Grand Jury Reports Dominate Board of Supervisors’ Next Meeting

The people in charge of providing financial and protective services for Santa Clara County residents run a department lacking structure and accountability, according to a just-released Civil Grand Jury audit that goes before the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

This isn’t the first time the Office of the Public Administrator/Guardian/Conservator has come under scrutiny. It’s been subject to several grand jury audits over the past decade, investigations prompted each time by complaints. Its function as public guardian and conservatorship of the elderly, in particular, has riled up some residents who contest the legality of the county taking control of the assets of the elderly. Take a look at this Facebook page. Or this YouTube video.  Or this one.

The latest grand jury audit points out mostly administrative problems in the department under purview of the Social Services Administration. Employees in the office don’t clock in or out in any organized way. There aren’t any staff meetings. There’s no formal process to handle complaints.

About two-thirds of the department’s policies haven’t been reviewed in several years. Few people use the case management software installed five years ago to make everyone’s life way easier by automating the whole deal from start to finish. A bunch of staffers are behind on certification and training. And management was mistakenly under the impression that they couldn’t conduct employee evaluations because of some agreement with labor unions.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for August 27, 2013:

• After a plan to limit inmate mail to just postcards blew up into a storied controversy, county jails chief John Hirokawa decided against it. He now wants to explore the possibility of “video visits” and email correspondence.

• Though federal efforts to tighten gun control have considerably slowed since the Sandy Hook massacre, California state legislators continue to push for bills that would further regulate firearms. The county’s Public Safety and Justice Committee is debating which bills to support. In the meantime, it’s come up with a list of regional gun safety priorities. The committee voted to promote responsible and informed gun ownership, the safe use and storage of guns, background checks and certification before purchase, and to equip law enforcement to make sure people banned from gun ownership don’t get their hands on one.

• The county’s looking to move $15 million in reserves from the current-year budget to pay down some of the $1.8 billion in unfunded retiree healthcare liabilities. That’s the short-term plan. Looking farther ahead, supervisors will consider a plan to start making annual payments of $233 million toward the healthcare debt beginning in 2018. The plan is to pay it off by 2047.

• Food trucks are a tough business to regulate, because of the mobile nature of the trade. The county’s Civil Grand Jury chose to audit the county’s Department of Environmental Health to see if there’s room for improvement in its food truck oversight. The main recommendation was to require trucks to install GPS trackers, so county workers can show up for random inspections. There are about 400 registered food trucks in the county.

• Sticking to theme, the Civil Grand Jury decided to investigate the county’s oversight of farmers markets, too. They found that a lot of vendors try to pass off pesticide-treated produce as organic and also try to sell food that’s not pre-approved by the county Department of Agriculture, which has to OK every item for sale at certified farmers markets to make sure they come from where they say they’re from, and that they’re safe to sell.

The problems are cited in county inspection reports, which the grand jury says should be posted online for consumers to review. Also, the reports point out the problems, but the county isn’t actively taking steps to correct them.

• Though the county’s Juvenile Hall is housed in an aging building with outdated kitchens and cafeterias, staff appears to be keeping it relatively clean, the grand jury reports in a review of the facility. The county just needs to do a better job of cleaning up graffiti on the walls. Visible gang tagging is counter-productive to the rehabilitative intent of the program, the report notes.

• A software contract with Cisco could get upped from $10 million to $22 million if this measure goes through.

Election ballots through 2016 will cost the Registrar of Voters $10 million, according to a contract up for renewal with K&H Printers-Lithographers.

Food for county jails and the county hospital will cost another $5 million—half of which will pay current bills and the rest to pay through 2014. The Department of Corrections provides 15,000 meals a day to inmates at three facilities. The Probation Department feeds 482 youth 1,610 meals a day at three correctional facilities. The Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System delivers 1,500 meals a day at the cafeteria for public and employee consumption.

Updating county buildings for seismic safety will cost $7 million more than expected, bringing the contract with Anshen & Allen Architects, Inc., up to $57 million. 2008 general obligation bonds fund the earthquake safety retrofits.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meet
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Lynn Regadanz, [email protected]

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

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