Grand Jury Report

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 :

  1. Investigate PUBLIC prisons (If you have your own private prison, they probably can’t investigate it)
  2. Examine Public records
  3. Investigate public and joint powers entities, and report including any recommendations
  4. Inquire into lands "acquired" by the state (the term is "escheat"; isn’t that interesting) through various means, primarily lack of heirs

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:

  1. County Jail: We’re a small rural county, and we can’t afford a nice jail with an exercise yard. People can still stay in the jail if they like instead of going to a city jail and making a bunch of new "special friends". Prospect recommendation: let the prisoner run away every so often, that way the prisoners and the guards will get the exercise they need.
  2. Budget: We are all poor so the county is poor. The county lives by begging and "grants", which is welfare for counties. Like all forms of welfare, everything has to be done just so to get the money. The county slipped up and lost some welfare. The GJ suggests the county do a better job of keeping the welfare. Prospect recommendation: Honey, when a white car with government plates shows up on the street, have your boyfriend run out the back door.
  3. Sierra County Solid Waste Fee Structure: After examining the current system the GJ concluded the County is in compliance with the law. They made these recommendations:
  1. educate the public on recycling and reduction in the waste stream
  2. improve oversight of waste facilities
  3. keep looking over the border to see what other counties are doing
  4. create a plan to replace the Loyalton Landfill.
  5. To which the Prospect adds:

  6. we told you all that already; you can take what you read in the Prospect to the bank.
  1. Eastern Plumas Health Care stole the Loyalton Hospital and is holding it for ransom for thousands of dollars every year.
  2. 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.

  3. Sheriff’s Office: The county is big, rugged and poor, and the Sheriff has to spread officers as thin as possible without leaving lawless areas. To do that he needs personnel and cars, and modern communication systems. The Grand Jury concludes more money, cars and deputies are required to give better services.
  4. 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.

  5. Board of Supervisors: The Grand Jurors sat in on several Board meetings, some were of the sort we don’t get much anymore, with flaring mental health issues and double dealing. The current Supervisors all seem to be taking their meds, and generally there are no "Dick Cheney" style conflicts of interest.

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.

Website Builder