Government / Politics

San Benito County Grand Jury releases annual report

Report details findings and recommendations for several county agencies, including the Grand Jury itself. Agencies have 90 days to respond to the report.

Budgetary concerns for San Benito County took center stage in the 2014-15 San Benito County Grand Jury Report, which was published in early June. The grand jury also evaluated patient grievances and employee complaints against the San Benito County Behavioral Health Department regarding improper administration of drug medication, finding the claims valid and that "many patient grievances were handled by management with little compassion."

In its report, the grand jury questioned the amount of funding it received from the county in the 2014-15 budget and the members investigated why so many county department heads are considered interim employees.  

In both cases, the grand jury recommended that the county Board of Supervisors provide more funding to allow the grand jury and county staff to effectively conduct business as well as to make the county a more competitive employer.

The purpose of the grand jury, a 14-member body of local citizens, is to “weigh criminal charges, weigh allegations of misconduct against public officials, and to act as the public’s ‘watchdog’ by investigating and reporting upon the affairs of local government," the report states.

According to the California Penal Code, each agency listed in the report has 90 days to respond to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations.

In terms of its own annual funding, the grand jury found that the $25,321 budget it was given in 2014-15 by county supervisors was inadequate and caused the group to drop several investigations and cut short its work on other cases. In fact, according to the report, the grand jury had exhausted its funds by February and all work came to a stop.

For 2015-16, the grand jury proposed an increased budget of $37,050.72, which includes $9,904.32 for grand jury general meetings and training sessions; $13,050 for committee meetings and interviews as well as $8,250 for additional supplies and administrative expenses. This budget would allow for two general meetings per month for the grand jury, as well as three meetings per month for each grand jury committee.

More permanent employees needed

As for county staff, the grand jury found that interim directors currently make up 30 percent of San Benito County department directors. While these interim positions cost the county approximately 12 percent more than “pay, and benefits listed for the positions for a regular county employee director,” the county faces several obstacles in its effort to recruit leadership. 

In addition to competing against higher salaries offered by surrounding counties — making it difficult to attract qualified personnel — the grand jury also found that the CalPERS Pension Reform Act of 2013 created two tiers of retirement formulas for county employees.

“As a result, some talented and experienced employees do not want to be considered for promotion because it may trigger a reclassification in their retirement formula,” the report states.

Patient grievances against behavioral health department

The grand jury also weighed in on patient grievances and employee complaints against the San Benito County Behavioral Health Department, finding that “all the complaints and grievances were valid” and that “There needs to be an improvement in management's relationship to employees, their interaction with patients, and their responses to grievances and complaints.”

Specific concerns cited in the report relate to many complaints “regarding improper medical prescriptions written by psychiatrists…Management seems unable or unwilling to confront and correct complaints against psychiatrists.”

The grand jury recommends that the department hire a full-time medical doctor as medical director, add a clinician or nurse to the management team that reviews employees concerns, improve ability of top management to communicate in regards to their patient’s concerns, bring compensation in line with surrounding counties, and review its contracts with its consultants.

Furthermore, the county counsel should determine if a conflict of interest exists, the grand jury recommended, given that the director of the behavioral health department is a past employee of Idea Consulting. In addition, the grand jury alleges that three department employees “violated the admonition that was given to them during their interviews” by “discussing what questions and information the Grand Jury was seeking.”

Lease clarification

Another issue investigated by the grand jury this year included questions concerning the agreement that allows the nonprofit Community Services and Development Corporation to lease its offices at 1131 San Felipe Road in Hollister from the county.

The grand jury found that the county had misclassified the kind of commercial lease the county has entered into with the agency. In its report, the grand jury states that the county should have identified the lease as a capital lease to the State of California, rather than an operational lease. This distinction is important because under an operational lease, the county could receive reimbursements from the state. Capital leases, however, are not eligible for reimbursements.

In this case, the grand jury recommends that San Benito County “remove from the lease the option to extend the lease for an additional 99 years at a rate of $1 per year.”

High school bond oversight

San Benito High School District’s bond issue, Measure G, also appeared in the grand jury’s report. The $42.5 million bond that was approved by voters in June 2014 would provide for a variety of improvements to San Benito High School, both to the physical buildings as well as the technology provided to students.

In its report, the grand jury “calls on District Leadership to improve its practices as it relates to public relations regarding Measure G, which narrowly passed, and to establish and maintain a high-functioning and successful Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) to ensure compliance with legislation as well as financial and ethical accountability.”

Migrant housing center capital improvements needed

The grand jury’s report also included an investigation into the county’s obligations regarding the Family Migrant Housing Center and Single Migrant Workers Dormitories. The center, one of 23 migrant housing centers permitted by the Office of Migrant Services, is funded by the State of California and operated by the San Benito County’s Health and Human Services Agency. It houses migrant family workers during the peak season and offers an emergency winter shelter for low-income families in transition during the off-season.

The grand jury found that the center does not adversely impact San Benito County’s finances because of funding to support the program from the state. The grand jury does recommend that the county and other agencies connect in supporting the center make several capital improvements to the site.

D.A.'s office improvements

San Benito’s District Attorney’s Office was also reviewed by the grand jury. Its last review by a grand jury was in 2002.

Recommendations for the department included a call to upgrade phone services so that callers have the option to leave messages during non-business hours; to hold staff meetings on at least a monthly basis; to provide for a safe with restricted access; to perform performance reviews for all employees at least annually; to upgrade the computer system; to ensure that janitorial services are provided by an outside service, and that the office's budget preparation and management should be performed by district attorney's office personnel.

Jail 'well-run and maintained'

The grand jury’s report includes a review of the San Benito County Jail as well, which the group found  to be “well-run and maintained” despite an “enormous amount of overtime being paid due to understaffing.” Another concern is that the jail does not have 24/7 on-site medical staff.

The report does recommend that the county hire additional correctional officers as well as hold medical training for all personnel and display medical posters illustrating proper techniques for life saving procedures.

To view a copy of the 2014-2015 San Benito County Grand Jury report online, click here.