Civil grand juries provide important oversight to local government

from the Tri-City Voice, March 19, 2019

How would you like to be part of any of the following real examples?
In 2017, the civil grand jury after finding that the sitting Contra Costa district attorney
had routinely used campaign funds for personal expenditures, forced the process that removed him from office.
In 2018, the civil grand jury determined that the City of Oakland faced $860 million liabilityfor funding retired employee health benefits.
The civil grand jury outlined five findings and
six recommendations for addressing this huge
issue – all were accepted by the city for future action. In December, both police and fire unions negotiated drastic reductions in the future liabilities, potentially saving the taxpayers over $300 million.
In 2015, the civil grand jury determined that the City of Fremont email retention policy enable the deletion of emails concerning city business after 30 days. This was determined to be in violation of the spirit of state record retention laws and rendered effective tracking of the city’s emails by the public practically impossible. In response, the city restated its retention policy and updated its email storage architecture.
These are all recent and real examples of reports issued by county civil grand juries. You have probably heard of criminal grand juries, which decide whether there is enough evidence to charge a person with a crime. However, there is another form of grand jury – the California Penal Code, which requires that every county appoint annually a civil grand jury (comprised of 19 residents) to serve for a one-year period beginning July 1.
Why would you want to consider serving on a civil grand jury? You might be influenced by the desire to help ensure that local government is run more efficiently and ethically, and/or you might have a unique expertise or interest in governmental services dealing with prisons and law enforcement, fire protection, health care, child abuse, elder abuse, municipal transportation, pensions, water and sewage, and many others. There is clearly a need for a jury group with diversified interests and skills.

If you would like to serve on your county’s grand jury, you need to fulfill the below criteria:

You must be a county resident, and over age 18.
You must have been a resident of the county for at least one year on July 1.
You should be able to commit up to 20 hours per week during your year of grand jury service.
You will only receive modest compensation for your efforts.
You must be comfortable working in a ‘team’ environment as the jury identifies topics/issues to investigate, investigates, decides whether to continue and, with majority approval, then writes a report as its ‘product.’
You only have the power of public persuasion.
You must be willing to keep your deliberations secret.

What are some of the characteristics of effective potential jurors?
They have a desire to commit both their time and energy toward making their home county a better place to live.
They have a view of the role of good government and would like to identify in their local government areas that could be improved.
They like working as a part of a team and are willing to consider the views of other jurors.
The process to become a civil grand juror for the next jury year beginning July 1 starts in the spring. Those who have an interest in pursuing an appointment, in Alameda County should visit the website and review the necessary procedure. The deadline to submit your application for consideration is
March 23. For many who have served as civil grand jurors, the experience is fun, fulfilling, challenging and satisfying and, in some cases, opened doors of opportunity they never considered when they
first applied.

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