The San Benito County Civil Grand Jury released its 2021-2022 Final Report on Sept. 7, which covers its investigations into a multitude of legal issues that have arisen in the county. The report typically comes out in June but this year was not released until September, limiting the months available for the 2022-2023 civil grand jury’s work.
The jury meets as a group once a week to discuss general issues and then breaks down into committees during the week to review areas needing special attention. The wide scope of the civil grand jury’s power means the public can petition the it to look into their concerns and, as opposed to a civil or criminal jury, the 19 members of a civil grand jury directly question witnesses to form their conclusions.
Under the authority of the Superior Court, the civil grand jury’s jurisdiction covers law enforcement organizations, juvenile and adult detention facilities, human resources, the county budget, the animal shelter, and water issues, among other things.
Highlights of the report-
BenitoLink will be reporting on some of these topics in further depth in the coming weeks.
Brown Act- The report begins with a reminder of the importance of the Brown Act, which sections of it were temporarily waived during COVID-19. “Secret meetings violate public trust and shutting out the public and board members who disagree with edicts can create a toxic atmosphere where the public’s needs give way to the need to win political battles. Executive staff excluded from such meetings have testified that their authority had been undermined,” the civil grand jury stated.
San Benito County Human Resources Department – The civil grand jury found that the county has nearly double the vacancies of counties with similar budgets and populations. They also noted complaints about favoritism and a lack of guidelines for training and advancement.
Hollister Police Department – The civil grand jury concluded that the staffing levels are “dangerously deficient” and recommended increasing staff, revising the retention program, and establishing a third work shift for officers. Further recommendations included creating a full-time position for a cannabis officer and reinstating the Citizen and Youth Academy.
San Benito County Behavioral Health Department – The civil grand jury found that “hiring and retainment of staff is part of a larger long-suffering staffing issue that has plagued the SBC Behavioral and the Mental Health care systems.” The report states there is a 34% vacancy rate. The civil grand jury suggested fully implementing a more modern Electrical Health Record system and examining the excessive wait times currently being observed. It also recommended an evaluation of the management system to ensure personnel do not act out of the roles they were hired to perform.
San Benito County Probation Department – The civil grand jury recommended funding and reinstating the Gang Task Force program as soon as possible. It also noted that there were four vacancies in the department and recommended they be filled as soon as possible.
San Benito County Jail – The civil grand jury commended the jail for keeping “the highest standards of order and cleanliness.” It recommended providing a new roof to support a cooling system, finding that the swamp cooler at the facility is inefficient. It also found the jail to be understaffed and recommended mandatory overtime for existing employees.
San Benito County Sheriff’s Department – The civil grand jury recommended establishing swing shifts to better deter criminal activity and combat the increase in gang activity. The jury also recommends the creation of a violent crimes task force.
San Benito County Information Technology – The civil grand jury found that the county’s Internet Technology department was similarly understaffed and recommended active recruitment.
San Benito County Ad Hoc Water Report – The civil grand jury recommended the aggressive pursuit of state and federal funding to be used to eradicate the invasive mussel population from the San Justo Reservoir. It also recommended a review of the performances of both the City of Hollister and Sunnyslope water districts to see if their duplicated services can be more efficiently combined.
San Benito County Juvenile Hall – The civil grand jury noted that the facility’s water heater needed to be repaired or replaced as soon as possible. They also recommended new locks for the gates and improvements to the watering system.
Hollister Animal Shelter – The civil grand jury found the shelter to be understaffed and underfunded, with no veterinarian on-site. Volunteer services were likewise noted as “severely lacking,” and paid staff did not have sufficient training in assessing animals for adaptability.
Dispatch – Communications – The civil grand jury found that law enforcement and emergency service agencies had poor reception due to outdated equipment and recommended increased funding for communication services.
San Benito County Budget – The civil grand jury recommended salary increases be based on the tax revenue available each year and that future budget projections be based on real-time spending.
Citizen complaints- If a citizen has a legitimate concern with local government authority, the civil grand jury is one potential pathway toward bringing matters to the plenary jury to investigate further. Residents of the community may find a complaint form found at https://www.cosb.us/departments/grand-jury or by mailing a signed letter with confirmable information addressed to the SBC Grand Jury at P.O. Box 1624, Hollister, California 95024.
Complainant names or identification are never shared.
The Civil Grand Jury report requires responses from the various governing bodies within 60 days for elected officials, such as the board of supervisors, and 90 days for city or county departments.