Editor’s note: This article was updated to remove information protected by civil grand jury general provisions.
On June 26, foreperson Stacie McGrady presented the San Benito County Civil Grand Jury’s consolidated final report to Superior Court Judge Jose Omar Rodriquez, ending its official duties for its 2022-23 term. In her cover letter to Rodriquez, McGrady wrote that her service as foreperson gave her “invaluable insights into our local government agencies and the dedicated professionals that do the hard work every day.”
McGrady, who also served on the grand jury during the 2021-22 term, retired from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department in 2007 as a detective sergeant and went on to work in private security and for the Monterey County SPCA. She currently works as an instructor for the South Bay Regional Public Safety Training Consortium and has lived in Hollister for over 20 years.
BenitoLink interviewed McGrady on her experiences as a grand juror and as a foreperson following the issuing of the grand jury’s final report
BenitoLink: What did you discover about the Civil Grand Jury process?
McGrady: A couple of things. First, we have some great people here in our community that are very motivated to learn and investigate to the best of their abilities, then bring the information to the rest of the community. I also learned that there are a lot of people in our community that have absolutely no idea how the government works. They have never been to a City Council meeting, a Board of Supervisors meeting or know what the Council of Governments is. They don’t know what it’s like to be a small business owner trying to get permits.
What ability does the grand jury have to hold the government accountable?
I think we can offer critical insight. For example, the previous city manager was supposed to conduct performance evaluations on department heads. We learned, by issuing subpoenas, that there were no performance evaluations for any department head for the past five years. We have department heads who have contracts that automatically renew every year without any input, and when there’s no evaluation of their job performance, there is no accountability.
For the last 10 years, the Civil Grand Jury has reported on faulty air conditioning at the jail. You noted in this report that there was a clear sense the grand jury had been ignored. Is this frustrating to you?
I don’t think it’s that we’re not being listened to because we only have our perspective. We are told the air conditioning has not been fixed and is still a chronic issue. On the other hand, they just built the new rehab wing in the jail. And that cost something. So maybe our priorities aren’t the same as theirs. And since we don’t work in the jail, maybe we’re not right about this, you know. But it’s still a concern, and it still needs to be addressed.
The current report has very harsh criticism of the Hollister Fire Department. Is it difficult to phrase that kind of thing without alienating the departments that you are reporting on?
I hope that nobody takes it personally unless we are pointing out that an individual is not up to what they should be doing. But I think it’s much more a systems issue and an accountability issue than a personal issue. In the previous year, for example, the grand jury report was very critical of things that had been going on at Behavioral Health. There was a lack of growth, a lack of transparency and a lack of services that was pretty well-known throughout the county government but nobody talks about.
There is often not enough money available to pay for what the grand jury expects in terms of staffing and services. Is that frustrating?
There’s obviously a need for more services and getting more people involved in all of our government agencies. They all seem to be struggling for staffing, both the city and countywide. It’s due, in my opinion, to years of poor planning, building houses, and not creating infrastructure and job growth. All of us are commuting, spending our money out of town, and we’re suffering the consequences of that now. To be sure, it’s a fact that we can’t pay employees as much.
Okay, these are truths. But what can we do to attract people to San Benito County? Would there be a way to subsidize housing for law enforcement or teachers or IT personnel to make it more attractive for them to come here or San Juan Bautista?
What should next year’s Civil Grand Jury consider investigating?
Roads are always an issue. We passed that one-cent sales tax to go to the roads and since we’ve opened up Amazon delivery and those guys are getting gasoline hand over fist, it must have affected how much money is being collected for roads.
So for example, my question would be how much money did we collect in gas tax? And what does Amazon pay for wear and tear on the roads? We’ve had concerns that there’s a general lack of accountability at the top, and from the top down.
What got you into law enforcement?
I moved to Salinas partly because Hartnell College had an animal health technician program. I needed a job. I was a starving student, and the campus safety was hiring. I applied, and they said, “If we hire you, you have to take the administration of justice classes.” I fell in with a great peer group of people who were motivated to go into law enforcement. I became a reserve with Monterey County Sheriff’s Department as a result of that, and it’s been a blessing of a career.
What brought you to Hollister?
I was working in Monterey County for the Sheriff’s Department. I actually lived south of King City, almost to San Miguel, when I met my current husband, who worked for the San Jose police department. My grandfather lived over in San Juan Bautista, so I’ve always been around Hollister. We were looking for a place that was commutable for both of us when we got married, and we found a very lovely five-acre little ranchette in Hollister.
Why did you want to be on the Civil Grand Jury?
It’s something I’ve always been interested in. Outside of having read some completed reports, I honestly did not know what to expect. I didn’t know anybody who was on the Civil Grand Jury previously. I didn’t have any connections or any mentor.
What would you say to convince somebody to apply and take part in the grand jury?
The grand jury is absolutely rewarding. You learn that nothing stands alone in local government, that everything that is happening or not happening within our local government is all interconnected. Everything affects everything else. And you learn that you can make a difference.
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