The Santa Clara County Superior Court is looking for volunteers to serve on the Civil Grand Jury for the coming 2019-through-2020 session.
As public watchdogs, grand jurors may examine any aspect of local government, including counties, cities, special districts, school agencies, jails and juvenile halls. Volunteers for the civilian body have the authority to inspect and audit books, records and budgets to ensure the accountability of public funds.
“Grand jury service affords citizens the unique opportunity to contribute to the efficiency of local government and to play an integral part in ensuring that government officials are accountable to residents,” according to an announcement from the courts.
In the latest session, jurors issued reports on dysfunction in the Alum Rock Union School District, the high turnover of superintendents in the Santa Clara County Office of Education and how each city in the South Bay is responding to the unprecedented shortage of affordable housing. The grand jury also looked at how local police agencies can improve outcomes involving mentally ill people, how local jails have fared in an era of reform and the rationale behind taxpayer-funded automatic election recounts.
Though the grand jury has no enforcement power, the agencies it examines must respond to each of its recommendations with formal, publicly available reports.
To qualify, applicants must be at least 18 years of age, United States citizens and residents of Santa Clara County. Service on the grand jury does require a time commitment of about 25 hours a week, give or take. Candidates must set aside that kind of time for the next year to keep careful watch over various aspects of local government.
The coming one-year term starts on June 20.
“Our Civil Grand Jury plays an important watchdog function for our county,” local Presiding Judge Deborah Ryan said in announcing the call for applicants this week. “It is vitally important that we have a diverse group of people willing to assume the important role of serving on the grand jury.”
Ryan called the civilian review body “government at its finest.”
The commission, she said, comprises “civic-minded citizens who are willing to critically assess the operations of local governmental entities and propose improvements, as necessary, to benefit our community.”
Those interested in submitting an application can do so online at scscourt.org. Questions can be directed to [email protected] or by contacting Civil Grand Jury Deputy Manager Britney Huelbig at 408.882.2721. The deadline to apply is March 29.