Focus is on annual grand jury reports |

Focus is on annual grand jury reports

Greg Risling

PLACERVILLE – Grand jury policies continue to be a hot topic in El Dorado County.

A committee responsible for making charter recommendations to the Board of Supervisors support changing two aspects of the annual grand jury report.

First, the charter review committee has approved wording that states “at a minimum” the Board of Supervisors will create a uniform format for responding to the findings in the grand jury report. The board has been scrutinized in the past for not adequately responding to the grand jury’s investigations. Although the language was modified slightly, District 1 alternate committee member Clarence Dilts said the section shouldn’t be touched.

“It is my judgment that it is neither right nor wise to take out language in responding in a certain manner,” Dilts said. “It’s superfluous because it’s already state law.”

The committee also will pass along an amendment that gives the supervisors the discretion on delivering the grand jury report to the public. Under the amendment’s provisions, the board will be able to establish a procedure for countywide distribution. At issue is whether it’s feasible to publish the entire report in local newspapers or to advertise where residents can pick up a copy.

The committee, which will pass its recommendations on to the Board of Supervisors for final review, voted on the amendments during a public hearing Thursday in Placerville.

There was an obvious difference of opinion on the latter proposed amendment by those who attended the meeting.

“It’s overwhelming to give the entire text in newspapers,” said Bernard Carlson, who represented the El Dorado County Taxpayers Association.

Dilts didn’t agree.

“After laboring for a year to produce a report, the grand jury’s work isn’t seen by many residents,” he said. “It needs to be made accessible to the public as easy as possible. The easiest is through the press.”

The four-hour meeting was the second in a series that will culminate Dec. 11 in Placerville at 1 p.m. The recommendations will then be reviewed by the Board of Supervisors. Any board-approved amendments would have to be endorsed by a simple majority of El Dorado residents in a future election before they can become local law.

The grand jury system has been a focal point of El Dorado politics over the last decade, The grand jury has made claims of mismanagement in county departments and misconduct by elected officials. Some have said the jury pool is tainted with hired guns who skew the annual report to a particular liking. Others claim the system is fine and that a few rabble-rousers are kicking up dust.

County officials and former grand jurors agree that education is vital. In enters the grand jury review committee, a body comprised of current jurors who are attempting to inform the public about the duties of the civic organization. However, they concede it’s a promotional bit to attract future members.

“It’s not always the ugly confrontational body it’s portrayed to be,” said Cece Walrond, who sits on the 1997-98 grand jury. “Each year, the selection process woefully lacks a good number of people who want to serve. We want to stimulate interest through speaker bureaus, for instance. It’s an important part of the government that citizens can be involved in.”

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