Arriving several months late, the San Benito County Civil Grand Jury Report cites a lack of funding and a skeptical Board of Supervisors as difficulties in producing its report. The annual publication was compiled by 19 appointed jurors whose duty is to perform independent investigations into city government, schools, hospitals and other entities funded by taxpayer dollars. The Civil Grand Jury has been assigned a “watchdog” role since California’s earliest days as a state. It’s area of responsibility is aimed at identifying problems and offering recommendations for improving government operations and enhancing responsiveness.
Once the Civil Grand Jury has produced its report and shared it, those entities mentioned have either 60 or 90 days to respond. The report is included as a pdf file below this story.
In her letter introducing this year’s report, Ann Ross, the Grand Jury foreperson, says that working on the recent jury “wasn’t as simple or straightforward as it should have been” for two main reasons: The first, a “lack of carry over physical support.” The Grand Jury struggles to find a stable team of jury members, basic office supplies and administrative assistance to get their investigations and report writing done each year.
“Despite requests to assist with all constraints mentioned here and in the Foreperson Letter, the only recent actions taken by the [Board] applicable to the jury was to continue to question publicly up to the present why the jury does what it does, needs what it needs, and take action to move the jury into further incongruence with [California Grand Jurors’ Association] best practices,” Ross wrote.
Second, Ross notes new rules recently passed by the Board of Supervisors that “disregarded bringing the jury up to date in needed support or stipends” and “interfered with statewide generally practiced research and reporting procedures.” Ross says those rules limited the independent power of the Grand Jury. These complaints mirror the statements made by the previous civil grand jury.
Some of the recommendations made in this year’s report involve emergency mental health treatment at Hazel Hawkins Hospital and throughout the county, including the County Jail. It also suggests lowering speed limits near Veterans Park, giving daily attention to gopher mounds on Hollister School District playing fields, providing more training to county jail staff and adding external oversight into the quality of food served at the jail, as well as a recommendation to remodel the shower at Juvenile Hall.
The Board of Supervisors is one of the entities that the jury is required to review. Ross’s concerns about lack of storage and carry over supplies echo other concerns made by previous Grand Juries.
Robert Rivas, a member of the San Benito County Board of Supervisors, told BenitoLink that he recognizes that the relationship between the Grand Jury and the Board has become strained. But Rivas calls the Grand Jury “one of the oldest, most respected and powerful civil institutions in the United States.”
Rivas said that the strained relationship came down to the budget, saying that Grand Jury members in previous years filed expense checks to the county “for well over $1,000… and unfortunately that’s what blew through the budget.” While Rivas is quick to point out the civic importance of the Grand Jury, he also points out that “It’s mostly a volunteer position. Although there is a stipend involved, there came a point where the expenses of jury members became much more than the stipend reimbursement, and that’s what caused a lot of friction.”
Rivas also says that he has had a conversation with the County Administrative Office about repairing the relationship between the Board of Supervisors and the Grand Jury.
“I think we all value the Grand Jury and we want to repair the relationship” with the jury members moving forward, he said. Although the Civil Grand Jury has requested over the last few years that the department responses as well as the report be available online, the county website still does not carry the responses.
According to the report just released, responses are required from:
- Board of Directors, Hazel Hawkins Hospital (90 days)
- San Benito County Board of Supervisors (90 days)
- San Benito County Council of Governments (90 days)
- Mayor of Hollister and the City Council of Hollister (90 days)
- City of Hollister, Chief of Police Department (60 days)
- San Benito County, Sheriff (60 days)
- SBC, Director of Health and Human Services (60 days)
- SBC, Director of Behavioral Health (60 days)
- Executive Director, SBC Local Transit Authority (60 days)
BenitoLink will report on the agency responses mentioned in the 2016 report as soon as they are made available.