After reviewing previous Trinity County grand jury reports and responses for the past three years, involving a sum of 13 reports producing 508 findings and recommendations, the 2017/18 grand jury concluded that 170 responses (33.46 percent) were not in compliance with current codes detailing how respondents must reply to a finding or recommendation.
In its recently issued “continuity report,” the grand jury found a majority of the 170 non-compliant responses failed to provide a required summary of the process for any recommendations needing further analysis and a timeframe for completion of that analysis, not to exceed six months.
Each year a new grand jury is impaneled for a one-year term beginning July 1. Therefore, the responses to the reports of one jury are not received before the new grand jury is sworn in. Exiting grand jurors must rely on their successors to follow up.
The 2017/18 grand jury reviewed the final reports of 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 for continuity and responses/implementation of findings and recommendations. The resulting report contains a chart detailing where responses were non-compliant.
For instance, a 2015/16 grand jury report on Community Development Block Grants found accounting spreadsheets to be “unorganized, poorly documented and in great need of management oversight.” The response from County Counsel was that the grants department “will consider this finding and look at creating a more organized spreadsheet.”
The continuity review found that the January 2018 spreadsheet is exactly the same as in 2015.
The former grand jury also concluded that the county’s CDBG Housing Rehabilitation Loan Committee had violated the Brown Act by holding email/phone call meetings as well as conference calls to which County Counsel responded that the committee was not subject to Brown Act requirements.
The review verified that any committee created or appointed by the Board of Supervisors is held to the Brown Act.
Concerning a 2016/17 grand jury report entitled “Keeping the Public’s Business Public,” there was a finding that the Board of Supervisors had scheduled a closed session agenda item to conduct an employee evaluation of the County Counsel at 11 regular meetings of the board in the 2016 calendar year. The board responded that the finding was inaccurate.
The following grand jury found that to be an inaccurate response, noting the number of times the agenda reflected the employee evaluation of the County Counsel was not 11, as the previous grand jury stated, but was in fact 13 times which was 12 more than the contracted annual evaluation.
The reports out of those closed sessions indicated “evaluation was held” except for one meeting in March 2016, when the minutes reported “direction was given to staff.” The review concluded there were actually two meetings including another in February 2016 when “direction was given to staff.”
The board’s response to the former grand jury report was to agree with a finding that the contract between the board and the County Counsel called for creation of criteria and standards for evaluating the County Counsel’s performance with reviews “to be conducted annually.”
The follow-up review concluded that by agreeing, the board was supporting the contract stating performance reviews are to be conducted annually, but “there were, however, 13 performance reviews — 12 more than the contracted amount.”
The continuity report concluded that the most important goal of the current grand jury was to allow some of its members to observe the county elections process, specifically the process of counting mail-in ballots.
It said “we are pleased” that the Elections Office had agreed to have grand jury members participate as observers in the June 2018 election, adding “we hope that this will give our citizens a further sense of security in the election results with this additional level of transparency.”
In closing, the report found that the policy for responding to grand jury reports doesn’t match penal code; and not all county department heads and elected officials understand the role of the grand jury.
It recommended updating the policy for responding to grand jury reports so that it matches penal code.