From The Independent – Serving Dublin, Livermore,Pleasanton and Sunol
The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury hopes to have more candidates from the Valley apply for membership before the April 15 deadline.
The Civil Grand Jury looks at the financial efficiencies of government agencies and special districts. If the jurors find any signs of corruption, the information is turned over to the District Attorney, for possible prosecution. However, the Civil Grand Jury has no role in prosecutions. That is the role of the Criminal Grand Jury.
One example of the Grand Jury’s impact may be seen in its 2016 investigation of Fremont city government’s e-mail retention policy. The city purged e-mails after one month. However, following the Grand Jury’s investigation, it changed the policy to a two-year life for e-mail records.
In Oakland, where some old warehouses have been used as low-cost, impromptu residences, a fire in December 2016 killed 36 people in one of them. There was strong criticism in the press about a lack of communication and policy follow-through in the Fire Department that perhaps would have prevented the loss of life by enforcing city codes. An examination after the fire showed frayed electrical wires as a possible cause of the fire.
The Grand Jury in 2014 reported a failure in collecting enough money from property owners to stoke the Fire Department’s fund to do more code enforcement. The Fire Department failed to collect more than one-half of its financial assessments against properties.
Further, the Fire Department had the power to place liens against non-compliant properties, but it did not, said the Grand Jury.
VALLEY RARELY REPRESENTED
More Valley residents are being sought for membership because the area has been underrepresented in the past, said Assistant District Attorney Rob Warren, the Civil Grand Jury’s advisor.
Applications are presented to two judges, who will narrow down the number to a jury of about 25 to 30 people.
The county consists of five supervisorial districts. An even distribution of membership would have about five or six jurors from each district. In the past, Oakland and other North County cities have predominated, said Warren. During the last four or five years, there has been only one Valley member.
Most of the meetings are held in Oakland, the seat of county government. It is likely that the travel distance has discouraged some people from applying, said Warren.
Nevertheless, the Grand Jury does pay attention to East County and South County institutions, and visits some of them in the course of its work. A citizen’s complaint against Zone 7 Water Agency led to a recommendation for more transparency. Zone 7 responded that it was being transparent with educational outreach to the schools, following the open meeting Brown Act, and posting agendas and information packets online. However, after the report, the agency signed a contract with Tri-Valley Community Television to televise its regular board meetings, and also post them online for video on demand.
To serve on a Grand Jury, a person must be at least 18 years old, and have been a county resident for one year by July 1, 2018, the start of the new Grand Jury’s term.
Members must be able to commit to eight to 10 hours weekly and occasionally more than that. Members are expected to be able to work well with others, and to commit to keeping all Grand Jury proceedings secret.
A grand jury application is available at http://www.acgov.org/grandjury/juror.htm.
Once completed, the application should be submitted to Cassie Barner by the deadline of April 15.