Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Humboldt Grand Jury reports on eldercare, child welfare and correctional facilities

EUREKA, Calif. — The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury released three reports today discussing the state of eldercare, child welfare and the county jail, three years into the pandemic.

The reports delve into the challenges the county has faced in providing services to residents amid the pandemic and highlighted a series of ongoing issues -- most notably, Humboldt County’s lack of psychiatric care, the underreporting of elder abuse and the need for better collaboration with tribal governments in child abuse cases.

Elder Abuse and Homelessness

The "Elder Abuse and Senior Homelessness Report" sheds light on the growing number of people seniors in Humboldt County who are victims of elder abuse or are experiencing homelessness.

“For seniors already on the streets, the ability to prioritize them for immediate shelter is vital,” the report states. “As of this writing, there are no emergency beds or shelters set aside exclusively for homeless seniors in Humboldt County.”

According to the report, many seniors – people 65-years-of-age or older -- are avoiding shelters because they are concerned about shelter safety. The Grand Jury is asking the county to pursue grant funding from the state to address the lack of senior-specific housing and emergency shelters.

The Grand Jury also cites concerns about the underreporting of elder abuse in the county and said Adult Protective Services can do more to bring awareness to the frequency of abuse. It recommends all law enforcement agencies add a prominent elder abuse reporting link and number on their websites by December 31 of this year.

While the issue of elder abuse persists, the county has seen a “substantial improvement” in both prosecutions and convictions of elder abuse cases, thanks to Measure Z dollars, a half-cent sales tax passed by Humboldt County voters in 2014.

Correctional Facilities

The Grand Jury’s report titled, "Custody, Corrections and other County Facilities" noted that despite efforts to recruit staff, The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is struggling to attract qualified staff to manage its jail–in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and high cost of living.

According to the report, there have also been some safety concerns within the jail. The most obvious is COVID-19. The county responded to the public health threat by implementing a quarantine policy in 2020. Inmates who tested positive for the virus are placed in isolation cells.

The facility only saw one severe case of COVID-19 that required hospitalization, according to the report.

Mental health was the other top concern. The Grand Jury discussed the county’s worsening mental health crisis in is 2018-2019 report but they are saying the situation has only become more severe.

Sempervirens, Humboldt County’s acute psychiatric hospital, cannot house inmates and has just 16 beds, which is not enough to even serve the general public. Humboldt County Jail has been serving as a de facto psychiatric facility since 90% of its inmates have mental health conditions. Inmate assaults are up by more than 50%, from 2020-2021, according to the report.

“This creates a potentially unsafe environment for officers and inmates,” the report states. “Seven years ago, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury recommended the installation of safety netting between floors as a fall and suicide prevention safety measure. Per leadership, this netting should be installed by November 2022.”

The report also highlights work that needs to be done in other county facilities including the County Animal Shelter, which doesn’t have enough kennels and the Office of Emergency Services, which needs upgrades.

Child Welfare Services

In its "Collaborative Community Quest" report, the Grand Jury found that more needs to be done to make sure Native American children are protected and supported in the county.

After sovereign nations alleged the Department of Health & Human Services-Child Welfare Services’ (DHHS-CWS) and Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office allegedly failed to comply with California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, the Grand Jury launched its own investigation.

“We have determined that while DHHS-CWS and HCSO have made notable progress toward collaboration with area Native American tribes, this mandated corrective action continues to be a challenge in the areas of joint decision making, cross-reporting, communication involving child welfare policies, and oft-opposing philosophical perspectives,” the report stated. “CANRA compliance is therefore threatened as noted by County tribal representatives through documents obtained and interviews conducted by this Grand Jury.”

The Grand Jury is calling on the Board of Supervisors to create an independent Office of Tribal Affairs by January 1, 2023, to help increase communication between tribal communities and county government entities. According to the report, such an office would help address child protection, social services and justice issues in a more effective, culturally informed way.

The full reports can be found on the county's website.

KRCRTV.com
Carly Wipf
June 17th 2022

[San Joaquin] SJ grand jury: Stockton Unified needs to make critical changes to avoid dire financial trouble

“With deficits approaching $30 million per year by fiscal year 2024-25, the financial forecast for Stockton Unified School District is dire,”  the San Joaquin County grand jury says in a new report.

The Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees must implement better financial management and leadership policies to avoid financial trouble, conflicts of interest and increase transparency, the 2021-22 San Joaquin County grand jury said in a report released Friday.

The grand jury wasted no time in painting a picture of the district, which recently saw the resignation of Superintendent John Ramirez Jr.

“With deficits approaching $30 million per year by fiscal year 2024-25, the financial forecast for Stockton Unified School District is dire.”

Ongoing expenses are being paid with limited-time funds, grants are not being managed appropriately and experienced personnel who would address these “critical issues” are leaving, the grand jury report said. Outside staff and consultants are being hired to cover “essential duties.”

The Board of Trustees “often make critical decisions with minimal data, knowledge and consideration.”

The report says that the San Joaquin County Office of Education has hired FCMAT, the state agency charged with conducting fiscal oversight of public education, to conduct an AB139 Extraordinary Audit.

The Extraordinary Audit is the first such audit of a San Joaquin County public school district. The only other Extraordinary Audit in the county was a review of an independent charter school in 2015, the report said.

According to the grand jury report, if the Extraordinary Audit finds financial mismanagement, misuse of funds or insolvency, Stockton Unified could be placed in state receivership. The receivership, which would be administered by the San Joaquin County Office of Education, could include firing the superintendent and suspending the Board of Trustees as a decision-making body for the district.

The audit will take between 12-18 months to complete.

The new report comes less than a year after the 2020-21 grand jury found the Board of Trustees had failed as district leaders and will likely continue to do so.

In a scathing 33-page report, that grand jury said Stockton Unified trustees are the direct reason for what's been called the district's "revolving door" of superintendents.

"The grand jury found that there is widespread concern about the short tenure of SUSD superintendents, especially in the last 15 years," the report said. "This turnover rate, which is as high as anywhere in California, is a foremost indication that the trustees have failed, and will continue to fail, to effectively lead the district."

Trustee behavior and actions have negatively impacted SUSD and made it "difficult, if not impossible," for any lasting, positive changes to take hold, the report says. Trustees have also been found to have contributed to declining trust and morale of employees and the community.

The previous grand jury found other issues of serious concern, including a "disregard of policies and procedures, especially regarding hiring; trustee behavior, especially during meetings; trustee disregard of their appropriate roles, inappropriate complaints, especially by trustees against other trustees; and deficient transparency, making it difficult for the public to understand what is taking place."

In a draft response trustees said the civil grand jury "ignored the weight of evidence, and that it instead has generally chosen to support the views of a disgruntled minority" and emphasized negative aspects of the board. Trustees declined to implement many of the grand jury recommendations.

Read the full report

The Record
Genette Brookshire and Donald W Blount
June 18, 2022

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Editorial: Reviewing pandemic response worthwhile, no matter how well Marin [County] officials performed

When it came to handling a pandemic, Marin public health officials had little experience.

Marin’s experience with the deadly Spanish flu of the early 1900s was tucked deep in the history books and hardly a primer for the much larger population and complex society of today.

The rise of the coronavirus caused many tragedies, but that price could have been much greater had Marin public health officials not taken effective preventive measures early. We did not endure the overcrowded hospitals and overwhelmed morgues recounted by too many communities across our nation.

Still, at least 250 Marin residents have died from problems linked to contracting the COVID-19 virus. Nearly 90% of those deaths were 65 and older and most of those deaths were among those living in long-term care facilities.

The county’s effective push to get residents vaccinated, including follow-up boosters, significantly slowed the rate of local hospitalizations and infections. Marin’s extraordinary high vaccination rate is a result of strong public trust and successful outreach across our community.

There is reason to praise those who guided and helped enact our local response.

There is also good reason to take a hard look at how that leadership performed – its challenges and responses – and where there is room for improvement.

The 2021-22 Marin County Grand Jury came to that conclusion in its recent report.

“A published countywide, multi-agency review could serve to guide Marin’s current and future leaders’ responses to the ongoing effects of COVID-19, as well as the next emergency,” the grand jury concluded.

Just as important, it called Marin’s response “an example of strong and capable public health leadership.”

Those who played roles in providing that leadership and public service – on many levels – deserve praise and our gratitude.

For them, they were trying to do what was right to save lives and help keep people healthy.

There was no up-to-date template to guide them. They were guides in uncharted waters.

We all learned as we progressed, through the spikes and valleys of infection rates, lockdowns, school closures, mask requirements, business closures – permanently for many – and loss of jobs and losing loved ones and friends.

We learned a lot. We need to build that data base for the future, as well as regroup and evaluate what we could have done better. What lessons we have learned about measures that were taken and those that could be improved upon.

We were reminded about the importance of communication. The county was forthright in letting the public know specific up-to-date details concerning the risks. Those statistics – even their rollercoaster-like patterns – were persuasive and critical public-health tools.

At the same time, public health decisions were being made without clarity and any room for public input. That was frustrating for local businesses eager to reopen their doors.

There were also times the public was getting mixed messages from federal, state and local officials.

But the right steps outnumbered the wrong ones, those that either fell short or led us in the wrong direction.

It is encouraging that Dr. Matthew Willis, the county’s chief medical officer who has steadfastly  led the local public-health efforts, agrees that such an evaluation would be worthwhile.

In moving toward that effort, it should be the product of the varied stakeholders in this crisis. A consultant may be needed to organize, write and produce that document, but it should be authored by a broad-based team of local stakeholders, both those who led on various fronts and those who had to deal with the day-to-day challenges and long-term ramifications of the crisis.

We’re not yet beyond the threat of COVID-19, but we are at a point when we can take time to assess how we’ve responded to this, hopefully, once-in-a-lifetime prolonged crisis.

Marin Independent Journal
Marin IJ Editorial Board
June 11, 2022

Sunday, June 19, 2022

'Derelict and Incompetent': [Kern County] Grand jury reports seek improvements in California City

On Tuesday the Kern County Grand Jury released their 2021-2022 report on the state of California City. This is the fourth in a series of reports looking into residents' complaints about how the city has been run over the past few years.

The latest grand jury report says that Cal City leadership is in "crisis mode” and the city's financial state is "shocking.” According to the report current city officials have recognized that the "buck must stop with them."

In California City, not one but four Kern County grand jury reports have highlighted alleged issue after alleged issue. The 2021-2022 grand jury report titled "A Time to Come Together 2.0" looks into 46 concerns including accounting regularities, sewer funds, and proposition 218 non-compliance.

After looking into the daily operations of Cal City the grand jury found a lack of stability in leadership. In the past decade Cal City has had a high turnover in department heads. The only permanent filled position is the Cal City fire chief.

To top it off, the city is already paying about $3 million in wrongful termination fees.

And that inconsistency of management has reportedly trickled down. One area is water line replacements. The report described Cal City’s water line replacement program "as derelict and incompetent."

The report says that back in 2002 the Kern County Grand Jury gave the city 10 to 15 years to make such improvements to old and rusted water pipes installed in the 60s. As of this past April, only 10 percent of water lines have been replaced.

Two days after the report on Thursday morning there was a failed water main on 84th Street in Cal City.

According to the grand jury report, city officials say that water blowouts have been one of the slowdowns on these updates. Allegedly, Cal City has an average of three blowouts a week even with public works having 15 workers on call 24/7 for water line maintenance and repair.

General ledger and accounting practices have been another complaint. The report details that the city hasn’t been formally audited since 2019 and in 2020, a CPA firm found the city inaudible, which refers to how efficiently assets are being used.

The report details a ransomware cyber attack on the city in May 2021. It lasted 7 weeks, complicating its problem.

Allegedly, so has the “constant turnover” of the city manager and finance director positions.

The grand jury report outlined nine recommendations for California City, including:

Providing the city manager the tools needed to permanently fill all director positions by this September.

Hosting quarterly open town hall meetings to smooth over lines of communication with the public.

And by this December work with a private agency specializing in human resources and personnel matters to improve how they handle employment and termination.

23ABC visited city hall to speak with city officials about the report but neither the mayor nor the city manager was in. 23ABC also called and emailed but did not hear back.

23ABC also went to the police department as they were allegedly over budget, but were unavailable.

Kern County Grand Jury Report: City of California City

23ABC
Kristin Vartan, Anthony Wright
June 16, 2022


[Orange County] Grand Jury releases report on public land sales within county, prompted by near sale of Back Bay parcel

The county of Orange isn’t sufficiently notifying residents about the potential sale of public lands to private individuals, according to a recent report from the Orange County Grand Jury.

In its document, “County Land Transactions: Will the Public Notice?,” the investigative body also identified a number of other faults with the procedures for the sale of public lands in Orange County, including that the county has also failed to properly notify involved state agencies, like the California Coastal Commission, about potential land sales.

The grand jury said it chose to investigate the matter after receiving complaints from residents about the sales of public park land to private individuals. The county owns about 80,000 acres of park land. While it sometimes makes sense for the county to sell land to private people, these sales should be “carefully scrutinized” so that there isn’t any unnecessary loss of valuable public land and to protect against politically fueled deals, the grand jury wrote.

“Notice efforts should include mailings, property depictions, and other information that properly inform citizens impacted by the sale,” the grand jury said. “This information should also be displayed on appropriate websites and published in a manner that will reach the intended audience.”

County spokeswoman Molly Nichelson declined to comment on the report.

A controversial sale in Newport Beach

For its report, the grand jury specifically investigated a proposed sale in the Newport Beach Back Bay area that sparked controversy last year. Voice of OC reporter Brandon Pho covered the deal, where county officials nearly sold a piece of park land to a wealthy political donor, whose home is connected to the parcel, for $13,000.

Initially, the county did not move forward on the homeowner’s proposal. But then, former county Supervisor Michelle Steel stepped in and advocated for the deal, and it gained traction, the grand jury said. Steel is referred to as “then-County Supervisor for District 2" in the report. A spokesperson for Steel did not respond to a request for comment.

The grand jury wrote that the parcel is surrounded by a chain-link fence that was installed by the homeowner that borders a walkway and is near a paved pathway that is used by walkers, bicyclists and equestrians. The land was given to the county decades ago by the Irvine Co. under the condition that it remained park land, and the county eventually adopted a resolution that declared the land where the parcel sits, known as Newport Beach’s Back Bay Reserve, as public land. The California State Land Commission also recognized the area as public trust land. The county resolution noted that the commission leased the property to the state’s Department of Fish and Game for open space.

“With the support of the then-District 2 Supervisor, steps were taken to sell the land with no restrictions despite the predated covenants and restrictions and without regard to the Board of Supervisors and the California State Land Commission’s resolutions that the land shall be held in trust under the stewardship of the State’s Department of Fish and Game,” the grand jury said.

The grand jury wrote that the appraisal for the property, which was paid for by the homeowner, came in “at only” $13,000, even though the added land would “substantially increase” the value of the homeowner’s property. Despite the low price tag, the board voted to move forward with the sale in January 2021. The grand jury said that the staff report that was prepared ahead of the supervisors’ meeting did not mention the previous board resolution permanently designating the property as public trust land.

The grand jury also found fault with the county’s lack of notice to residents.

The county is required to publish a notice of a sale of public land in a newspaper. However in this instance, the county chose to print a notice in the OC Reporter. The grand jury found this to be inadequate, and contended that the notice should have been posted in the Orange County Register or Daily Pilot.

“Although the OC Reporter prints some articles of general interest, this publication exists primarily to provide a vehicle for legal notices,” the grand jury said. “It is not within the spirit of the law to claim that this is the newspaper with the greatest circulation in order to provide notice to local citizens ... In addition, the legal notices published do not provide average interested citizens true notice of what is being sold as the notices are purely legal in nature and the properties are often described by plot number and other technical identifiers.”

The Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote on the approval of the sale in April 2021, but it didn’t go through due to newly elected Supervisor Katrina Foley tabling the item. Foley took Steel’s seat on the board after Steel was elected to Congress. The grand jury noted that if Steel had remained on the board, “the sale of this land would most likely have gone through.”

Concerned residents who had learned of the issue by word of mouth then started circulating a petition to prevent the sale. According to the grand jury, a petition with the signatures of at least 200 residents can force the board to either stop the sale or put it to a public vote. The petition gathered about 1,300 signatures and the sale has not moved forward. Yet, the chain-link fence is still in place, which the grand jury takes issue with.

“By allowing the owner-installed fence surrounding [the parcel] to remain in place, the County has permitted the homeowner to inappropriately privatize this parcel at no cost to the homeowner and in a manner inconsistent with the well-established public trust designation,” the grand jury wrote.

Recommendations

The grand jury provided a number of recommendations in its report, including that conservation easements and dedications of public trust land should be properly recorded with the county recorder so that they can be adequately referenced when potential sales are being considered. The investigative body also said that the Board of Supervisors needs to establish procedures to make sure that staff reports include information about conservation easements and public trust designations.

The grand jury also recommended that “mailers, social media, meaningful newspaper notices, and physical postings all be utilized to provide proper notice to the public at large.”

Lastly, the grand jury contends that the board should order the removal of the chain-link fence before the end of the year.

Daily Pilot
Ben Brazil
June 15, 2022

[Tuolumne County] Grand Jury Releases Report On Juvenile Detention Facility

The 2020-2022 Tuolumne County Grand Jury released a report entitled “Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility”. The summary section of the report states the reason behind the investigation and the most significant issues, findings, and the report’s recommendations moving forward.

An article about the opening of the facility in 2017 can be found here.

The Grand Jury has determined the facility “provides an exceptional and positive environment for detained youths through trauma-informed services that encourage respect, responsibility, and safety.” The on-site educational program that’s being offered through Gold Ridge Educational Center and the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools is praised for providing high-quality teaching and educational progress for youths even with facing special education needs, personal trauma, and varying lengths of stay in the detention facility.

The Grand Jury is recommending the development of recruitment plans for additional entry-level juvenile correction officers to offset staffing limitations.  Click here to view the full Grand Jury Report on the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility.

My Mother Lode
Nic Peterson
June 16, 2022

[A late but timely response to Los Angeles County Grand Jury] Food waste recommendations taken with grain of salt

 ‘Not warranted, not reasonable,’ Hidden Hills says

Blog note: This article is about a Los Angeles Grand Jury report that rarely gets coverage. It is about the smallest city in the county at the very western edge of the county. Unusual that the LA jury would spend time on this. It was reported by a local weekly newspaper, the Acorn.

They may be accused of falling behind schedule, but when it comes to getting rid of food waste, Hidden Hills officials have a message regarding recommendations from the 2019-20 Los Angeles County civil grand jury: They’re a waste.

The 23-member grand jury investigated the issue of discarded food, which California is trying to steer away from landfills over public health concerns.

The grand jury investigation was spurred by Senate Bill 1383, a law signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016 that kick-started a statewide effort to reduce pollutant emissions by diverting organic waste from landfills.

Local communities, including Hidden Hills, haul their waste to the Calabasas Landfill.

SB 1383’s goal is to achieve a statewide reduction in the emission of so-called short-lived climate pollutant gases like methane, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbon by up to half of 2013 levels in the year 2030.

SB 1383 hopes to achieve the goal by requiring 75% recycling of all organic waste—which creates methane gas when it decomposes— by 2025.

Foodservice providers, distributors, and entities in any industry where organic waste is present who don’t meet the standards that take effect in stages through 2024 are subject to fines.

Last year, the grand jury released a report titled “A Diet for Landfills: Cutting Down on Food Waste,” which details how food waste creates methane emissions in landfills and notes that only 4% of current organic waste recycling infrastructure can accept food waste.

Keep out of the trash bin

A guiding principle behind the report is that food doesn’t belong in the garbage. Nearly 2 million tons of food waste goes to landfills each year in Los Angeles County; the per-day tonnage is 4,000 to 6,000.

The state wants to see organic waste properly separated—both from the rest of the garbage and by whether it’s green or food waste—so it can be processed through composting or anaerobic digestion, that is, using fermentation to break down organic matter from animals, plants or sewage to produce biogas.

This, says the grand jury, is proving difficult in L.A. County.

“We discovered a labyrinth of ways that food waste continues to end up in landfills,” the report states. Against this backdrop, the grand jury made 14 recommendations and asked all 88 cities and unincorporated areas in the state for responses. Hidden Hills officials were required to respond to four of the recommendations, but they’ve been lax.

In an Oct. 22 report to the City Council, Roxanne Diaz, Hidden Hills city attorney, said the original response, which was supposed to be sent to the grand jury last summer, “was never processed.”

Only recently did it go to the council and mayor for review.

The gist, according to the letter of response that bears Mayor Stuart Siegel’s signature, is simple: Hidden Hills is a town of some 560 households and a real estate office, and the prevention of food waste is already a priority.

The four recommendations and the Hidden Hills responses are as follows:

Establish a weekly food waste drop-off center.

“This recommendation will not be implemented,” the city says, “because it is not warranted and is not reasonable. . . . Implementation would likely result in minimal diversion and would be an expense and burden on a staff of four persons. . . . Residents are provided a green waste bin and can place food waste in that container. The city’s waste hauler processes the bin for compost.”

Create an incentive program for residents and businesses to separate food waste. This could be in the form of a gift card to a local grocery store/farmers market or a discount on a solid-waste fee.

Once again, the city trashes the idea as neither warranted nor reasonable.

“The city is comprised of residential homes and no businesses (except for a small real estate office). Creating an incentive program is not warranted for a city of our size in addition to the fact that the city has no businesses in its jurisdiction.”

County officials should modify contracts with food vendor companies that are inside county facilities to include food waste separation and recycling.

The Hidden Hills response?

“The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted since it pertains to county facilities.”

Elected officials in the county and cities should adopt the 11 suggestions in the March 2018 Countywide Organics Waste Management Plan and express support for the need to increase capacity and site, and build new facilities to handle organic waste.

While officials in Hidden Hills agree with the intent of this last recommendation, they will adopt only “what is required to be adopted” by state law.

Besides, the letter notes, Hidden Hills already has a solid-waste ordinance with self-haul provisions. The ordinance requires an accurate reporting of hauled waste to make sure diversion requirements are met. City officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The city’s franchise hauler, Waste Management, processes all residential organic waste generated in the city and is required to submit monthly activity reports to ensure compliance with state regulations.

Starting next year, households and businesses will be required to keep their food waste out of their trash bin. Customers will use their green cart for both green waste and food waste, which Waste Management is contracted to pick up and process for compost.

The Acorn
By Scott Steepleton
November 04, 2021

Friday, June 17, 2022

[Humboldt County] Grand Jury Report Blasts Auditor-Controller, Auditor-Controller Says it's All Incorrect

The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury has interjected itself directly into the county's auditor-controller race.

Less than a week before Election Day, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury poured gasoline on what was already considered to be the county’s most contentious political race yesterday, issuing a largely scathing report stating  incumbent Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez’s office’s failure to file timely state and federal reports has already caused the county to lose more than $2.3 million in “non-recoverable funds,” while placing more than $9.7 million in funding at “significant risk.” The move of releasing such a report mere days before its subject is up for re-election drew immediately questions, prompting the Grand Jury foreperson to issue a follow-up press release today clarifying that the report is the result of months of interviews and “exhaustive research” and was simply released when done and approved, with the Grand Jury’s actions and decision making at no point “informed by politics.”

In response, acting in her official capacity as auditor-controller but with her campaign videographer set up before her on the courthouse steps (his computer plugged into the generator powering the speaker at her lectern), Paz Dominguez held an hour-long press conference this afternoon, answering “any and all” questions, including some about how voters should view this report. She issued a full-throated denial of essentially all aspects of the report that were critical of her office, saying she is aware of no funds lost by the county due to delinquent financial reports, and that if any funds have been lost, there would be subsequent opportunities for seeking reimbursement. As Paz Dominguez spoke, flanked by the county’s assistant auditor-controller, First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, with whom Paz Dominguez has repeatedly butted heads over the years through a series of cross allegations, sat on the courthouse steps looking on.

Immediately after Paz Dominguez finished the press conference, a process server officially served her with the county’s cross complaint civil lawsuit, which the board directed county counsel to file May 10, while also directing the county’s lawyer not to defend Paz Dominguez in a lawsuit brought by the California Attorney General against both her and the county over delinquent fiscal report filings with the state. (The county's cross-complaint reportedly makes the same allegations as the state's, while also accusing Paz Dominguez of misappropriating public funds when she paid a consultant for coaching services.)

There’s a lot to unpack — and Paz Dominguez has provided the press with scores of documents she says refute assertions in the Grand Jury report, which we have yet to sift through — but we’re going to try to give a brief rundown of the basics we know at this point, with both the Grand Jury’s published report and a version annotated by Paz Dominguez, disputing various claims, at the bottom of this post.

The Report

Grand Jury Foreperson Jim Glover described the investigative report as one of the most “exhaustive” in “recent years,” saying it follows “dozens of hours of interviews and inquiries.” Titled “Distrust, Disagreements, Dysfunction,” the report looks at the county’s notoriously troubled fiscal operations, finding that while Paz Dominguez stepped into an office rife with challenges and inadequacies, her office’s poor communication and interdepartmental distrust have marred her tenure, leading directly to missed reporting deadlines and the loss of county, school district and city funds. Exacerbating and enabling these issues, the Grand Jury found, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors failed to intervene in a timely manner to find solutions and effectively exercise its supervisory duties.

“County departments and the board are at continual loggerheads with the auditor-controller because of ineffective communication and procedural changes,” the report states. “No consensus has been reached to resolve these issues. County services are in jeopardy due to overall financial dysfunction exacerbated by a breakdown of interdepartmental trust and communication on the part of the auditor-controller.”

The report makes clear there are deep rooted issues within Humboldt County’s fiscal systems and points to some significant improvements made, but repeatedly identifies instances in which “deficiencies in the performance of the auditor-controller” have exacerbated those issues, leading to missed reporting deadlines and errors that cost the county and other local government entities hundreds of thousands of dollars.

More specifically, the report states the Grand Jury received “verifiable information” that the county has “permanently lost” funds from a variety of federal and state reimbursements and grants due to its outstanding and now long overdue 2019-2020 fiscal year single audit. Additionally, the report states the county has paid penalties and fees to the IRS for late payroll tax reports and payments, lost interest apportionments and credit card late fees, noting the county employees’ credit card account was at one point suspended when payment was 96 days overdue.

Additionally, local school districts and other entities have been impacted, according to the report. It alleges, due to auditor-controller errors, the Fortuna Union High School District suffered a cash shortage of nearly $200,000, forcing it to obtain supplemental bond funding. Another alleged error by the auditor-controller’s office resulted in the Fortuna district, College of the Redwoods and the Humboldt County Office of Education being collectively underpaid $475,304, while alleged “regular delays” in the Auditor-Controller Office's transferring funds from treasury accounts to school and special districts “have put payrolls at risk.”

Further, the report alleges that delinquent Single Audits, Financial Transaction Reports and Cost Allocation Plans have put $9.7 million in state and federal funds at risk for things like grants for housing residents with disabilities, rural health clinics, workforce development, Mental Health Services Act funding, transportation project funding and future interest related to payroll.

An Alarming and Unusual Disclosure

The report also begins with a potentially alarming disclosure, noting it made an “informal inquiry into allegations of willful misconduct by the auditor-controller” and, late in its investigation as this report was approaching completion, found “sufficient information that would require” it to conduct a formal investigation of those allegations. The Grand Jury will continue that line of inquiry, the report notes, and “can consider its legal options, up to and including an accusation.”

The accusation referenced would fall under California Government Sections 3060 through 3075, which provide that a civil grand jury can file a formal accusation of “willful or corrupt misconduct” against an elected official and seek their removal from office. Such an accusation would be delivered to the district attorney and, if the elected official denies the misconduct alleged, tried in superior court before a jury, “conducted in all respects in the same manner” as a criminal case, with a conviction resulting in the official’s removal from office.

It’s an extraordinarily rare action. And mention of such an inquiry by the Civil Grand Jury — whose investigations and and processes are legally shrouded in secrecy — is in and of itself extraordinary.

Paz Dominguez’s Response

The auditor-controller was unequivocal in disputing the report’s findings, saying she “has seen no evidence” the county has lost any funds and that if anything has been lost, it can likely be reimbursed. Further, she asserted that there is no proof that hundreds of thousands of dollars in late fees and penalties lost are unrecoverable, and definitely no evidence that an additional close to $10 million is at risk.

She classified much of the report's contents as “hearsay,” saying they are the same talking points that have been repeated frequently by some members of the Board of Supervisors and appointed officials who have long pushed back against the Auditor-Controller’s Office asserting its independent authority.

“What I will say is a report is only as good as the information provided to its authors,” Paz Dominguez said, arguing grand jurors seem to have only interviewed the same people who have been vocal in warning of lost funds and laying the blame for blown deadlines at her office’s feet.

Asked during the press conference why so many have pointed blame at her office — the questioner pointing to no-confidence votes from the Board of Supervisors and the Fortuna Union High School District, a critical letter signed by 13 of the county’s 19 department heads, the state lawsuit and now the Grand Jury — Paz Dominguez said the answers are different for each. Some, she said, probably think they are doing the right thing but have been lied to, explaining, “I hate to say it, but if you repeat a lie 14 times, some people are going to believe it.” Others, she said, are motivated by vendetta.

She charged that her office is making constant improvements. It is functioning better than ever before, leading to improved morale and performance, saying that payroll, “torn and tattered” when it was returned to her office, is now running smooth. The failure to timely closely books for previous fiscal years, she said, is partly the product of not wanting to harm special districts, schools and county departments, saying arbitrarily closing the books before receiving all appropriate documentation could impact their funding.

She said the biggest challenge facing her office is staffing level and other departments and outside entities failing to get it timely documentation needed to perform its various functions. Among the few findings in the Grand Jury report Paz Dominguez indicated she agreed with were ones stating the Board of Supervisors should have done more to intervene and reconcile differences between hers and other departments, and that the county administrative officer should make sure all other departments timely file the documentation she needs to meet financial reporting deadlines.

“That’s perhaps the most important one,” Paz Dominquez said of the CAO.

Paz Dominguez also said she was only interviewed once by the Grand Jury at the investigation's start in August, then had a follow-up meeting May 26 after the report was complete.

A Rocky Rollout

It seems clear something was amiss in the Grand Jury’s rollout of this report. According to numerous sources, including Paz Dominguez, the Grand Jury had informed some county officials earlier this week that the report would be distributed to local media at noon today and provided them an advance copy for review, prompting Paz Dominguez to send out an invitation Wednesday night to a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Humboldt County Courthouse called “in anticipation of a pending headline event.”

But the report was then posted to the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury’s website sometime early Thursday. Asked about the report Thursday afternoon, Paz Dominguez said she was directed not to discuss it until the grand jury’s anticipated release time of noon today, though she said she was “aware the [County Administrative Office] published it early.”

Asked how she knew it was the CAO that published the report “early,” Paz Dominguez said she knew because the “grand jury just told” her, saying she was told the “webmaster posted the report early” before noting the county’s IT department falls within the CAO’s office.

The Journal then inquired with the CAO’s office, which said it was unaware of any instructions regarding the posting of the report. The Journal then obtained the Grand Jury’s email request to IT. Sent from Glover to the county webmaster email at 6:46 a.m. Thursday, the request, in its entirety, reads as follows: “Good Morning! Please post the attached report to the Grand Jury Reports listing on our webpage. The title of this report is: Distrust, Disagreements, Dysfunction. Thank you, Jim Glover, Foreperson.”

No further direction — or embargoed release date and time — seems to have been provided.

It's also worth noting that the 2017-2018 Civil Grand Jury announced a new policy governing its release of reports in June election years under which no reports would be released from the second Monday of February until after Election Day. Contacted about the policy, Glover told the Journal that was "of great to concern to us many months ago" but the county has a different presiding judge now and is producing reports whenever they are cleared for release without restriction. (It was Judge Joyce Heinrichs then, and Judge Greg Elvine Kreis has since taken over the role.)

"That might change in the future with yet a different judge," Glover wrote, "but those are the guidelines we are operating under presently."

The Grand Jury’s Methodology

According to its website, the 2021-2022 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury comprises 18 members (see the full list at the bottom of this post). According to prior Journal coverage, when the Grand Jury convenes each year, it splits into a half-dozen or so committees in varying subject areas, and then sifts through complaints and requirements to determine what inquiries and investigations will be undertaken.

The report notes the underlying investigation in this case was launched after the Grand Jury received “complaints of financial inefficiencies, ineffective communication and a lack of cooperation with various governmental entities on the part of the Auditor-Controller and the Auditor-Controller’s Office. (The Journal first reported the existence of the investigation in November, after Fortuna Union High School District Superintendent Glen Senestraro told his Board of Trustees the Grand Jury was looking into allegations of “deficiencies” and “poor service” after the board voted in September to send in an official complaint.)

According to the report, the Grand Jury’s investigation included interviews with “complainants,” elected county officials, county department heads and county fiscal managers. Additionally, the Grand Jury states it reviewed documents provided by witnesses, including emails and financial reports, pertinent state and federal statutes, prior financial reports and correspondences from the state Controller’s Office, Attorney General’s Office and Department of Finances. Additionally, the report states the Grand Jury reviewed Board of Supervisors meetings and “conducted internet research related to generally accepted accounting principles.”

According to past Journal reporting, a Grand Jury committee’s report undergoes three layers of review before it is released. First, the Humboldt County counsel looks it over to assess liability concerns — not for the county as a whole but for the jury itself. Then, the Humboldt County Superior Court’s presiding judge is supposed to give it another review through the same lens or delegate the task to another judge. With the legal feedback in hand, the report then comes back to the full Grand Jury for review and a vote on whether to publish it, with 12 votes needed to move forward with releasing a report publicly.

In his email to the media announcing release of the report, Glover noted that “due to the complexity of this report,” the report took longer to complete than most.

“It is the practice of any Grand Jury for reports to be released as soon as they are completed and authorized by the court, thus today’s release,” he concluded.

Conclusion

The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury has taken the unusual step of releasing a relatively scathing report days prior to the election, including in it an ominous and even more unusual mention of an ongoing investigation. Paz Dominguez, the subject of said investigation, meanwhile, has basically maintained this is the result of the echo chamber created by her detractors, who are generally just pushing back on the Auditor-Controller’s Office for at long last doing its job. We’ll continue to dig through the documentation Paz Dominguez has provided, and pledges to continue to provide.

In the meantime, find the Grand Jury’s full report here, Paz Dominguez’s annotated version here and a folder containing the referenced documents the auditor-controller has released here.

Members of the 2021-2022 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury:

Eugene Biggins
Stephanie Boers
Wendy Butler
Katherine Eagan
Kelly Eckberg
Kevin (Tuck) Engelman
Jim Glover
Michele Fell
Frederick Hebert
Victoria Joyce
Robert Kapus
Lyn Klay
Jim Knerl
Shannon Koczera
Linda Kuiper
Gabrielle Long
Jay Molofsky
Bob Phibbs

North Coast Journal
Thadeus Greenson
June 3, 2022 


Marin County grand jury urges shift to all-electric new homes, existing appliances to combat greenhouse gases

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury on Monday recommended reducing greenhouse gases by eliminating natural gas as an energy source for new construction, along with the replacement of gas appliances and equipment within existing structures when outdated or nonfunctioning,

Detailing the path toward electrifying the county, the report writers said the state’s next building code update will not occur until 2025. In the interim, it is up to local jurisdictions to decide whether to adopt more restrictive “reach” codes (that reach beyond the state’s minimum requirements for energy use) or take other measures banning or limiting the use of natural gas in newly constructed buildings.

Currently, more than 50 local jurisdictions throughout California have adopted codes that reach beyond state minimum requirements for energy use in building design and construction. Some jurisdictions in the North Bay have moved to ban natural gas, though in some cities, that action has triggered legal action.

So far within Marin County, Fairfax is the only city to have adopted an all-electric requirement for new buildings. Within Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, 20 cities have adopted their own building electrification reach codes.

In January, 2021, the Journal reported that construction experts cite California Energy Commission numbers that say residential housing accounts for 7% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, compared with transportation at 41% and industry at 24%. They say their industry is not a major contributor to the climate change, which some scientists say is accelerated by those emissions.

Deborah Haase, foreperson of the 19-member Marin Civil Grand Jury, said Monday the investigation into its recommendations on electrification of Marin was conducted over nine months, “researching existing state and federal statutes and reports.”

“We also met with elected officials, department heads, staff members, and several conservation and climate action groups before drafting proposed recommendations. This is the first report to be issued on this topic.”

The report was sent to the Marin Board of Supervisors as well as city and town leaders throughout the county who now have 90 days to respond. As replies are received, the Grand Jury will publish comments on its official website.

Based on this feedback, it will be up to Marin County Supervisors to decide next steps that could lead to amendments or adoption of a countywide Climate Action Plan that might include public hearings or other steps leading to local regulations. Meanwhile, local jurisdictions can also move forward to adopt such plans for cities and towns.

California legislation passed in 2016 requires state agencies to enact regulations and implement programs that will result in a statewide reduction in GHG emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

While a report issued between 2018 and 2019 showed the second largest percentage decrease in GHG since 2010 (a drop of 1.6%), this is far short of what is needed to meet the deadline.

California must now sustain a 4.3% annual decrease through 2030 – a reduction more than 2.5 times greater than it was in 2019, based on the California Green Innovation Index.

The report said this may soon change based on current efforts within the county to develop and disseminate a model reach code addressing electrification in new construction and in certain types of building renovations.

The report recognizes that replacing natural gas in existing structures could involve voluntary or eventually mandatory requirements that could also include subsidies and assistance for low- income populations to offset replacement costs and how can electrification programs be structured to consider the needs of Marin’s underserved communities.

While comprehensive in scope, the report does not address possible issues that could occur from having just a single source of energy that could fail during outages caused by weather, wildfires, equipment failures and accidents during cold months when a power outage can leave building occupants without a backup energy source for heat and hot water – as was the case in Texas and in the Northeast last winter.

Other questions raised by the Civil Grand Jury include the best way to extend electrification initiatives to homes that are undergoing renovations and to large multi-unit residential buildings.

The report asks, “Can consumers be incentivized to voluntarily replace gas-fueled appliances with electric ones?”

North Bay Business Journal
Gary Quackenbush
June 6, 2022

[Commentary] Kathleen Williams: Contribute to our community in a big way — join the [Nevada County] Grand Jury

Each year many citizens of Nevada County dedicate their time, talents, and knowledge to serve our community on the Grand Jury. Their commitment to the jury’s goals and the knowledge they bring is nothing short of amazing.

These are people from all types of backgrounds. In the two years I have served, I have met and worked with people whose backgrounds include local business owners, law enforcement, software and hardware engineering, medical, customer service/hospitality, corporate business and finance, full-time parents, ex-government employees, scientists, veterans, students, and attorneys … the list goes on.

Each juror brings their own unique perspectives, life experiences, skills, and approaches to analyzing and assessing the issues we face. We work collegially as equals, and together we end up learning a great deal about our local governments and how they function.

The jury’s primary role is that of watchdog, which is the oversight of taxpayer-funded operations in the county. This oversight ensures our local government, municipalities, and other tax-funded entities not only run with greater efficiency, but are also held accountable.

The jury objectively identifies issues and improvements to make the public’s interactions with local government easier and more transparent. Through the jury’s intake of citizen complaints, its own self-initiated investigations, and interviews, the jury works on behalf of Nevada County citizens to ensure tax dollars are being spent efficiently, effectively, and appropriately.

The Grand Jury follows a strict code of conduct and behavior. Once sworn in, we are held to rules of confidentiality for life. Jurors must be impartial, non-biased, and not use political or personal agendas as a purpose for joining. The Grand Jury is an arm of the California Superior Court and follows the California Penal Codes specific to grand juries.

The Grand Jury is again asking citizens of Nevada County to join one of the most interesting and important volunteer opportunities around. Being a member of the Grand Jury entails a good deal of time and commitment to investigation, meetings, and report writing.

Depending on the time of year, this could run from 10 to 30 hours per week. The reports are the culmination of the jury’s investigative research. Through the reports, the jury makes recommendations to local government and agencies for improvements, identifies gaps or deficiencies, and recognizes them for services well-run. The reports contain the only information that is released to the public.

To read past reports produced by the Nevada County Grand Jury, go to http://www.nevada.courts.ca.gov/general-information/grand-jury/grand-jury-reports .

Training is provided through our professional organization, the California Grand Jurors Association as well as experienced jurors from previous years. Jurors and alternate jurors both participate in the training.

Grand Juror requirements include: U.S. citizen at least 18 years old who has lived in Nevada County for at least a year and can read and write English; not an elected official, serving on a public agency board or serving on a trial jury; never convicted of a felony; will submit to a background check and take an oath of office.

We are especially interested in citizens who are comfortable with writing, working collaboratively, and who have computer skills using standard office software. Your voice, knowledge, and opinions, however, are most important.

The jury now uses remote meeting tools which will make it easier for citizens in the Truckee area to participate more fully. There is a small stipend paid for meetings attended and mileage reimbursement for those who travel to the Rood Center for in-person meetings.

To find out more about the California Grand Jury system in general, go to https://cgja.org/californias-civil-grand-juries-0. At this site you can download the California Grand Jurors Association’s free booklet, “California’s Civil Grand Juries.”

If you have an aptitude for investigation, a passion for research, a desire to learn about local issues, and an ability to commit the time needed, go to https://www.nevada.courts.ca.gov/. Click the Grand Jury link and then click the “Apply” button near the top right side of the screen. This site also explains the selection process.

We will hold an orientation in late May/early June for those interested. The “jury year” begins on July 1 and ends on June 30, 2023. Please apply using the link above or call 530-265-1730 for more information.

Kathleen Williams is the foreperson of the Nevada County Grand Jury for 2021-22. She is a former business systems analyst, professional writer/editor, and small business co-owner. She lives in Grass Valley.

The Union
Kathleen Williams | Other Voices
May 23, 2022