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San Joaquin County Grand Jury critical of mosquito abatement district operations

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Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 11:07 am | Updated: 6:40 am, Wed May 29, 2013.

The San Joaquin County Grand Jury says that the county’s mosquito abatement district does a good job of protecting the public from mosquitos and other insects, but the district’s board of directors has committed several violations when it comes to keeping the public informed.

The county Mosquito and Vector Control District has violated California’s open-meeting law and didn’t promptly provide information to the public, according to a recently released grand jury report.

The mosquito board also lacked knowledge on a health care plan for trustees it had voted for themselves, according to the report.

The grand jury recommends that mosquito district board members be limited to two four-year terms.

Some trustees or their family members have served on the board for many years, and a majority of the 11 trustees don’t have a working knowledge of the district’s finances, according to the report.

“Some trustees and/or a member of their family have served on the board for decades,” according to the report. “One trustee interviewed indicated there was an expectation that the position on the board was a family right and obligation. Another trustee indicated that appointment to the board was a good way to stay in a public forum to support future political aspirations.

“The grand jury is concerned that the amount of time some members serve on the district board limits fresh perspectives on how best to serve the public and how to be better guardians of the district’s resources,” the grand jury reports says.

Four of the trustees were appointed by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, while one trustee was appointed by each of the seven cities within the county.

“The grand jury is doing what it needs to do,” district manager Eddie Lucchesi said Tuesday. “They made some recommendations. We’re in the process of evaluating the recommendations.”

Here are the grand jury findings in greater detail:

  • Violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires tax-supported agencies to describe each agenda item in detail. On Jan. 15, the board agenda read, “Review of current trustee health insurance plan,” but instead, the board acted on whether trustees would participate in the plan. The agenda item should have reflected that the board would vote on the plan, the grand jury said. The district also violated the Brown Act, according to the grand jury, by refusing to provide a member of the public with a written report on the health insurance plan until after the meeting.
  • The district violated the California Government Code by failing to clearly indicate that visitors to the board meeting were not required to sign the attendance sheet.
  • Most of the 11 board members the grand jury interviewed didn’t understand the health plan they had approved for trustees. It’s a common practice for governing board members of public agencies to provide themselves with medical insurance and other benefits.

The grand jury recommends that:

  • Lucchesi provide information on the district’s budget, expenditures and reserves beginning Sept. 30 and quarterly thereafter.
  • Adopt term limits for board members, with no trustee allowed to serve more than two four-year terms. Each of the seven city councils and the Board of Supervisors are being asked to establish term limits no later than Nov. 1.

Aside from governance issues, the grand jury maintains that district workers are doing a good job.

“The grand jury reiterates that it has the respect for the employees of the district in keeping the county safe from mosquito and vector-carried diseases,” the report states. “It does have concerns about whether having a separate district with a separate board as the legislative body is the most effective structure for the present and future needs of the county.”

The mosquito abatement board, Board of Supervisors and the cities of Lodi, Stockton, Lathrop, Tracy, Manteca, Ripon and Escalon have 90 days to respond to the grand jury recommendations to Presiding Judge David Warner.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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