Sierra County Grand Jury Report
Note: Facts may have been sacrificed in the interest of truth: Prospect suggestions should not be tried at home.
The preface of the Grand Jury Report explains why the report isn’t as interesting as it might be:
The Grand Jury may not engage in "hidden agendas," indiscriminate meddling, or react to rumor and innuendo.
What? Why deny the Grand Jury access to the very things we have in abundance here in the county? What the heck good is the Grand Jury, anyway?
Originally, the Grand Jury was to help local government punish citizens. Then, it was established as a buffer of common people between over-active district attorneys and common folk. That endeavor, the determination of "probable cause," failed principally because the system didn’t allow the common person to present evidence, only the DA could do that. Skilled liars (the D.A. is, after all, an attorney) could tell the Grand Jury anything and the accused had little recourse to disprove the lies except to say "nah-uh." Instead of allowing the accused to bring evidence, which would make it a hearing, the county Grand Jury is mostly left out of the loop now.
Today, the county Grand Jury mostly looks after prisons and local government, and is empowered to :
With the permission of the Superior Court, spend money on experts to make sense of records and accounts.
The Grand Jury can take citizen complaints about the agencies under its purview, they just can’t be rumor and innuendo, which is, of course, the richest kind of complaint.
It’s a lot of work being on a Grand Jury, and you can’t share it with anyone until the Grand Jury Report is published.
The Power of the Grand Jury
Not much, really. Department heads and others typically address the weakest points of GJ recommendations, and flatly deny the rest.
This Year’s Report
An item by item analysis of the report proved to be boring, and the Prospect analyst wandered off. Here’s the long and short of it:
To which the Prospect adds:
GJ findings: not clear
Prospect findings: not likely.
Prospect recommendations: drop to your knees and give thanks that there is any medical care, and any medical employer, in Loyalton. Small health care systems are rolling belly skyward ten at a time, but we can still go to the doctor if we’re sick in the Valley.
Prospect recommendation: we sat that thought and drank coffee and eventually concluded, yep, more money, cars and deputies would improve law enforcement service, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
Their findings are common sense: People have to be able to hear the board members, which is often difficult. If the board is sitting on an issue for which one or more members have a personal stake, they should withdraw. (This is not to say the county needs to pursue the kind of witch hunt that plagued former Supervisor Jerry McCaffery). The Clerk of the Board should inform the public where to find the agendas, and how to address the Board. The process should be as easy as possible to encourage particpation. Budget meetings should be well noticed.
The Prospect couldn’t agree more; indeed, it will be found often in our pages that the Sierra County Board of Supervisors meetings are among the last opportunities to practice not watery "representative democracy" but actual Town Hall democracy. The Grand Jury found that the public rarely attended meetings; perhaps that is the fault of the press in the county, which covers the board meetings (we refer to them as "BM’s") so well.
Still, citizens are encouraged to flood the gallery to observe the sausage of government being made first hand. The presence of a sea of faces drives the anxiety up in the Board. If the room is empty except for some dozing reporters and gold bricking department heads, the board is relaxed, they get along well, consensus is quickly reached; meetings are boring. If the room is full, the supervisors begin to sweat, their eyes dart, they turn quietly to one another, they look quizzically at the agenda; you can sense their doubt "why are they all here?" They become personally and communally grid-locked, unable to agree with each other, or often, themselves from a few minutes before. Now, that’s the state of tension in which news happens. Please, please attend Board of Supervisor meetings. Educate yourself on the issues, look at the Board Packet HERE. Make thoughtful suggestions, ask informed questions.
The GJ also recommended that "supervisors must always remain professional." Here we at the Prospect again disagree. Recently the Board has been polite, moderate and even when they disagree they leave personalities out of it. Very, very poor news. In Indonesia the representatives occasionally have fist-fights. Only a suggestion.
We have seen a lot of pretty crazy Grand Jury reports, and we’ll look forward to the next one, but the 2008 report wasn’t one. It largely drives home the point that we are lucky to have local people who truly care about our community and our county to serve as employees, volunteers and elected representatives.
As a news item, the GJ was hampered by the restrictions on rumor and innuendo. Let’s all try to clean up our "information" for the next GJ, which is assembling now.