Orange County’s civil grand jury is calling out top county officials for not following through on promises related to several grand jury recommendations in recent years.
The grand jury, a panel of citizens tasked with investigating local government functions, looked at a recent three-year period of reports – covering fiscal years 2012 through 2014 – and found no evidence that the county officials had followed through on a number of grand jury recommendations that they had either pledged to implement or study further.
“The [grand jury] cannot find any county records indicating follow-up for open report recommendations from this period,” the panel’s latest report states.
Under state law, the Board of Supervisors and county officials they oversee have to respond to grand jury recommendations within 90 days of the report being published. For each response, they have to choose one of four options: the recommendation has been implemented, will be implemented, needs further analysis, or will not be implemented.
Eleven of the responses in question were labeled as “needs further analysis,” a designation that has been left in place for years despite state law only allowing six months of additional analysis, the report states. These include recommendations to establish a commission with specific goals, create a database, start a pilot program, and direct county auditors to “evaluate an entity.”
Grand jurors went on to say that the “needs further analysis” response seems to potentially be a way “to postpone making a final decision in a short timeframe or to avoid a commitment to action they do not really want to make.”
The grand jury said this absence of follow-through does the public a disservice.
“Lack of effective follow-up diminishes the impact of the civil function of the grand jury and also does a disservice to the community when thoughtful report recommendations go unheeded or unresolved,” the grand jury wrote.
(Click here to read the grand jury report.)
Asked about the report, county officials say they plan to bring forward all of the open items since fiscal year 2011 to county supervisors for updates.
Those items will be brought to the board in the “coming months,” though a specific date hasn’t been set, said county spokeswoman Jean Pasco. The process would be spearheaded by county CEO Frank Kim’s office.
Kim’s office has also re-instated a policy of publicly providing formal updates every March on any open items from the prior year’s grand jury recommendations, Pasco said. The first such report in recent years took place in March, covering the 2014-15 open responses.
“In the past, the county executive office had brought a similar report for Board of Supervisors consideration every March but discontinued this practice as a result of direction from a prior grand jury,” states the county staff report for the update this March.
“The county executive office concurs with the 2015-16 grand jury that restoring the regular update to the Board every March will serve to help close out any open items and provide a consolidated status update from the prior year’s grand jury reports.”
Grand jurors trace the problem back to around 2012, when then-CEO Tom Mauk was pushed out in the wake of the Carlos Bustamante sex scandal, prompting turmoil in county leadership and the relatively quick succession of three new CEOs.
“The formal follow-up process seemed to lose its priority” and report recommendations from fiscal years 2012 to 2014 “were not properly tracked to closure,” the panel found.
“Currently there is no effective process in place within the county administration and [county departments that report to the Board of Supervisors] to track these commitments, resulting in diminished impact of the grand jury’s reports and its ability to effect positive change in Orange County,” the report reads.
And when it takes many months – or years – for the county to close out recommendations, county officials have often switched rolls, further complicating follow-up, grand jurors wrote.
There had been an ongoing directive from county supervisors, dating to 1994, that required the county CEO’s office to “track and provide an annual update six months after the initial response submission date” for open recommendations. But that March update practice was apparently “lost” amid leadership shake-ups at the CEO’s office in recent years.
The grand jury urged the county to reinstate that review process and “include all currently open report responses” from county supervisors and the agencies they oversee.
Also recommended was a decision each March to change any open “needs further analysis” responses from the prior fiscal year to a definitive answer on whether they will be implemented.
The county’s official response to the latest report is due by Aug. 1.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.