The 2011-12 Stanislaus County civil grand jury issued a number of reports Monday at the end of its term. Here is a synopsis of some of them:
OAKDALE CITY COUNCIL: The grand jury criticized former Oakdale Councilman Jason Howard for removing a confidential personnel file from City Hall in December 2010 after the city manager asked him not to. Howard also was criticized for not resigning from the council as soon as he took a job in Grass Valley.
Howard reviewed the file at home and returned it the same day. In February, Howard said he had taken a job in Grass Valley two months before and would resign from the council in June. He said that even though he lived in Grass Valley during the workweek, he returned to Oakdale on weekends and for council meetings and that Oakdale was his legal residence. He resigned from the council in mid-April.
The report criticizes Howard and another council member for meeting with a city employee to discuss personnel matters. The report states Howard also met alone with the employee. The report says council members should not involve themselves with personnel issues or advocate for or against city employees.
Finally, the report chides Howard and Mayor Pat Paul for not leaving a July 2011 council meeting in which they recused themselves from voting because they had a conflict of interest. The report states the two participated in the council's discussion on the issue.
MODESTO CITY SCHOOLS-SPECIAL EDUCATION: The grand jury found violations of special education reporting requirements, relying on a California Department of Education investigation of the same allegations. The report says problems were found at one unidentified high school, which failed to send expert reports to parents, did not perform a recommended assessment and missed deadlines for student planning meetings. Personnel issues and friction at the school may have added to the problems, the report notes. It recommends the district better train school administrators and psychologists on special education requirements and step up monitoring efforts.
RIVERBANK: The grand jury investigated a claim that Riverbank had misappropriated money from an account established to build a railroad overpass at Kentucky Avenue. The grand jury found that the money in the account had not been transferred to the city's general fund or to fund another project. But starting in the 2008-09 fiscal year, the city started using the account for a proposed underpass at Santa Fe Street. The grand jury stated that this "multi-use of funds is not in compliance" with state law.
STANISLAUS CONSOLIDATED FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT: The grand jury chastised the five-member appointed Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection board for placing too many responsibilities on Fire Chief Steve Mayotte and not giving him a formal, written performance evaluation since 2008. The grand jury said the board suffers from high turnover and said at least three of its members should be elected. The grand jury said the majority of the complaint it received cited personnel issues against the fire chief, and that those issues are outside the purview of the grand jury and were not investigated.
KEYES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT: Grand jurors found that a school board member in the Keyes Unified School District should resign after moving outside the district. The grand jury said the unidentified school board member had put up his or her home for sale and moved outside district boundaries, and recommended that he or she reimburse the district $980 for each month after the move. Superintendent Cynthia Schaefer, who recently took over for the retiring Karen Poppen, is on vacation. Board President Jeff Reed said the district has consulted with its lawyers and added that the individual no longer is a member of the board.
PATTERSON: This year's grand jury followed up on a report issued by its predecessor regarding problems in Patterson city government. Among other claims, the 2010-11 grand jury found that then-Mayor Becky Campo had moved outside the city during her tenure, recommended Councilwoman Annette Smith be removed from office for failing to disclose a financial relationship with a developer and voting to give him $27,000 without justification, and said that Campo, Smith and Councilman Dominic Farinha illegally ousted then-City Manager Cleve Morris. Farinha further was found to have misused his position on the council to schedule an inspection of his business and collect money from a renter delinquent on payments.
Smith filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the county. Farinha filed a response denying the allegations. And the city filed its own scathing response, denying most of the claims.
The 2011-12 grand jury affirmed most of the findings called into question and noted that the city has made moves suggested by its predecessor, including establishing a job description for the city attorney and following up on ethics training by elected officials. Grand jurors suggested the city still needs to work on Brown Act violations, including more specifics on City Council closed-session agendas. And a tiff over the word "fiduciary" continued, with grand jurors including the definition in their report after Patterson's city attorney said last year's report used that word when it meant "financial."
WESTSIDE COMMUNITY HEALTHCARE DISTRICT: The grand jury investigated claims of sexual harassment and conflicts of interest. The district used to operate a hospital that served residents of Newman, Gustine and the surrounding area. The hospital closed in 1993; the district now operates an ambulance service for those communities.
Grand jurors found that an external agency should follow up on the harassment allegations, and that problems with turnover and attracting new members has created "a dysfunctional board and higher probability of poor administration." Grand jurors found that a policy the district had of making employees sign documents stating they have not been a victim of sexual harassment is intimidating, and that the qualifications required for those seeking the job of ambulance director were insufficient.
Grand jurors recommended that the district consider offering a stipend to attract more candidates for board positions, "tighter controls be implemented to avoid personal conflicts of interest as recognized in the make-up of the existing WSHD board relationships" and that the position of ambulance director require "education and administrative skills appropriate to the responsibilities of the job."
Bee staff writers Kevin Valine, Nan Austin and Patty Guerra contributed to this report.