The San Joaquin County Grand Jury issued a statement Wednesday including both vindication and recommendations for the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District.
The jury found that, contrary to allegations, the district conducts audits appropriately and provides adequate public access to documents. Further, the jury found that the district does not have to use a sealed bid process, as alleged. Among the grand jury recommendations:
- That North San Joaquin establish a minimum dollar value above which all projects will be bid.
- The district establish a policy and operational manual with job descriptions.
- That the North San Joaquin board be trained in the Brown Act, California's open-meeting law, and the in the fiduciary responsibilities of a board member.
"We're certainly relieved the grand jury found compliance," said Tom Hoffman, president of the district. "Quite frankly, we never anticipated they would find us doing anything wrong in first place."
The manager of the district agreed.
"The work done by the grand jury is wonderful, but I would've said at the very beginning there was no need to investigate," said Ed Steffani, manager of the district. "It's a shame public money had to be spent on this."
With the exception of the Brown Act training, the foreman of the grand jury said the other recommendations are not mandated by law and the district conducts itself in a lawful manner.
"They are not doing anything wrong," said Chet Somera, foreman of the San Joaquin County Grand Jury.
Among the complaints the grand jury looked into were that there were conflicts of interest with the district's legal counsel, one of the district's board members did not live within district boundaries and the district's budget year does not conform to state or county fiscal years.
All of the issues were investigated and nothing illegal was found, Somera said. There is no conflict of interest with the district's legal counsel, the board member not living within district boundaries has been resolved and the district does not need to conform to the state or county's fiscal year.
As the grand jury was investigating the allegation that a board member who served the district was living outside the district's boundaries, one of the board members resigned.
"It became a non-issue for us," Somera said.
Another complaint the grand jury looked into was that the News-Sentinel had manipulated press releases and misled the public.
It centered around the allegation that there was a conflict of interest between the paper and the district because Fred Weybret, the News-Sentinel's chairman, also served on the district's board for more than 40 years. He retired from the district in July 2009. There are no grounds for a conflict of interest between the district and the News-Sentinel, Somera said.
The grand jury was commissioned in June 2009 and began work in July. The length of the investigation was typical for a grand jury, Somera said. However, he said the grand jury wanted to report its findings before the upcoming election on June 6.
The district needs to make a concerted effort to educate the public about Measure C, the upcoming ballot measure that would enable to district to collect a groundwater charge.
"We strongly feel the board should make sure constituents understand the issue," he said.
Events like Wednesday's town hall meeting are helpful, Somera said.
The grand jury is not able to release the names of those who brought complaints against the district, Somera said.
"I'm not sure if it was one individual or more, but either way I can't divulge it," he said.