Agencies respond to Grand Jury’s recommendations

This year’s Lassen County Grand Jury report contained responses from governmental entities and agencies to the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 Grand Jury recommendations.

According to the report, It is important that citizens are “aware of the reactions to the recommendations and any positive changes implemented as a result of the Grand Jury’s efforts.”

According to Penal Code section 933.05, agencies must respond to the grand jury’s findings and either agree or disagree. Should the agency disagree, it “shall specify the portion of the finding that is disputed and shall include an explanation of the reasons therefore,” according to the report.

Agencies may offer four responses to the Grand Jury’s recommendations — the recommendation has been implemented; the recommendation has not been implemented but will be in the future (with a timeframe for implementation); the recommendation requires further analysis; and, the recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted or is not reasonable (with a detailed explanation).

 

Responses for 2018-2019

Lassen Local Agency Formation Commission

The Grand Jury recommended LAFCO make all current Municipal Service Reviews available on its website; the website should include a list and links to all the special districts within the county; and LAFCo should publish information on its website that is “accurate, relevant, easy to use and conveyed in plain language.”

The Grand Jury found LAFCo was not 100 percent with section 508/ADA Compliant; no current Municipal Service Reviews listed; and no list of or links to special districts available.

Todd Eid, LAFCo’s chair, responded to the Grand Jury.

“Lassen LAFCo will post the most current MSR and Sphere of Influence document(s) for agencies subject to LAFCo’s jurisdiction as defined in Government Code section 56036, 56036.5 and 56036/5 (LAFCo Act,” Eid wrote. “Lassen LAFCo will create a list with links to those special districts subject to LAFCo’s jurisdiction … to the extend feasible. Lassen LAFCo appreciates the work of the Grand Jury … ”

 

Lassen County Assessor’s Office

Nick Ceaglio, Lassen County assessor, responded to the Grand Jury.

“Although there may be some disagreement or misunderstanding on how the assessor’s office functions, it is my responsibility and pleasure to ensure the taxpayers of Lassen County are treated fairly and with respect,” Ceaglio wrote.

According to the 2018-2019 Grand Jury Report, the inquiry into the Lassen County Assessor’s Office originated because “Several concerned citizens had questions regarding tax assessments of real and personal property in Lassen County.”

According to the Grand Jury’s findings: Finding 1 — the assessor used Google Earth to assess property; Finding 2 — Some property on the personal property tax rolls appeared to be very old and possibly of no value; Finding 3 — There is an appeals board for property value disputes; Finding 4 — the office has a limited vehicle pool; Finding 5 — If a distressed property is rehabbed and sold, the issue of the property value at the completion of the rehabilitation may be retroactive back to the original purchase date and price; and, Finding 5 — The outcome of the last California Board of Equalization Assessment Practices had a very positive review with just a few areas for improvement.

Here are the Grand Jury’s recommendations: Recommendation 1 — a site visit to property might create a more accurate assessment; Recommendation 2 — as a community service, the assessor’s office should try to review personal property tax rolls and discuss depreciation with owners as the property ages; Recommendation 3 — more visibility for the Tax Assessment Appeal Board; Recommendation 4 — the county should provide more vehicles for the assessor’s office; Recommendation 5 — the office should provide more information to those who purchase distressed properties; and, Recommendation 6 — the Grand Jury hopes the high standards of the assessor’s office can be maintained.

Ceaglio responded, “If a property is in disrepair and is sold for significantly less than ‘market value,’ we analyze whether it is habitable or not and estimate the ‘cost to cure’ as part of our appraisal … There is no statutory provision which allows for ‘retroactive’ or discretionary assessment as described in this finding, and it is unclear what the basis and/or meaning of these statements is.”

The office agreed with Recommendation 1 and responded, “We do this.”

The office mostly agreed with Recommendation 2, but some taxpayers do not respond to requests for information. “Many times we do an on-site inspection to attempt to confirm not only the existence but the condition of the equipment,” Ceaglio wrote.

The office disagreed with Recommendation 3 — “The right to appeal is clearly printed on every tax bill and assessment notice,” Ceaglio wrote.

The office also disagreed with Recommendation 4 and Finding 4 — “The assessor’s office has historically had one vehicle for the entire department that has been more than adequate for many years … ” Ceaglio wrote.

The office also disagreed with Recommendation 5 — “The taxpayer has the opportunity to let us know the condition of the property and also gives the new owner the ability to make remarks … “ Ceaglio wrote.

The office agreed with Recommendation 5 — “… we vow to continue to serve the public to the best of our ability and keep the high standards in which the state board has routinely commended to us,” Ceaglio wrote.

The office disagreed with Finding 1 — “Real property is assessed at its fair market value as defined in California Revenue and Taxation Code section 110,” Ceaglio wrote. “Google Earth is not ‘a method used to assess property.’”

The office disagreed with Finding 2 — “Personal property is generally appraised using the ‘cost approach’ to value based on acquisition date and value,” Ceaglio wrote.

The office agreed with Finding 3 and Finding 5 without further comment.

 

S.A.R.T. Program (Sexual Abuse Response Team)

The grand jury looked into the S.A.R.T. Program based upon a citizen complaint.

“During our investigation it became apparent to the grand jury that the request was out of the grand jury’s scope of influence,” but the grand jury still issued findings and recommendations.

The grand jury found: Finding 1 — Both the county and the city lack “certified medical personnel available to administer forensic exam kits;” Finding 2 — Victims are often send to other counties and/or states for forensic exams; Finding 3 — Lassen County has grant funding and other funding for medical personnel; Finding 4 — Lassen County has a written understanding with Banner Hospital, Lassen Family Services, police and fire for responses; and, Finding 5 — The cost of sending a victim to another county or state, not including the cost of law enforcement officers, can be as much as $4,500.

The grand jury recommended: Recommendation 1 — The board of supervisors should develop a S.A.R.T task force; Recommendation 2 — Lassen County Health and Human Services should help recruit and pay for medical personnel; Recommendation 3 — The board of supervisors should adopt a financial incentive to prompt medical personnel to respond while off duty; Recommendation 4 — Lassen County Health and Human Services should create a 24/7 call list of certified personnel with financial incentive pay; and, Recommendation 5 — The board of supervisors needs to develop and fund Adult S.A.R.T Services.

Jeff Hemphill, chair of the board of supervisors responded to the grand jury.

He wrote the county agrees in part and disagreed in part with Finding 1. The board agrees there are not enough certified personnel to administer these tests, but it disagrees the county should employ personnel for this purpose.

Hemphill wrote “ … while it is true there are not now any certified medical personnel locally available to perform this very specialized service, the current shortage of ‘certified medical personnel’ needed to perform this function is with the local hospital and not the county.”

The board disagreed with Finding 2. According to Hemphill, referrals for examination occur “very rarely” and not “often.”

The board agrees with Finding 3, and three Banner Lassen Medical Center nurses needed to perform child forensic exams should be trained by mid 2020.

The board also agrees with Finding 4, noting the agreement between BLMC and the district attorney’s office regarding child victims of physical and sexual abuse.

Hemphill wrote the county lacks a sufficient basis to agree or disagree with Finding 5. Hemphill wrote the board couldn’t find evidence that support the finding that $4,500 had been spent for such services.

Hemphill wrote Recommendation 1, Recommendation 2, Recommendation 3, Recommendation 4 and Recommendation 5 would not be implemented “because it not warranted or is not reasonable.”

 

Responses for 2017-2018

City of Susanville Hiring of police chief

The grand jury investigated the hiring of the Susanville police chief following a citizen’s complaint.

Finding 1 — “The Susanville City Council failed to assure a fair hiring practice for the police chief. This occurred by allowing the city administrator sole power to conduct the entire hiring process.”

The city disagrees with this finding. “On June 20, 2018,” the city responded, “the city council approved the department head hiring process. While this action took place after the police chief hiring … the process employed was substantially the same … the city administrator played an appropriate role in conducting the hiring process, and the process was conducted with involvement and approval of the city council.”

According to Finding 2, the council failed to cross reference changes to the job announcement bulletin, and that should have been a “red flag.”

The city responded, “The Susanville City Council regrets that two job announcements were published; however, the council does not agree the issue was ignored. Ultimately, the approved job announcement was used for the recruitment of the police chief.

Finding 3 —The grand jury found the city did not heed concerns regarding the city administrator’s management style. The city disagrees and said the administrator’s style and hiring practices were investigated and addressed as appropriate.

Finding 4 — The grand jury found the city allowed the administrator to have “far too much latitude,” and this was inappropriate because of the “extreme lack of checks and balances.”

The city disagreed with this finding and noted the city administrator is responsible for “to appoint any and all employees” except the city attorney and elected officers.

Finding 5 — The city used closed session for business that should have been conducted in open session, perhaps in violation of the Brown Act.

The city disagrees, and responded it “remains ever vigilant in its effort to remain transparent … ”

Finding 6 — The city did not provide requested information to the grand jury. The city disagrees and said it provided all information it was “legally authorized” to provide.

Recommendation 1 — The grand jury recommended the city update its policy and procedure for hiring and terminating city employees. The city responded this recommendation has already been implemented.

Recommendation 2 — The city council should take a “more active” role in hiring employees. The city responded this recommendation has already been implemented.

Recommendation 3 — The grand jury recommended city council members should visit the city departments. The city responded this recommendation has already been implemented.

Recommendation 4 — The grand jury recommended the city council is ultimately responsible for making decisions, even when that authority is relinquished to one individual. The council should “validate all information received prior to making major decisions … ”The city responded this recommendation will not be implemented because it is unreasonable.

Recommendation 5 — The city should take steps to ensure transparency when hiring or terminating key employees. The city responded this recommendation will not be implemented because it is unreasonable.

Recommendation 6 — The grand jury recommended requested information should be provided in a timely manner without “excuses or justifications.” The city responded this recommendation has been implemented.

 

Honey Lake Valley Recreation Authority

The Honey Lake Valley Recreation Authority was created by a Joint Powers Agreement between the city of Susanville and Lassen County. It operates the Honey Lake Valley Community Pool.

Finding 1 — The grand jury found there was no written plan regarding the future operation of the pool. The authority agreed a written plan does not exist.

Finding 2 — The grand jury found there was no day-to-day plan for pool operation before the pool opened. The authority partially disagreed. While it acknowledged its responsibility for operational documents, it notes many were prepared and in place prior to opening day.

Finding 3 — The grand jury found the city deposited $24,000 in credit card receipts into the city’s bank account. The funds were later transferred to the authority’s account. The grand jury wrote the authority did not authorize the use of credit card revenue.

The authority partially agreed with the grand jury’s finding, and the authority’s acceptance of credit cards was “a temporary solution.”

Finding 4 — The grand jury found the authority did not have budget documents to ensure the operation after the termination of the JPA in 2028. The authority agreed, but said the matter had been discussed.

Finding 5 — The grand jury found while the authority is supposed to be independent from the city and the county, it found the city appeared to be operating the pool. The authority partially disagrees with this finding.

Finding 6 — The grand jury found the authority’s service contract with the city doesn’t include a limit on how many hours city officers could work. The authority agrees with this finding.

Recommendation 1 — The grand jury recommends the authority prepare plans to become financially and operationally independent of any other governmental entity. The authority agrees and has begun creating that document.

Recommendation 2 — The authority should create long-range planning documents that include stable funding sources to replace contributions by the city and the county. It also needs to create a pool operations and maintenance manual. The authority responded this recommendation has not been implemented but it should be as soon as possible.

Recommendation 3 — The grand jury recommended the authority should allow the county auditor and county treasurer to perform its financial transactions. It should also hire a qualified executive officer/pool manager to eliminate reliance on city staff.

The authority responded the recommendation that it should not incur financial obligations without prior approval will not be implemented because it is unreasonable. City employees have been authorized to make purchases. The recommendation to hire an executive officer/pool manger will not be implemented because it is not warranted or reasonable.

Recommendation 4 — The grand jury recommended the authority create long-range planning documents. The authority acknowledges this recommendation has not been implemented, but it will be soon.

Recommendation 5 — The grand jury recommended the county auditor and the county treasurer be allowed to perform their duties. The authority said this recommendation has already been implemented.

Recommendation 6 — The grand jury recommended the authority limit the number of hours city employees work in order to avoid “a budget surprise.” The authority responded with a new pool manager, the number of hours city employees work has decreased.

Recommendation 7 — The grand jury recommended the authority create an operations manual for the pool. The authority said this recommendation would be implemented soon.