Monday, August 29, 2016

Grand Jury Response Notes

Submitted by:
Katherine Evatt, Volcano

The following bullets are summarize some of what was said at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting regarding the Grand Jury Special Investigative Report on the Health and Human Services (HHS) Building leases. I typed notes during the meeting while I listened online. But since this summary is not a comprehensive or complete version of who said what at the meeting, I suggest that those who are interested listen to the entire audio recording of the meeting when it’s posted on the county website. My personal comments are noted as such.

·         - County Counsel Greg Gillott said the grand jury report was “an overreach” not based on sufficient facts (Comment: The county counsel’s job is to represent the board, not the public). County Administrative Officer Chuck Iley said the decisions on the HHS leases were not the best and said this, “I would implore you not to do anything along those lines in the future.”

·         - Former Behavioral Health Director Pat Houghton of Pine Grove described how the high rent for the HHS lease resulted in cutbacks to critical local mental health services and took the board to task for treating the grand jury members so badly. She asked why anyone would consider volunteering for that job in the future, considering.

·         - Supervisor John Plasse said the report was done in “a malicious manner” and later in the meeting, criticized Presiding Judge Steve Hermanson for ending a longstanding practice wherein the county supervisors reviewed the list of potential grand jurors before they were selected. (Comment: This was a surprise to me, especially since part of the grand jury’s job is to investigate county agencies.)
·         (Comment: No one seemed to know whether grand jury service was mandatory, like other jury service. It’s not.)

·         - Retired county audit staffer Becky Podesta claimed that the grand jury report misquoted her and said she saw no evidence that the renegotiated lease benefited any public official.

·         - Former District 1 Supervisor Rich Escamilla, who served on the board when it approved the 2006 and 2008 HHS Building leases, said the grand jury was made up of people who had moved here from somewhere else (Comment: not true) and defended the board’s previous actions and decisions.

·        -  District 4 Supervisor Candidate Frank Axe of Pine Grove pointed out that the grand jury report and board of supervisors’ draft response conflict with one another, that it’s hard to tell where the truth lies, called for an independent review and asked how the county is going to prevent these problems in the future. He asked what policies will be adopted to avoid this kind of problem in the future, etc.

·         - Jim Laughton of Jackson spoke at length. He has read the grand jury report and disagrees with 14 of the board’s 19 responses. He had many comments and concerns. He asked if it was proper for Supervisor Forster to ask for a delay in issuing the report. The supervisor replied that he did that because they were looking at a “two-week time frame” and it wouldn’t be fair to issue the report without giving the board time to respond. (Comment: Supervisor Forster made the delay request on April 12, well before the primary election in June.) Laughton told the supervisors that citizens were watching them and complained about how they treat members of the public in their meetings. Supervisor Boitano responded, “We’re watching back.”

·         - District Attorney Todd Riebe said the report was not delayed by Supervisor Forster’s request and said he had verified that with Presiding Amador County Superior Court Judge Steve Hermanson. Curiously, Riebe said he is an advisor to the grand jury, but took himself off this investigation in year two for reasons he’ll reveal later.

·         - Mike Kirkley of Sutter Creek asked the board to “tone down” the report as it relates to the grand jury itself, to “take some of the vitriol out of the response.” He questioned the cost of the lease and asked why the board renegotiated a lease they already knew was too costly and a bad deal. Supervisor Oneto claimed that the grand jury “twisted” the facts. Kirkley replied that they didn’t need to do that and commented that the situation was already “pretty ugly.”

·        -  Jim Laughton asked questions about the legality of the remodeling of the Bartleson Building on Clinton Rd and about the CalTrans easements for the HHS Building. Greg Gillott said the grand jury didn’t find the remodeling expense to be improper (Comment: As I recall, they actually did question it).

·         - Supervisor Forster said “Let’s get answers.”

·        -  Supervisor Lynn Morgan said she had never heard from anyone why the lease was renegotiated in 2008. She criticized the draft board response as defensive, overly critical, unprofessional, and not written in a way “that befits elected officials.” She asked what motivation 20 citizens would have to not do a reasonable job. The other supervisors defended the tone and language of the draft response.

·        - Supervisors Forster and Oneto agreed that the leases were not their best decisions and took some responsibility for that, but they also blasted the grand jury and continued to blame county staff. Supervisor Forster called the investigation a "witch hunt” led by a small faction of the grand jury and complained that the county counsel can’t control what the grand jury does. He also remarked that some members of the grand jury didn’t understand what they were putting their names to.

·         - Supervisor Boitano defended his past actions and claimed that at least one grand jury member (of 19) had a conflict of interest. Supervisor Boitano also justified the original lease by saying they needed to relocate staff because of mold and other problems in the Bartleson Building that housed county staff. He also suggested that perhaps the Administrative Office of the Courts should look into the grand jury’s behavior.

·         In the end, with Supervisor Morgan dissenting, the board approved its response on a 4-1 vote.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Tree mortality, bark beetles, grant funds...where do you start?

Via Amador Neighborhood Watch:

Not sure if any in this group are dealing with tree mortality due to bark beetle attack. There is a new Calfire State Responsibility Area (SRA) grant announced this week-specifically earmarked for wildfire fuel reduction, and primarily to help home owners remove dead and dying trees from their property.

After a day of phoning and emailing, I found out that home owners can't actually access the grant funds. Only qualified local public and non-profit agencies can apply. Programs to assist local home owners must be developed by an agency, then proposed and submitted for approval by Sept 28th.

Does anyone know of local agencies that are doing this? If so.... Who? If not...where does one start to get this going? I see dead pine trees all over our area and the numbers seem to be growing. The cost burden to remove them is prohibitive, especially for most seniors and retirees. The fire danger is one issue... the potential for injury due to falling trees is another. I think it would be great if these new Calfire SRA funds could be accessed in a way that helps local home owners and the community. Anyway- just looking for input and potential points of contact. Thank you.

Bruce Langston
Pioneer, CA

Join the Amador County Neighborhood Watch Facebook Group at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/221363027993377/

Monday, August 8, 2016

Molly Taylor: Planning is about defining our future.

Molly Taylor is a third-generation Amador County landowner studying Urban Development at New York University. She grew up roaming and riding on her family's ranch outside Ione.
I am writing as a member of a third-generation Amador County Family and landowner. Presently a resident of New York City, I am struck by the critical nature of foresightful, in depth civic planning and how deeply and permanently effected communities can be though poor, lopsided and superficial planning.
The stark contrast between the open space of Amador County and densely populated streets of New York has given me a unique perspective on how deeply poor planning affects communities. It may come as a surprise, but the City of New York has done little in way of planning for citywide growth, and subsequently has forfeited some of the most vibrant aspect of its cultural fabric. Clearly the issues facing New York City are not the same as those facing Amador County, however, my experience and observations living in New York have instilled in me a sense of great urgency for intentional planning. Planning is about defining our future, deciding together what we want our county to be.
A general plan should be general in its scale, not its language. But Amador County’s general plan as it stands now is just that: general in language, vague and nonspecific. A decade has been dedicated to the creation of this plan which, if not revised, will do little to serve the communities of Amador County for the next decade, let alone future decades.
Planning always faces conflicts of interest that require it to be appropriately accommodating. However, the effects of these conflicts can be mitigated by a clearly articulated and substantiated vision for the county. Currently, the plan seems skewed in favor of hasty, short-sighted development. Amador’s general plan has been written with such broad language that gaps and unresolved conflicts remain. They simply must be addressed.
Amador County’s rural environment is more sensitive than it may appear. There is certainly a need for local economic and industrial growth, but it cannot be done at the expense of the county’s wealth of natural resources and community character. With a proper plan, Amador County has the capacity to invite investment and new jobs -- but this requires a clearly articulated plan. This is in the interest of both local residents and potential out-of-county investors
The plan should protect air quality, access to water, and adequate land conservation are integral assets that Amador County cannot afford to barter away in a short-sighted plan that does not contain adequate protective measures. We must hold our local representatives to a higher standard and demand that they pass a plan that will protect our county rather than trade off all we value for short-term immediate development.  
I am twenty-one years old.  What will the future of Amador County be for our generation if we are to rely on the failed, ad hoc planning practices of the past?