Santana: Follow-Up Is a Job for All of Us

It’s likely the highest form of civic service for an ordinary citizen.

A civilian grand juror.

Community members, who take a year of their time to work with the district attorney as a panel and also investigate civilian government with an aim toward making our government function better for the people.

Yet in Orange County, our grand jury has apparently been systematically blown off.

The latest report from this year’s grand jury tells us that when grand jurors went back a few years to check if county officials followed up on their recommendations – as required by law – they found out that for the last three years, the county of Orange just took a pass.

It’s just the latest chapter in a sad history of the longstanding tense relationship between our county grand jury and county supervisors.

Politicians hate being called out.

And few call them out more than grand juries.

Now in past years, as Orange County grand jurors stepped up their focus on county supervisors – looking at their questionable management impact on CalOptima, the county’s billion dollar health plan for the poor and elderly – it triggered significant public blowback from supervisors.

That 2013 report’s title – “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle” – really caught their attention.

And when grand jurors went as far as to formally remind county supervisors about a culture of corruption at the county Hall of Administration, supervisors reacted with fury – public and private – with Supervisor Todd Spitzer even leading formal efforts to cut grand jurors pay.

Now in fairness to him, Spitzer reached out to me last week to indicate that he’s consistently been pushing his colleagues at the county to respond to county grand jury reports and even unsuccessfully carried legislation as a state assemblyman to formally require grand jury report follow up.

Yet what this latest grand jury report really shows is that it’s culture that matters.

As the board of supervisors became more and more politicized around 2012 – and a massive scandal broke out with the sexual assault arrest of Carlos Bustamante, a top county executive with OC GOP connections – former CEO Tom Mauk was ousted.

His eventual replacement, trash executive Mike Giancola, ran a loose shop – evidenced by the recent grand jury report.

Yet the funny thing is, that’s exactly why Giancola was put there…to run a loose shop.

And once county supervisors started trash talking the grand jury, Giancola and every other executive knew they didn’t have to listen anymore, much less do anything.

Lets hope that’s in the background now.

Now, there’s every indication that County CEO Frank Kim has agreed to respect grand jury reports moving forward and will institute a formal annual public follow up report on progress every March.

Yet grand jurors shouldn’t just expect Kim to hold himself accountable.

Their own experience should teach them that.

Grand jurors might want to consider offering interested jurors a way to stay engaged from a policy perspective, after they leave official service.

Now, as their report suggests, the grand jurors association in San Diego has take up a contract with the county government to conduct formal follow up audits looking at how county executives react to grand jury recommendations.

Here in Orange County, grand jurors opted to have the CEO’s office do that, which is fine.

Yet I would challenge individual grand jurors and even the Grand Jurors Association of Orange County to stay engaged on the topics they investigate by using the power of their individual pens.

They represent some of our very best assets as citizens because they have taken the time to become topical experts on an array of areas critical to the functioning of our government. They shouldn’t just disappear after their grand jury service ends.

I can commit to every former grand juror that the editorial pages of Voice of OC will always remain a receptive venue where in-depth follow up of grand jury reports as well as the issues you cover is welcome and encouraged.

Later this year, as part of our burgeoning involvement initiative, we’ll even be launching seminars on how to write op-eds and how to investigate government on your own by learning how to use the state’s Public Records Act.

Those are the kinds of tools we hope to offer to help former grand jurors keep our elected officials and government agencies accountable.

In a democracy, follow up is a task that involves all of us.

  • Jacki Livingston

    I remember testifying before the Grand Jury and investigators three times. I provided all kinds of paperwork, including documents regarding lawsuits about the horrific conditions and embezzlement in OC nursing homes. It is a strange experience, sitting there in front of a number of people. I will say this, they were very attentive and seemed genuinely concerned about the situation. Why they didn’t follow up? I don’t know. I suspect it was political, or maybe the topic isn’t important or “sexy” enough for them. I wish that they had demanded that the BoS take a look at this situation, because it has not gotten any better. And, one has to ask oneself, why would Spitzer go to such desperate lengths as he did to avoid testifying about the situation in my suit? To hide behind his wife’s skirts and robes, not to mention his own former client? That is a pretty big risk into disbarment conduct, to keep from having to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…it does make one wonder…though, apparently, not the Grand Jury.

  • David Zenger

    “Lets hope that’s in the background now.”

    Hope? Really?

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Count me in as…very skeptical. Spitzer was right there watching Giancola’s loose shop – enabling and encouraging him day in and day out. Anyone who spoke up and tired to do the right thing was destroyed by any means possible – Spitzer sat there and watched the political carnage of people with long careers and smirked. Spitzer is simply not credible and could care less about the pesky Grand Jury. Giancola and his mob were all protected by Spitzer and Nelson and taken care of nicely. Of course – they have to live with themselves but I doubt that bobbleheads are capable of much introspection.

    • OCservant_Leader

      OG Giancola made the OC trash import deal to close out the OC BK and got paid- nicely!

      He is a very rich man because of it. Hasn’t organized crime always had their hands in garbage? Nice work for a public servant.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Amen to every word!

  • Diego Vega

    By suppressing all bad news coming out of the 5th Floor, John Moorlach, Pat Bates, and Janet Nguyen got elected to the state senate. I’d say Mauk and Giancola did the job they were assigned, and both were very well compensated.

  • David Zenger

    “Now in fairness to him, Spitzer reached out to me last week to indicate that he’s consistently been pushing his colleagues at the county to respond to county grand jury reports and even unsuccessfully carried legislation as a state assemblyman to formally require grand jury report follow up.”

    In other words he knew an editorial was coming and tried to discount his own role in diminishing the job of the Grand Jury. I wouldn’t put much stock in that claim without getting another Supervisor to corroborate it.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Your suggestion to keep the Grand Jury Members as Auditors will never fly in the OC. It’s a good idea in a citizen-led government but that’s not what is going on in the OC.

    Those Audit jobs are carefully appointed by “family” members only who produce the reports they want. Similar to the manufactured budget reports. The conclusion is determined first.

    They can not risk any outsider getting real data. Audit reports are handled like PR. Anything in writing is under close control.

    They may allow them to attend a useless committee but that is it.