. in the report.. the grand jury says, improvements made after the 2008 humboldt fire saved lives during the 'camp fire'. action news now reporter stephanie lin breaks down the grand jury's report. nats: the fire's most intense entry point was near pearson road& jim broshears of the butte county fire safe council walks us through the evacuation routes taken by those running for their lives. we made some choices in the town's plan on how traffic might flow. a butte county grand jury interviewed broshears as part of a review of the county's emergency planning& its final report found that changes completed after the 2008 humboldt fire& "saved lives" after 2008, we looked long and hard at some of the choices that had been made. 74 homes were lost in the humboldt fire, and hard lessons learned. improvements, which included the clearing of vegetation along the skyway, the paving of forest highway 171, and the drafting of detailed emergency action plans, made a difference& the report says, during the camp fire. if they could find a way to make the traffic flow a little easier. but those who survived the drive down the skyway say there's more to be done. too many people at once. we'd love the end of the bottlenecking on skyway, we need more routes, more lanes& standup: due to the speed and unpredictable nature of the fire, hundreds of cars still ended up stuck and abandoned here near the intersection of wagstaff and skyway. it was so congested. we saw people swerve out into one lane and back into the big line of cars. it was kind of crazy. the jury's review lists the need for expanded evacuation traffic plans. when we look forward, we will look at a more regional approach to the movement and flow of traffic, not just get it off the hill, but where can we move it to keep the line moving? the grand jury's report acknowledging the progress made since emergencies past, and noting the need for necessary changes moving forward. in paradise, stephanie lin, action news now. other improvements recommended by the report include.. upgrading emergency communication equipment, improving evacuation plans, and more public education campaigns on fire prevention, safety and survival.
July 1, 2019
Action News Now (KHSL, KNVN)
By Callie Ross-Smith

[San Mateo County] Millbrae snuffs out apartment smoking

Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report.
Smoking will no longer be tolerated in Millbrae apartment buildings, under a decision by officials designed to protect the health and wellness of those living in multi-unit developments.
The Millbrae City Council unanimously approved banning tobacco and marijuana smoking as well as vaping in apartment buildings, according to video of the meeting Tuesday, June 25.
Officials framed the decision as one necessary to help limit exposure to secondhand smoke, while some councilmembers questioned why the policy which has grown commonplace across the Peninsula took so long to reach Millbrae.
“I’m glad we are moving forward with this,” said Councilwoman Ann Schneider, who proceeded to raise a variety of other concerns with the city’s policies regarding smoking.
While she appreciated the regulation, Schneider said she feels more prevention work needs to be done, especially downtown, to assure tobacco is effectively snuffed out in Millbrae.
Vice Mayor Reuben Holober agreed public smoking is another, larger issue, and suggested the ashtrays placed downtown could be removed so as to not encourage lighting up.
“By keeping those ashtrays downtown we may be contradicting the law,” he said.
As for the apartment ban, terms of the policy reflect similar regulations approved by neighboring communities in recent years. Those renting apartments will not be allowed to smoke or vape any substance in their units, under the ban. The regulation will be enforced according to complaints from neighbors, and violators would face fines between $100 and $250. Exemptions will be offered to those living in privately operated duplex or triplex developments, as officials were sensitive to not infringe on the property rights of landlords.
The policy will be phased in over time, as officials attempted to balance their urgency for implementation against allowing an opportunity for smokers who will need to move to find a new place.
“You have to give the building owners some time to get the word out and give people a chance to comply,” said Mayor Wayne Lee.
Some details of the policy will be firmed up later, once officials vote for final approval at a subsequent meeting.
For her part, Councilwoman Gina Papan said the effectiveness of the policy will ultimately be determined by the enforcement effort.
“If we are going to take this seriously, it has to be strictly enforced,” she said.
Councilwoman Anne Oliva raised questions over whether it is possible to regulate such behavior, but nonetheless recommended officials work with property managers and landlords to assure information about the policy is widely distributed.
The policy discussion arrived in the wake of a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report, calling for cities without the bans to consider establishing the regulations. Schneider expressed her frustration such a report was necessary for the city to take action.
Cities such as Belmont, Burlingame, Redwood City, Half Moon Bay, San Bruno, San Mateo and many others throughout the county have already established similar bans.
“It is really disappointing it took a grand jury study to do one additional ordinance in Millbrae,” she said.
A handful of residents advocated for establishing the restriction too, and expressed their appreciation to officials to looking to improve the health and safety of their community.
“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t pass this ordinance,” said Millbrae resident Yuri Cartier, who called the proposed policy a common sense decision in light of the health risks posed by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Holober signaled he agreed that the policy would be a step in the right direction for Millbrae.
“I am very comfortable with the ordinance as written,” he said.
July 1, 2019
The Daily Journal
By Austin Walsh

[Santa Barbara County] Grand Jury Finds Fault with Santa Barbara County Jail Staff in 2018 Inmate Suicide

Report says staff and contracted medical providers did not follow procedures with Goleta man who committed suicide in custody

Blog note: Noozhawk, the reporting media, says about this article: “Noozhawk does not typically report on a suicide unless it takes place in public or involves a public figure, and coverage often omits details, including the method, due to responsible reporting guidelines. However, regarding the Grand Jury investigation into institutional failures, the details of Alexander Braid’s suicide in a jail cell are important to understanding the conclusions and recommendations in the report.”
A Goleta man killed himself in his jail cell last year, and Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department staff and contracted medical providers did not follow procedures and did not recognize that he was potentially suicidal.
That was the conclusion of the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury in its last report of the 2018-19 session, which was released over the weekend.
The Grand Jury regularly investigates deaths in custody, and this report digs into the July 5, 2018, death of 45-year-old Alexander Ricardo Braid.
Braid was arrested that day for acting aggressively toward another resident in his home, according to the Grand Jury report.
He appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and was agitated in the patrol car; he struck his head against the vehicle’s interior, and called out to God for help, according to video reviewed by the Grand Jury.
The deputy told the jail over the radio that Braid was being “combative,” with no mention of the self-harming behavior, the report found.
At the jail, a registered nurse is supposed to evaluate arrestees to give them medical and mental health clearance, and jail staff are supposed to check prior arrest records.
Braid was arrested in December 2015 and “suicidal talk” triggered a 5150 mental-health hold, and transport to the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital emergency room, the report found.
However, during his July 2018 arrest, no one appeared to examine records of Braid’s mental health or arrest history.
“Despite (Braid’s) prior arrest record, which included a 5150 hold, and despite his palpable agitation, his anger, his apparent state of intoxication, and his repeated self-harming behavior while seated in the patrol car, at his home, and in transit to the jail, none of the patrol or custody deputies, or the Wellpath nursing staff, recognized that (Braid) potentially was suicidal,” the report found.
Braid was arrested on suspicion of elder abuse and disrupting a wireless communication device, and it appeared likely that he would be cited and released, after being detained at the jail long enough to “sleep it off,” according to the Grand Jury investigation.
Braid was placed in a cell where the camera system could not view the entire space. He was only wearing board shorts when he was arrested, so jail staff gave him a white T-shirt and beltless blue pants.
About 15 minutes after entering the cell, Braid hanged himself with the shirt tied to the bars, out of view of the camera, the Grand Jury found. About 10 minutes later, a custody deputy walked by and discovered him, and called for a “man down” response.
Jail staff attempted live-saving measures, but Braid died of his injuries, and an autopsy named asphyxiation as the cause of death.
“In investigating further, the jury learned that when (Braid) was first discovered hanging in his cell, emergency resuscitation equipment could not be located, and when located, did not function properly.
“The Sheriff’s Department told the jury that the malfunctioning resuscitation equipment had not been retained as evidence, and more importantly, that there was no log or other documentation showing that required inspections of the jail’s life-saving equipment had occurred,” the report concluded.
The Grand Jury viewed video of the “man down” response, and saw what appeared to be a deputy removing a piece of evidence from the cell, what they think was the T-shirt ligature. The shirt was in a paper bag at the autopsy, according to photos, but was later thrown away and not preserved as evidence, the Sheriff’s Department told the Grand Jury.
The Grand Jury viewed video, conducted interviews, and reviewed documents and reports during the investigation into Braid’s death.
Members were frustrated at being delayed or refused documents requested from the Sheriff’s Office, including internal investigative reports, and said while they did not challenge all of the refusals, a future Grand Jury may do so.
The 2019-20 Grand Jury was sworn in Monday and includes three members from the former Grand Jury that worked on this report.
“The purpose of this report is not to speculate whether (Braid's) death could have been avoided had employees of the Sheriff’s Office and Wellpath done a better job,” the report concludes. “The jury’s role in this case is to investigate the circumstances of the death, determine the facts, and make recommendations with the goal of improving local government operations.
“The jury regrets that, for the most part, the Sheriff’s Office seemed more interested in obstructing than working cooperatively with the jury toward that goal,” it continues, in bold. 
“Dealing with persons who are under the influence of drugs, alcohol, and/or mental illness is no easy task. Nevertheless, the sheriff is responsible for the physical safety of every person taken into custody.”
The Grand Jury report has multiple findings and recommendations for the Sheriff’s Office, and one for the county Board of Supervisors.
The agencies have 60 and 90 days to respond, respectively, and the responses will show whether more action is required, whether by the governmental agencies or the Grand Jury itself, the report concludes.
“The Sheriff’s Office received the Grand Jury’s report and is in the process of carefully reviewing its findings and recommendations,” spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said in a statement Monday. “The Sheriff’s Office takes the report seriously, and will issue a detailed response well within the time frame requested, including correcting several inaccuracies.  
“Suicide is a sad reality throughout our society, and the jail is not immune to these tragedies,” she said. 
“Our staff has intervened in suicide attempts at the jail and has saved lives. Whether people commit suicide inside or outside of the jail, all of us here at the Sheriff’s Office are deeply saddened by such loss of life,” Hoover said.
About 17,000 inmates are booked into the Main Jail every year, and there have been four in-custody deaths due to suicide since 2001, she said.
That includes an inmate death by apparent suicide that the Sheriff’s Office disclosed on Monday.
Joseph Frederick Rose, 47, was transported to a local hospital after an apparent suicide attempt June 25, and died of his injuries on Sunday, Hoover said in a statement.
He had been held in custody since April 10, 2018, on suspicion of burglary, battery, and violating probation.
The Grand Jury report on Braid's suicide in custody recommends the Board of Supervisors examine the contract with Wellpath (formerly called California Forensic Medical Group, CFMG), which provides medical and mental health services to Main Jail inmates.
The Main Jail continues to operate its medical and mental health services without accreditation from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and that accreditation was supposed to be obtained by 2017, the Grand Jury found.
“While the Jury understands that the certification process can be lengthy, the lack of accreditation constitutes a continuing violation of the contract and is a matter of real concern. Especially considering that the North Branch Jail is scheduled to open later this year, this issue should be addressed promptly by the Board of Supervisors.”
The Northern Branch Jail, which is still under construction near Santa Maria, has 32 designated medical and mental health beds.
County staff members are currently reviewing the Grand Jury report, said Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
“Obviously, any death in custody concerns me,” he said in emailed comments on the report.
“That is one of the reasons why the board has devoted so many resources to upgrading our facilities, including building a new Northern Branch Jail. We approved the current five year contract with CFMG in 2017, which specifically addressed the accreditation issue by the NCCHC which was to occur by April 1, 2019.
“CFMG provided an update at the July 31, 2018, BOS meeting and as part of the board’s response to this Grand Jury report, I expect to receive another update about that status later this year,” Lavagnino said.
The Grand Jury report’s findings and recommendations for the Sheriff’s Office include:
» Review and improve training for patrol deputies responding to people who appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or exhibit symptoms of mental illness, including questioning people at the scene who may have relevant information about the person’s condition. One witness at the scene of Braid’s arrest had information that the Grand Jury “believes might have helped avoid AB’s death if sheriff’s deputies or medical personnel had obtained it; however, sheriff’s deputies did not interview this witness.”
» Review and improve training for deputies “in recognizing and accurately communicating to jail staff any self-harming behavior by detainees.”
» Have the Sheriff’s Office require that Wellpath, the health care provider in the Main Jail, assure its staff adhere to policies to assess arrestees. The registered nurse “failed to follow established procedure requiring that a medical/mental health evaluation be conducted in a private interview room where the arrestee’s computerized records are available for immediate reference.”
» Have the Sheriff’s Office require custody staff to adhere to booking policies, including examining prior arrest records during the booking process. “Custody deputies at booking failed to closely examine (Braid's) prior arrest records, which contained information that might have helped avoid AB’s death,” the Grand Jury found.
» Since Braid was placed in an observation cell with a video camera that did not show the portion of the cell where he committed suicide, the Grand Jury recommends the Sheriff’s Office stops using that cell, or improve the video equipment to give a complete view of the cell.
» Review and improve training for “man down” responses and require custody staff to properly handle and preserve evidence connected to incidents at the jail.
» Require Wellpath to inspect, repair and replace emergency life-saving equipment on a regular schedule, maintain a service log, and train custody staff on its location. “Wellpath medical staff and sheriff's custody staff responding to the 'man down' announcement was unaware of the location of life-saving resuscitation equipment and that it was not functional,” the Grand Jury report found.
July 1, 2019
Noozhawk Santa Barbara
By Giana Magnoli