All 19 seats on the grand jury come up for appointment in June, to begin service on July 1. The only member of the current grand jury from Southern Humboldt is Phil Young of Shelter Cove, who attended last week’s general meeting of Southern Humboldt Working Together to ask for help recruiting local candidates.
The grand jury is an independent citizen body appointed and guided by the presiding judge of the county Superior Court. Its job is to investigate all aspects of county government, including elected and appointed officials, departments and staff, as well as all local governments within the county, such as cities, special districts, joint powers agencies, and nonprofit agencies that accept public funds.
The grand jury may bring charges against any public officials “for willful misconduct or corruption in office,” according to a brochure produced by the grand jury’s office.
Citizen complaints about county officials are also reviewed and investigated. The grand jury is considered the county’s ombudsman. Its main goal is to improve government operations and make certain that local government is serving the best interest of the people.
Each complaint or issue is investigated, including interviews and inspections by grand jury members as well as sessions in which officials are required to testify to the fully assembled jury.
Serving on the grand jury requires a serious commitment, at least 20 hours per week. The grand jury meets in Eureka twice a week for as long as six hours, and each member is expected to conduct interviews with the involved parties as well as to serve on committees. Young is a member of the Finance and Administration committees.
Grand jurors receive a small stipend of $20 for every seven hours of service plus mileage at 56 cents per mile. Drivers of cars that get at least 25 miles per gallon can actually cover all their normal automotive expenses and even come out ahead, Young said.
Young noted that his fellow jurors appreciate his SoHum perspective. In addition to hoping to attract local candidates, Young and his fellow jurors would like to see younger people and people with computer savvy on the jury.
Probably because of the hours involved, nearly all the jurors are older, retired persons and few of them have the up-to-date computer skills that Young feels are so necessary to handling the volume of information that the jury must learn about the law and government processes as well as the details of specific cases.
One of the current jurors is on the governing board of Humboldt State University and is working with HSU’s government affairs department to see if a student could get credit for grand jury service as a work-study program.
Persons can make complaints by logging onto the grand jury’s website at https://co.humboldt.ca.us/grandjury/. But the first step is to work with the official or department in question to solve the problem, and bring the complaint to the grand jury only when the results are unsatisfactory.
To qualify for the grand jury, persons must be over 18 years old and residents of Humboldt County, complete an application form, and be interviewed by current jurors and the presiding judge.
For more information, go to the website shown above, or call the office at 476-2475.