Once a year, a group of citizens are impaneled to sit on the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury to investigate local public agencies to make sure they’re functioning the way they’re supposed to. In return, those public agencies have 60 days to agree or disagree with the reports’ findings and discuss which recommendations they’re planning to implement.
“The 2018-2019 Jury released five reports that dealt with serious issues in our county, including homelessness, (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, mental health treatment within our correctional facility, the criminalization of the homeless, and financial accountability within the county,” according to a press release from the grand jury.
In evaluating last year’s responses, the newly impaneled Civil Grand Jury found the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors’ responses didn’t get to the Superior Court by the deadline, along with one report from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office. The deadlines for the Board of Supervisors to respond ranged from Sept. 28 to Oct. 9, according to the grand jury report.
“Four of those reports were approved by the Board on time but not sent to the Court by the required date,” the report states. “All of the County Board of Supervisors’ reports were received by the Superior Court on October 21, 2019.”
County spokesperson Sean Quincey said the responses were delayed in large part because of the unanticipated Pacific Gas and Electric Co. public safety power shutoffs.
There was no board meeting on Sept. 24, so the responses were placed on the board’s Oct. 1 agenda, Quincey said. The board wanted a couple of changes made that he said were brought back the following week on Oct. 8, which was the date of the first power shutoff.
“Immediately after getting out of board chambers from that report, the members from our office responsible for delivering that report, namely me, went to the (Office of Emergency Services) and began immediately providing emergency communications preparing for the first power shut off,” Quincey said.
At that time, the community’s safety took priority, he said.
“As soon as we could get back to it, we made the changes and got it into the jury,” Quincey said.
Putting together the responses also takes time because the county “takes the grand jury reports very seriously,” he said. It involves coordinating the responses across agencies and departments, which sometimes involves changing processes, Quincey said.
All of the public entities’ responses to the findings in the five reports were compliant with state law, according to the grand jury report, but 32% of the responses to the recommendations section “were not in compliance with the Penal Code.”
“A few of those non-compliant replies were because the response was requested from a party who did not have the authority to make the recommended changes,” the report states. “Most of the non-compliant responses were due to the respondent not providing a time frame to implement or analyze the recommendation.”
Of the 91 recommendations the grand jury offered in its five reports last year, 37% were implemented, 16% were to be implemented in the future, 21% required further analysis, and 25% were not going to be implemented, according to the report.
One of the important changes the county has made as a result of the reports is developing a cash-handling policy specifically in response to the “The Mis-Fortunes of Humboldt County” report, Quincey said.
“Hopefully we’ll have a good policy soon to help protect the county going forward,” he said.
Of the 114 findings the grand jury made, the responding agencies agreed with 47% of the findings, partially agreed with 38% of the findings, and disagreed with 15% of them.
The report also states the grand jury invited seven law enforcement agencies to respond to one of the grand jury reports, but none of them did.
More reports from the Civil Grand Jury will be released over the next two months, according to the grand jury release.