Santa Barbara County 1998-99 Grand Jury Report

Analysis of Responses to the
1997-98 Grand Jury Reports

Released March 15, 1999

 

INTRODUCTION

In order to assure the continuity of Grand Jury reports from year to year, the 1993-94 Grand Jury created a follow-through report to analyze the responses by affected agencies to the previous year’s reports. The practice has been continued from year to year to provide a report intended to monitor the status of those commitments made by affected agencies. "Affected agencies" are those government entities to which Grand Jury findings and recommendations are directed. This follow-through report is intended as a summary of the responses to the recommendations received in reply to the 1997-98 Grand Jury reports, with comments thereon.

BACKGROUND

In January 1998 the State Legislature’s new law, designated California Penal Code Section 933.05, imposed more specific requirements upon agencies addressed in Grand Jury reports. The new law requires the affected agencies to reply to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court within specific time frames using a limited range of responses. Governing bodies of each public agency affected by a Grand Jury report must respond within ninety days of the Jury’s report, while elected County officers or agency heads must reply within sixty days. The mandatory responses by agencies are listed below.

Responses to findings:

Responses to recommendations:

REVIEW OF RESPONSES

The topics that follow are titled to correspond to the reports released by the 1997-98 Grand Jury. The order and letter designations also match those utilized in the publication entitled Grand Jury Final Report 1997-98, released June 30, 1998.

A. Public Services During Fiesta

Members of the 1997-98 Grand Jury attended briefings of the Santa Barbara Police Department and accompanied officers on vehicular and foot patrols to see how the crowds were handled during "Fiesta 1997." A Grand Jury report was subsequently published incorporating their observations, and a few recommendations were made to provide after-parade traffic control in congested areas, better trash facilities and improved lighting and signage for restrooms.

The City of Santa Barbara agreed with the recommendations, and the 1998-99 Grand Jury was very pleased to observe that the action taken by the City of Santa Barbara during "Fiesta 1998" in response to the Grand Jury report was positive. The Grand Jury extends its congratulations to all persons involved.

B. Follow Up Report 1996-97

The Grand Jury reviewed the responses from all affected agencies of the nine reports contained in the 1996-97 final report. Where appropriate follow up meetings or on site visits were used to monitor the status of commitments made by subject agencies in their responses. The 1997-98 Grand Jury made the following observations with respect to the reports: (1) revisions to Penal Code Section 933.05 should improve the development and writing of both the Grand Jury recommendations and the responses by affected agencies; (2) the County has not demonstrated its implementation of the recommendation for periodic review of boards and commissions; (3) the Buellton Union School District Board either misunderstood previous Grand Jury recommendations or was less than forthright with the Grand Jury regarding both the formation of an oversight advisory committee and its violation of the Brown Act.

C. Audit and Finance

Grand Juries are mandated by State law (California Penal Code Section 925) to investigate and report on the operations, accounts and records of the officers, departments and functions of their respective counties. The 1997-98 Grand Jury selected three areas of County operations to study: independent audit of county finances, independent auditor’s (KPMG) management letter and County responses, and the role of the Auditor-Controller.

A very large portion of the County’s revenue comes from intergovernmental transfers, primarily from the state and federal government. With a budget in excess of $400 million, approximately forty percent came from various governmental agencies in the form of grants. The Grand Jury found that the grants were not readily identified in the budget nor carefully tracked throughout the year, and jobs created by grant funding often resulted in "budget creep" due to program continuation when the grant funding ended. Accordingly, the Grand Jury recommended that grants be clearly identified in the budget; a centralized grants management system with a new grant coordinator position be implemented; and a specific termination date be established for employment positions created by grants.

According to the County Administrator, the recommendation regarding identification of grants in the budget will not be implemented. It was stated that it is often difficult to distinguish between grants and other revenues. Grant funding changes as grantor agencies modify their programs. The Auditor-Controller’s office planned to conduct a preliminary needs assessment in 1998-99 for a grant accounting and tracking computerized module. The first step would be to create a grant/project management system. The County Administrator agreed with the recommendation to implement the tracking system. However, the Board of Supervisors were reluctant to create another county position to manage the system and delayed implementation indefinitely.

The 1997-98 Grand Jury also recommended the County revise the disaster recovery plan in accordance with the KPMG letter and require all departments to comply with the guidelines. The County Administrator replied that the recommendation would be complied with in fiscal year 1998-99.

D. Housing the Mentally Ill

Complaints from the public concerning housing for the mentally ill resulted in a 1997-98 Grand Jury investigation. The four major categories of housing for mentally ill residents in the County are: (1) long-term supported housing, (2) acute psychiatric hospitalization, (3) crisis/urgent care and (4) alternatives to jail. The Jury found there is a significant shortage of housing in all categories for patients who come within the purview of the Mental Health Department and a special need for temporary shelter for patients in crisis. To alleviate these problems, the Jury recommended the Board of Supervisors seek funding for new facilities, the Sheriff’s Department take more responsibility for safely housing its mentally ill prisoners and the Mental Health Department find space for patients in Santa Maria as well as taking over an adjacent County building in Santa Barbara. The Jury also recommended the Mental Health Department improve its staffing, improve staff morale, promote increased cooperation with jail staff and encourage public support for facility expansion. A final recommendation addressed evaluation and expansion of a pilot program with the Probation Department.

The Board of Supervisors reported that it is looking into funding for improvements to Mental Health facilities; however, the Department of Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services responded that the recommendation for a North County facility was not cost effective and would not be implemented.

The department blamed "the wholesale release of patients from state hospitals without the transfer of adequate state funding to local communities to care for them" for the current problems and identified urgent/crisis care as one of its two top priorities for development. The department’s response to the recommendation to acquire the building being vacated by another agency was that it would be too costly to renovate for Mental Health use. Current management in the department has indicated that arrangements could be made to make the building suitable for use.

The Probation Department responded to the report by calling attention to its pilot project "Mental Health/Probation Program" (MH/PP) but indicated that the program, if successful, could not be expanded to include all jailed mental health patients as serious offenders are not eligible for the program. Preliminary statistics regarding the effectiveness of this program are expected to be available by May 1999.

E. Employee Training in the County

With over four thousand employees, Santa Barbara County is the third largest employer in the county. Training for these employees is part of the strategic plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors in April 1996. The 1997-98 budget marked a change in the focus of county government with the implementation of performance-based budgeting. Recognizing that training would be a key to improving performance, the 1997-98 Grand Jury investigated the cost, availability, subject matter and effectiveness of training available to county employees. The Grand Jury made the following recommendations:

One of the most positive steps taken regarding employee training is the establishment of the Santa Barbara County Employee University. The responses received by the Grand Jury indicated that the recommendations were "being, or will be implemented."

F. Affordable Housing Process

The 1997-98 Grand Jury investigated the affordable housing situation in the county and found the requirements to be ambiguous for builders and confusing for buyers. Members visited sites where affordable housing was being built and interviewed developers, loan company representatives, owners of affordable housing units and County employees. It should be noted that the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara is an independent contractor/consultant and is not a part of County government.

The Grand Jury recommended streamlining the process for buyers through use of a loan prequalification process and establishment of financial classes for prospective buyers. It was found that the county has no central office responsible for all aspects of affordable housing. In his response the County Administrator stated that the Treasurer-Tax Collector is in charge of the financing. Planning and Development Department controls the planning aspects. No agency monitors whether units are owner-occupied as prescribed, whether they have been subsequently resold at market value or even how many exist. However, he indicated that the recommendation to limit the number of low-cost units in the South County would be implemented, as will a prequalification screening. The recommended position of Affordable Housing Director will not be implemented.

The Planning and Development Department agreed with the County Administrator on most recommendations. The department has created databases to track affordable for-sale housing units and will sample affordable unit projects for compliance in 1998-99. If this sampling indicates compliance to be at an unacceptable level, staffing for monitoring and compliance can be developed for the 1999-2000 budget. The Housing Authority took a positive view of the report and agreed with most recommendations.

G. Vocational Training in Santa Barbara County

The 1997-98 Grand Jury investigated the training opportunities available for 16- to 18-year-old youths interested in seeking constructive employment. Since the average school curriculum in recent years has placed little emphasis on vocational education, access to such training must come from other sources. It was noted that the One Stop Training Center will provide a logical point to gather information about aptitudes, the availability of training and jobs. The One Stop Training Center is in the planning stages and will operate in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria through the federally funded Job Training Network. It was recommended that Regional Occupational Program (ROP) classes be continued by County high school districts and expanded to include classes at Los Prietos Boys Camp operated by the Probation Department. It was further recommended that County high school districts evaluate and report on establishment of a regional technical high school. The final recommendation was that the Board of Supervisors establish measurable benchmarks and monitor implementation of the One Stop Training Center.

The recommendation for a regional technical high school was rejected as impractical; however, most of the other recommendations have been or will be at least partially implemented. When completed the One Stop Center will provide a focal point for citizens to gather information about available jobs, aptitude for work and location of necessary training.

H. Wildlife Management

In response to many requests the 1997-98 Grand Jury investigated the wildlife management practices in the South Coast urban area, which one public official had described as "out of control." The investigation focused on the City of Santa Barbara Animal Control Division, the County Environmental Health Services Division (County Animal Shelters) and the County Agricultural Commissioner.

The Grand Jury is aware that emotional factors assume disproportionate influence in the public’s relationship with wild or domestic animals. No matter what the law requires, and no matter that the law is specifically designed to safeguard the public, a group of well-meaning citizens who cannot condone the deliberate killing of an animal will interfere with the legal process. The 1997-98 Grand Jury found ample evidence of the problems which result from the public’s emotional response to animals. Judging from the responses received to this report, these emotional factors make it difficult for government officials to administer the law. It will come as no surprise that the Grand Jury had no magic solution to this continuing problem. It recommended that both city and county animal control shelter staff and volunteers discontinue their policies of relocating wild animals or releasing them to advocacy groups immediately and that the County Agricultural Commissioner continue efforts to develop a wild animal management plan and to educate the public on this issue.

In response, the Board of Supervisors directed the County Agricultural Commission to achieve full compliance with the California Code. The County Agricultural Commissioner was singled out because he clearly understands the obligation of administering a management program, which ultimately includes wild animal euthanasia. Also, he appears to have the skills necessary to develop communication—and cooperation—in dealing with this emotional issue.

I. Public-Private Partnerships in the County Planning Process

Using private contributions to help pay for environmental and economic reviews has created perceptions in the public mind that such practices may result in biased findings by the entities involved. Many reviews required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) are financed in Santa Barbara County by such partnerships, and CEQA does allow such practices. These review bodies are normally referred to as General Plan Advisory Committees (GPACs). The 1997-98 Grand Jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors should give the public an accounting of the private funds on a regular basis, and the Board of Supervisors has agreed to implement the recommendation.

It was also recommended that the procedure be amended to ensure appointments to such GPACs be made from different interest groups such as farming, small business, industry, development, finance, and real estate.

The Grand Jury recommendation regarding appointments to GPACs will not be implemented. To quote from the Board of Supervisors’ response: "The Board believes its appointments to GPACs have been successful in accommodating the unique needs of each community and each individual planning exercise. Standardized guidelines for countywide application would be difficult if not inappropriate to construct because of the varying nature of the communities and the scope of planning activities undertaken in those communities."

The Grand Jury believes the County should be particularly careful to ensure that the decision-makers are representative of the neighborhood which will be affected.

J. Role of the Board of Supervisors

According to information compiled by the County Supervisors Association of California, supervisors have authority in three separate roles: executive, legislative and quasi-judicial. In April 1996, the Board of Supervisors adopted a strategic plan for the County, which included an objective to clarify the role of the Board. The 1997-98 Grand Jury decided to see if this objective had been fulfilled by querying each Supervisor about the role of the Board as a whole and each Supervisor individually.

As a result of the replies by members of the Board, the Grand Jury published three findings and three recommendations.

The Grand Jury report stated there was no consensus among the Board members regarding the Board’s role and recommended the Board either arrive at a consensus or remove that objective from the strategic plan. The objective was removed from the current strategic plan dated April 21, 1998.

A second recommendation called for including stated priorities in the Board’s budget document. (The Board has an annual budget in excess of $1,200,000.) The response from the Board indicated that there are established priorities contained in the budget document that is reviewed in detail by the Board during budget hearings. Also, "the Board breaks down the dollar allocation by each supervisorial district as to salaries and benefits, services and supplies, fixed assets and revenues."

The third and final recommendation stated that the Board should consistently evaluate contract performance of service providers who are hired by the Board and report directly to the Board. The Board stated that it "has and does consistently evaluate contract performance of service providers...." and "when appropriate, these performance evaluations take place in closed session."

K. Joint Powers Agencies

Joint Powers Agencies (JPAs) have been created to do everything from studying the movement of sand to financing county vehicle garages. They distribute books to libraries and water from Northern California to many local communities. These agencies require careful administration because they have the power to make and enter into contracts, sue and be sued, issue bonds, acquire property by eminent domain and incur debts, liabilities and obligations.

The investigation by the 1997-98 Grand Jury discovered that some governing bodies did not have a clear understanding of the JPAs to which they belong. It was found that many JPAs did not report activities to the agencies that they represented. There was no central place in the county, or at the state level, where a complete list of JPAs and their activities could be found. To resolve these problems, the Grand Jury recommended that all agencies and the county maintain lists of JPAs to which they belong and establish reporting procedures for JPA representatives. It also recommended all JPAs file audits with the county auditor as required by law.

The County Administrator’s response indicated that a list of JPAs is now located in the Clerk of the Board of Supervisor’s office. Most recommendations in this report have been or soon will be implemented, according to responding local agencies.

L. High School Ethnic Studies

In response to letters from the public, the 1997-98 Grand Jury investigated the Santa Barbara High School District’s ethnic studies programs. The Jury found that the ethnic studies program in the district’s three high schools consisted of individual Chicano and Black studies courses but no multicultural studies. School officials who were interviewed agreed that the district’s present curriculum tends to isolate minority groups rather than stressing membership in a single multicultural society, as suggested in the state guidelines. The Grand Jury recommended that the district implement the recommendation of its Multi-cultural Education Task Force for a required multicultural course at the ninth-grade level and that the county provide training for ethnic studies teachers.

The Superintendent stated that the district is "currently exploring the possibility of a new course in the area of ethnic studies" and the district "will continue the review of a possible ethnic studies course in the near future. Any such decision would have to be made by the Santa Barbara School Board." No specific steps have been taken by the District Superintendent or the Santa Barbara School Board to comply with the state mandate to present such classes. However, currently fifty percent of social studies’ time is spent on ethnic studies.

The Santa Barbara County Education Office responded that they have in the past implemented some of the recommendations. Their Central Coast School Leadership Center has provided workshops on diversity training for teachers in the Santa Barbara High School District.

M. Public Defender

The 1997-98 Grand Jury received many written complaints regarding the management of the Public Defender’s office and its effect on the morale and efficiency of its employees. The investigation focused on determining if the complaints were justified and if the County was being well served. To arrive at its findings and recommendations the Grand Jury conducted more than thirty interviews with present and former employees of the office.

The Public Defender is an at-will department head who serves at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors and under the supervision of the County Administrator. The present office holder has served in this capacity for more than 23 years. The mission of the Public Defender is to provide competent legal service to indigent members of the community who are entitled to representation in the courts of the county. The State Legislature and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors have defined the duties of the Public Defender, some of which are mandates while others are permissive. In all cases the clients must be indigent.

The Grand Jury confirmed a number of serious complaints, including the following:

In addition to 65 findings there were a total of 31 recommendations included in the Grand Jury report. The Public Defender’s response consisted of 37 pages plus 7 exhibits. The intent of this follow-through report is to summarize both the Grand Jury report and the responses. In his response, the Public Defender indicated that 18 of the recommendations have been or will be implemented. These implementations for the most part pertain to many office procedures and the installation of additional office equipment. Although the Grand Jury did not require him to respond to the many personal findings regarding his relationship with staff, the Public Defender included with his response an addendum in which he discussed those findings. The Public Defender stated that many allegations were subjective and/or factually untrue.

In September 1998 the County Administrator ordered an investigation into the allegations contained in the Grand Jury report. The Presiding Judge of the Superior Court granted an extension of time for the County Administrator’s report. On December 15, 1998, the Board of Supervisors adopted a response to the Grand Jury report that was apparently based on the results of the County Administrator’s investigation. All findings and recommendations regarding relationships between staff and the Public Defender were answered in the same manner; i.e., "This finding is a matter for the employee performance review process." There was no indication of what action, if any, will be taken as a result of the Grand Jury investigation.

N. Civil Service Commission

Because of perceived morale problems among County employees, the 1997-98 Grand Jury began examining the area of civil service management. However, upon learning of the efforts of the Civil Service Executive Association to reform elements of the County’s civil service program, the Grand Jury focused its efforts on areas that it felt had not been adequately addressed in the Executive Association’s reform package. The resulting report made recommendations in the area of performance evaluation, training and procedural changes.

The 1998-99 Grand Jury was pleased to note that the completion of employee performance reviews throughout the county has been much improved in the past few years. In part, this is due to performance measures imposed by the County Administrator as part of the 1997-1998 performance-based budgeting model. Other recommendations regarding training will be implemented in the new Employee University.

Recommendations for procedural changes dealing primarily with civil service rules will not be implemented.

O. Torch Oil Spill

During the "Torch Oil Spill," the County Office of Emergency Services was not allowed to assist, support or offer advice regarding the decisions made to effect the necessary cleanup. During the early, crucial hours of the spill the County Emergency Operations Center representative was actually asked to leave the room and was excluded from any further participation in the unified command structure.

The 1997-98 Grand Jury recommended that immediate action be taken to meet with officials of the State Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) with a view to establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would include local officials in the incident command system in the future. Action was taken by the Fire Department, the Planning and Development Department and the County Counsel to meet with State officials.

Nearly a year after the spill there was still no MOU regarding local jurisdiction in matters of major oil-spill emergencies. However, the 1998-99 Grand Jury understands that the Department of Fish & Game has agreed to change the procedure. Under the new procedure local officials will be included in future deliberations. The Office of Emergency Services has prepared an MOU that includes these arrangements.

P. Service Contracting

The 1997-98 Grand Jury investigated the development of a standard contract format for use by the various departments throughout the County. The Grand Jury made three recommendations:

The affected departments agreed with and will implement the first two recommendations. The third recommendation will not be implemented because the County’s two automated systems, which were set up for specific purposes, are functioning satisfactorily, according to the County Administrator.

Q. Air Pollution Control District

The 1997-98 Grand Jury investigated an allegation that Air Pollution Control District (APCD) employees were conducting private business on district time with district equipment. According to those interviewed, two employees readily admitted their activities while on the district’s payroll. They were allowed to quietly resign (thus retaining benefits such as pension credits) rather than being terminated. There was no explanation in the responses as to how the employees could have operated in the manner in which they did without being detected by supervisory personnel. To avert similar future problems, the Grand Jury recommended incorporation of clear guidelines regarding outside employment in the district’s policies and procedures manuals as well as guidance regarding the financial disclosure requirements of the California Political Reform Act and establishment of a human resources manager position. The responses to the report submitted by the APCD were, for the most part, in agreement with the findings and recommendations of the Grand Jury. Most of the recommendations have been, or will be, implemented.

During the investigation, the Grand Jury encountered difficulty regarding the processing of subpoenas to acquire the records from the APCD and recommended guidelines be provided for this process. Those problems have been resolved with the County Counsel to preclude similar difficulties in the future.

R. County Detention Facilities

State law mandates that each Grand Jury investigate the state of detention facilities within the County. The 1997-1998 Grand Jury investigated jails, juvenile halls and holding facilities in the County. The report was divided into those categories, plus sections on jail escapes, jail overcrowding, psychiatric care and transportation of prisoners. Recommendations and responses are summarized below.

S. Redevelopment Agency

This report was issued by the 1997-98 Grand Jury because of concern that the plan for a redevelopment project in Goleta would follow the pattern of mistakes and mismanagement that plagued the county’s earlier effort in Isla Vista. Both redevelopment projects are administered by the County Redevelopment Agency, which is governed by the Board of Supervisors. There were no "affected agencies" designated in the report; therefore, no response was required.

T. County Retirement

Complaints from County employees concerning policies and practices specifically related to disability retirements resulted in an investigation of the Board of Retirement. The Board sued the 1996-97 Grand Jury in Superior Court challenging the Jury’s authority to examine the Board’s activities. When the court ruled in favor of the Grand Jury, the Board appealed to the appellate court, which also found for the Grand Jury. The investigation moved ahead with its focus on fund investment practices and the time frame involved with the disability retirement process.

The 1997-98 Grand Jury recommended that periodic actuarial audits of the retirement fund be conducted. It also recommended that the Retirement Office hire more staff to expedite processing of disability applications and publish a pamphlet to guide applicants through the disability filing process. Another recommendation dealt with the practice of using Retirement Board members as referees. A final recommendation dealt with the fact that the Retirement Board had not provided data regarding disability retirements for the State’s required annual report. The Board’s response to the Grand Jury report indicated that all of the preceding recommendations have been or will be implemented. However, the Jury was unable to locate any additional staff to expedite the disability application process; a pamphlet in plain English to guide applicants through the disability process has not been made readily available; and no additional statistics for disability retirements have been received by the State.

The Grand Jury recommended that a separate Board of Investments be established to oversee invested funds. State law permits, but does not require, such a board for funds that exceed $800 million. The Retirement Board declined to implement this recommendation, citing the system’s present strong financial health.

Another recommendation that the fund pay attorney’s fees for applicants who prevail and are granted disability retirements was rejected because such payments are not authorized in the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937 (CERL).

A recommendation that both the applicant and the County mutually approve medical examiners and referees (hearing officers) was rejected because Government Code Section 31732 mandates the Board to secure such medical, investigative and other services and advice as it deems to be appropriate and necessary. The same code also gives the Board exclusive authority to appoint hearing officers.

The recommendation that the Board limit the hiring of outside law firms to instances where County Counsel has a conflict of interest was also rejected. This was justified by citing past history with regard to conflicts of interest in the County Counsel’s office.

Another recommendation was that the Retirement Office file with the State data for annual reports regarding the number of disability retirements granted each year. The response was that the Retirement System would continue to complete the LGFA 706 document in the manner outlined by the document, as it has in the past. However the State Auditor’s Department informed the Grand Jury that the LGFA 706 document referred to in the Treasurer/Tax Collector’s Response was eliminated at least three years ago. According to the Annual Report of the Financial Transactions Concerning Public Retirement Systems for the Counties of California, the Santa Barbara Retirement Board has submitted incomplete disability retirement information for at least the past four years.

CONCLUSION

Responses submitted by the affected agencies to all of the reports published by the 1997-98 Grand Jury have been carefully examined. Although excerpts from Penal Code 933.05 explaining required responses were included with the Grand Jury reports, many of the responses indicated a lack of understanding of the agency’s responsibilities in replying. Responses required greater effort; more than one response was inadequate and, in a few cases, even specious. Future responses should be undertaken earlier and with more thought.