by Diane M. Batley, 6/29/2005 The Eureka Reporter
After a year of investigations on issues raised about local government agencies and public officials, the 2004-05 Humboldt County grand jury released a report on its findings yesterday.
The grand jury’s 54-page report contained 27 topics that ranged from Animal Control Services to charter schools to an investigation of the District Attorney Criminal Division.
The lengthiest reports, approximately 10 pages long each, were on Humboldt County charter schools and “An Investigation of the District Attorney Criminal Division.”
The investigation of the district attorney criminal division was “prompted by citizen complaints and the fact that there had been no formal grand jury review of any division of the DA’s Office in 10 years,” according to the executive summary of grand jury report #2005-LJ-02.
District Attorney Paul Gallegos did not receive positive remarks about his leadership in reports “A Review of Humboldt County Child Abuse Services Team” and “An Investigation of the District Attorney Criminal Division.”
Regarding CAST, the grand jury findings stated that the program is faltering because fewer cases are “referred to CAST by law enforcement (and) the district attorney has diminished CAST’s effectiveness by failing to attend governing board meetings, failing to send deputy district attorneys to child interviews and reducing staff.”
In the grand jury’s report on “An Investigation of the District Attorney Criminal Division,” jurors found that “the informed, well-organized, diligent leadership essential during difficult times is missing (and) operations are neither as efficient nor as effective as they must be.”
The grand jury report on the division also stated that “weak leadership and poor managerial practices have led to problems in communication within the office itself, and, more seriously, with law-enforcement agencies, the Board of Supervisors and the general public. The district attorney has failed to educate himself thoroughly in office operations and procedures, and does not employ many common, useful managerial tools: He does not meet regularly with the supervisors who oversee his staff; he does not meet regularly with deputy district attorneys; he does not meet regularly with law-enforcement agencies; he does not provide ‘at-will’ employees with formal performance evaluations; he has no policy and procedures manual for the office; he has no written training documents for new hires.”
In the report on the division, the grand jury recommends the district attorney:
• “hire more experienced prosecutors and clerical staff;
• “expand and improve communications with law enforcement;
• “develop and implement written policy and training manuals on handling communication with the public, especially victims of crime;
• “meet regularly with department heads;
• “develop a procedures and policy manual for the division;
• “improve the office answering system for off-hour calls;
• “provide written performance evaluations for ‘at-will’ employees;
• “refrain from firing long-term experienced prosecutors — or anyone — except for cause, unless a comparable replacement has been identified and retained;
• “reclassify ‘at-will’ prosecutors to provide them with more job security; and
• “require prosecutors to request that the reasons for plea bargains be reflected in the court minutes of cases”
The investigation into Humboldt County charter schools was “initiated by citizen complaints, state and national media attention on charter school effectiveness and a general lack of public knowledge about charter school,” according to the executive summary of grand jury report #2005-HS-02 through 09.
The jurors found that charter schools are public schools and Humboldt County has seven charter districts or networks comprised of 19 charter school sites.
The grand jury report stated that it found “three charter school networks needing oversight improvement in at least one of the following areas: teacher credentials, admission policies, financial management, state testing, and/or required record-keeping.”
On a positive note, the jury found that despite areas in need of improvement, “charter school students appear to be receiving both interesting as well as challenging educational opportunities.”
The grand jury recommends that:
• “The Humboldt County Office of Education establish a clear and consistent method of conducting annual oversight checks of all of the county’s charter schools.
• “The sponsoring agencies of charter schools and the Humboldt County Office of Education exercise vigilant oversight regarding the credentials held by teachers assigned to be the primary teachers of core high school courses (English, math, history and science).
• “The Northcoast Preparatory Academy of the Big Lagoon Charter School Network make its application and admission policies transparent.
• “The Big Lagoon Charter School Network develop stricter guidelines for the maintenance of student records.
• “The Big Lagoon Charter School Network pay all its employees directly, deducting appropriate taxes and retirement benefits, and pay premiums for state unemployment compensation and state workers’ compensation.
• “The Big Lagoon Charter School Network check with the federal and state internal revenue services and the federal and state departments of labor to verify the legal definition of ‘employee’ and ‘independent contractor.’
• “The Big Lagoon Charter School Network consult with authorities to determine the legitimacy of using a pass-through account to pay anyone who is already retired and receiving retirement system benefits.
• “The Equinox Center for Education of the Big Lagoon Charter School Network confirm the legitimacy and legality of transforming a private school to a public school.
• “The Mattole Valley Charter School and the Pacific View Charter School encourage participation with state-recommended testing in order to achieve the 95 percent rate desired to track school accountability.”
Grand jury forewoman Darlene Marlow said that she could not provide any comments about the final report.
“Our comment is the report and that is our only comment,” she said.
The final report from the grand jury is the result of more than 7,000 hours of work by 21 grand jurors, including alternates, over the past year, Marlow stated in a letter included in the grand jury final report to Judge Timothy Cissna.
By the end of the year, 16 people remained on the grand jury. Their names are included in the final report. The 2004-05 grand jury members who remain until the next jury begins its work in July are Richard Beller of Eureka, Anne Christen of Ferndale, Cindy L.H. Costa of Eureka, Allan B. Edwards of McKinleyville, Stephanie Head of Eureka, Claudia Johnson of Eureka, Stacey Kaspari of Eureka, Bettie Boyce Lee of Fortuna, Willa Diane Lehman of Garberville, Russell Lewis of Fortuna, Darlene Couch Marlow of Trinidad, John Matthew Morehouse of Arcata, Patricia S. Nolan of Fortuna, Sue Oringer of Bayside, Evon Stalker of McKinleyville and Samuel B. Trumball of Arcata.
The grand jury is comprised of citizens who serve for one year and comprise “a civil investigative body having for its objective the detection and correction of flaws in government,” according to the final report.
Some jurors may serve a second term on the grand jury to provide continuity from one term to the next.
The foreperson is the official spokesperson for the grand jury.
“A grand juror may take no official action without the prior approval and authorization of a majority of the grand jury,” the final report states.
The 2004-05 grand jury report will be printed in its entirety on Friday in The Eureka Reporter.
Copyright (C) 2005, The Eureka Reporter. All rights reserved.
◼ TS - Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations
◼ ER - 2004-05 Humboldt County Grand Jury Report 6/29/2005
◼ TS - Grand jury issues scathing DA critique June 29, 2005
"However, the informed, well-organized, diligent leadership essential during difficult times is missing," the grand jury report said. "Operations are neither as efficient nor as effective as they must be."
◼ McK Press - Grand Jury Report: D.A. guilty of 'weak leadership'
◼ ER - 2004-05 Humboldt County grand jury releases its final report
◼ NCJ - GRAND JURY REPORT IN
◼ The Grand Jury Report on the DA's office
◼ The Grand Jury Report on CAST
◼ TS - Gallegos responds to grand jury findings
◼ CAST Response/Grand Jury Report