Supervisors respond to Grand Jury ReportJoshua Sebold Staff Writer 12/09/2009
The Board of Supervisors approved a response to the 2008–09 Grand Jury report drafted by County Counsel James Reichle at a Tuesday, Dec. 2, meeting.
The response addressed basic board functions, the county jail, the courthouse annex, the alcohol and drug department closure, and litigation involving the county.
The response began by addressing the section of the report that dealt with the basic operations of the board.
The Grand Jury’s first recommendation was for contact information for each supervisor to be printed in the newspaper and for the board to hold quarterly townhall meetings to increase public accessibility to the board.
The board agreed to request the newspaper publish its contact information in the same area it provides information about contacting legislative representatives. (At press time, Feather Publishing had not yet received such a request.)
On the issue of townhalls, the response indicated they were best attended when there was an issue “of great public interest.”
Because of that, the board indicated “it is best to allow each supervisor to determine when to call such meetings in his or her district.”
The Grand Jury reported, “We found not all supervisors were familiar with the heads of the departments under their supervision.”
The response argued the supervisors “are familiar with heads of departments directly through appearances at board meetings, performance evaluations and, indirectly, through the county administrative officer.”
Finally, the grand jury recommended the board hold quarterly meetings with all department heads to discuss personnel issues, department needs, budget requirements and similar topics.
The response disagreed completely with the suggestion.
“The Brown Act prohibits public discussion of personnel issues and would require individual closed sessions with each department head.
“Any public meeting of all department heads might be legally possible in a workshop setting, but this would prevent any action on the board’s part and would inhibit the candor required for good information exchange.”
The board’s response acknowledged some of the supervisors hadn’t toured the jail in recent years and agreed with the Grand Jury recommendation that they make visits “to stay informed on current conditions.”
As in previous years, the Grand Jury argued the jail was in very poor condition and unsafe for officers and inmates; it also observed the jail and exercise yard are next to the public road into the transfer facility.
The supervisors responded, “The Plumas County jail is regularly inspected by the State Department of Corrections to assure compliance with all state regulations designed to insure inmate, community and officer safety.”
“Only jails that meet these standards are allowed to operate.
“The board has sought and will continue to aggressively seek funding for an improved or new jail but can make no commitment as to when improvements could be funded.”
The board did agree with the Grand Jury’s recommendation to have the Corrections Planning Committee meet to address issues raised by the Grand Jury report within the next three months.
The grand jury recommended the supervisors pursue retrofitting, making the existing building usable or selling it in the future when faced with situations like the courthouse annex replacement.
The board responded it did analyze retrofitting and found it not feasible.
It added it wasn’t possible to sell an older building that housed county employees before constructing a new one without adding the cost of temporary quarters.
The response also said “the board has no immediate plans for additional construction and feels that the comments in this recommendation are well taken.”
The Grand Jury also recommended the board attempt to restructure mortgage payments on the annex so they wouldn’t be due at the time of the year when the county has the lowest cash flow in the general fund.
The response indicated the county made serious efforts to restructure the payments but couldn’t accomplish that feat in the current economic climate.
The Grand Jury report went on to suggest the board consult experts on geothermal heating to repair the annex’s system.
The board responded engineers had designed a practical fix for certain parts of the building that had experienced problems and it was expected to be fully functional before winter.
Finally, addressing empty space in the building, the Grand Jury recommended the county advertise for other tenants, move other county departments into the building or allow the community to use it.
The response said the annex was designed to provide office space for governmental agencies and wasn’t suited to other uses.
It added the county was negotiating with other agencies to rent space, that there were many confidential files stored in the building, making it a poor choice for public use.
As far as moving other departments, the board argued the idea “does not appear practical as it would be unlikely to produce more rentable space and there are no likely candidates.”
Alcohol and Drug closure
The only finding from the Grand Jury on this topic was that the board should have been clearer in explaining the reasons for closing the department.
The BOS responded “because of pending litigation and claims by or on behalf of former Alcohol and Drug employees that involve the closing of the department, on advice of County Counsel and in part in reliance on the supervisors’ deliberative privilege, the board will make no comment on these findings and recommendations.”
The Grand Jury argued the departments it reviewed didn’t have policies or procedures and each county department should have them.
The board responded that many departments did have them and the county was hoping to provide complete county policies and procedures online sometime in the future.
The Grand Jury also found many of the job descriptions it reviewed were from the mid- to late-90s and suggested “accurate and timely job descriptions should be immediately developed for every level of county employee.”
The board retorted, “The county does not have the resources to rewrite all of its job descriptions and there is no need to do so since a job description sets the nature of the job, and the precise employee responsibilities are assigned by the department head within those limits.”
“If there are job descriptions that no longer accurately reflect the nature of an employee’s work these will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
Finally, the Grand Jury recommended the county provide risk management training to all county employees.
The board responded the county recently joined a new insurance fund that has “a strong safety and loss prevention program.”
“The board will utilize these resources to improve safe and effective department operations.”
Law and Justice
The Grand Jury report included a small section on law enforcement that addressed several issues, but most notably commented the sheriff’s department was understaffed and the emergency communication system was inadequate.
The section requested the Board of Supervisors respond to those concerns as well.
The supervisors’ response document did not address that section.