Each July, the presiding Judge of the Amador County Superior Court impanels a Civil Grand Jury to serve through the following June. Each Grand Jury completes investigations of selected local governmental agencies, investigates citizen complaints and must inquire into the conditions and management of the public prisons within the County. Every year, the Grand Jury must present a final report to the presiding Judge of the Superior Court with findings and recommendations pertaining to County government matters. A copy of the final report is also submitted to the Amador County Board of Supervisors, which is the governing body of most Amador County public agencies.
The 1999-2000 Grand Jury submitted their final report to the Board of Supervisors on June 27, 2000.
As stated in the California Penal Code Section 933(c), those addressed in the final report are required to respond within 90 days. For the most part, this obligation was met in a timely manner. However, pursuant to Penal Code Section 933.05, each response is required to conform to a specific format.
The applicable codes are included and the required format is briefly described.
The affected agency shall respond to the findings in one of two ways:
The respondent can agree with the findings.
The respondent can disagree wholly or in part with an accompanying explanation for the reasons of disagreement.
The affected agency shall respond to the recommendations by:
Noting that the recommendation has been implemented with an explanation of the specific action taken, or
Noting that the recommendation has not been implemented but will be within a defined timeframe, or
Noting that the recommendation will require further study with an explanation for the delay and expected timeframe required for a decision which cannot exceed six months, or
Noting that the recommendation will not be implemented with an accompanying explanation.
The Penal Code requires the addressed agencies to respond only to the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations. Included in the 1999-2000 Grand Jury Final Report are 186 conclusions and 144 recommendations, but no findings. The Board of Supervisors, being the responsible governing body, is directly responsible for answering many of the findings and recommendations. In addition, the Board of Supervisors is ultimately responsible for ensuring that agency directors’ responses adequately conform to the previously mentioned Penal Code sections.
An examination of the responses to the 1999-2000 Grand Jury Final Report indicates a lack of understanding by the respondents of the requirements of Penal Code 933.05. The Amador County Counsel, being the legal counsel for the Board of Supervisors, is responsible for knowing applicable codes and for advising the Board when appropriate. The 2000-2001 Grand Jury obtained a copy of an Agenda Transmittal Form (ATF) dated September 18, 2000. The ATF is entitled “1999-2000 Grand Jury Report: Response” and summarized as “Approval of the Board’s Response to the 1999-2000 Grand Jury Report.” The ATF along with a copy of the Board’s response was forwarded to County Counsel for review as evidenced by County Counsel’s initials on the ATF. The responses by the Board and most responses by agency directors clearly did not conform to the applicable code, Penal Code 933.05, which has been in effect since 1997. In the opinion of the current Grand Jury, County Counsel or someone designated by the Board should be aware of the applicable code and should advise the Board as to the adequacy of responses. In fairness to the Board, the agency directors and County Counsel, the 1999-2000 Grand Jury could have provided guidance within their Final Report on how to properly respond.
The initial action taken by the 2000-2001 Grand Jury was to request the Superior Court Judge to reject all responses not in compliance with Penal Code Section 933.05 and request that the responses be rewritten according to the code. The request was submitted to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court for consideration during the third week of October 2000. The court asked for additional information prior to determining whether to accept or reject the request. A second more expansive request was submitted during the last week of October 2000. The court responded that there was no clear legal precedent that gave the court the authority to reject the responses.
The 2000-2001 Grand Jury elected to explore other options and sought the advice of the Amador County District Attorney. A meeting between the Grand Jury and the District Attorney was held in December 2000. The District Attorney’s suggestion was that a written request be made of the various respondents to rewrite their Responses in accordance to the statute. This letter was submitted to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court for consideration during the first week of January 2001. The Court indicated that such a letter could certainly be sent if desired. However, should an agency refuse to rewrite its response, the Grand Jury should be prepared to respond. This would necessitate the Grand Jury’s exploring the legal remedies to it for enforcement purposes. The Court suggested that the Grand Jury might achieve more desirable results by offering to meet and confer with individual members of the Board. The 2000-2001 Grand Jury chose not to proceed with the written requests.
The Superior Court Judge proposed a plan wherein members of the 2000-2001 Grand Jury and members of prior Grand Juries would meet with the individual members of the Board of Supervisors to explain the inadequacy of the responses to the 1999-2000 Grand Jury Final Report. Individual meetings were held with two members of the Board. The Board member attending the second meeting raised an issue that these meetings violated the Brown Act. The Grand Jury does not believe a Brown Act violation occurred and could have continued, however, the current Grand Jury chose to discontinue any efforts to meet with individual Board members so as to avoid a situation that would cause the Board members to be uncomfortable.
In summary, none of the addressed agencies governed by the Board of Supervisors responded in accordance with Penal Code Section 933.05. These Responses were reviewed by County Counsel. Some responses were written in the spirit of the applicable Code. Responses from most other agencies were understandable and comprehensive with the most difficulties occurring in the responses by the Public Works Agency (PWA). The inadequate Responses by some of the agency directors clearly demonstrated a lack of awareness or understanding of the requirements of Penal Code Section 933.05.
In this Grand Jury’s review of other counties’ responses, we noticed that most responses complied with the statute. It should be noted the only respondent to the 1999-2000 Amador County Grand Jury Final Report meeting the requirements of the Penal Code was the Chief of Police for the City of Jackson.
The actions of the involved public officials should surely invite a more active involvement by local citizenry as well as by the State Legislature in securing a recognizable position of the Grand Jury as a truly independent, objective body of local citizens charged with the task of assuring the public that its local government is operating efficiently and in the best interest of its citizens