SANTA BARBARA COUNTY GRAND JURY 1997-1998

 

FINAL REPORT

 

FOLLOW UP REPORT

 

Released on January 14, 1998

 

 

BACKGROUND

 

The 1993-94 Grand Jury started a "Review of Responses" report for the previous year’s Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations. In the review, the adequacy or inadequacy of responses was assessed. The 1994-95 Grand Jury continued the process and found that the responses were substantially improved over those of prior Grand Jury reports. This improvement was attributed in part to an increased awareness by responding agencies that their statements would be subject to future scrutiny, media reporting and possible reinvestigation.

 

The 1995-96 Grand Jury enlarged the review process by creating another type of review. Their final report included a section or matrix for tracking Actions Completed and Actions Pending, with the intention of providing continuity from one year’s Grand Jury to the next. The 1996-97 Grand Jury continued the process using the same tracking matrix, again with the desire to monitor whether or not responding agencies did what they said they were going to do.

 

The 1997-98 Grand Jury found the matrix for Actions Completed and Actions Pending to be difficult to interpret and unwieldy as a monitoring tool. In addition, this year’s responses are the first to be written under the revised Penal Code requiring the agencies to be more specific than in the past. Penal Code section 933.05 now requires the respondents to either agree with the Findings or disagree, and provide an explanation why they disagree. They must also give one of four possible responses to the Recommendations: Have implemented; Will implement, with time frame; Requires further analysis, with time frame for final response not to exceed six months; or Will not implement, with explanation.

 

            The Grand Jury reviewed the responses from all the governmental agencies indicated in the nine investigations contained in the 1996-97 Final Report. Each response was checked against the response format set forth in the amended Penal Code. Where necessary follow-up meetings or site visits were arranged to monitor the status of commitments made by subject agencies in their responses. A response which fails to meet the requirements set forth in the Penal Code may be cause for re-opening a Grand Jury investigation.

 

            This report highlights some of the responses which the 1997-98 Grand Jury finds questionable. Where the response and follow-up action is satisfactory an overview is given of the recommendations and responses.

 

Interested parties are encouraged to read the full responses on file with

the Superior Court. They are also available on the Grand Jury web site: www.sbcgj@sbcgj.org

 

                                               

FINDINGS

 

A.        Detention Facilities

 

1. Holding Facilities

 

The 1996-97 Grand Jury recommended constructing security gates in the Guadalupe Police parking area; demolishing an abandoned building next to the New Cuyama Sheriff’s substation; and building holding facilities at the Lompoc court building.

 

 

2. Juvenile Facilities

 

The 1996-97 Grand Jury recommended construction of a new juvenile hall in the North County, and an increase in staff to lighten the caseload of probation officers supervising juveniles on exterior programs (confined at home).

 

 

3. Jails

 

The 1996-97 Grand Jury recommended construction of a new North County Jail; updated fingerprinting and photo identification equipment for the Lompoc Jail; and HIV/AIDS testing if inmates request it.

 

 

 

 

B.        Tajiguas Landfill

 

The 1996-1997 Grand Jury found problems at Tajiguas Landfill operations relating to blowing dust and litter, inadequate water supply, suspected leachate escaping the site, and erosion. The Grand Jury’s eleven recommendations addressed these problems.

 

 

Commendation: The Solid Waste Division of Public Works has done an outstanding job of implementation of improvements above and beyond Grand Jury recommendations.

 

  1. Disability Retirement

 

The 1996-97 Grand Jury began an investigation of delays in processing disability claims brought before the County Employees Retirement System. Rather than testify before the 1996-97 Grand Jury, the Board of the Santa Barbara County Employees’ Retirement System filed a lawsuit challenging the Grand Jury’s authority to investigate an independent entity. In March, 1997 a Santa Barbara Superior court judge ruled against the Retirement Board. The Board filed an appeal with the State Court of Appeal, Second District. In October 1997 the Court ruled that "…the grand jury has jurisdiction to proceed with the instant investigation." The ruling further states that " the Grand Jury serves its respected watchdog role by investigating whether the board timely performs one of its essential functions," namely to process disability applications promptly.

 

This is a significant decision. It reaffirms that a retirement board’s primary fiduciary obligation is to county employees and beneficiaries. It further upholds

the authority of grand juries in California to investigate whether a retirement board promptly considers disability applications.

 

 

D.        Santa Maria and State Water

 

The 1996-97 Grand Jury was concerned about the cost to Santa Maria for State Water and how the City, which is responsible for the largest proportionate share, will pay for its commitment. The objective of the Grand Jury investigation was to determine how the city manages its responsibilities as the major contractor in the Coastal Branch of the Project.

 

The final report made five findings and recommendations for the City Council to consider. These included placing a higher priority on matters regarding State Water and adopting a written policy to provide guidelines for City representatives regarding the financial impacts on the city of importing State Water. The other three recommendations addressed reviewing developer fees, analyzing the impact of reduced delivery or low usage (and hence lowered revenue) on the cost of water, and pursuing outside sales of water. All three were oriented toward increasing revenues to offset the cost of importing State Water.

 

 

 

E.         Lompoc Senior Center

 

The 1996-97 Grand Jury recommended that $416K held in a senior center fund established in 1990 be used for the construction of the senior center, and that the interest accrued be made available for senior programs. It recommended that the City perform a realistic cost-benefit analysis of projected revenues and expenses, and also prepare an operating plan for any property under consideration. Further recommendations addressed centralizing and organizing senior services.

 

available for senior programs. The interest (5% year) generates about $2000/month and is accumulating.

 

 

F.         Buellton Union School District

 

The 1996-97 Grand Jury recommended that the Buellton Union School District (BUSD) Board form a citizen’s committee to oversee the school construction program, and that the Board comply with the provisions of the Brown Act.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of BUSD’s questionable actions regarding the conversion of the original Bond money, the Grand Jury made a separate recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to encourage State officials to change the language of the Validation Act. Then the court can approve or validate, the spending of bond funds for purposes other than those approved by the voters. The recommendation calls for full public notice of any proposed validation action.

 

Commendation:

 

The County Board of Supervisors supports these changes and has adopted a policy to publicize any validation action by the county by holding a public hearing, sending notices to voters, and widely distributing notice of the proposed action. Board policy calls for the notice to be in "plain language." In a letter from the County Administrator, the Board of Supervisors is urging support from each city, school district, and other special districts in the county for "enhanced public noticing regarding validation proceedings, and legislation addressing this Grand Jury’s concerns."

 

 

G.        Election Procedures

The 1996-1997 Election Procedures report made twelve recommendations to the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor with the intention of generating more effective communication between the voting public and the Clerk-Recorder-Assessors office.

There are ten recommendations which call for the C-R-A office to: post signs on closed or changed polling places; change the sample ballot to prominently display changed polling place address; post a sign listing telephone number of the Election Division office; provide printed instructions to voters who are uncertain where they should vote; when necessary equip Precinct Inspectors with cellular phones; pay precinct workers minimum wage; initiate outreach programs to stimulate voter participation; publish a summary of facts for poll workers’ reference; provide up-to-date training; and (finally) to establish a Citizen’s Committee on Elections. These are all being implemented.

 

 

Recommendation: The County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should negotiate with the United States Postmaster to include on the "Change of Address" mail notification a tear off postcard addressed to the Elections Division to update the voter record.

 

 

Recommendation: The Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should make changes to the Sample Ballot where the location of the polling place is printed to prominently display the words "New" or "Changed" when applicable.

 

 

  1. Audit and Finance

 

The 1996-97 Grand Jury and the Auditor-Controller’s office contracted with an independent auditor to perform the annual audit of the County’s financial accounts and records, as required by law. A review of their report and the Grand Jury’s Audit Committee’s own investigation resulted in six recommendations.

 

The Auditor-Controller’s office has implemented four of these recommendations: to assure that signatures of all parties to the contract appear on all future contracts and extensions; to update the fixed asset register on a regular basis; to review the frequency of grant reimbursement requirements made by each department; and to continue publishing an annual review report showing statements of services provided and comparison with previous years.

 

The Auditor’s office disagreed with two recommendations: that a county auditor should be present when an outside auditor is auditing any program within the county and, that the next contract with an independent auditor should include testing of the software by an outside expert to verify whether computer processed transactions are indeed performing their function consistent with approved financial rules.           

 

 

I.          Boards and Commissions     

 

The 1996-1997 Grand Jury recommended that both the county and incorporated cities within the county periodically review the usefulness of boards and commissions, and establish a policy for disbanding them when they are no longer required. In a County review in 1994 there were 92 boards and commissions.

 

Responses:

 

 

Additional recommendations to the County Administrator addressed consistent updating of board and commission membership rolls, listing qualifications for membership, establishing a policy for filling vacancies and providing introductory training material regarding the Brown Act to all new members.

 

Responses:

 

 

County Counsel: The County Counsel prepared a video tape and explanatory materials for new members available to all boards and commissions regarding their responsibilities under the Brown Act. Upon request the County Counsel will give an oral presentation to any board or commission, and is preparing an

updated countywide program on the Brown Act open to all commissioners and the public.

 

The Grand Jury recommended that boards and commissions report their activities to governing bodies and to the community.

 

 

The Grand Jury’s last recommendation was that administrators develop an organization chart to clarify the function of each board and commission and identify the community needs that are being filled.

 

Responses:

 

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

  1. This years responses are the first to be written under the revised Penal Code requiring agencies to be more specific in their responses, however we found that (1) some recommendations were not clearly written, (2) some responses did not address the recommendations, and (3) some changes were made as a result of Grand Jury recommendations. The revisions to Penal Code 933.05 should improve the development and writing of both the Grand Jury recommendations and the responses by affected Agencies. If the subject agencies follow the new requirements in the future they will less able to skirt the issues raised in the recommendations.

 

  1. In the past it has been too easy for subject agencies to avoid meaningful response to Grand Jury recommendations by referring to budgetary or staff limitations. When this argument is used it would be helpful to the Grand Jury watchdog function if responses included which budgetary priorities preclude implementation, and why.

 

  1. The Buellton Union School District Board did not respond adequately to Grand Jury recommendations. It either misunderstood the recommendations or was less than forthright with the Grand Jury regarding both the formation of an oversight advisory committee and its violation of the Brown Act.

 

  1. Some boards and commissions are regulatory, some are advisory, and some are dormant. The County has not demonstrated that the Grand Jury’s recommendations are being implemented. The current roster of boards and commissions is outdated. Unless mandated by State law or county ordinance, the Board of Supervisors should consider automatically disbanding all boards and commissions after three years, and reconstitute them only if there is enough public support.

 

 

 

Interested parties are encouraged to read the full responses on file with the Superior Court. They are also available on the Grand Jury web site:

www.sbcgj@sbcgj.org